THE COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE CUSTOM OF THE WARAY
J. Colima Bajado
The Philippines as a whole abounds in quaint marriage customs and traditions. Written literatures from Fr. Pedro Chirino (1590s), Blair and Robertson, to Gregorio Zaide describe the pre-Spanish marriage customs of the Philippines. More writers like Fay Cooper Cole, John Finley, C. R. Moss and John Garvan have written on the courtship and marriage rituals of the various tribes in the country. On the marriage customs of the Warays, some vernacular writers like Iluminado Lucente and Juan Ricacho have written plays portraying the marriage customs and practices of the region.
Younger generations in the Samar-Leyte region may not even know how their great grandfathers won the hands of their great grannies, in relation to the present “wer na u, dito na me” trend.
The Illiterate Way of Courtship
This kind of courtship has been practiced until the early 1900s. According to the narrations of Msgr. Alberto Almarines (1960s), illiterate young men in the rural areas, particularly in the hinterland sitios, observe this way of courtship passed to them by their great grandparents. Since they cannot read and write, actions, signs, signals, and even mimicries are flashed as costumarily understood to mean love.
The man takes out an inarmidol (crisply starched) white handkerchief and waves it to the woman, who could only give concealed glances. Then the man will kiss the handkerchief and put it over his chest. This is done when the young man does not have the chance to talk to the girl. If the girl accepts the love offered, she smiles and nods. When she frowns, she declines the offered affection. And when her face is expressionless, she does not yet know the answer. When she accepts, the man will then ask her hand for marriage. When she shows indifference, he will either wait for the ight time or simply forget her.
The Kulalisi Courtship
This type of courtship commences as a game, and concludes for real. Kulalisi (sometimes spelledculalisi), is a game played after the nightly prayer for nine days of lamay (wake). Unmarried men and women gather in the house of the deceased to say the prayers, after which, the kulasisi game follows to console the bereaved family. The kulalisi game is a battle of wits between men and women. One of the elders in the house will act as Hadi (king) that will pair a man and a woman suspected or teased as sweethearts.
The challenge to a luwa (verse) is cast by one who wins the draw using a shell called buskay. Then the “luwa” or battle of words (somewhat like Balagtasan), and rhymes, and debates starts. If the challenger is a man and the challenged woman fails to outwit him, the reward is a “make-believe” marriage solemnized by the Hadi. If the man is outwitted by the woman, he becomes the woman’s slave and will do whatever the woman desires to let him do, for that night. Most of the “married” pairs in culalisi games become real partners for life. This kind of courtship has been commonly practiced up to the early 1900s.
Tthe courtship through Panharana (Serenading) Wooing a woman by panharana is commonly practiced in the whole region up to the late 1990s; some even still practice this in other parts of the region, like Maydolong, Eastern Samar, up today. Serenading is a time-honored way of expressing one’s love and adoration to the accompaniment of a guitar, violin or other string and wind instruments. Moonlight nights are the perfect time for serenade. A man sings kundiman (love song) that is rich in lyrical beauty, appreciation of nature and profound sentiment of affection.
A suitor who knows how to play a guitar serenades his admired woman by himself, for this is a rapport in his singing of love songs. A group of men serenades when the suitor cannot accompany himself in singing his love songs. The song Mituo Ako (I Believe) is once a popular serenade song in the Cebuano speaking part of the region, while Iluminado Lucente’s Gihilom Ko (I Secretly Bear) in the Waray speaking parts. While panharana is still practiced today, the town of Dagami in the province of Leyte once regulated its practice in the 1960s due to some stealing events resulted from serenading.
While some were singing, others were stealing chickens, and other things. Serenading was then allowed from ten to twelve in the evening only. The “Balata” Courtship This type of courtship is one of the queer ways of wooing. This traditional practice is resorted to by the rich families. This is very common especially in the “capital” of the different provinces of the region such as Tacloban, Carigara, Palo, Biliran, Ormoc, Catarman, Calbayog, Catbalogan, Maasin and Borongan. In balata, the parents of the bride and the groom agree to have their children married in accordance with their arrangement.
It is the custom of the upperclass families through their exclusive formed groups. They hold week-end parties among themselves by turns. In the midst of the merry making, especially when they are already a bit tipsy, the betrothal of their children takes place. Although often started as a joke, the balata eventually becomes a serious matter involving amor propio and palabra de honor. Usually, it is the parents of the male child who makes the proposal to the parents of the girl to have their children married when they reach the marriageable age.
They mutually plan and finance the wedding of their children, give equal dowries of property such as land, livestock, jewelry, and cash with which their children will start their married life. They also agree with the kind of wedding, the grandeur, and the bands to play music, and all other things to make the wedding memorable. The day of the wedding is usually scheduled on the day the boy reaches his sixteenth year. Not all balata betrothal are negotiated and agreed upon during drinking sprees. Most of “balatas” results from the desire of both parties to insure the economic and financial stability of their children.
The parents keep the betrothal of their children to themselves until the time comes when it is necessary to reveal it to their children. The betrothed are warned that refusal to comply with their pledge will bring their families dishonor and disgrace and the wrath of heaven will fall on them. Choice by parents This kind of courtship deprives young lovers from their right to choose their partners. The parents select their children’s life partners. Wealth and character or “urbanidad” as the parents fondly stress are the factors their prospective sons and daughters-in-law should possess.
The boy’s parents look around for the girls who meet their criteria. Their search for girls extends to other towns and places where their friends and acquaintances live. They mark their choices for observation and preliminary selection. The girls’ parents base their selection on the same grounds. Their children are simply informed of their plans and tell them to abide to it. Usually, three possible candidates are chosen, the other two are reserves or alternatives. When they arrive at a choice, the courting begins.
Courting through the Parents
Courting a woman through her parents is another way of wooing. In this type of courting, the young man picks the girl and enlists the help of her parents. This is often resorted to when the girl does not reciprocate the boy’s feeling, or when her parents are very jealous. The young man and his parents will befriend the girl’s parents. The young man do manual works in the house of the girl, serves the girl’s parents, and do everything to please them. He put his best foot forward to impress, and eventually, gain their admiration and sympathy. A Back to Back Overview Perchance, it is not really the type of courtship that matters, after all.
It is the sound of love that makes two lovers dance in harmony to its tune. As Rachel Gordo Maravilla’s siday says: Bis’ anu pa iton nga kaporma, Bis’ pa it yinaknan nagkakairiba, Kay iton karuyag boot sidngon, Amo manta gihapon. Bisan hin-o ha bug-os nga kalibutan, Tanan masayaw, Kon tukran na an kasing-kasing Han sonata Han Gugma.
J. Colima Bajado graduated from University of the Philippines Tacloban with the degree in Political Science. He writes more on the revival of Waray history and culture, and has been bestowed various awards in his writings. He is currently the Cultural Editor of Gahum Weekly.