Getting to know pamalaye: the pamamanhikan of the South

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By Michelle Eve A. de Guzman | April 2008

Compared to the more commonly known pamamanhikan, the Visayan version called pamalaye adds poetry spouted by a spokesperson.

Suppose eighty years ago, a certain Remedios fell in love with an Arsenio, and the latter wanted to propose to the girl.

In accordance with the traditional pamalaye, Arsenio did a sondalisa (from the Spanish sondar or to sound out) to check if there was a chance Remedios’ parents might consent to a marital union. He sent a note through a messenger to her parents begging leave to visit at around 6pm on a Wednesday.

Remedios’ parents liked the idea so they did not answer—after the third day of the note delivery, silence from them meant it was alright.

On a Wednesday, Arsenio went with his parents, relatives and friends to Remedios’ house, carrying pots of rice, viands and tuba, which they left under the girl’s house upon arrival.

They did not want to show it to their hosts just yet. Neighbors heard the news and watched from a distance.

The doors and windows of the house were closed for the occasion. And no one moved, until the spokesman for the boy’s family asked for permission to come inside:

Uroy, tagbalay, makadayon ba; ning ang-ang makatikang ba?
(Graceful hosts, may we ascend; on your staircase may we step?)
Ani-a kami ing silong nagtindog ning ugmaran mo
(We are here, standing on our feet; a humble audience do we seek.)
Arang ba kayha kami pasak-on sa tambongan patigsampongon?
(Will you deign to accept our greeting, and bid us to enter your dwelling?)

Now, Arsenio’s spokesman was the mayor, a family friend and their chosen go-between who could represent him and his parents. After all, Remedios’ parents could accept or reject him based on his spokesperson’s prominence, wit and tact. The mayor was the mamamae (the one who proposes) and the dakong tawo (great man) who would negotiate the stipulations, arrangements and conditions of their marriage should it be so.

After all, Remedios’ parents could accept or reject him based on his spokesperson’s prominence, wit and tact.

Remedios’ family also had their own spokesperson (the pugong or shield for her interests and welfare), their parish priest.

The priest, upon hearing the mayor’s plea, acted surprised and responded:

Kinsa ba karong nag-aghoy, nag-awhag nang ugmaran ko?
(Who is he whose sighs I hear, wailing sounds foreign to my ear?)
Dili kayha makasakang dayon, kay ako pang susolingon ug pagaduma-dumahon.
(I pray you wait awhile, till your countenance I see, and make sure who you may be.)

After urging the boy’s family inside, the dakong tawo and the pugong engaged in an oral debate about love, the constancy and dignity of woman, man’s faithfulness and marriage.3 They became more poetic, using flowery words, for as long as four hours. When the mayor mentioned asking for Remedios’ hand, the purpose of the visit, everyone inside and outside the house waited in anticipation. The parish priest, however, cleverly evaded the issue, as Remedios watched from behind her door.

Then, the mayor and the boy’s family offered their food and drinks, and after some initial refusal, the other side accepted. Arsenio’s relatives (known as the tindogon) assisted Remedios’ relatives (the lingkoron).

… the dakong tawo and the pugong engaged in an oral debate… using flowery words, for as long as four hours.

When the mayor asked for an answer from the parish priest, the girl’s pugong conferred with the parents. They said yes to Arsenio’s delight. Had Remedios’ side said no, Arsenio would need to do the pamalaye again until he got it right.

Here lies the supposed end of the story that took place eighty years ago.

According to Dumaguete-based award-winning poet Cesar Ruiz Aquino, the important role of the spokesperson was traditionally played by a poet, the most eloquent the boy’s family could find. “It’s like a joust between the two families on who could outdo the other,” he said.

Over time, however, this poetic element to the pamalaye has waned in actual practice.

Dumaguete City General Services Officer Paulito Honculada shared he had served as a close friend’s spokesperson early this year, and he did not recite poetry. Being his second time as the dakong tawo, he calmed his friend down before entering the girl’s house. But he only asked the girl’s family about the possibility of the two getting married. After the negotiations and the meal, both sides were calling each other “pare” and “mare”. The wedding took place last June 30, 2007.

“This still practiced tradition,” he said, “is because we need our families to support us: financially, emotionally.” For him, that was why formally asking the girl’s parents for her hand was important; to get their consent, and consequently, their support.

Silliman University Sociology and Anthropology Head Solomon Apla-on concurred with this idea of support when he said, “The family is the best insurance.”

Seeking for the girl’s hand in marriage, he said, is symbolic of how when one gets married in the Philippines, one does not only marry the girl or boy; one marries each other’s families, expanding the inter-relatedness of family life.

“I wish that the pamalaye will still be practiced in the years to come because it is a beautiful tradition. It is inherent in the Filipino family to want their children to [have happy families as well],” he said.

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Kasal.com thanks the following sources for this article:
1 Quisumbing, Lourdes R. Marriage Customs in Rural Cebu. Cebu: San Carlos Publications, 1965.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.

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