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A hundred proverbs from Bicolano culture

By Juan Escandor Jr.
First Posted 12:10:00 08/15/2006

Filed Under: Books, Culture (general), Customs & Traditions, Literature

Naga City - What makes the newly published book ?Balalong? unique is that it attempts to chronicle Bicol culture through proverbs.

?Balalong (stress on the second syllable) is a pre-colonial instrument made of bamboo, beaten by a stick and used by chieftains to summon the villagers. It?s apt as the title of this 118-page book, if only to make it known that Bicol has its own set of proverbs that reveal strands of its cultural fabric. This collection represents spoken Bicol in Naga City and most parts of Camarines Sur.


Sometimes witty and humorous, and at other times profound, the proverbs that author Fr. Philip Francis Reazon Bersabe compiled and classified provide windows to the wisdom and values of a class of Bicolanos through generations.

Classified into four categories?moral, psychological, religious and secular?the book tries to unravel the deeper meaning of each proverb in daily life.

Explained and illustrated, this collection of 100 proverbs, as in other cultures worldwide, expresses the perception of ideas and ideals that matter to people, based on the norms and traditions of their place.

With local color, Bersabe takes the reader to the ethnicity of Bicolanos, with influences of religion, life cycle and environment as backdrop.

Kun sa lubang ka mahayop, puling an saimong madadakop? (Blow into the mortar, and the dust will get into your eyes) conveys wisdom in simple terms.

Some proverbs are informal and hilarious, reflecting a contemporary outlook: An tawong matorognon, naagawan nin agom (A sleeping husband loses his wife). ?An babaeng mainikid-ikid, sa pungo nasasabit (A flirtatious woman gets caught in the protruding branch).

Bersabe has more of this kind of proverb that originated from Caramoan and Camarines Sur. Here?s one with Bicolano machismo: An lugad nin lalaki, tinatahi nin nawi (The wound of a man is sutured by a large strand).


Bersabe has achieved a work of Bicolano values and wisdom, adding to the body of Bicol literature ? a growing list seeking to define identity. Being a priest, however, he tends to frame his discussion with biblical passages, which could narrow the readers? appreciation.
It?s not remote that several of these proverbs evolved from pre-colonial times when animism was the dominant native worldview. Framing them in a Christian viewpoint alters their original context.

Take the proverb An harayo sa gatong, dai matotong (One who is far from the burning wood will not get burned). Bersabe explains this to mean that a person must avoid trouble by distancing himself from quarrels, dissensions, misunderstanding, and trouble.
He doesn?t stop there but concludes that this ?may positively refer to a person who runs away from the love of God and needs to be closer to Him again, to get burned by His love.?

While the book provides a historical context to some of the proverbs, much work is needed to find their original meanings. Language research can deconstruct the words for these meanings. Only thus can Bersabe unleash their universality. Still, ?Balalong must be appreciated for his intention to document these folk sayings before they?re totally forgotten.

Bersabe has earned two summa cum laude honors ? in 2000 when he finished his Bachelor in Sacred Theology and 2002, when he obtained his Licentiate Masteral in Sacred Theology at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Sacred Theology and Graduate School.

?Balalong" was printed at the Goldprint Publishing House in Naga City last June.

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