Tagalog - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Tagalogs are predominantly Roman Catholic, but there are several other formal religious groups with significant membership. Most Protestant sects are represented in the area to a minor degree. However, both the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), a Protestant group established locally in the Philippines, and the Aglipayan Church, a group founded by a priest (Gregorio Aglipay) who broke away from Catholicism, have significant memberships. There are also many local sects and cults.

There are generally two levels to religious belief. One is the expressed set of tenets of Roman Catholicism or other formal religion. The other is interpretation and modification of these as individual and local belief systems. Education and exposure to general scientific knowledge long ago penetrated to most parts of the Tagalog area, but mysticism is still strong and individuals seek personal experience with the unknown and unseen through acts of penitence and contrition. The continuing vagaries of life in an environment prone to catastrophic storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and social upheaval reinforce the traditional fatalism expressed in the phrase bahala na, or "it's all up to God."

Religious Practitioners. The religious hierarchies are centered mostly in Manila and are staffed predominantly by Tagalog priests and ministers. Most municipalities have resident Roman Catholic clergy in a church ( simbahan ) who service chapels ( bisitas or ermitas ) in outlying barrios. There are still individuals who have special powers for curing and making contact with spirits of the deceased. The terminology for these and their specialties is highly variable from region to region. Most communities have annual fiestas celebrating a patron saint, the Virgin Mary, or a local manifestation of Christ. These are usually sponsored and managed by a highly organized group of volunteers who are in charge of one year's activities.

Ceremonies. The annual cycle universally includes Christmas and Easter and their phases. Among others, the day of Saint John the Baptist is widely celebrated, especially in relation to waterways. Good Friday each year produces activity from penitents of various sorts, including whipping and actual crucifixion at spots considered especially sanctified. Baptism, confirmation, marriage, and funerals are regular parts of all lives.

Arts. Tagalogs have long been noted for excellence in all the arts. Since the introduction of printing in 1593 at Binondo, Manila, there has developed an extensive literature published in Tagalog (and other Philippine languages), Spanish, and English, including poetry, drama, novels, short stories, essays, and criticism. As early as 1606, poems were being printed in Tagalog by Fernando Bagonbanta. Among many famous writers since then have been Francisco Baltazar (Balagtas, "Prince of Tagalog Poets"), whose Florante at Laura is a classic and whose pseudonym is associated with the traditional balagtasan or contest in verse. The works of José Rizal, especially his romantic novels Noli me tángere and El filibusterismo, which eventually brought on his execution by the Spanish in 1896 and made him into a national martyr, have been published in many languages. There is a flourishing Tagalog movie and television industry and all the media use Tagalog extensively. A traditional art form that survives is the kundiman or love song.

Medicine. Modern medical treatment is available in all parts of the Tagalog area through medical schools, hospitals, clinics, and a national health service. Traditional knowledge of herbs is still important and used. Dietary regimes and bodily care reflect long-held concepts of the relationship between good health and adaptation to the environment.

Death and Afterlife. Although the usual Christian beliefs regarding death and afterlife are followed, there are at least two widespread conceptual frameworks present. One holds that the body returns to the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. The other maintains that the spirit ( kaluluwa ) of the deceased spends a certain amount of time in the immediate neighborhood before departing to an afterworld. Secondary burial has frequently been practiced (i.e., placement of the body in a grave or niche, followed after a period by transfer of the bones to an ossuary). All Souls' Day (Araw ng mga Kaluluwa) is the occasion for visiting the cemetery ( libingan ).

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Charleston M. Manantan
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Sep 13, 2016 @ 10:22 pm

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