Philippine Culture

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The culture of the Philippines is very diverse. This is due to the colorful combination of different nations with our country. Its culture is reflected by the complexity of the history of the Philippines through the blending of Pre-Hispanic indigenous Austronesian civilizations. There are a number of countries that have influenced Philippine culture such as Spain, United States, China, India, and the Arabs. The influences of these countries are visible in the various practices of the Filipinos up to the present. The Spaniards brought the Spanish language, Catholicism and other religious celebrations such as fiestas. The American influence is evident in the use of the English language and the presence of contemporary pop culture such as fast-food, music, movies, basketball and media. The Arabs and Indians brought Islam to the southern most island of the Philippines along with their own customs and traditions. The Chinese brought trade and commerce to the country as well as their affirmation of the importance of respect and family.



The locals of the Philippines are called Filipinos. Their primary ancestors are the Malays who came from the southeastern Asian country which is now called Indonesia. The Philippines is a combined society, both singular and plural in form. It is singular as one nation, but plural in that it is fragmented geographically and culturally. The nation is divided between Christians, Muslims, and other religious-ethno-linguistic groups; between urban and rural people; between upland and lowland people; and between the rich and the poor. Although different in numerous ways, the Filipinos are very hospitable and give appropriate respect to everybody regardless of race, culture and belief.


In a traditional Filipino family, the father is considered the head and the provider of the family while the mother takes responsibility of the domestic needs and in charge of the emotional growth and values formation of the children. Children see their mothers as soft and calm, while they regard their fathers as strong and the most eminent figure in the family.

Another particular trait of Filipinos is their strong respect for elders. Children are taught from birth how to say “po” and “opo” to teach them as early as possible how to properly respect their elders. These words are used to show respect to people of older level. Upon arriving home, conservative families expect children to practice the kissing of hands or touching their parents' or elder family members’ hand to their foreheads with the words “mano po” as a sort of greeting.

Within the family, the parents are expected to receive the highest respect from the children along with the elder siblings, as they are given the responsibility to look after younger siblings when parents are not around. Answering back or addressing parents or elder siblings with an arrogant tone are not at all tolerated in children. The children are also not allowed to leave the house without their parents’ permission.

Upon reaching adulthood, Filipino children are not obliged to leave their homes after finishing school. In fact, most of them maintain their close relationship with their parents by staying at home at least before they get married. Moreover, Filipinos keep close connection with other relatives. They recognize them from the second degree to the last they can identify.


The majority of Filipino weddings are now Catholic weddings, but some native traditions remain. Most have special “sponsors” who act as witnesses to the marriage. The principal sponsors could be godparents, counselors, a favorite uncle and aunt, even a parent. Secondary sponsors handle special parts of the ceremony, such as the candle, cord and veil ceremonies. Candle sponsors light two candles, which the bride and groom use to light a single candle to symbolize the joining of the two families and to invoke the light of Christ in their married life. Veil sponsors place a white veil over the bride’s head and the groom’s shoulders, a symbol of two people clothed as one. Cord sponsors drape the yugal (a decorative silk cord in a figure-eight shape) over the shoulders of the bride and groom to symbolize everlasting fidelity. The groom gives the bride 13 coins or arrhae, blessed by the priest, as a sign of his dedication to his wife’s well-being and the welfare of their future children.


Death in the Philippines is one of the most important occasions in family life, as attested to by a humorous statement that families have large reunions only during “Binyag, Kasal at Libing” (Baptisms, Weddings, and Burials/Funerals). Once a Filipino dies, it is traditional to hold a wake. Deceased men are dressed in the traditional Barong Tagalog while women are dressed in either black dresses or in their best dress. Relatives that are closest to the deceased are customarily dressed in black, and women use black veils as well. Caskets of Filipinos are often covered with glass, with the inner part of the lid containing ribbons with the names of the deceased person’s immediate family. Behind the casket is a crucifix between two candles. Flowers are often given in condolence to the family, with a message from the donor written on a ribbon attached to the flowers. Family members keep vigil, pray, eat, talk, and socialize with guests. It is traditional, as with the other aspects of Philippine culture, to be hospitable to the guests; this is done by offering food and refreshments to those mourning with the family. After the death of a person, a nine-day period of having a novena of prayers and Masses offered up to the deceased is held, although the beginning of the "Siyam na araw" varies, but usually ends the week after the death. Another period follows after death, the 40-day mourning period. Family members indicate their state of bereavement by wearing a small, black rectangular plastic pin on their left breast or breast pocket area. A ceremonial mass is held at the end of this 40 day period. Common belief states that the soul goes to Heaven after these 40 days, following the belief that Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven after the said period of days. The 1 year death anniversary is also a bit significant, as well as the subsequent birth anniversaries of the deceased. Many foreign relatives come to mourn the death of their lost ones. Death is very emotional experience among those close to the deceased.


