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The Kapampangan People of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Pampanga Province]

The Kapampangan People of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Pampanga Province]

Kapampangan refers to the people who speak the Kapampangan language or inhabit the province of Pampanga. The name of the province derives from pangpang or pangpangan, meaning “riverbank.” Pampango is the Spanish version of “Pampanga.”

Pampanga has a small land area of 2,180.68 square kilometers, which forms part of the central plain extending from Manila Bay north to the Gulf of Lingayen. It consists of three subsections. The first is the mountainous section that includes the entire stretch of the Zambales range, of which Mount Pinatubo is the highest peak, on the western border and Mount Arayat at the northeastern part. This area is inhabited mostly by the Aeta who depend primarily on hunting, gathering, and raising corn on the slopes for subsistence. The second section, located in the southwestern and southern parts of the province, is bounded by the Pampanga River, or Rio Grande de la Pampanga, and its estuaries. This river, the largest body of water in the province, flows south through the eastern portions of the province into Manila Bay. Between its eastern bank and the Bulacan boundary is the Candaba swamp, which becomes a large lake during the rainy season. This section provides livelihood to many Kapampangan who have established a fishing industry in the area. The third section covers the flatlands of the Central Luzon plains that have been utilized for rice and sugar growing. It represents the bulk of the province’s landmass and is considered the biggest source of livelihood for its people. Pampanga is largely agricultural, and the major changes occurring in Kapampangan society can be linked to the changes in the agricultural pattern. However, the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which covered most of the agricultural land of Pampanga, has changed the topography and the economic profile of the province.

As of 2010, the province of Pampanga has a total population of 2,340,355. The Kapampangan language, a member of the Malayo-Polynesian language family, endows the Kapampangan people with their unique identity and sense of group solidarity, and distinguishes them from other ethnolinguistic groups, especially the Tagalog and the Ilocano, who live beside them. In Angeles City, 200,000 persons or 75% of the total population of 326,336 identify themselves as Kapampangan. However, the language is also spoken in other provinces—by 468,000 or 41% in Tarlac; 22,000 in Bataan; 9,000 in Nueva Ecija; 4,400 in Olongapo City; and 2,000 as far away as eastern Samar.

During the pre-Hispanic era, the Kapampangan used a syllabary of their own, which was later replaced by the Roman orthography introduced by the Spaniards.

History of Pampanga and the Kapampangans

The sociopolitical and economic conditions in Pampanga before the colonizers came indicate that the Kapampangan had a functioning and well-adjusted system of self-governance. The agricultural sector produced food that was more than sufficient. There were artisans who had various skills, laws that preserved peace and order, and a class structure that offered security for the members of the community. The native Kapampangan also engaged in trade that brought them in contact with people beyond their immediate surroundings.

Depiction of a Kapampangan couple
Depiction of a Kapampangan couple (Les Philippines: Histoire, Geographie, Moeurs, Agriculture, Industrie et Commerce des Colonies Espagnoles dans l’Oceanie by Jean Mallat. A. Bertrand, 1846.)

Burial sites containing Chinese pottery and early Spanish accounts indicate long-standing links of the Kapampangan with the outside world, particularly the Chinese. Records also show that they did not only engage in trade but traveled by sea as well, sailing to places such as the Moluccas, Malacca, and Borneo.

When the Spaniards came, there were already communities along the water routes, mainly in the south near the Rio Grande or along its tributaries farther north. The 11 most important settlements in the 16th century were Lubao, Macabebe, Sexmoan (now Sasmuan), Betis, Guagua, Bacolor, Apalit, Arayat, Candaba, Porac, and Mexico (Masicu). Rice was the major crop, and the farmers and other residents lived in autonomous villages called barangay. Accounts also point to a fairly advanced material culture as evidenced by woven cotton cloth and metalcraft, as well as extensive use of Chinese pottery.

An official Spanish report in 1567 states that at least two communities, Lubao and Betis, had Muslim inhabitants. However, there is no evidence that Islam had spread to the rest of the province during that period.

The conquest of Pampanga by the Spanish colonizers began in 1571 right after the defeat of Raja Soliman in Tondo. Although there was some resistance from the Muslim communities in Lubao and Betis, Hispanization proceeded so rapidly that in 1574, Kapampangan soldiers were fighting on the side of the Spaniards to repel the onslaught of the Chinese pirate Limahong. By 1597, Augustinian friars were already highly visible in all 11 major Kapampangan communities. By the middle of the 17th century, almost all the natives were under the influence of the Catholic Church.

Its fertile soil and easy access to Manila made Pampanga very valuable to the Spanish government. The dependence of Manila on the province for its food requirements pushed officials to maintain good relations with Pampanga’s leaders. Pampanga was also the reliable supplier of lumber used for building and maintaining the Spanish naval fleet and galleons, as well as various structures such as school buildings.

The province was important to the colonizers as a source of soldiers. The Kapampangan not only helped defend Manila against Limahong but also joined in the massacre of the Chinese population around Manila. As a reward, some Kapampangan were given positions in the Spanish army and cited for their “bravery” and for being the most “reasonable” and “civilized” among the natives. From 1603 to the end of the Spanish regime, a contingent of Kapampangan soldiers served in the colonial army. In the 17th century it fought against the Dutch and set up an occupation force in the Moluccas. It also participated in campaigns against a rebel group in Panay and against the Muslims, and once again in another massacre of the Chinese in 1640. In the 18th century, it fought the advancing Muslims and defended the Spanish government against the British.

Pampanga was organized as an alcaldia (province) in 1571 to make it easier for the Spanish authorities to pacify, tax, convert, and compel the natives to adjust to Spanish ways. Although Augustinian friars were relied on to supervise local affairs, secular officials, including native leaders, were also employed. Individual Spaniards who were awarded encomiendas or areas of jurisdiction as their reward for faithful service to the crown were allowed to collect taxes thereon and retain a certain percentage. Most famous of the encomiendas was the Villa de Bacolor, whose original, native name was Baculud, so named by decree of the King of Spain and given its own coat of arms. Bacolor served as the capital of the province from 1755 to 1903, and as seat of the Spanish colonial government after the fall of Manila to the British in 1762.

After the encomienda system failed, mainly because of conflict over the disposition of the encomiendas and their tax collections, the pueblos or towns were established and headed by town mayors called gobernadorcillos. The gobernadorcillos of the various pueblos and the parish priests were partners in assuring the central government of a loyal and productive citizenry.

On at least two occasions, however, the excesses of the regime drove the population to rise up in arms. In 1583, the forced labor policy of the government sent many natives to work in the gold mines of the Ilocos but did not allow them to return home in time for the planting season. As a result, grave food shortages occurred the following year not only in Pampanga but in Manila as well. Thousands were reported to have starved to death. The people decided to revolt and attempted to invade Manila, but army intervention led to the arrest and execution of many Kapampangan rebels. In 1660, the forced cutting of timber for the use of the galleons and naval ships, and the failure of the Spanish government to pay for the huge amount of rice that it had collected enraged the people once more. The planned revolt, under the leadership of Francisco Maniago of Mexico, involved residents of Pangasinan, Ilocos, and Cagayan. However, Spanish governor Manrique de Lara succeeded in eroding the unity of the rebels by displaying armed might and befriending the natives, especially their chiefs. By promising many rewards, he won to his side one of the leaders, Juan Macapagal, and thus discouraged the other chiefs, who were generally weak and vacillating. The revolt was subdued even before a single shot could be fired. The two failed attempts effectively silenced further Kapampangan resistance until the revolution of 1896.

