TA'PO...AVE MARIA PURISIMA, PO!
Ideally, a binata should first go to a town elder who in turn asked the girl's parents if the young man could "come up and be introduced." And so I realized that this was how things were done. Despite the fact that girls had known boys since childhood, they still had to be formally introduced.
One day my cousin Monica Kagahastian, then 19, was at the point of being approached by a young man on her way home from church. She blushed and ran home as fast as she could. For her own protection against criticism from older people, Kang Moni refused to even glance at the binata.
The bind about this way of courtship was that, like it or not, the young man has already made public his intentions the minute he went up Monica's steps. "Tatapo" was always done in the evening, never during daytime. And it was not with a mere Ta' po' that a young man announced his presence at the door, but with the more decorous "Ave Maria Purisima, po." By his third 'Ave Maria', the whole neighborhood would be wondering if he would make it through the door.
Once inside and seated in front of Kang Moni, the young man was expected to gather enough courage to say a few well-chosen words. Kang Moni meanwhile stared at the floor, and in what seemed to be interminable silence, the two young people sat still. When it was deemed time for the young man to leave, my aunt casually took out and unrolled a banig and un apologetically spread the mat on the floor preparatory to retiring. It was the sign for the young man to say good-bye.
And did you know what the young man finally told Kang Moni? Oh, I knew because while pretending to be doing my homework at the dining table, I was actually straining to hear. For example, he said to Monica, "Would you like to learn how to play the guitar? With your folk's permission, I could teach you. But first, we would like to serenade you tomorrow night, so we could demonstrate how it's played."
The next night, true to his word, Monica's swain gathered a few other young men to help him with the serenade. By then, the whole town knew what was going on. By the time the serenaders were finished with the first song, you knew that behind the neighbors' closed windows and doors, children were giggling and adults were wincing at the sounds of the warblers.
A less traumatic but not as honorable way for a young man to declare his intentions in those days was through a love letter. He had to make sure the letter did not fall into the wrong hands, though. It was never sent by mail, only through a mutual friend. In a letter, the young man's words were considered his own - not a songwriter's, certainly, not a Cyrano de Bergerac's. He would be judged according to how he presented his thoughts. The more polite and winding they were, the better.
I must admit I was never courted, serenaded, nor have received a love letter from a young man in Paete. Perhaps because I was too young for such stuff when I left town. Or not pretty enough. Or that my parents were too strict. Whatever reason it may have been, it certainly was not in Dr. Quesada's book, or I wouldn't be writing this article.
A song! You want a song about courtship? Here's one heard from all "pabakyaan" in Paete when I was growing up:
"0,ang babae pag minamahal,
may kursunada'y aayaw-ayaw!
Pag panay ang dalaw ay nayayamot
Huwag mong dalawin, dadabug-dabog,
Huwag mong sayuin at nagmamaktol
Pag iyong iniwan, hahabul-habol!"
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