Filipino Courtship: Then and Now
Courtship among Filipinos traditionally centers on respect for the woman and her family by strictly adhering to set social rules for pursuing a lady. This practice, which dates back to the Spanish times, prohibits men from being too aggressive even when they want the lady very much. The Filipino way of courtship is probably among the most romantic in the world.
A man cannot just approach and talk to a lady in the street and ask her number or address. If a young man sees a lady he likes, he should seek out the help of a go-between, usually a common friend of both families of the man and the woman, to ask the permission from the girl’s father to visit them in their house. It is a gentlemanly thing to do, so the parents will most likely approve unless of course the lady is still of a very young age.
When the approval is obtained, the suitor can then come to the girl’s house with the gobetween who will initiate the introductions to the family. In turn, the parents will properly introduce their daughter to the man. At this stage, the suitor is expected to bring "pasalubong" or gifts to the family and a special present for the girl he likes. This he will have to do every time he visits the girl's house.
In courting the Filipina lady, the man has to court her whole family as well. During the first visit, the man and the woman will not be left alone; the girl’s family will be around as two get to know each other. It will be an informal chatting and introduction between the suitor and the family, and making clear of the suitor's intention to pursue the host family's girl.
After the initial visit, the suitor is then expected to woo the girl by showing up in her house more often and establish rapport with her family. During this stage, he does the "paninilbihan" or servitude to the girl’s family. He does various household chores at the girl’s home in order to show to her and her family his sincere intentions and love for her. The chores he does would include chopping firewood, fetching water from the well, cleaning the yard etc. It is a way of saying, "I will do anything to prove my love for you."
At night, the man will do the "harana," singing love songs from the house yard with a guitar and some of his friends serving as back-ups. They will sing and wait until the lady finally opens the window and invites them into the house. They will then be served with light snacks and the man and the woman then talk in the presence of the girl’s parents and the man's friends. It is deemed inappropriate to leave an unmarried couple to talk unsupervised.
The traditional way of courting a Filipina in the traditional sense is a long and arduous process. It is expected of the woman to play hard-to-get. No matter how much she likes the man, she has to show utmost restraint and disinterest. Girls are made to believe that men will value them more if it takes utmost effort to win their hearts.
So, after a long period of “paninilbihan” and “harana,” the girl may finally accept her suitor's love. The couple may now start dating in public but always in the company of a chaperon. The man will still continue to come to the girl’s house and help out with the house chores.
As soon as the man feels he is ready to get married, he and his parent's will have to come to the girl's house, for his parents to formally ask the girl’s hand in marriage with their son. This stage is called "pamamanhikan." On this occasion, the man’s family will bring with them special food and presents to give to the girl’s parents.
It is common practice for the two families to agree on a dowry, money or something valuable to be given to the girl’s family. As soon as an agreement is reached, the date of the wedding is set, a ring is presented to the girl and the couple is said to be betrothed. Then, a small feast is held with both families partaking of the food brought by the boy's family.
While much of the traditional Filipino courtship remains to this day, there have since been modifications and "evolutions" that have given way of a more modern version. Modern Filipino courtship is characterized by the liberal attitude of today’s Filipino youth. These days, single Filipino men and women may already mingle in public. And courtship has become more lenient among youngsters. Casual or chance meetings by a man and a woman can already spark a serious pursuit of the woman’s heart.
Of course, many parents still want their daughters to be courted in their house. But young people now do it any place where there’s a chance. Some girls themselves prefer to meet up somewhere else instead, away from the watchful eyes of their parents.
Today, Filipino courtship no longer has a pattern of proceeding. It could start from a group date where friends would pair themselves up and tease one another. Or, friends would play matchmakers and set a couple up and leave them on their own to talk by themselves and then start going out on a date.
The loosening of the Filipino courtship rules is due in good part to the influence of western television. Many romantic relationships no longer end up in marriage. The casualness of the process seems to extend the time it takes for the couple to fully trust each other for a lifetime commitment.
For their part, the modern Filipinas have come to have a strong practical mind of their own and won’t necessarily be tied to tradition. Many of them have the bravado to reject a suitor who does not live up to their standards. However, there are still girls in the rural Philippines that remains to adhere to the traditional way of Filipino courtship.
By and large, the days of “paninilbihan” and “harana” are gone. These days, it is good enough that a man shows up in a lady's house and bonds with the woman's family. He is no longer expected to do servitude for his love.