As Spanish rule progressed, certain changes occurred in Kapampangan society. The datu, who was now known as cabeza de barangay, and the local gobernadorcillo became members of the principalia (elite class), which acted as the intermediary between the people and the colonial government. The principalia’s twin responsibilities were to assure delivery to Manila of food supplies and taxes collected, and to maintain loyalty to the new order. In return, they were given many privileges that guaranteed their superior social and political status in the community.

With the slavery system abolished by the Spanish authorities, a two-class societal structure emerged, with the datu-cabezas forming the upper section and the timawa (freeborn) and former slaves, the lower section. The cabezas collected tribute to maintain their economic control over the peasants. Villagers unable to pay the imposed taxes were forced to borrow from the principalia at usurious rates. This arrangement was known as samacan; the peasant-borrower was called the casamac. The excessively high interest exacted kept the peasant in perpetual debt. However, this new burden did not seem to unduly distress the peasants, as the presence of a recognized leader among them gave them a sense of security.

Manila was opened to world commerce in 1790 when the Real Compania de Filipinas (Royal Philippine Company), a joint venture of the government and a private corporation, started direct trade between the Philippines and Spain, ushering the country into a new era of economic activity. In Pampanga, the demands of the world market caused a gradual shift from rice to sugar as the major crop. Sugar became the principal source of income and wealth for both the native elite and Spanish officialdom.

The prevalence of cash-crop agriculture gave rise to a new group of Kapampangan: the business-minded Chinese mestizos. A product of the intermarriage of Chinese men and native women, the mestizos eventually moved away from their original settlement in Guagua. They mixed with the general population in the town centers, established small businesses, accepted local manners and customs, and intermarried with native men and women. The mestizos loaned to small landlords the capital needed in switching from rice to sugar. In return, the landlords pledged their property as collateral. In this manner, ownership of considerable areas of agricultural land was transferred from native to mestizo.

Increasing control of the community’s economic life meant an increase in social and political clout. Before long, the Kapampangan principalia began to be dominated by the newcomers. To preserve their position, native families found it necessary to intermarry with mestizos.

As the new industry continued to progress, the new principalia was becoming an elite. Apart from controlling the economy, they penetrated the professions, including the priesthood. They gradually began using the Spanish language, thus further alienating them from the peasantry. Desiring to consolidate their wealth and enlarge their sphere of influence, the leading families of one pueblo intermarried with those of other pueblos.

The sugar boom continued in the 19th century, and rice was displaced as the number one produce of the province. The function of the land changed, from the culture of food crops for consumption to production for trade. More and more, land became the source of wealth and power. The cacique, as the landlords were now called, started using labor contracts in dealing with their tenants. The tenants hardly had enough income at the end of each crop season to enable them to save and move up the social ladder. They incurred debts, which they eventually passed on to their children, thus perpetuating their tenant status.

As Pampanga drew closer to Manila through economic contact, the native-mestizo upper class became more modern in behavior and outlook. They began to imbibe western attitudes through association with Spaniards and visiting Europeans as well as through their schooling. This group of ilustrados (educated), mostly European educated and Spanish speaking, occupied the topmost level of the hierarchical structure of Kapampangan society.

Below the ilustrados were the other landowners who confined themselves to managing their estates within the province. The least prestigious belonging to this class was the group of professionals who emerged as a result of the cash-crop economy. Their status derived from the practice of their profession rather than ownership of land.

Jose Alejandrino, 1887
Jose Alejandrino, 1887 (A Calendar of Rizaliana by Ambeth R. Ocampo. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011.)

Pampanga may have been initially indifferent towards the political conflict raging in the late 19th century in the neighboring Tagalog provinces. However, a few Kapampangan ilustrado like Jose Alejandrino, who had been introduced to liberal thinking through their European sojourn, supported the clamor for reform initiated by the Tagalog ilustrados like Jose Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar. In the beginning, few, even among the peasantry, seemed interested in joining the more militant mass-based Katipunan movement of Andres Bonifacio, mainly because the problems facing the Tagalog were not as severely felt in Pampanga: There were no large church estates, and ownership of much of the arable land was with the Kapampangan themselves. Furthermore, the paternalistic relations between the landlords and peasants were still operative.

Later, escalating hostilities spread throughout the province. A Kapampangan contingent fought at Orani, Bataan while some joined Aguinaldo in Cavite. Many Kapampangan, however, remained loyal to Spain. Some, like the Macabebe soldiers, served in the Spanish (and later, the American) army.

The attitude of the Kapampangan significantly changed when Aguinaldo reached the area and switched from open fighting to guerrilla tactics. The first Katipunan secret cell in the province was established in Guagua in August 1897, and in June 1898, Pampanga committed itself to the revolutionary cause. Upon the establishment of the first Philippine Republic, many belonging to the Kapampangan elite took office under the new government. Jose Alejandrino and Jose Infante, two of the more prominent Kapampangan at the time, served in the Constitutional Convention at Malolos, Bulacan in 1898. Tiburcio Hilario served as provincial governor and Ceferino Joven as mayor of Bacolor. The provincial council was composed of Joven, Hilario, Mariano Vicente Henson, Mariano Alimurung, and Roman Valdes.

Group of Macabebe scouts drilling
Group of Macabebe scouts drilling (Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines by Marion Wilcox. Harpers & Brothers, 1900.)

When the Philippine Republic went to war with the United States, Pampanga was still on the side of the revolutionary forces. However, as American troops started to overrun the province, its support for Aguinaldo began to waver. By applying the formula of the carrot and the stick, the new colonizers were able to subdue all remaining Kapampangan resistance. Aguinaldo had failed to stop American aggression, and soon Pampanga accepted the aggressors and their offer of peace and stability. As Pampanga entered the 20th century under a new colonial regime, the Kapampangan elite learned a new style of politics. The electoral contests for coveted government positions gave rise to local politics oriented to personalities rather than issues and characterized by weak party discipline and results constantly disputed in court. Suffrage required stringent qualifications, and participation was limited in practice to the upper class.

The lower class had to contend with a continuing agricultural depression. Government neglect, the decline of sugar in the world market, and natural causes contributed to the economic crisis. The landlords stuck to the traditional modes of agriculture, instead of adapting modern farming techniques as required by the new cash-crop economy.

The upper class flourished under the new regime, and its penchant for socializing gave rise to social clubs. Members used the clubs as venue for theatrical productions for various celebrations and grand balls, which were reported in the national newspapers. In Lubao, the La Sociedad Hormiga de Hierro sponsored glamorous balls, helped plan Rizal Day programs, and organized receptions for dignitaries. Other associations were La Gente Alegre de San Fernando, Circulo Juvenil Candabeño, the Union Angelina of Angeles, and La Compania Sabina de Bacolor. These exclusive clubs served to provide an opportunity for young people to meet others of their own age and class, and for older ones to make business contacts in a social setting. The Young Generation was formed in Macabebe; Kundiman in Angeles; and Circulo Fernandino in San Fernando. Women’s clubs expanded to include American army wives and teachers. Mancomunidad Pampangueña was formed as a dancing club in the 1930s. Revived after the war, its members held their rigodon de honor, a Hispanic ballroom dance, at the Manila Hotel. These annual events continued up to 1987.

The increasing political, social, and intellectual participation of the elite in nonagricultural concerns triggered an exodus of landowning families from the barrios to the town centers. The proliferation of new schools and universities offered alternatives to traditional life. Managing a farm in the barrio had lost its appeal for most of the landowners’ children. Meanwhile, the peasants remained isolated from the new culture geographically, socially, and politically. The bonds that had traditionally held the two classes together were starting to weaken.

