In some ways, traditional culture and modern culture are alike. Any culture is a system of learned and shared meanings. People learn and share things over the course of generations, and so we say they are a culture. Traditional and modern culture function similarly because both are ways of thinking, ways of relating to people and to the universe.
The beginning of culture was language. The first word was culture. Someone looked up from whatever else was going on and said something, and that first word was the building block of all human culture. You could pass it around. You could imitate it or change it. Its meaning could be shared among people.
Maybe the word was "food" or "love" or "God." It doesn't matter what the word was, what language it began, or when or how. It just was. And the word constituted culture, because the word carried meaning.
If there were only one concept to be considered in the discussion of culture, it is this: meaning. How do we know whether the group of letters a-p-p-l-e represents that sweet-tart yellow or red fruit, or a brand name of computer? How do we know whether the group of letters l-e-a-d represents that blue-gray metallic chemical element, or the verb that signifies "to show the way?" How do we know what a person's intentions are when they wave their hand at us from across the street? It is because we have learned to share the meanings of words.
Of course meanings are not limited to written words but began with thought words and spoken words, signed words, gestured words, pictured words. All these kinds of words carry meaning. And it is in the meanings of things that culture resides, regardless of whether it is traditional or modern culture. So we can commence with the idea that our traditional ancestors, like their modern descendants, learned and shared meanings.
Traditional and modern culture are alike in another way. Both developed to accommodate their surroundings. Both traditional and modern culture work for people because they are suited to local environmental conditions. A farming culture would not work as well in Antarctica. Inuit (Eskimo) culture would not survive as well in the Sahara. Bedouin culture would not function as well in Manhattan. Culture of any kind works best (and longest) if it is well adapted to local conditions.
It should perhaps be noted that there is apparently nothing genetic about the presence or absence of traditional culture; traditional culture is not the sole province of any one ethnic group. For example, in ancient Europe the Celts and Teutons lived traditional culture. In ancient North America the Anishinabe and Lakota lived traditional culture. In ancient Africa the Bantu and Yoruba lived traditional culture. At some point back in history all human beings -- regardless of what continent they occupied and which ethnic group they constituted -- all lived in a traditional tribal culture.
Modern culture developed in some areas of the planet as human societies grew larger. Mass organization in some form -- first the development of large work forces and armies, and later the development of mechanized means of production -- was an important force in changing traditional culture into modern culture. The shift from rural life to urban life is at the core of the development of modern culture.
While traditional and modern culture may be similar in some ways, in some very significant ways they are clearly different from each other. Traditional culture, such as our human ancestors enjoyed, is held together by relationships among people -- immediate family, extended family, clan and tribe. Everyone lives nearby. Everyone knows how he or she fits into the mix because relationships, and the behaviors that go along with them, are clearly defined. "Brother" is someone toward whom I must act like a brother. "Uncle" is someone from whom I expect a certain kind of behavior. If I violate what is expected, everyone will know. Perhaps there will be severe consequences.
But this does not rob the humans who live traditional culture of their individuality. Some brothers act differently from other brothers. Some uncles take on different roles depending, for example, on whether they are mother's brother or father's brother, or whether they are particularly gregarious or more somber, and so on. But in general, well-defined family and clan relationships, and the kinship terms that signal them, make daily operations in traditional society take a workable course. If you have the proper relationship with someone, you can get just about anything accomplished. If, on the other hand, you don't have the proper relationship, you find it difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish anything. You learn that kinship terms are key phrases in getting along. In traditional culture, relationships and people seem to be what matters.
In the modern culture of mainstream America, most people live in nuclear families: Mom and Dad and 2.5 kids. Many have only occasional contact with family members outside the immediate household. Young people quickly learn that their importance depends on how many and what kind of things they can control. Eventually they learn that power -- personal, economic, social, political, religious, whatever -- gets things done. Modern culture has a tendency to spread out, to build empires, to capitalize on as many resources as possible. Modern culture seems to be held together by power and things, not by people and relationships.
In modern culture people learn that business life is separate from personal life, for example that church and state can be kept apart. We learn to compartmentalize our lives. During the week we can be shrewd business-makers in a competitive marketplace where there are happy winners and tragic losers. On the weekend we can go to church or temple and ask forgiveness for our transgressions, and then go back on Monday and start all over again. We learn (in some form) two key phrases: "It's nothing personal, but..." and "It's just business."
