FAST BACKWARD: Davao’s migrant Visayans

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

Long before colonial era, migration from the Visayan region to the south was already taking place. Part of this movement could be attributed to wars between rival kingdoms, piratical Moro raids, natural calamities, and the intention to establish new settlements.

Some of the migrants reached Davao shores after the Spanish conquest, bringing along their customs and traditions. Their practices are still familiar to us, but many have been altered with the introduction of new tools and technologies. Known as the painted people, los pintados, in missionary accounts, the Visayans are more Malays than the Filipinos in the north. 

In his paper, The Semi-Civilized Tribes of the Philippine Islands (1901), which appeared in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Rev. Oliver C. Miller, chaplain U. S. Army in the Philippines, underscored certain differences. He noted that Visayan men wore longer hair than the Tagals, the people of the north. 

Visayan women, he noted, wear the patadiong, a yard-long cloth with ends sewed together; it is known among the Moros as malong (tube skirt). The wrap-around fabric is preferred than the saya (a long skirt tied to the waste) and tapis (apron-like cloth enfolded around and over the skirt), which are more popular among the people in the north. 

The patadiong and malong, both Filipino legacy, is also used as a blanket.

The Visayans, as islanders, are known for their great skills in building different watercrafts, chiefly inter-island transport systems that allow them to move from one atoll to another. Their boat-building skill is also testament to their being skilled fishers. Given their preference for fishing, they construct their houses in littoral areas.

Rev. Miller also highlighted the love of Visayans for hunting wild pig and deer and the penchant of processing the meat into tapa. As practiced, the flesh is cut into strips (cured, smoked, or marinated) and dehydrated under the sun. The preserved meat is kept for the rainy days, taken as provision on a journey, eaten as finger food, and is a favored breakfast meal.

In rural communities, the Visayans mix rice with maize as food staple. Corn, introduced by the Hindus via Java, Indonesia, is favored by farmers who believe it provides better nutrition than rice. In some areas, red pepper is mixed to flavor the food although use of hot chili is more prevalent in the Luzon regions.

While smoking and chewing of betel nuts are now confined relegated to tribes, the Visayans choose to be called inordinate gamblers and cockfight aficionados. Proof of this is seeing cockpits filled to the rafters on Sundays as opposed to chapels that draw only a few dozen churchgoers.

The Visayan women’s prolific child-bearing custom, still prevalent until the early post-war era, has been associated “great sensuality and unbounded immorality,” as Rev. Miller put it. He was obviously referring to the odd sexual practices pagan Visayans had which Venetian diarist Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan, also personally observed.

Promiscuity among early Visayans was a controlled way of life. While their unusual customs have long been deemed taboo and Church leaders treat these bed habits as inappropriate, some still adopt it as a way of displaying machismo. Especially the use of plastic balls embedded in the penile trunk, men embrace this way with intent to double a woman’s sexual pleasure.

The gadgets implanted in a man’s reproductive organ were known as palang and tugbuk.

In recent decades, an incident was reported and published in Saudi Arabia that a Filipino who was required to undergo an x-ray test as part of a medical procedure was found to have embedded small copper balls in his reproactive organ. The irons showed up on the plates.

In some tribes of precolonial Philippines, chieftains assigned men, most of them lieutenants and sidekicks, to deflower marrying virgins. This grotesque practice later jumped into the religious realm where cult leaders, in the pretext of offering daughters in exchange for god’s blessings, did the deflowering themselves, an act tantamount to what we call now as statutory rape.

The details included in the Pigafetta chronicles of the erotic practices of Visayans, moreover, is considered scandalous by today’s standards so much so that discussing them are limited to men’s magazines and pornography that feed on the libido of the promiscuous and adult films. 

Simply said, humanity’s fixation for sexual depravity, promiscuity and perversion, a scribe once wrote, have been causal to the collapse of society’s morals and ethics. It is a consolation, though, that Visayans of today, contrast to their semi-civilized forebears, remain devoted to living what is socially decent and good.