A clear illustration of this growing schism was the acceptance by the peasantry of Felipe Salvador and his quasi-religious movement called Santa Iglesia. Salvador had joined the revolution in 1896 and became a colonel in Aguinaldo’s army. When the Americans took over, he retreated to the Candaba swamp, where he conducted independent guerrilla operations. After escaping from captivity, he created his own religious cult, which spread rapidly and gained adherents from the neighboring provinces of Tarlac, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Pangasinan. Cloaked in religious mysticism, his simple and basic program tried to answer the clamor of peasants everywhere: ownership of the land they were tilling after the overthrow of the government. The Catholic Church, alarmed at Santa Iglesia’s growing popularity, excommunicated all its members. The Constabulary, on the other hand, fearing its revolutionary potential, sought its dissolution. Salvador was later recaptured and executed. The Iglesia was not heard of again.

Market conditions improved from 1911 to 1921. A new agricultural era was launched when two modern sugar centrals—the Pampanga Sugar Development Corporation (PASUDECO) in San Fernando and the Pampanga Sugar Mills (PASUMIL) in Floridablanca—were opened. Increased credit assistance, government encouragement in the form of new facilities and technical literature, and the high price of sugar led planters to expand their production and to adopt modern farming techniques. Signs of the new scientific farming proliferated: tractors, centrals, and steam mills for rice, which was already being grown commercially.

The technical components of a modern agricultural society led to social and economic adjustments. As the upper class came upon new ways of increasing profit and lessening their dependence on the peasants, the tenants found the landlord-casamac relationship, their traditional source of economic and social security, threatened for the first time.

Toward the end of the period, indications of landlord dissatisfaction with the old tenancy system were starting to surface. Commercial agriculture demanded seasonal workers more than tenant farmers since labor was needed only at peak times. Furthermore, the planters had discovered that outside workers could be hired at cut-rate wages and that modern equipment such as tractors could replace the services of some tenants. Because of these conditions, the landlords saw three options: Impose more stringent demands upon the tenant by stricter enforcement of the landlord-tenant arrangement; simply evict the inefficient and extraneous tenants; or transform the tenant into a daily wage worker employed on a seasonal basis. The landlords often settled for the last two options. Soon, the tenants came to realize the inequities of the centuries-old system. Their response to the situation was quick and decisive. Starting with burnings, their protest grew in number. Numerous strikes demanding a bigger share of the profits were held all over the province. By 1924, strikes were occurring with regularity. The landlords then organized their own protective associations.

The peasants themselves began to rely on new organizations for economic assistance as well as social and political guidance. The Kapatirang Magsasaka, Kalipunang Pambansa ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KPMP), and the Aguman ding Maldang Talapagobra (AMT), the mass arm of the Socialist Party founded by Pedro Abad Santos, all had sizeable membership at one time or another. Unlike the Communist Party, the Socialist Party was not outlawed because it did not advocate the overthrow of government. In 1938, when the communist leaders who had been jailed in 1932 were pardoned, the two parties merged. Becoming more militant, these groups staged more strikes and other political activities.

Luis Taruc, reading a newspaper, with his troop
Luis Taruc, reading a newspaper, with his troop, 1950 (Private collection)

Four hours after their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed several places in the Philippines simultaneously, including Clark Air Base, a US military installation located in Angeles. As World War II engulfed the country, Luis Taruc, Juan Feleo, Casto Alejandrino, and others met and decided to form the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap). Being “anti-Japanese above all” and using “united front” tactics to win over moderate landlords and the middle class, the peasants and workers of the Hukbalahap adopted a three-point program. The economic program sought to provide the people with sustenance and thwart Japanese plans to rob the country. Discrediting the “puppet regime” and destroying its influence constituted the political program. The military program called for the harassment and elimination of the enemy. Meanwhile, prominent Kapampangan like then Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos refused to collaborate with the Japanese. He was executed in 1942.

The ironclad unity and discipline of the Huks made them a most effective resistance organization. Not long after, the whole of Central Luzon and a few other provinces became Huk territory. They took over the towns and the municipal governments as well as the properties of the landlords who evacuated to Manila. Many of these landlords refused to return to their homes for fear of liquidation by the Huks. Even the Japanese feared the Huks more than they did other guerrilla units. The Huks emerged from the war as the dominant political power in the province and in January 1945, Alejandrino was named provisional governor. The Huks, however, were taken by surprise when their supposed allies, the Americans, began to disarm, arrest, and even execute them. All Huk-installed officials were removed and replaced by USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) guerrillas, whom the Huks considered rivals. The wealthy landlords, on the other hand, hired Filipino military police and civilian guards, who raided Huk territories and sometimes killed people wantonly, as shown in the massacre of innocent civilians in Maliwalu, Bacolor. President Manuel Roxas maneuvered to have duly elected Luis Taruc and his Democratic Alliance companions unseated from Congress.

Jose Abad Santos
Jose Abad Santos, circa 1934 (Estate of Manuel Rodrigo C. Perez, photo courtesy of Matthew Benjamin P. Lopez)

Failing to quell the rising tide of protest, the Roxas administration issued a proclamation outlawing the Huk, whose name had now changed to Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan. Roxas’s successor, Elpidio Quirino, in an effort to restore peace and order, as well as faith and confidence in the government, granted full amnesty to the rebels, but this did not succeed. In October 1950, amid rumors that the Huk would invade Manila and seize Malacañan, the entire politburo was arrested mainly through the efforts of Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay. The surrender of Luis Taruc in 1954 during the incumbency of President Magsaysay dealt the final blow to the movement. Utterly demoralized and faced with organizational problems, the remaining members either surrendered or were captured with hardly a fight.

As conditions continued to deteriorate in the countryside, the Pampanga peasantry placed their hope on a province mate who was elected to the presidency in 1961. Diosdado Macapagal, who had experienced poverty and peasant oppression in his native Lubao, saw the need for immediate social amelioration. His Land Reform Code, greatly emasculated by a landlord-controlled Congress, was passed. One of the important provisions of the code was the abolition of the share tenancy system, which was perceived to be the main cause of agrarian unrest, and its replacement by the agricultural leasehold system. But as the economic contradictions of the traditional landlord-tenant relationship persisted, the struggle for political control in the countryside continued.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991—the world’s second largest in the 20th century—not only reconfigured the landscape of the region but also altered the lives of thousands. The catastrophe flooded many Pampanga towns with lahar, burying rice agricultural land under volcanic sand and destroying roads, bridges, schools, and homes. This has displaced many a peasant family and has led to the evacuation of families and the abandonment of agricultural lands. After the Senate decision to terminate the Philippine-US Agreement on the bases, US forces finally withdrew from Clark Air Base, leaving the local and national government free to plan the use of the bases.

Kapampangan's Way of Life

Before the 1991 Pinatubo eruption, Pampanga was considered the second most industrialized province in the country in terms of investments, next only to Cebu. To be sure, it was still mainly agricultural, as it was one of the major suppliers of the country’s rice and sugar. However, Pampanga pursued a fast-paced industrial development, emerging as number one in terms of proportionate growth. The province boasted of industries like garments, toys, and Christmas decor manufacturing; handicrafts like baskets, ceramics, furniture, and woodcraft; cold storage facilities; food processing; and prawn culture. Its food industry has also been augmented with fish and meat preserves, sweets, and crab paste. A smelter plant operates in Apalit, and a paper mill runs in Mabalacat.

A wooden mold for San Nicolas biscuits
A wooden mold for San Nicolas biscuits (Nicanor G. Tiongson Collection)

Rebuilding the province and its economy proceeded in fits and starts, as the eruption’s aftereffects were felt even years later. Lahar continued to rampage down the mountain slopes, loosened by the yearly rainy season. On 1 October 1995, lahar buried four barangays in San Fernando and killed hundreds in Barangay Cabalantian in Bacolor.