But in traditional culture things are not that simple -- business life and personal life are often the same thing. Partners in trade and other economic activities are generally the same people as one's kin relations. Similarly, the principles and values that guide spiritual and ceremonial life are the same principles and values that guide political life. Thus in traditional culture, the compartmentalizing or separating of business and personal life, of religious and political life, would not work. You cannot separate how you treat your trade partners from how you treat your cousins if they are the same people. You cannot separate your spiritual values from your political values if they are the same values.
Another way in which the two differ is that traditional culture tends to stay relatively the same for long periods of time. It is basically a conservative system. Does this mean that new ideas are not incorporated from time to time, that traditional culture is static? Certainly not. The traditional culture of our ancestors changed in response to the same kinds of forces that produce biological change.
The invention of new things in traditional culture (for example, new technologies such as ceramics or the bow and arrow) work in the same way as genetic mutations: something unusual happens, and things after that are different. Preferences for especially useful things and ideas in traditional culture work in the same way as natural selection: something does a better job or is more desirable in some way, so it becomes more common thereafter. Ways of thinking and doing things in traditional cultures flow from one culture to another just like genes flow from one biological population to another: folks come into contact, something gets exchanged. Isolation of a small, unusual sample of people in a traditional culture causes whatever that thing is that makes them unusual to become more common in future generations (for example, if a small group of people sets off to start a new village, and they all just happen to like to wear their hair a certain way, then their offspring would tend to wear their hair that way too) -- in just the same way that genetic drift operates. Ancient traditional culture did change. But it was such a conservative system that it tended to resist change whenever it could.
In contrast, modern culture thrives on change. It creates new goods and services, and teaches us to want them. It adds new technologies, things and ideas at an increasingly rapid rate, such that the amount of cultural change experienced in America between 1950 and 2000 is far greater than the amount of change experienced in the entire eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America. Change in modern culture is propelled by all the same forces that cause change in traditional culture, only in modern culture the changes happen more quickly. Modern culture is a more mutable system that tends to change often.
Another way in which traditional culture and modern culture differ is in their relationship to environment. Traditional cultures lived in close contact with their local environment. This taught that nature must be respected, cooperated with, in certain ritualized ways. One did not make huge changes in the environment, beyond clearing fields for agriculture and villages. Society saw itself as part of nature; its spiritual beliefs and values held humans as the kinsmen of plants and animals.
In contrast, modern culture creates its own environment, exports that cultural environment to colonies in far away places. It builds cities and massive structures. It teaches that nature is meant to be manipulated, to be the source of jobs and wealth for its human masters. It sees itself as being above nature. Its religions commonly cast humans as the pinnacle of nature: at best its paternalistic supervisors, at worst its righteous conquerors.
These differences in the way traditional and modern culture perceive and interact with the environment have various consequences for the humans in those cultures. Not the least of these is the difference in sustainability. A culture that lives in relative harmony with its environment has a greater likelihood of sustaining itself than does a culture that destroys its environment. The culture of our human ancestors existed for thousands of years without doing any substantive damage to the ecosystem. In a very few centuries modern culture has eliminated or endangered numerous plant and animal species, degraded many waterways and negatively impacted the health of many of its citizens: "better" living through chemistry!
A closely related comparison between traditional and modern culture concerns ways of thinking. Modern culture is built upon knowledge. The more bits of knowledge one controls -- a larger database, a larger computer memory -- the more power one has. Modern culture produces new bits of knowledge so rapidly that sometimes our computers tell us "Memory is Full!" People in modern culture are more likely to feel that things are changing, that bits of knowledge are coming at them, so rapidly that they cannot absorb it all, cannot make sense of it all. Modern culture is long in knowledge.
The traditional culture had a broad base of knowledge, as well. All plants and animals in the local environment were known by name and by their potential usefulness to humans. Weather, geology, astronomy, medicine, politics, history, language and so on were all parts of a complex integrated body of knowledge. But in traditional culture life went on beyond knowledge, to the level of wisdom -- seeing the patterns in the bits of knowledge -- and to the level of understanding -- realizing that there are more profound patterns made by the patterns of wisdom.
