Culture of the Philippines

The culture of the Philippines reflects the complexity of the history of the Philippines through the blending of cultures of diverse indigenous civilizations with characteristics introduced via foreign influences.

Spanish colonization of the Philippines from Mexico, governed from Spain, lasted for over three centuries (1565-1898); thus, there is a significant amount of Spanish-Mexican influence in many facets of Filipino custom and tradition. Hispanic influences are most visible in Philippine folk music, folk dance, language, food, art, and religion.

Pre-Hispanic indigenous Filipino culture had many cultural influences from India (see Greater India), through the Indianized kingdoms of Southeast Asia, particularly the Srivijaya Empire and the Majapahit Empire, in what is now Malaysia and Indonesia. Many customs and the Filipino psyche reflect these cultural influences. Philippine Mythology, like many Southeast Asian mythologies, has been influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism.

The Philippines was a U.S. colony from 1898 until the Second World War. American influences are evident in the use of the English language and in contemporary pop culture such as fast-food, music, movies, and basketball.

The Chinese have been settling in the Philippines since pre-colonial times and their influence is evident in the popularity of noodles (locally known as Mami) and the gambling games of mahjong and jueteng.

The people of Mindanao, the southern island of the country where most of the followers of Islam are located, celebrate their own customs and traditions. The martial art of Kali emerged from Muslim Mindanao.

Philippine society

The Philippines is a mixed society. The nation is divided between Christians, Muslims, and other religio-ethno-linguistic groups; between urban and rural people; between upland and lowland people; and between the rich and the poor. Although different in many ways, Filipinos in general are very hospitable and will give appropriate respect to anyone regardless of race, culture, or belief.

These traits are generally positive but these practices also have the tendency to be applied in the wrong context. Close familial ties can foster nepotism.


Pakikisama is a non confrontational way of doing life, business, and interpersonal group relationships. In the Philippines Pakikisama is the ability of a person to get along with others to maintain good and harmonious relationships. It implies camaraderie and togetherness in a group and the cause of one’s being socially accepted. Pakikisama requires someone yielding to group opinion, pressuring him to do what he can for the advancement of his group, sacrificing individual welfare for the general welfare. Consensus takes precedent over individual needs or opinion.

Pakikisama implies smooth social interaction. Relationships no matter with whom and on what level should be without open conflict. To keep pakikisama, Filipinos in general will avoid verbal confrontations, rude words or gestures, the direct decline of a request, and will try to act politely and calmly although perhaps they are not inside. You will seldom hear no to a request or question. To an Expat this will be confusing and sometimes lead one to think Filipinos are insincere or otherwise misleading with their answers. It is not so. Maybe is a standard reply which often means no, or sometimes yes, and other times maybe. If you are now totally confused, it is understandable. It takes exposure and time to understand the difference.

Often critical matters are negotiated through third parties to avoid direct conflict. Sometimes a quarrel between two individuals escalates to an unsolvable row between two clans or families. The only way to resolve the conflict peaceably (very desirable), is to go to the local Barangay captain and use him as a mediator. The skillful Barangay chief will explain to both parties in private why he is doing them a favor by entertaining their side of the argument. In the end all go home satisfied that they have been heard and perhaps nothing was gained or lost in the process. Everyone maintained Amor Propio, or saves face.

Pakikisama is most important at work places and is considered as the key factor getting a job best done. The Western way of arguing, disagreeing and being very straightforward or frank, is considered by many Filipinos as a breach of etiquette.

Pakikisama has many manifestations in Philippine society, one of which is extending support or offering help to neighbors who are in need. This comes from the still relevant necessity to bind together to survive as a group. When food is scarce and rice is expensive, all eat, for the good of the group. Pakikisama reflects the bayanihan spirit, which involves cooperation among fellow men to come up with a certain idea or accomplish a certain task. While bayanihan refers to a community-support action, pakikisama has a more individualized sense.

Nonetheless, feuds,vendettas, and violence are not unknown in Philippine society.

Utang na loob

A debt of gratitude (utang na loob) is sometimes repaid by giving special favors to the other person regardless of the moral outcome.

Philippine personal alliance systems are anchored by kinship, beginning with the nuclear family. A Filipino's loyalty goes first to the immediate family and personal identity is deeply embedded in the matrix of kinship. It is normal that one owes support, loyalty, and trust to one's close kin and, because kinship is structured bilaterally among relatives, one's kin can include quite a large number of people. With respect to kin beyond this nuclear family, closeness in relationship depends very much on physical proximity.