A megadike was soon constructed to contain the lahar flows, and infrastructure such as major bridges was restored. Whole communities relocated in resettlement centers began to thrive as the economy was revitalized with the reopening of industries like the province’s popular handicraft and furniture business. Mount Pinatubo’s eruption itself provided the province with another source of income: the quarry industry. Although beset with graft-and-corruption issues, this industry added to the province’s revenue through quarry taxes, which increased significantly during the 2007 to 1010 term of Governor Eddie Panlilio.

Clark Air Base has been reborn as a freeport zone, with activities managed by the Clark Development Corporation (CDC). The former military base is home to business parks, communication technology firms, business process outsourcing (BPO) centers, world-class hotels, resorts, malls, and entertainment and convention centers. The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) has become a premiere global gateway, servicing many local national and international airlines, and boosting tourism in the region. Foreign investments continue to pour in, fuelled in part by the influx of Koreans who have established business holdings in the province. The Angeles Livelihood Complex in Clark is designed to consolidate business and industrial enterprises in one convenient location. With the generation of new jobs and the rise in the province’s income, the adverse effects of the Pinatubo eruption and the military pullout from Clark have been cushioned and managed successfully.

The province continues to support its wood carving industry, which includes export-quality modern and antique style furniture that has become the hallmark of Betis craftsmen. The Furniture City Complex in Mabalacat not only houses furniture makers and their product displays but is also equipped with a Furniture Training Center for woodworkers.

During the Christmas season, Pampanga becomes the center of the parul industry, which is the making of traditional, handcrafted lanterns noted for their kaleidoscopic display of lights. These lanterns, along with other local export products, used to be showcased mainly at the Paskuhan (Christmas) Village in San Fernando, but examples can be found in parul stalls lining major expressway exit roads like in Dau and San Fernando.

The culinary industry remains strong in Pampanga, which is known for its variety of meat products, native sweets, delicacies, pastries, and viands. As a response to their geographical and climatic conditions, the Kapampangan have concocted dishes unique to them. Buro (fermented fish or meat in rice), which is now staple fare in Kapampangan buffet tables, might have originated as famine food, that is, preserved food that was saved for seasons of drought and floods. There are two common types of the original buro: burung asan (fermented fish) and burung babi (fermented pork). Burung asan is made with rice, salt, and bulig (mudfish). Contemporary alternatives to the bulig are ayungin (perch) or hito (catfish). A special buro is balo-balo, made with freshwater prawns or shrimps. Buro making dates back to the pre-Hispanic times and parallels the Southeast Asian practice of preserving fish by wrapping it in rice. An early Spanish account describes the process in which rice was flavored with the fish broth and meats like pork, beef, or venison. Natives, it was observed, liked it best when it had begun to spoil and to smell bad.

Preserved meat, on the other hand, was of two types: tocino (cured, sweetened meat) and pindang (meat that is fermented until it is slightly sour). These took the straight path from production for family consumption to being contained in large vats and sold in the local wet markets, and finally to becoming the main product of giant meat corporations holding their own in both the national and global market.

Sisig is defined in a 1732 Spanish dictionary as a “salad, including green papaya or green guava eaten with a dressing of salt, pepper, garlic and vinegar.” The standard sisig may again be a type of famine food, its main ingredients being pig’s ears and cheeks, which are usually the parts of the animal that are discarded. In 1974, Aling Lucing’s, a restaurant in Angeles City, served sisig on a sizzling hot plate for the first time and established sisig’s versatility across social classes. Sizzling sisig became the first of a series of variations on the dish, which include fusion cuisine such as sisig pizza and sisig taco.

Video: Bariotik Kitchen & Garden Floridablanca Pampanga - Sulit Eat All You Can Buffet Restaurant - Pampanga Cuisine

A Kapampangan merienda (snack) may be a piece of the sanikulas (arrowroot biscuit), also known as uraro, taken with the hot chocolate drink called suklati king batirol, also known as tsokolateng binatirul (hand-whipped chocolate or chocolate in a pot). The sanikulas is a flat, oval-shaped cookie about the size of one’s palm. Etched in it is the figure of the 13th-century Augustinian friar, San Nicolas de Tolentino, which is created with a wooden mould. The biscuits are now packed in garapon (wide-mouthed jars), sold in local stores, and are included in Pampanga food tours. A yearly Sanikulas Festival is held in Mexico, Pampanga on 26 September, San Nicolas’s feast day. “Batirol” and “batidor” is used interchangeably by the Kapampangan to mean both the pot in which the chocolate is prepared and the wooden manual mixer used to whip the chocolate. Tsokolateng binatirul has the added ingredient of roasted peanuts, which are ground together with the roasted cacao seeds. The drink, which is boiled with milk and sugar in the tall, urn-shaped batirol, is whisked with the batidoruntil it becomes frothy. The chocolate-and-peanut mix is formed into tableas (cylindrical-shaped chocolate) and packed in commercial quantities for distribution to stores and supermarkets.

Pampanga’s proximity to Manila, supported by a network of roads and communication facilities, is an asset that attracts investments. Aside from the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), Pampanga can also be accessed through the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), a 93.77-kilometer expressway built by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which became fully operational in 2008. This has cut travel time significantly between provinces, facilitating trade and commerce, and linking the industrial, transport, communication, and business hubs of Pampanga, Zambales, Bataan, and Tarlac.

Pampanga's Political System

During the pre-Spanish era, the country was divided into autonomous villages or barangays, which was composed of three classes: the datu, the timawa or freeborn, and the slaves. There were usually several datu in a community, and only the most powerful were able to rule. Although their power was not absolute, the datu exercised executive, judicial, and military control. The datu’s responsibilities included determining the time for planting and harvesting, serving as military leader, and serving as judge in cases where they were not involved. They were farmers and weavers of their own clothes, and had no other special occupation. Their power was not absolute, but they had special privileges before the law and could only be tried in special cases by a tribunal of datu from other villages. Although the position was hereditary, the datu could be replaced once their hold weakened through excesses committed or for some other reasons.

American-era provincial capitol, San Fernando, Pampanga
American-era provincial capitol, San Fernando, Pampanga, circa 1900 (Center for Kapampangan Studies)

The timawa, on the other hand, served the datu sometimes during the planting or harvesting seasons. The rest of the year, they were left free. They had the right to own property and to marry freely. However, failure to pay a debt was sufficient reason to demote the timawa to slavery. Slavery, which could be inherited, was not a permanent status but merely indicated severe debt peonage, not chattel slavery. A slave was bound to full service to the master and was subject to grave penalties for violating the law.

When the Spaniards came, Pampanga was organized into an alcaldia for the purpose of pacification, taxation, conversion, and acculturation. Administrator of the province was the alcalde mayor, now known as the provincial governor, who supervised tax collection and was responsible to the royal officials in Manila. The province was divided into pueblos, which in turn were divided into distrito (divisions). Each distrito was divided into barrios, and each barrio was subdivided into barangays, which were composed of 40 to 100 families each.

As the Spanish government was undermanned at the local level, the natives were given a chance at leadership through their election as gobernadorcillos (mayors). The gobernadorcillos, chosen yearly, were put in charge of local tax collection, as well as given executive and judicial responsibilities. Severe shortage of personnel and the perceived need to cultivate good relations with local leaders further prodded the authorities to appoint former datus as cabezas (heads) of their respective barangays. As such, the datus further strengthened their control over their jurisdiction.

The position of cabeza was made hereditary, thus assuring the perpetuation or rule by those already occupying the position. To strengthen further the datu’s hold, the Spanish authorities made a ruling that only the cabezas de barangay—the title given to the datus—were eligible to aspire for the position of gobernadorcillo. The various cabezas and gobernadorcillos became collectively known as the principalia.