Take medicine as an example. Traditional man had a pain in his stomach; he found a plant in his local environment that had a certain medicinal property. These were bits of knowledge. If he prepared the plant's leaves a certain way, and drank the tea that resulted, it would make the pain in his stomach go away. This is a scientific method, a process that involves seeing the pattern in the bits of knowledge: x (the plant) goes with y (the preparation) to produce z (the treatment). This realizing of patterns is what I call wisdom. Both modern and traditional culture go this far, but here they often tend to diverge.
Eventually this traditional ancestor realized that there were all kinds of plant treatments for all kinds of ills -- that for every ailment there was a treatment -- and that there was a balancing act that operated on a universal scale of which he was but a small part. There was a harmony that could become disturbed if he destroyed the forest in which the plants grew, or if he overestimated himself by taking for granted the wisdom he had gained about the plants -- and this harmony had to be maintained on all levels (physical, social, environmental, spiritual, etc.). This realization that the patterns of wisdom were themselves connected in higher order patterns was the beginning of what I call understanding. The traditional culture of our ancestors was long in understanding, whereas modern culture frequently seems to stop the thought process at the level of wisdom.
In modern culture, the elders tend to think of traditional culture as "primitive," "backward," somehow "childlike." In traditional culture, on the other hand, the elders tend to think of modern culture as "hollow," "ignorant," somehow "childlike." But modern culture tends to take over traditional culture because modern culture is powerful: it is mechanized, it moves mountains, it digs canals and drains swamps, it overwhelms, and it is seductive -- it glitters, it tastes sweet, it goes fast. And it advertises.
So why do so many people these days seem to be refugees from modern culture? Why are so many people who were raised in the ways of modern culture now so interested in traditional American Indian or Celtic culture? Why is there a constant stream of people searching for a "new age," for "medicine men" and powwows and traditional ceremonies and Highland games?
I think it is because there is a hole in modern culture, where the truly important spiritual and humane parts of life used to be. Put another way, I think that inside modern man there is a traditional man somewhere -- who wants the security of feeling connected to an extended family and a clan of other humans -- who longs for the pleasure of hearing stories told around the hearth -- who resonates to the steady drum rhythm or the haunting bagpipe wail -- who plods through his anxious dreams grasping at bits of knowledge, thirsting, perhaps unknowingly, for the cool, delicious harmony of understanding. I believe the shift from traditional to modern culture was one of man's greatest falls from grace.
Our culture is a big reflection of our great and complex history. It is influenced by most of the people we have interacted with. A blend of the Malayo-Polynesian and Hispanic culture with the influence from Chinese, Indians Arabs, and other Asian cultures really contribute to the customs and traditions of the Filipinos.
Filipino culture is unique compared to other Asian countries, and beliefs apply every day in the life of the Filipinos and reveal how rich and blessed the culture the people have.
Let’s review some of the popular Filipino traditions and find the similarities that bind Filipinos to each other.
First on the list is Mano Po. When children or young people greet or say goodbye to their elders they typically do so by taking the right hand of the elder with their right hand and touch the back the elder's hand lightly on their forehead. It is a way of giving respect to the elders and I believe that is also a way of receiving blessing to the elders.
Mano is a Spanish word for “hand” while Po is used in the end of the sentence when addressing elders or superiors.
Next is that Filipinos are one of the most hospitable people you may find anywhere. Foreign visitors in the country are treated with the utmost respect. This trait is usually seen during fiestas and holidays where many Filipinos are giving their best to entertain their visitors well.
It is amazing to see that even the simplest home along the road opens their home to a stranger. For Filipinos, to be able to serve others gives them honor of showing true friendship. Filipino Hospitality is a trait you can't take away from them.
Having Close Family Ties is also one of their unique traits. It is one of the outstanding cultural values that Filipinos have. The family takes care of each other and are taught to be loyal to family and elders by simply obeying their authorities. This is one of the unique characteristics of Filipinos. Having fondness for family reunions during secular and religious holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s eve, All Saints’ Day, Holy Week, Fiestas, homecomings, birthdays, weddings, graduations, baptisms, funerals etc. is evidence that Filipino people valued not only our cultural tradition but the spirit of our family. As Filipinos, we are blessed to have been brought up with strong family ties.