The Filipinos are known to be hospitable. But aside from this trait, there are many other values that the Filipinos possess which help them live harmoniously with their neighbors. These have also made the Filipinos appealing towards others due to their pleasant demeanor. The following are some of the Filipino values:

  • Bayanihan is the creation of an association with neighbors and helping whenever one is in disastrous need.
  • Close Family Ties are something the Filipinos are well-known for. The primary social welfare system for the Filipino is the family. Many Filipinos live near their family for most of their lives, even as independent adults.
  • Pakikisama or harmony, involves getting along with others to preserve a harmonious relationship.
  • Hiya is shame and a motivating factor behind behavior. It is a sense of social decency and compliance to public norms and behavior. Filipinos believe they must live up to the accepted standards of behavior and if they fail to do so they bring shame not only upon themselves, but also upon their family.
  • Utang na Loob or Debt of Gratitude, is owed by one to a person who has helped him great. There is a local saying: ‘Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalinangan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan’, meaning, ‘One who does not look back o where he started, will no get to where he is going.’
  • Amor Propio is concern for self image. Filipinos believe that how they present themselves to others is an important aspect to be accepted in society.
  • Delicadeza or sense of propriety refers to sensitivity regarding the limits of proper behavior or ethics in a situation. Filipinos try to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
  • Palabra de Honor or word of honor is very important to the Filipinos. They believe that one must keep their word whenever they make a promise for the person to whom one has made a promise will count on it.


Before the coming of the Spaniards and the introduction of Roman Catholicism, the indigenous inhabitants were believer of animism, or the worship of nature. Bathala was the supreme god of the tagalogs, symbolized by the sun. Other Tagalog gods and goddesses include the moon, stars, and even objects such as trees, shrubs, mountains, or rocks. The spirits consist of aswang (ghoul), tikbalang, (a man having the head of a horse), kapre (a giant that smokes tabacco), tiyanak (resurrected aborted babies), dwende (dwarves and elves), engkanto (minor spirits), and diwata (fairies and nymphs).


A typical Filipino meal consists of at least one viand (ulam) served with boiled or fried rice (kanin). Filipinos also regularly use spoons together with forks. They also eat with their hands, especially in informal settings and when eating seafood. Accompanying rice, popular dishes such as adobo (a meat stew made from either pork or chicken), lumpia (mat or vegetable rolls), pancit (noodle dish), and lechon (whole roasted pig) are served on plate.

Other popular dishes include: afritada, asado, chorizo sausages used in pancit or fried rice, empanadas, mais (corn), mani (roasted peanuts), paksiw (fish, cooked in vinegar and water, some spices like garlic and pepper), pan de sal (salted bread rolls), pescado (fried or grilled fish), torta (omelette). Indigenous Filipino and regional cuisine include: dinuguan, kare-kare (ox-tail stew), kilawen, pinakbet (vegetable stew), pinapaitan, and sinigang (tamarind soup with a variety of pork, fish or shrimp). One delicacy eaten by the Filipino people but are reprehensible to some western cultures is balut (a boiled fertilized duck egg).

Popular snacks and desserts indulged in are chicharon, halo-halo, puto, bibingka, ensaymada, polvoron, and tsokolate. Popular local liquors include lambanog, tuba, and basi.


Pre-Hispanic architecture is usually characterized by using indigenous woody materials. The bahay kubo is the mainstream form of housing. It is characterized by the use of indigenous materials such as bamboo and coconut as the main source of wood. Cogon grass and nipa palm leaves are used as roof thatching, although coconut fronds are also used. Most are usually on stilts due to the frequent floods and rainwater during the wet season. Regional variations include the use of thicker and denser roof thatching in mountain areas, longer stilts on coastal areas especially if the structure is built outright on the water. The architecture of some tribes in other regions is characterized by very angular wooden roofs, bamboo in place of leafy thatching and ornate wooden carvings, especially on Mindanao Island.

The Spanish introduced stones as housing materials. The introduction of Christianity brought western style churches and subsequently became the center of most towns. Colonial era architecture still survives in Intramuros and Vigan.

Contemporary architecture usually favors western-style structures although pre-Hispanic housing is still largely common in rural areas. American style suburban gated communities are popular in the cities, especially Metro Manila and surrounding provinces.




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