Endowed with political power and its attendant high social status, certain families began to establish political dynasties in their respective towns. In Macabebe, for instance, only 13 families held the position of gobernadorcillo within a period of 150 years, between 1615 and 1765. The most frequent holders were various members of the Salonga, Centeno, Songsong, Tolentino, and Zabala families. Later, the Chinese mestizos, through their financial assets and resourcefulness, succeeded in penetrating the enclave of the native landholding elite, thus becoming part of the new principalia.

Not long after, the phenomenon of intermarriage between leading families of different pueblos began, ushering in the dispersal of these ruling families throughout the entire province. This explains how and why their names appear on the gobernadorcillo lists for different towns under different times. Examples are the David, who appear as leaders in Bacolor and San Fernando, and the Dizon, who appear in Guagua, Mabalacat, and San Fernando. Further changes in the names entered in the gobernadorcillo lists occurred as a result of the transformation of Kapampangan economy in the 19th century from agricultural to cash crop. Then, names of Chinese mestizo families started to outnumber the old names, until about 1826, when the distinction between the two disappeared.

President Diosdado Macapagal by Romeo Enriquez
President Diosdado Macapagal by Romeo Enriquez, 1962 (Presidential Museum and Library)

Shortage of qualified personnel plagued the American colonial government. This, coupled with the vaunted Republican ideal of American political thought, prompted the Americans to encourage wider Filipino participation in the running of government. Political parties were formed and elections were held for various government positions. Understandably, the list of governors, appointed and elected, during the American colonial period, continued to show the same elite names like Joven, Arnedo, Liongson, Ventura, David, Henson, Lagman, and Baluyut.

Pampanga has three cities: Angeles, Mabalacat, and San Fernando. Angeles City has 19 municipalities and 538 barangays. Angeles City’s government is independent of that of the province of Pampanga. The capital, San Fernando City, is the government seat of the province. The officials of the provincial government are the governor, vice governor, and the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial legislature) who are elected; and the provincial secretary, treasurer, assessor, budget officer, engineer, agriculturist, and a planning and development coordinator, who are appointed. The Sangguniang Panlalawigan is made up of the governor, vice governor, elected members of the Sanggunian, and the presidents of the Katipunang Panlalawigan and the Kabataang Barangay Provincial Federation, who are appointed by the president of the Philippines.

Kapampangan [Pampanga] Culture, Customs and Traditions

Video: Mekeni Tuki Ka, Malaus ka Pampanga! (Exploring Pampanga)

The Kapampangan traditional kinship structure may be of the bilateral type, that is, relationship may be reckoned equally on both the father’s and mother’s side. However, there are families that deviate from this general pattern, as when tension and strain occur among relatives. This internal conflict may be caused by either inequality of property holdings or geographical distance, which puts a barrier to the execution of kinship rights and obligations. Within the structure, relationship is determined both horizontally and vertically. Vertical structure considers both the ascending and descending generations. The horizontal structure reckons relationship bilaterally and includes first, second, and third cousins from the mother and father’s sides.

Woman preparing a bayawak or monitor lizard for a meal, Pampanga
Woman preparing a bayawak or monitor lizard for a meal, Pampanga, 1912 (A Philippine Album American Era Photographs 1900-1930 by Jonathan Best, 1998.)

A family is generally a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction. Although there are Kapampangan families whose children work in Manila, they may still constitute a part of the nuclear family. Economic cooperation is manifested in the way unmarried children are obligated to support the family financially. The rights and duties exercised and expected among members of the family may likewise include obligations to neighbors. The Kapampangan traditionally do not put geographical limits to their neighborhood. They define it according to their own circumstances and understanding of it.

Community affairs are an important part of the family’s activities. Through its participation in these affairs, it is motivated to conform to the norms and standards of behavior set by the community. The community, in turn, provides the family with identity and status. These community affairs, where the cooperation of everyone is expected to ensure their success, are largely religious, such as barrio fiestas, or political, such as elections of barrio officials. A modern illustration of this Kapampangan sense of communality is the revival of that elite social dancing club El Circulo Fernandino in 1997, in response to the disaster situation created by the Pinatubo eruption. Reconfigured into a foundation, it raised funds for infrastructure, anti-poverty, and education programs.

Crucial events in life function as rites of passage: conception and pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, childhood, puberty and adolescence, courtship and marriage, and death and burial. There are around 10 stages in the Kapampangan life cycle: pungol (newborn); manaquit (the baby can see); sasacab (the baby can roll back); lulucluc (the baby can sit alone); tinubo ne ipan (the baby has teeth); lalacad ne (the child can walk); mamulai ne (the child can run around); a panaligan mo ne (the child can be sent on errands); lalabas ne (the child starts to help in the field), or if a girl, malalacuan queng bale (the child can be depended upon to do household chores); and baing tao (new person), meaning he has come of age and can court, marry, and establish his own family, or she has come of age, can marry, and manage her own household. How well the individual assumes these different roles without discontinuity and strain depends to a large extent upon the kind of training the person receives from family, elders, and peers.

To the Kapampangan, the first three months of pregnancy are known as cacagli (conception). There are several food taboos that a pregnant woman must observe because it is believed that certain foods affect the physical appearance of the baby. One taboo, however, that applies to the husband is that he should not eat the same fruit that his wife eats because it will make him lazy. To undo this effect, the couple should take a bath together.

Kabulanan or aldo muna is the month of child delivery. Traditionally, childbirth was attended to by a local ilot (folk healer) who also functioned as a midwife. Relatives, both child and adult, were allowed to witness the birth. However, the father and other male members of the household were requested to leave the house or the delivery room. The husband’s role was considered minor, and his presence depended on the wishes of the wife. In a barrio of Guagua, Pampanga, noises such as those made from tin cans and firecrackers are believed to speed up childbirth.

As soon as the baby is delivered, it is cleaned and dressed, and then laid beside the mother. There are beliefs and practices attending the birth of a child: A child born on a Sunday will have a rich, long life, and will be safe from drowning and hanging. One born at midnight will be brave, whereas one born at dawn will be short-tempered. The godparents’ duties begin as soon as the child is born; they give the ilot a token fee “para imu” (for washing the face), as the expression goes. However, on the baptismal day itself, the godfather should be as generous as he can, lest the child undergo a lifetime of suffering from muri (dirty eyes).

The father may be given the privilege of selecting the baby’s name. The mother takes care of the baby’s needs. Old people believe that in order to make the bones of the infant strong and firm, the mother must rub her hands together and then touch the knees and nape of the infant before she washes her hands in the morning. When the child can already walk and talk, he or she is allowed to leave the house to play with other children within the mulahan (yard). Since it is the mother that takes care of the children, she is expected to discipline and teach them in the ways of the community, such as making siclaud (kissing the hand of elders). Children from seven to ten years of age are expected to do household chores, such as taking care of their younger siblings. Traditionally, there were taboos connected with children’s games: Playing soldiers would bring about war, and singing in the street foretold a funeral procession.

A girl’s first menstruation is viewed as the start of a new life for her, this being the mark of her transition from childhood to puberty. There are taboos that she must observe, such as eating sour fruits and taking a bath during her period. For boys, circumcision signals the beginning of the age of puberty. A number of beliefs are observed, such as no female member of the household must be within glancing distance when the wound is being cleaned; and boys must never use any part of a torn dress or any material used by a female member of the household to dress the wound as this could lead to infection.

The ideal courtship starts with friendship blossoming into engagement. The baing-tao (gentlemen) prefer dalaga (maidens) from other towns, as they are inclined to consider those from their own barrio as their own siblings. It is usual for men to go courting together with friends. The parents, however, prefer their sons to court ladies from their own town, as these are already known to them. When this happens, pamaglolo (courtship) is usually done through letters and not through home visitation to avoid the prying eyes of the townsfolk. Teasing is used by suitors to pave the way for formal courtship. The use of a go-between is also a favorite mode of courtship.

