Saturday, September 25, 2010


Nagtatahor, or ‘respecting’ in the English language and gumagalang in Tagalog, is how I write the complimentary end of my letters in Asi, my original native language. It is the present participle of the action verb ‘respect’.

Nagtatahor is the safest word in my lexicon. Its root word is tahor, pronounced taa-hor, with a very light emphasis on ta and a slow close on hor to distinguish it from tahor, the Asi noun for a cock’s spur, which is pronounced with a heavier, faster accent on ta and still a faster clip on hor.

In Asi society—the society which a hundred thousand or so Romblomanons inhabit—nagtatahor is a revered word, for it not only describes the Asi’s state of being, but also indicates his way of life. Without pagtahor, our society will lack the calm order of behavior that defines our culture. Without it, we will be in shambles.

Perhaps, because pagtahor is an ingrained Asi virtue, I had not paid close attention to this important aspect of our culture since I started to write about the Asi, so much so that when John F. Rufon, an Asi studying for his master’s degree in language at the University of Sto. Tomas, cajoled me into saying something about pagtahor, I was jolted.

John wants to know: “What is the genesis of pagtahor and what are some of its forms—in present-day and past?”

To answer this question, I have to delve deep into my memory—experienced and observed—for in childhood as well as in the formative years of my youth, I breathed the air that supplied the life of the Asi’s natural and cultural environment and drank from the fountain of my forebears from which flew the traditions I now nurture.

In short, my knowledge of pagtahor came not from the walls of the academe, and certainly not from some extant records about which the Asi culture has a scant supply.

I shall begin by recalling the experience of being caught in a conversation between two elders.

An Asi child, if his upbringing is correct, should never interpose, object, suggest, or criticize when two Asi adults are talking to each other. He or she should only listen. To say a word is impolite, the height of impertinence. And the Asi has a word for this behavior, this elder-imposed silence: it is called saligbat.

Thus, “Aya gi saligbat sa bisaya it maguyang,” means don’t you ever interpose or say a word when two elders are conversing. To obey this unwritten rule is pagtahor. To disobey it is to court rebuke.

In Asi, the genesis of this behavior is both biological and generational—two of the inherent principles governing the social kinship structure of Asi society. A child should always look up to older people not only because the elders are expected to have accumulated more knowledge and wisdom, but also because of the order of lineal descent.

The Asi, like many other Filipinos, recognize the hierarchy in the family, with the father and mother belonging to the superior lines of authority, followed by the eldest son or daughter and so on. But this is not only so. The Asi family is patriarchal. It is the father who reigns supreme at home and outside of it when it comes to making family decisions.

This structure of authority is demonstrated by words inherent in the Asi language, starting with titles or honorifics.

The honorific for father in Asi varies. The father is called tatay and the mother is called nanay; an elder brother is manong while an elder sister is manang; and the youngest child is puto. There is no Tagalog word for the next ‘younger brother or sister’, but in Asi, the equivalent is manghor.

The original Asi term, puto, has an equivalent in Tagalog: bunso.

Tatay and nanay may be Tagalog, but their pronunciation in Asi and the contextual uses render them uniquely Asi. Tatay, for example, when used as a form of reference, is pronounced slowly, but when used vocatively as a form of address, such as in “Tatay, ging aayaba ka,” (Father, you are being called.), the pronunciation is fast, with emphasis on the last syllable tah—TAY.

The word maguyang is another example. Maguyang has two meanings in Asi. If the pronunciation is slow, the word means an old person; if the pronunciation is fast, with emphasis on maguh—YANG, the word means the eldest (brother or sister).

The same pronunciation variable is true with the honorifics tatang and nanang. In some places in the Asi community the terms means father and mother, but there are also Asi who refer to their grandfathers and grandmothers as tatang and nanang. Olo and ola are contracted forms of lolo and lola and also refer to grandparents.

The extended Asi family has engendered words of address that indicate pagtahor, most expropriated from the Tagalog language: tiyo (uncle) and tiyohon (the uncle as relation); tiya, tiyahon; pinsan, pinsanon; manugang, panugangan, umagar (son- and daughter-in-law); kinumangkon (niece and nephew); bayaw (brother-in-law); hipag (sister-in-law); bianan (mother- and father-in-law); ninong (godfather); ninang (godmother); pare and kumadre (partners in godparenting); and balaye (honorific address to each other by parents of husbands and wives).

Many of these forms of address did not exist in pre-Spanish Asi society. These were introduced along with Christianity and which the Asi have adapted and grown accustomed to. But some, like manugang, panugangan, and umagar, which means the same, are original Asi terms.

Manugang and panugangan, for example, were derivatives of the Asi word rugang, which means to add. Thus, an Asi may derisively dismiss a son- or daughter-in-law who might have affronted someone with the expression, “Asi, rugang yang ka ara! (Why, you are just an addition to the family!).

And then, there is the other son- or daughter-in-law equivalent: umagar. Umagar is a derivative of the word hagar (to ask), which is what a prospective husband figuratively does when he asks for the permission of the parents of a prospective wife to marry her.

There is one word that denotes relation and which is apparently the sum total of pagtahor within the Asi family. The term is hali, a very useful word which means brother, sister, or relative.

Manggihali (relatives), maghali (brother or sister), maghalihan (group or groups of relatives) are pagtahor terms which are invoked in the socio-economic life of the Asi.

An equivalent phrase, mag-kautoy it pusor, literally ‘joined in the umbilical cord’, also indicate social relations. Other variations that are used to indicate reverence to kin is magkarugo (of the same blood).

I mention these words because in the Asi kinship system, these are major considerations in the display of public and private behavior and determines not only the level of politeness, but also the nature of dealing that an Asi has with his fellow Asi and with those outside his immediate communal circle.

Respect is an important element of Asi behavior. An Asi may show or exhibit anger but still use Asi pagtahor terms and other terms of respect or endearment. He may be offended or may suffer from a verbal or behavioral affront, but still remain deferential and respectful by remaining nagtatahor.

The Asi, ever conscious of his kinship relations and his ‘place’ in the kinship system, see to it that pagtahor is not only an abstract.

For example, even without saying a pagtahor address, an Asi is expected to run to the succor of a hali in distress; avenge a tiyo who has been wronged; mediate in or pacify a maghalihan quarrel; celebrate with a pinsan in his victory; care for a sick olo; or not answer back the reprimand of an umagar.

In any of these instances, his action or behavior—verbal or non-verbal—will be considered a form of pagtahor.

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