A bond between two individuals may be formed based on the concept of utang na loob. Another way of saying obligation to repay a loan or debt. Although it is expected that the debtor will attempt repayment, it is widely recognized that the debt, as in one's obligation to a parent, can never be fully repaid and the obligation can last for generations.

Saving someones life, providing employment, or making it possible for another to become educated are "gifts" that incur utang na loob. Moreover, such gifts initiate a long-term reciprocal interdependency in which the grantor of the favor can expect help from the debtor whenever the need arises and the debtor can, in turn, ask other favors. Such reciprocal personal alliances have had obvious implications for the society in general and the political system in particular.

There is also a tying between Asian, European and Latin American etiquettes from previous external travelers and explorers who have influenced the Filipino culture as these behaviors and social norms and beliefs are found in the Filipino mainstream culture. Some of these behaviors continue over with Overseas Filipinos.


It should be emphasized that close familial ties are upheld to the highest extent. 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. A nuclear family is very common among Filipinos. Divorce does not exist in the Philippines. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has stated that divorce is "un-Filipino, immoral, unconstitutional and a danger to the Filipino family." Others point out that in the past ancestral tribes did practice divorce and that the "reign of the Pope via the Spanish crown" is the source of current law.

Courtship among the Filipino people is heavily influenced by Spanish and Roman Catholic traditions. Many parents disapprove of girls visiting boys' homes. Usually, the boy comes to the girl's house to formally introduce himself to her parents and family. The Filipino must win the Filipina's parents' approval. At home, painful corporal punishment is almost always practiced among the Filipino family as children are often hit as a form of discipline. Filipinos use their belts, hands and canes to hit their children.

Among great distances of the family, balikbayan boxes are transferred through vast distances as some are compelled to move to international territories. These overseas Filipinos send huge boxes called the balikbayan box to their families back in the motherland containing goods, gadgets and/ or popular trendy items. They also bring balikbayan boxes when they return to their motherland on vacation to visit their family. Sometimes their families in the Philippines return the favor and send exotic food items only found in the Philippines or indigenous property expressing Filipino workmanship. It is another way to express cultural exchange and a way of helping out their families at home.


The creation of alliances with neighbors and a helping attitude whenever one is in dire need is what Filipinos call bayanihan. This bayanihan spirit can be seen in action when a bus gets a flat tire. Bystanding or surrounding Filipinos will assist the bus driver in whatever is needed to get the bus back on its way. This can be contrasted with the individualistic attitude more prevalent in some other societies.

Filipinos get around by riding in jeepneys, buses, and cars. In urban areas, there are trains such as the LRT and MRT as well as boats, taxis, and ferries. In rural areas carabaos are often used for transport. Bus transportation is used to get from one major city to another. Taxis or tricycles are used to get from place to place within a city. The driving style in the country follows that one honks the horn to warn of an oncoming vehicle.

Religion and Superstition

Before the arrival of the Spaniards and the introduction of Roman Catholicism in the 1500s, the indigenous inhabitants of the Philippines were adherents of a mixture of animism, Hinduism, and Vajrayana Buddhism. Bathala was the supreme God of the Filipinos, represented by the langit, or sky, but not all Filipinos believed in it. The Ninuno, or the ancient ancestors, were the people who taught Filipinos/Tagalogs who will be in the future; they believed in the supreme God. For the Bikolanos, the supreme God was Gugurang. Other Filipino gods and goddesses include araw (sun), buwan (the moon), tala (the stars), and natural objects (such as trees, shrubs, mountains, or rocks). However, they were not the Western kinds of gods and goddesses; they were representations for some Filipinos/Tagalogs; or they were representations as gifts. As the Abrahamic religions began to sweep the islands, most Filipinos became Christians, consequently believing in only one God. Other Filipinos became Muslims, especially in the southern islands of the country such as Mindanao. Spirits such as the aswang (ghoul), the tikbalang (a creature with the head of a horse and the physique of a man), the kapre (a giant that is seen smoking tobacco), the tiyanak (monster-like, vampire-esque child), the santelmo (fireball), duwende (dwarves and elves), the manananggal (witches that can split their bodies at their torsos and feed on baby's blood), engkanto (minor spirits), and diwata (fairies/nymphs), are believed to pervade the Philippines. Aside from that, voodoo practices (such as pangkukulam) and witchcraft were practiced by pre-colonial inhabitants. Beliefs such as usog (a child greeted by a stranger will get sick) and lihi (the child will resemble the food craved during pregnancy) are also present. These beliefs have been carried up to the present generation of Filipinos, which has led some foreign authors to (incorrectly) describe them as 'Pagano-Christians.'