The giving of duro (dowry) to the bride’s parents used to be a popular custom but is fast disappearing because the practice is “like buying the girl.” But in some instances, dowry is given to the couple instead so they can have something to start with in their married life. Certain beliefs and practices concerning the wedding and marriage are observed. The date of the wedding must be on a full moon because the full moon foretells a successful and prosperous marriage. The patuqui is the practice in which the bride stays with the groom’s family even before the church rites are solemnized. This stems from the belief that it is dangerous for either of the engaged couple to leave the house as the wedding date approaches for fear of an accident or abduction by a rejected suitor. During this pre-wedding period, civil rites may be performed to preempt unpleasant talk in the community. Members of the girl’s family keep away from the wedding ceremony and feast to convey their sadness over the loss of a daughter or sister. As the bride and groom are on their way to the church, neither of them should look back; doing so will cause the other to die. If a wedding couple’s rings make a sound during the rites, it will be a tempestuous marriage.

After the wedding, the couple proceeds to the house of the girl’s parents to ask for their blessings and then to her other relatives to introduce the groom personally. The newlyweds stay in the house of the groom’s parents until they can afford a place of their own. An old belief is that they should spend their wedding night at the groom’s house or else he will die. They must also cross the threshold at the same time because the bride or groom who walks in first will die.

A couple may resort to positara (elopement), for a number of reasons, such as avoidance of expense or parental objection to the marriage. If so, the elopement must be reported to the municipio (town hall) within 24 hours to avoid the charge of abduction, which the parents of the girl might file against the boy.

More beliefs accompany a couple into their marriage. If they light one lamp with another, they will quarrel. If the husband’s eyes tear up in a smoky room, this means he does not love his in-laws.

Traditionally, the Kapampangan believe that the aligawat (omen or premonition) comes side by side with death, and one’s death can be foreseen by close kin and friends. Of all aspects of life, death seems to have the most numerous omens connected with it. The loss of a tooth or the tolling of a bell in a dream, a howling dog, a crowing hen at night, a hooting owl, a mound of earth under the house, and three lamps on the dining table are all portents of death. There are acts that will also cause a death in the family. A pregnant woman’s husband who digs a well will cause her death. A breadfruit tree that grows tall enough for Mount Arayat to be viewed from it will cause its planter to die. A coffin too large for the dead person means that someone in the family will soon follow.

Pamanimu (cleaning of the corpse) follows immediately after the person is pronounced dead, in preparation for burol (lying in state) and burial. The cleaning must be left entirely under the care of a capanalig or capaliguran (close friend), and no immediate member of the family must have a hand in it. The unity or cohesiveness of a group is visibly shown in times of crisis like death, when friends, relatives, and barrio mates extend all possible help to the bereaved family. The assistance usually comes in the form of ambag (financial contribution or personal service), such as preparing the food to be served to those who attend the wake.

The weeping of the dead person’s relatives and friends is called pamanagulele, which includes the act of recalling in a loud voice the good deeds of the dead. This, they believe, is the best way to express their grief over their loss. Later in the evening until morning, the guests at the wake play card games such as tres-siete (three-seven).

To prevent more deaths in the family, certain taboos are observed at the wake and funeral: taking a bath, sweeping the floor, and letting a tear fall on the coffin. Other beliefs are related to the state of the dead person’s soul—combing one’s hair is said to make the soul restless. To prevent the soul from returning, pieces of red cloth should be hung around the house, and the dead person’s bed should be carried out through the window. However, a widower who marries again will be visited by his dead wife’s soul on his wedding night.

The pangadi (nine-day prayer) starts the night after the burial. Participation is voluntary, and no invitations are extended. The bulaclacan, a parlor game done especially for the occasion, is played by young men and women. On the ninth day, a mass is offered for the soul of the departed relative, after which a feast, big or small, depending on the financial capability of the family, is held. A year of mourning ends with the lukas-paldas, when the relatives replace their black mourning clothes with clothes of other colors. In urbanized centers of Pampanga and among westernized Kapampangan, these customs are now practiced selectively.

The Kapampangan have their own basis for their weather forecasts and for telling good or bad fortune. Sneezing three times or an infant sneezing even just once means rain. A big flood is preceded by the arrival of many herons. In the eye of the whirlwind is an anting anting (amulet or magic stone). If one comes upon a tree surrounded by fireflies, chewing its bark would bring good fortune. Being happy on the first Monday of August would guarantee happiness every day of the year. Letting a cat eat on the dining table would be rewarded with a long life. On the other hand, cacao trees are bad luck. A family is cursed with poverty if the end of a rainbow falls over their house or if a tree’s roots grow under it.

Certain acts may bring about illness or discomfort. Taking a bath within the first three days of a relative’s death will make one fall ill. Facing west while sleeping will cause a headache. Nightmares will visit one who sleeps under the beam of a house. One’s teeth will become small if a rat picks up one’s fallen tooth. Love, if unexpressed, will erupt in pimples. There are rules to curb the Kapampangan’s vanity. A new dress, they say, will last if it is worn to Sunday mass, or wearing perfume too often will cause one’s body to rot faster in the grave.

The Kapampangan’s close interaction with animals is reflected in their beliefs regarding these. Whistling at night will bring snakes into the house. A firefly in the house brings good luck. Killing a cat will cause dire poverty. Rats will destroy the clothes of one who curses them. A carabao knocking its horn against the pole to which it is tethered is a sign of good harvest. Additionally, farming-related practices are intended to ensure a good harvest, such as overeating before planting corn. But looking up after planting a banana tree will cause that tree to grow so tall that harvesting its fruit will be difficult.

Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Kapampangan People of Pampanga

Pampanga’s reputation as a center of Catholicism can be traced back to the remark made of them at the start of the Spanish colonial period as being “the Castilians of the Indios” because they were apparently the most open to Hispanization. Many of the first Filipinos who entered the religious life were Kapampangan: Martin Sancho, the first Filipino Jesuit in 1593; Juan de Sta. Maria Dimatulac of Macabebe, the first Recoleto in 1660; Miguel de Morales of Bacolor, the first Filipino priest in 1654; and Rufino Santos of Guagua, the first Filipino cardinal in 1960.

Sinakulo crucifixion scene, Cutud, Pampanga
Sinakulo crucifixion scene, Cutud, Pampanga, 2014 (Isto Lethev, Wikimedia Commons)

For the Kapampangan women desiring to enter the religious life, there would be more obstacles and, once in, they could also be subject to abuse. Thus, they had to be extraordinarily intrepid and strong willed. Sor Juana de Sancta Antonio joined the Poor Clares in 1668 and was a prolific intellectual, writing her theological speculations down in notebooks. At age 68, she was condemned by the Inquisition in Manila for heresy. The Talangpaz sisters, Dionisia Mitas and Cecilia Rosa, founded their own beaterio in 1719. Called the Beaterio de San Sebastian de Calumpang, it evolved into the Augustinian Recollect Order, which is the world’s oldest women’s religious order. Sor Josefa “Pepita” Estrada de San Rafael, who joined the Poor Clares in 1880, was a descendant of the Kapampangan Datu Lakandula of Tondo and became the basis for Rizal’s Maria Clara. Contrary to Rizal’s hapless heroine, however, Sor Pepita defied the religious authorities who were subjecting her to abuse. On the other hand, pious lay women, whose devotion might extend to fulfilling such personal needs of the parish priest as washing, cooking, and housekeeping, earned the nickname of dagis pisamban (church mouse), equivalent to the more widespread label of “manang,” from the Spanish hermana (sister).