Have you ever experienced the bayanihan in our country? It is the spirit of communal unity or effort to achieve a particular objective. A famous example of this is the neighbors carrying a hut or house to a new location. People nowadays use it to describe an outpouring of community spirit-as people give their all to the common good, without expecting recognition or personal gain.
We Filipinos are very romantic when it comes to heart affairs. Serenading or Harana in Tagalog is one of the most popular forms of courtship to show that a man is very serious with his intentions to a woman. A serenade would require the young man to sing a love song in front of the young lady's house. Normally, he is accompanied by his male friends who act as back-up singers. The man himself or his friend played the instrument, usually a guitar, which provides the background music to his song.
They would have to wait until the young lady opened a window to listen. It would be up to her if she wanted to invite them in for some refreshment and to chat after the song. Even if they had been asked to come in, the suitor would not expect that he could have the chance of a private moment with his object of affection. It was highly likely that the parents would also be there to entertain the man and his friends.
The Philippines is one of two predominantly Roman Catholic nations in Asia-Pacific. Their habit of going to church and often praying reflects that Filipinos have a deep faith and belief when it comes to religion. They are very devoted to religions that sometimes many take the risk of their lives just to touch the Black Nazarine (in Quiapo Manila). For many, it is just a choice between their faith and fears.
Filipinos believe that having a strong devotion may lead to a better life and their guidance to face everyday life.
In the Philippines, superstitious beliefs have grown throughout the country. These beliefs have come from the different sayings and beliefs of our ancestors that aim to prevent danger from happening or to make a person refrain from doing something in particular.
These beliefs are part of our culture, for one derives their beliefs from the influences of what their customs, traditions and culture have dictated to explain certain phenomena or to scare people. Some are practiced primarily because Filipinos believe that there is nothing to lose if they will comply with these beliefs.
The Philippines is considered the melting pot of Asia. The rich medley of Chinese, Malay, Spanish, Mexican, American, and Indian cooking are noticed in Philippine cuisine. Eating out is one of the favorite Filipino pasttimes. A typical Pinoy diet consists at most of six meals a day; breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks, dinner, and again a midnight snack before going to sleep. Rice is a staple in the Filipino diet, and is usually eaten together with other dishes. Filipinos regularly use spoons together with forks and knives. Some also eat with their hands, especially in informal settings, and when eating seafood.
Other popular dishes brought from Spanish and Southeast Asian influences include afritada, asado, chorizo, empanadas, mani (roasted peanuts), paksiw (fishor pork, cooked in vinegar and water with some spices like garlic and pepper), pan de sal (bread rolls), pescado frito (fried or grilled fish), sisig, torta(omelette), kare-kare (ox-tail stew), kilawen, pinakbet (vegetable stew), pinapaitan, and sinigang (tamarind soup with a variety of pork, fish, or prawns). Some delicacies eaten by some Filipinos may seem unappetizing to the Western palate include balut (boiled egg with a fertilized duckling inside), longanisa (sweet sausage), and dinuguan (soup made from pork blood).
Popular snacks and desserts such as chicharon (deep fried pork or chicken skin), halo-halo (crushed ice with evaporated milk, flan, and sliced tropical fruit),puto (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 usually eaten outside the three main meals. Popular Philippine beverages include San Miguel Beer, Tanduay Rhum,coconut arrack, and tuba.
Every province has its own specialty and tastes vary in each region. In Bicol, for example, foods are generally spicier than elsewhere in the Philippines. Patis, suka, toyo, bagoong, and banana catsup are the most common condiments found in Filipino homes and restaurants. Western fast food chains such asMcDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, and Pizza Hut are a common sight in the country.
A roasted pig known as the Lechón, is one of the Philippines most popular dishes.
Marriage and Wedding Customs
A sacred marriage
In the country, marriage is a sacred union of man and women after a period of courtship and engagement. It is a sacrament between two people who love each others. For many Filipinos, the eternal quality of dedication to God pervades a truly sacred marriage.