Voodoo, psychic surgery, and the rituals of medicine men and women are commonly practiced in most indigenous Filipino societies. These spiritual-ritual practices are found mostly in rural areas throughout the islands. In Tagalog, people who cast spells and lay curses are called mangkukulam; people who curse their enemies by putting insects inside their bodies are called mambabarang; and, in contrast to these two, the healers of these curses are called albularyo.

Psychic surgeons are people who appear to remove tumors and diseased tissue by sticking their hands into a patient's body and extracting bloody human flesh, but leaving the patient scar free. Some see this practice as just sleight of hand fakery, others accept it as true, still others accept it as an alternative healing method and a way to take advantage of the placebo effect. See YouTube video on " Psychic Surgery".

Wealth and beauty

The belief that "white is beautiful" is held by many Filipino women, leading them to stay out of the sun to keep their skin from getting dark. Even at a young age, children are taught and practice this belief. Furthermore, many of these women use bleaching or whitening skin products to keep their skin white, and also use anti pimple or anti blackhead products. This bias towards favoring white skin came from the influential occupations of the Spanish and the Americans, and continues among many Filipinos to this day.

Fatness may also be associated with wealth, while being too skinny may be seen as a sign of poverty.

Rebonding and hair relaxing are popular among teenagers. Spa treatments are also famous. Indulging in various salon treatments is a common activity among well-off Filipinos which helps the rising popularity of many salons.

As in other Asian countries, most Filipinos are myopic (nearsighted). This contributes to the large scale Philippine optical industry.

In formal gatherings, men wear the Barong Tagalog, a translucent pearl white shirt, usually made of piña (pineapple) fibers or jusi [hoo-si] (banana) fibers. But in informal settings, such as at home or at picnics, Filipinos either go barefoot or wear slippers. Due to the humid tropical climate, men are often found in a tank top or go barechested, wearing shorts and with a towel on their shoulder to wipe away the sweat.

In rural areas of the country, some Filipino children resort to bathing naked in public. Those who live near rivers take baths there, and natives will use river stones as washcloths to scrub themselves. Since water pressure is lacking in many areas of the country, many people resort to using buckets (timba at tabo) for bathing. People are so used to the routine of using the bucket bath method that they will continue to use it even when water pressure is more than adequate for shower use. Places that have adequate water pressure like hotels do have running shower heads.



Some urban and rural Filipinos often call for attention by saying "hoy!" (meaning: Hey!, in the Tagalog language) or use a rising hiss like a snake by saying "psst.

To greet a friend, or express "what's up," one usually whips his head upward for acknowledgment.

The use of lips to point is widely practiced. Instead of using their pointer fingers, Filipinos may point with their lips extended out to indicate the position of an object.

Telecommunications and e-mail are popular as well as the usage of cell phones. Many Filipinos, even those who live in poverty, own mobile phones. Sending SMS messages is a common way of communication, as it is cheaper than making a call. The Philippines is considered to be the Txt capital of the world sending millions of SMS messages a day.


Regular Holidays

  • January 1 - New Year’s Day
  • Movable date - Maundy Thursday
  • Movable date - Good Friday
  • Movable date - Eidul Fitr
  • Monday nearest April 9 - Araw ng Kagitingan (Bataan and Corregidor Day)
  • Monday nearest May 1 - Labor Day
  • Monday nearest June 12 - Independence Day
  • Last Monday of August - National Heroes Day
  • Monday nearest November 30 - Bonifacio Day
  • December 25 - Christmas Day
  • Monday nearest December 30 - Rizal Day

Nationwide Special Holidays

  • Monday nearest August 21 - Ninoy Aquino Day
  • November 1 - All Saints Day
  • December 31 - Last Day of the Year