To this day, the Kapampangan’s life, from birth to death, is heavily influenced by the Catholic religion. Kinship among the barrio people is traditionally established and strengthened by the performance of religious rituals. Compliance with the performance of four important religious rites is considered imperative: baptism, confirmation, devotion to the saints, and marriage. The traditional Kapampangan believe that the performance of the baptismal rites makes their children good Christians; confirmation rites make them “soldiers of God;” devotion to a patron saint, such as the Virgen de los Remedios, provides them with an intercessor in times of need and distress; and marriage strengthens the bond between couples. On the other hand, a childless couple turns to prayers and novenas.

Image of the Virgen de los Remedios
Image of the Virgen de los Remedios (Photo courtesy of Murvyn R. Callo)

However, many of the traditional beliefs and practices associated with lowland Christian folk culture are still observed in the province. The barrio fiesta, as much a social as a religious activity, is celebrated in honor of the patron saint of the barrio with pomp and extravagance. Buntings crisscross the streets. The people are awakened early in the morning by a brass band roaming the streets. Households prepare the famous Kapampangan cuisine for the guests. Everyone is welcome to enter the homes and sample the food.

During such fiestas, riverine towns honor their patron saints with fluvial processions called libad. In Apalit, the biggest river procession is held during their town fiesta to honor Apung Iru (Saint Peter). The ivory image of Apung Iru is borne on a decorated lancha (water barge), followed by a platoon of smaller boats. Revelers on the riverbanks throw foodstuff on the swimmers who pull the barge of the Fisherman Pope.

San Fernando Metropolitan Cathedral
San Fernando Metropolitan Cathedral, 2014 (Judge Floro, Wikimedia Commons)

Christmas is another special day, as in the rest of Christian Philippines. San Fernando has a particularly colorful way of celebrating the season with its unique multi-patterned and multi-lighted lanterns sold as early as the first day of November. The Christmas season in the country officially begins on the 16th of December with the start of the nine-day misa de gallo (dawn mass), which culminates on Christmas Eve. The Kapampangan wake up at early dawn to hear mass, and take an early breakfast of native cakes and hot tsokolateng binatirul. In towns like Mabalacat, Magalang, and Mexico, the Maytinis Festival of lanterns is capped with the singing of pastorelas (shepherd songs).

During the Lenten season, the pasyon is chanted on the Sundays of Lent and during Holy Week, usually by the community’s elder womenfolk, before an altar built especially for the occasion. Chairs are placed around the altar for those who want to participate or listen. Food is prepared by the sponsors for everyone who comes to the pabasa.

On Good Friday of Holy Week, the tabad (flagellation) is practiced as a penitent’s way of fulfilling religious vows for favors asked or granted. “Magdarame” (flagellant) comes from the word dame (to sympathize and share one’s grief), to mean the spirit of oneness with the passion of the Lord. Flagellants are usually male, although in recent years a woman or two have numbered among them. To prepare themselves, the magdarame whip themselves until their backs swell. The backs are then incised with a razor blade or with a paddle with shards of broken glass called panabad. To draw blood, they flog themselves with burilyos, bamboo strips tied to a cloth. With faces covered with cloth and heads crowned with leaves, the barefoot penitents make the rounds of visitas (makeshift chapels), where they pause to say their prayers. There are three kinds of flagellants: mamalaspas (those who whip themselves), magsalibatbat (those who fling their bodies to the ground to hurt their bodies), and mamusan krus (the cross-bearers).

Another popular Lenten penance is the carrying of the cross. Devotees from San Fernando, Angeles, and other towns carry their cross in imitation of Jesus Christ’s journey to Calvary. In San Fernando, the more courageous ones or those with a solemn vow have themselves nailed with four to five-inch nails on the cross, and remain nailed usually for 5 to 10 minutes. The sinakulo (passion play), dramatizing the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, used to be performed quite often, complete with props, costumes, and sets, during Holy Week at the churchyard or town plaza. However, the sinakulo in Barrio Cutud, San Fernando has attracted much media and tourist interest because it has featured, since 1961, the actual nailing on the cross of the actor who plays Christ, along with about 10 other devotees. A hill, formerly named Golgotha, now Mount Calvary and made of lahar, is where the climax of the sinakulo is enacted. It was built by the people of Cutud in 1996, in memory of the death and devastation wrought by Mount Pinatubo.

The month of May ushers in the flores de Mayo, a church sponsored devotion where children and young ladies offer flowers to the Virgin Mary everyday for the entire month. Also celebrated in May, the Santa Cruz de Mayo (Holy Cross of May) festival commemorates the finding of the cross on which Christ died by Reyna Elena (Queen Helene) of Constantinople. It is celebrated with an evening procession around the community. Participating in the procession lighted by candles or by gas or electric lamps is an assortment of biblical characters dressed up in full finery. Usually at the tail end of the procession, string or brass bands accompany a group of singers singing the “Hail Mary” in Spanish. The most beautiful maiden of the town or barrio usually portrays the Reyna Elena, while the most charming boy plays the role of Constantine, her son. At the end of the procession, a pabitin is held, where a bamboo bower laden with toys, delicacies, charms, and adorned with paper buntings is lowered and raised intermittently as both children and adults vie in reaching for the prizes. The day is not complete without serving the lelut manuc (chicken congee) to participants and guests. A unique variation of this popular May rite is the “Sabat Santacruzan,” sometimes called goydo-goydo, after Goy do Borgonia, Constantine’s successor. It is performed in Sapangbato, Angeles City and in the capital city of San Fernando. Additional drama is provided when an army of Moors form a sabat (human barrier) to stop the Christian entourage. The costumed characters engage in a poetic joust that leads to a staged swordfight and a Christian victory.

All Saints’ Day on 1 November is one of the most important occasions of the year. In the morning, the daun (the first offering to the dead) is made. Throughout the day, the members of the family keep vigil over the gravesites, which have been previously cleaned, repaired, and repainted. Candles, flowers, and food are offered. At sunset, the local priest goes around to bless all the graves. Outside the cemeteries, groups of singers troop from house to house, singing gosu (religious songs), encouraging the residents to remember and pray for the souls of the deceased. For their efforts, they receive either money or goods, a Kapampangan version of the trick-or-treat custom of Halloween. Other groups, mostly young men, roam around the neighborhood stealing chickens or fruits. The victims of these sorties are usually not offended, as the practice is done in fun and considered part of the celebration.

Pampanga's Vintage Architectures, Old Churches and Ancestral Bahay-na-bato 

The plaza complex pattern in town planning, which exists today in many Pampanga towns, was introduced by the Spaniards. Dominating the town square or plaza is the Catholic church, as in Apalit. Nearby or attached to the church is the convento, the home of the parish priest. Across the church stands the casa real or municipio, signifying the closeness of the church and the state under Spain.

Apalit Church, Pampanga
Apalit Church, Pampanga, 2014 (Judge Floro, Wikimedia Commons)

Interior of the Apalit Church, Pampanga
Interior of the Apalit Church, Pampanga, 2014 (Judge Floro, Wikimedia Commons)

The schools, parochial and public, are likewise situated at or near the plaza. At a short distance from the plaza is the market, which consists of semipermanent stalls for traders who do regular business and an open space for ambulant vendors who usually sell agricultural products. Near the market are dry-goods stores usually run by Chinese Filipinos and small shops of local artisans. The marketplace operates not only as a business center but as an information and gossip hub as well. The houses of the more affluent and prominent families are found around or near the town center. The dwellings of the less affluent occupy the peripheral areas. At the outskirts of each municipality are the barrios, connected to the town center by feeder roads. The old towns are usually found beside the river on the site of pre-Spanish settlements, but all towns are connected by the old Spanish road.

The kapitolyo complex was established by the Americans in San Fernando, the town that they turned into the capital of the province in 1903. A short distance from the old plaza complex is the capitol building, surrounded by the provincial high school, hospital, courts, jails, and a park. To the Americans may also be ascribed a number of infrastructures still existing, such as bridges and highways which connected the different towns of the province and encouraged the establishment of residential and commercial structures lining these highways.

