When we travel, we love to go to places unknown to us. But why is that so? How come it is so important to us to discover new and different cultures? We love to encounter new experiences. We don't know why we are curious. There was no reason for evolution to make us like that.
But our childlike curiosity is an inherent part of who are as a species, and I think when we face new experiences, like in traveling, we immediately challenge our brain in ways that make us feel euphoric. That's why we want our vacations to last forever, and we never want to go back. Our brain is wired in such a way, that when on vacation we widen our horizons, we are on a constant learning mode, and we love every part of it!
So what is the link between everything I've just said to diversity and the Philippines?
Everything you've just read is immediately connected to diversity. As children, everything we see is new and exciting. Everything we taste is so strange and delicious (or not). When we grow up those experiences become less and less and common. When traveling to a new place however, this sensation of freshness comes back to us, when we see things we've never seen before, taste strange things, learn a new language, and so on.
The Philippines is an extraordinary country to experience all these things, because it is so diverse that being measured against its geographic size, there is probably no other like it. That's exactly what I'd like to demonstrate in this post, hoping some of my readers outside the Philippines will find it compelling enough to visit our unique country. And I also hope my local readers will find it a reminder to how special and lucky we are.
What made the Philippines so diverse to begin with?
When people think about the diversity in the Philippines they mainly think on how the local culture mixed with influences from neighboring countries, and especially Spain. But the Philippines was such a diversified place way before the Spanish conquered and colonized it.
Let's start with the fact that the islands that would later become the Philippines were sparsely populated to some parts due to natural disasters, and inter-kingdom conflicts. On top of that, many islands remained isolated from others. Many of the societies in the Philippines however evolved into kingdoms and specialized in trade. What was unique about these kingdoms, is some paid tributes to China, some to Indian dynasties, some converted to Islam and related to Malacca, and some retained their indigenous culture.
To sum it all up, precolonial Philippines was made of isolated animist societies, indigenous kingdoms, sultanates, sinified kingdoms and rajahnates. When the Spanish came to the Philippines, they only added to this mixture.
All these cultures left their mark, and even if sometimes hidden, it is still very much present today.
As of today, the Philippine people are composed of 175 ethnolinguistic groups.
It is true that you can get along with English practically anywhere that you go to in the Philippines. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it's easier for people to get proficient in English, as it is the second official language after Tagalog. But if you want to dive deep into the local culture, you might find it very confusing.
Saying good morning in Tagalog (magandang umaga), will not work in Cebu where you'll need to say "maayong buntag". By trying to figure out the local lingo, you soon figure out that the Filipino culture is not homogeneous as one might have thought.
All languages but one are Malayo-Polynesian, where the exceptional is Chavacano, a Latin based creole language. Digging into the local languages is only the tip of the iceberg, and though many of the languages have some similarities (mind you these are cultures that co-existed side by side, often sharing between them, for thousands of years), like other traits and customs, they are different.
The cultures and customs are very different from place to place in the Philippines.
When traveling in the Philippines, one can encounter many different fiestas, and religious ceremonies, very different from one another. Every province has its own traditional dress code, and customs. When it comes to religion, the majority of the ceremonies will be Roman Catholic, but in southern Philippines don't be surprised to find Islam to be very present in everyday life (Islam was actually the first outsider religion in the Philippines, and Manila was a Muslim City).
When going to more remote provinces, for example in the Cordilleras, you will find many people holding strong to their traditional belief system, like the Igorot in Sagada Mountain province , who are holding their Bengas. In this festival that incurs three times a year, the Igorots of Sagada make a holy sacrifice to their divine deities, where they slaughter a pig in the rice fields in order to insure the continuation of good yields. Sagada is best experienced through a guided tour, so you can learn all about these unique traditions.
If you'll visit the Kalinga people of the Kalinga province, you'll easily notice that the elderly are wearing traditional handmade Kalinga tattoos (called Batok), which tell their unique and terrifying story. Those are the last generation of the headhunters. Their tattoos tell the stories of their battles, some were inter-village and many were between the locals and the imperial Japanese army. After fighting their enemies with spears and axes, they beheaded the bodies and took the heads as trophies.
Food is very important in the Philippines, and Filipinos of every origin take a lot of pride in their food.
Some dishes and techniques has been shared between all provinces and people of the Philippines, and can now be considered as the cornerstone of the Filipino cuisine. However, every region and culture has their own versions of popular dishes, and their own special foods and delicacies. As a traveler it makes it very interesting to discover new flavors wherever you go to in the country.
For instance, the New7Wonders Cities' Vigan, which was an important Spanish Stronghold, has a lot of Spanish influences in it cuisine, like empanada, and the Spanish style stew kaldereta. In Davao on the other hand, you'll find many Malay and Indonesian influences in the food.
Even without foreign influences, the local cuisine differs. In Bicol there is an excess use of coconut milk to create creamy dishes, and it is typically spicier than other Filipino regional cuisines. The Cebuanos for instance make the best lechon baboy (grilled pig). It seems that every region specialized in different techniques and dishes, and many time invented new ones.
Traveling in such a diverse country for its relative size, is a great reward
In many countries you'll have to go through vast distances in order to change the view. It will take you a lot of time to reach a place where the culture is different, and where you'll get to meet different people and eat different food. In the Philippines however, sometimes you only need to take a bus, or a ferry. Even the longest flight from manila will not take more than 1.5 hours (the average is less than one hour).
Sometimes it can be difficult, even for locals, to understand and observe the uniqueness of the places visited. It's very easy for someone who is not familiar with the subtleties of the culture to be oblivious to it. Making homework and preparing ahead of time is going to help with that.
Much of the information is hard to find, and many of the destinations are off the beaten path. Some travel websites like philippinestravelpackage.com put an emphasis to allow people to get familiar with the local cultures, and try to give you as diverse trip as you'd like.
In my website I made it a priority to introduce the local culture with all of its unique characteristics, and make it as accessible as I can. Every place has plenty to discover, challenging us, making us want to learn more, and satisfying the curiosity of our inner child.
This article was written by one of our contributing writers.
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