Native Holidays

  • January 9 - The Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo and Manila.
  • Third Sunday of January (date varies) - The Fiesta del Santo Niño de Cebu (Festival of the Child Jesus of Cebu); Sinulog in Cebu; Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan.
  • Lent; March or April (date varies) - Semana Santa (Holy Week).
  • May - Flores de Mayo. Summer-starting festivities when the rain starts pouring back, after a blistering hot summer that begins around mid March, these festivities may have been rooted to the celebrations of the farmers as they welcome back the fertile season. Celebrations around towns showcase crops, food and delicacies. One famous festivity is the "Pahiyas", a colorful celebration in Lucban, Quezon where houses are decorated mainly with dried rice papers in different shapes and colors. Crops also accentuate these houses in artful shapes and styles.
  • Third Saturday and Sunday of September (date varies) - The Peñafrancia Festival in Naga City, Camarines Sur, Bicol Region. During the festivities, people attend church services, followed by parades on the streets, fireworks, and feasting in honor of the Roman Catholic faith and native culture, and are attended by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos each year. The Peñafrancia Festival is also highlighted by a fluvial procession in the Bicol River.
  • November 1 through 2 - "Araw ng mga Patay" (Day of the Dead, All Saints Day and All Souls Day). Also known as Undas, taken from the fact it is held on November 1. During All Saints/Souls Day, it's traditional to visit the cemeteries and pay homage to their dearly departed. The usually solemn cemetery takes on a party atmosphere, with much merry-making rather than a solemn celebration.
  • December 24 - Noche Buena (Christmas Eve).
  • December 25 - Araw ng Pasko (Christmas day).
  • December 31 - Bisperas ng Bagong Taon (New Year's Eve).

Arts, culture and music

Filipino cultural arts cover a variety of forms of entertainment. Music in the Philippines features several styles. Some are contemporary such as Filipino rock and Filipino hip hop. Some are traditional such as Filipino folk music with indigenous instruments. The Cinema of the Philippines includes many comedies, accounts of hardship, action films, and love stories.


Weaving is popular with the northern mountain Filipinos. Pottery was also common in pre-Hispanic societies. Ornate carvings are found in the southern Philippine islands. Similarly, wooden art is also quite popular and is displayed in various parts of the home.

Filipinos began creating artistic paintings in the 17th century during Spanish colonial times and have continued up to the present, with such revered artists as Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, and Zobel. Other popular artists include Hugo C. Yunzon reflecting an earthy style that touches on indigenous Malay culture in pieces such as Early Risers and Mariang Makiling,, Nestor Leynes with Mag-ina Sa Banig, and Tam Austria with Mag-Anak.

Filipinos have unique folk dances like tinikling where assistants take two long bamboo sticks and rapidly and rhythmatically clap them together while dancers artistically and daringly try to avoid getting their feet smashed between them. Also in the southern part of the Philippines, there is another dance called singkil using long bamboo poles found in tinikling; however, it is primarily a dance showing off lavish Muslim royalty. In this dance, there are four bamboo sticks arranged in a tic-tac-toe pattern in which the dancers exploit every position of these clashing sticks. The dancers try to avoid all 4 bamboo sticks as the sticks clap together in the middle. They can also try to dance an entire rotation around the middle avoiding all sticks. Usually these stick dances are performed in teamwork fashion, not solo. The Singkil dance is identifiable with the use of umbrellas and silk clothing. See YouTube tinikling video and YouTube singkil video


Pre-Hispanic architecture is usually characterized by its use of indigenous woody materials. The bahay kubo is the mainstream form of housing. It is characterized by indigenous materials such as bamboo and coconut as the main sources of wood. Cogon grass and Nipa palm leaves are used as roof thatching, although coconut fronds are also used. Most native homes are built on stilts due to frequent flooding during the rainy 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, especially in Mindanao, is characterized by very angular wooden roofs, bamboo in place of leafy thatching, and ornate wooden carvings.

The Spanish introduced stones as housing materials. The introduction of Christianity brought western style churches which 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 the surrounding provinces.



Filipinos cook a variety of foods influenced by Spanish and Asian cuisines.

A typical Filipino meal consists of at least one viand (ulam in Tagalog) served with boiled or fried rice (kanin), which is eaten much like Westerners eat potatoes. Filipinos regularly use spoons together with forks, as opposed to knives and forks in Western culture. 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 (meat or vegetable rolls), pancit (noodle dish), and lechón (whole roasted pig) are served on plates.

Other popular dishes include: afritada, asado, chorizo sausages (used in pancit or fried rice), empanadas, mais (corn), mani (roasted peanuts), paksiw (fish or pork, cooked in vinegar and water with some spices like garlic and pepper), pan de sal (salted bread rolls), pescado (fried or grilled fish), and torta (omelette). Indigenous Filipino and regional cuisines include: dinuguan, kare-kare (ox-tail stew), kilawen, pinakbet (vegetable stew), pinapaitan, and sinigang (tamarind soup with a variety of pork, fish or shrimp). Some delicacies eaten by the Filipino people but which may seem unappetizing to the western palate include balut (boiled egg with a fertilized duckling inside); longanisa (a sweet sausage); and dinuguan (black soup made with animal blood).