A sacred marriage is a covenant between two who love each other in God and with God, whose joining becomes an expression of the desire of each to love and serve God together.
Death in the Philippines is one of the most important occasions in family life. For many Filipinos, a death of relatives is an opportunity to strengthen ties in the Family. To pay respect and honor the relationship to the deceased, long lost relatives, friends, and even relatives working abroad are reunited.
The Philippines is the home of some unique death rituals that are partly religious and mostly superstitious. The mourning and the weeping are still present, but a happy and welcoming atmosphere would usually envelop the place to help the deceased on his journey to the afterlife.
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 primary ancestors of Filipinos are 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.
Christmas in the Philippines
Christmas in the Philippines is considered as one of the biggest holidays in the archipelago. We earned the distinction of celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season with Christmas carols heard as early as September and lasting until Epiphany, the feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9 or the Feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú on the third Sunday of January.
In one’s article, Archbishop Cruz told in his Christmas message that "the essence of Christmas is God made flesh, God who has come among us" in an act of love "that joins humankind to the Living God through our Lord Jesus Christ".
For many Filipinos, the true essence of Christmas for is not gift giving but sharing this special holy day with family.
Every town and city in the Philippines has a fiesta of its own; whatever time of the year it is, there's sure to be a fiesta going on somewhere.
Fiestas in the Philippines are held to celebrate a patron saint. It is part and parcel of Filipino culture through good times and bad times, it must go on. The biggest and most elaborate festival of all is Christmas, a season celebrated with all the pomp and pageantry where the whole country breaks out in celebrations that can begin long before December.
For individual Filipinos, fiestas can be a way of supplicating the heavens or to make amends for past wrongs. It is a way to celebrate their blessings, commemorate their past and observe solemn religious rituals. Celebrations may take the form of music, dancing, feasting, beauty contests, balls, processions, sports challenges or a host of other events.
Spanish influence is evident in the elaborate masks, makeup, headdresses and costumes worn by the revelers; outfits which often take months of preparation.
Living with Parents
Filipinos highly value the presence of family more than anything. Adult children living with their parents are another Filipino traditional that make them exceptional. Unlike in the United States where children leave the home after finishing high school or college, many Filipinos continue living with parents until they get married.
Eating with a Fork and Spoon
One Filipinos identity is that they are eat using a fork and a spoon. The fork is place in the left hand while the spoon is in the right hand. Fork is used to place or push the food into the spoon which is held by the right hand.
Since rice is the main staple of the Filipinos at almost every meal, the fork and spoon method is ideal. It is believe that the use of a spoon and a fork is perfect for the way Southeast Asians prepare and cook their food. Unlike the Americans who like their meats and other food items in big slabs and humongous chunks, Southeast Asians generally prepare their dishes in bite-sized pieces -- chopped, minced or ground -- thus leaving no real need for a knife.
Eating with Hands (Kamayan)
In addition to the use of the fork and spoon, eating with your hands or kamayan is another common Filipino tradition. For many Filipinos, kamayan gives full taste to the food instead of using utensils. Gather a small portion of meat or fish and a bite-sized portion of rice on your plate. Then use all your fingers to gather the food into a small mountain or mound. Pick up the little mound and put it in your mouth using your thumb to gently push the food in.
Filipinos usually eat rice that has a slightly sticky consistency so making the little mounds is easier than if you were to use a jasmine or basmati rice. Of course, this method of eating doesn't work with soup/stew or noodles and other kinds of food but for your basic plate of rice, meat/fish and vegetables it works quite well! Next time you make dinner try eating kamayan.
Some Filipinos leave the Philippines to live and work abroad. A balikbayan box is a box of items sent by the balikbayan to their family in the Philippines. The box can be sent or it can be brought by the sender when they themselves return to the Philippines. Balikbayan boxes come in all different sizes and dimensions from bulilit (small) to extra large. It can be filled with almost anything but it is usually filled with items that cannot be found in the Philippines or items that may be too expensive for the average person to buy in the Philippines. Common items found in balikbayan boxes include: clothes, shoes, chocolate, nuts, vitamins, basketballs, coffee and tea, magazines, shampoo/conditioner, soap, body lotion, etc.
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