Popular snacks and deserts indulged are chicharon (deep fried pork or chicken skin), halo-halo (crushed ice with condensed milk, flan, and sliced tropical fruits), puto (little white rice cakes), bibingka (rice cake with butter or margarine and salted eggs), ensaymada (sweet roll with grated cheese on top), polvoron (powder candy), and tsokolate (chocolate) are eaten outside the three main meals. Local liquors such as lambanog, tuba, and basi are served on cup.

World Heritage Sites

Several sites in the country have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These are the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, Historic Town of Vigan, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Banaue Rice Terraces, and Tubbataha Reef Marine Park.


Sipa is the national sports in the Philippines. Other popular recreational sports include boxing, patintero, billiards, basketball, chess, ten-pin bowling and football (soccer). Boxing, billiards, basketball and soccer are popular among Filipinos. The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was founded in 1975. Dodge ball, or mistakenly called "touch ball", is also a favorite sport of those who play in schools during break time.

Sports where Filipinos have gained international successes are boxing, billiards (notably nine ball), ten-pin bowling, chess and football (soccer). Notable champions include Paulino Alcántara, Francisco Pancho Villa, Manny Pacquiao, Mansueto Velasco, Flash Elorde, Efren Reyes, Francisco Bustamante, Rafael Nepomuceno and Eugene Torre.

The Palarong Pambansa, a national sports festival, has its roots in an annual sporting meet of public schools that started in 1948. Private schools and universities eventually joined the national event, which became known as the Palarong Pambansa in 1976. It serves as a national Olympics for students, with victors from competitions at the school, province, and regional level emerging to participate. The year 2002 event included soccer, golf, archery, badminton, baseball, chess, gymnastics, tennis, softball, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, track and field, and volleyball.

There are also many styles of traditional Filipino Martial Arts known under various names over the years. Kali, also called Arnis by westerners, has varying sources of origin depending on the island and/or tribe of origin. It is difficult to ascertain a single originating or "pure" Filipino martial art due to the lack of written historical record. There is considerable controversy on this subject.

Influences in the development and evolution of Filipino Martial Arts includes that of the Indian, Indonesian, Chinese and Spanish.

The distinguishing characteristic of martial arts originating from the Philippines is most commonly the emphasis in curriculum of teaching weapons before or simultaneously with the empty-hand forms and also for the curriculum concept of "angles of attack."

Native toys and games

Pusoy dos is described as a variant where one tries to get rid of all his cards by choosing poker hands wisely. Pusoy originally came from Chinese pai gow, blended with poker, while pusoy dos came from coastal China around 1980.

Filipinos also play sungka, a board game using small sea shells in which players try to take all shells but the winner is determined by who has the most shells at the point when all small pits become empty. This is an Asian game that westerners first observed in 1894.

Filipinos are creative in that they have made toys using insects such as tying a beetle to string and sweeping it circular rotation to make an interesting sound. Salagubang gong is a toy described by Harvard entomologist Charles Brtjes in his trip to Negros illustrating a toy using beetles to create a periodic gong effect on a kerosene can as the beetle rotates above the contraption.

Filipino games also include piko, patintero, jack-en-poy, bang!, bahay-kubo, nanay-tatay, and many more. Many children enjoy these games.

The yo-yo is often credited as having been invented in the Philippines centuries ago. The name yo-yo may have been derived from the Filipino word 'tayoyo' which means to spin.

Tribal groups

Certain indigenous groups such as the Negritos, Mangyans, and Manobos who live in remote areas of (respectively) Luzon, the Visayas, and Palawan have largely retained the pre-Hispanic beliefs of their ancestors. Having been somewhat isolated from mainstream society, their cultures differ greatly from that of the majority of Filipinos.

Other cultural realms


The homosexual subculture was a product of the 1960s. Gay people express themselves in occupations such as barbershops or beauty professions or in clothing design. They also have their own style of linguistic communication. Homosexuality in the Philippines is widely accepted and viewed as part of normal life, though it is still met with some discrimination because of the nation's dominant macho population. However, due to the country's strong Roman Catholic affiliation, gay marriage and civil unions are prohibited.

See also


External links

Films of interest

  • The Debut — Movie exhibiting a gamut of Filipino cultural values and conflicts between Filipino traditions and American cultural values from the perspective of Filipino-Americans.
  • Pangarap ko ang ibigin ka (2003) Ignacio L., Dir.: Viva Films, Philippines. — Sharon Cuneta film exhibiting some courtship customs between pinoy and pinay.

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