A Kapampangan’s economic and social status is readily seen in the way the homes are built. The bale kubu, the traditional house of the lower class, is made of light materials such as bamboo and wood. It is a narrow, elevated structure with a steep atap (roof) of pinaud (nipa) or grass thatch. The awang (windows) are made of the same material. These are closed and opened with an aldaba (wooden pole) that has a notched end that is put on the pasimanu (window sill) (Bale Kapampangan). Because of its elevation, the house needs an eran (bamboo ladder).

The lande (flooring), usually of split bamboos nailed or tied in horizontal rows with narrow strips of rattan, is raised 2.4 to 3 meters from the ground. Four asyas (corner posts) are made of wood, sometimes combined with bamboo, to provide security against the elements. Bamboo grills called mata-mata or sala-sala hold the cogon roof down. The dalig (walls) are usually of sawali, which is a matting of vertically arranged bamboo. The batalan is an open porch for washing, bathing and drying, with heavy-duty floors made of pawig (mature bamboo). Adjacent to the kitchen is the banggera, an open window for drying tableware, usually facing east to catch the rays of the sun (Bale Kapampangan). It also contains the tapayan, a big earthen jar used to store water for washing. In the early days, the leaves of paquiling (Ficus) were used to scrub the furniture, while the floor was polished with the leaves of saguin a bututan.

Dayrit House in San Fernando City
Dayrit House in San Fernando City (Center for Kapampangan Studies)

The affluent maintain spacious, durable, comfortable, and elegant homes made of substantial materials. The bahay na bato was one of the styles that spread across the country during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Made of wood and stone, the structure is strong enough to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. Raised above the ground by a stone wall, the house usually has a grand staircase with carved balustrades leading from the first floor to the living quarters on the second floor. The floors and walls of the second floor are of solid wood. There are large ventana (window) panels with panes made of glass or translucent shells more popularly known as capiz. Ventanillas (small windows) may also be opened underneath the ventanas. To help air circulate inside the house, calados (cut-out wooden panels) are installed on the top of the walls dividing the rooms. The house has a spacious sala or living room, and further inside, a dining room, several bedrooms, and a kitchen. Usually attached to the kitchen (in place of the batalan) is the azotea, an open terrace with stone or ceramic balustrade and a tiled floor.

The Pamintuan Mansion, circa 1880s, is a representation of ilustrado history over the past century-and-a-half. Built by hacenderos (plantation owners) Don Florentino Torres Pamintuan (1868-1925) and Doña Mancia Sandico Pamintuan (1865-1905), it is located along Santo Rosario Street, Angeles City. It features the style of the period, marked with massive grandness that is immediately obvious as one climbs the stairway of solid Philippine hardwood to the entresuelo. It has a metal ceiling with distinct pukpok (repoussé) floral designs, ornamental arches, buttresses, and calado transoms. Two separate spiral staircases lead to a rooftop tower, from where one could take in the fresh air and view the town. The mansion was later equipped with “modern” amenities: Running water was hand pumped from a well, and rooms were illuminated by gas lamps until electricity came to the town.

In 1899, President Emilio Aguinaldo of the Philippine Republic moved the seat of his new and fragile government from Nueva Ecija to Angeles. Don Florentino, a member of the Revolutionary Committee, opened his house to Aguinaldo and allowed it to be used as the headquarters of the Philippine Army, headed by General Antonio Luna. On 12 June 1899, on the first anniversary of the declaration of Philippine independence, President Aguinaldo viewed an army parade under the command of Gregorio del Pilar from the second floor of this house, while the Philippine tri-color was waved from its window.

During the Philippine-American War, the house was commandeered by General Arthur McArthur for his headquarters in 1901. After Aguinaldo’s capture, the Pamintuans returned to take up residence in the house, where they hosted socials and received guests, including Governor-General Frank Murphy in the 1930s. In World War II, a Japanese regiment occupied the house. When the war ended, the house was rented out and used as a clubhouse for US servicemen until 1947. The following year, the house was leased to a Chinese, who transformed it into the Angeles Hotel. In 1959, the prime property was sold to Pedro Tablante, whose family never resided in the mansion. The house became an annex of the city hall when it was leased to the local government in 1964. In 1983 to 1988, the Central Bank of the Philippines purchased it for use as its regional office and financed a five-year restoration work on it. In 2010, the Central Bank turned over the property to the national government, which transferred it to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

The Bale Herencia in Angeles City is a bahay na bato whose periodic renovations may be read as chapters in the nation’s history as well. Since 1860, it has stood on a 983-square meter lot at the corner of Lakandula and Santo Rosario Streets. Once owned by the Gomez clan, it was home to the first generation of six mestizo children, then to their numerous descendants, who finally dwindled to one. At the turn of the 20th century, the daughter who had inherited the house converted the combined space of the comedor and sala (dining and living room) into a catechetical school, even as American Protestantism was beginning to take hold in the rest of the country. In 1927, her son, a councilor, started using it as his office; besides the original three bedrooms, three more rooms were created with curtain room dividers called tabing-tabing.

During World War II, the Japanese occupied the house, which they ransacked before departing at war’s end in 1944. In 1952, major renovations were made to the house. Galvanized iron sheets replaced its thatched roof, and iron grills enclosed the azotea. In 1960, the zaguan, which had originally been used as storage area for the first matriarch’s milling business, was leased to a government bureau, while the second floor continued to be the family residence. In 1968, a food-catering businessman bought the house from the one remaining Gomez heir. The zaguan was subdivided into a restaurant, an advertising agency, a storage area for rent, and an art gallery. The century-old tree trunks serving as the inner spine to the adobe posts were replaced by steel. In 1991, the damage done by Mount Pinatubo’s ash and volcanic deposits required the replacement of the roof, although the original wooden rafters and beams remained intact. In 1992, the zaguan became a jazz bar.

It was an American who named it “Bale Herencia” in 1994 when he rented the whole house. An imposing arched doorway and windows with iron grills were cut into the zaguan’s stone walls. Since 1996, when the present owners took over the entire house, renovations have been made to suit their catering business. While its original bodega remained a storage area, the main zaguan became a function hall, and rest rooms were added. On the second floor, the partitions that originally defined the bedrooms, toilet, banggera, and cocina (kitchen) were removed with each renovation. The second floor finally became one grand, continuous space. Ornamental antique doors and wooden columns were added alongside one wall of this hall, as well as capiz shells and old wooden panels in the rest rooms, in a deliberate attempt to create a Spanish colonial ambience. The hall is rented out for banquets, art exhibits, media events, and other such public and private gatherings. In the first decade of the 21st century, the zaguan was further divided into several spaces for commercial use, such as small cafés and food stalls.

Several bahay na bato whose original owners held notable posts in the local government and contributed generously to the town’s history still exist in Angeles to this day. These bahay na bato are generally located near the church, and some have been converted into public and commercial spaces. The city founder’s house, however, has retained its original structure as a bahay na bato since it was built in 1824.

Alvendia House in Floridablanca
Alvendia House in Floridablanca, above, 2014 (Judge Floro, Wikimedia Commons)

Other examples of bahay-na-bato structures in Pampanga are the homes of affluent families. In the Heritage District of San Fernando City are the Lazatin-Ocampo, Hizon-Singian, Henson-Hizon, Dayrit, and Hizon houses. In Apalit, the Arnedo house, also known as La Sulipeña, 1848, had an exact replica built next to it in 1860 as a guest house. Other example of such stone houses are the Alvendia 

Samia House in Arayat
Samia House in Arayat, 2017 (Alice G. Esteves Collection);

House, also known as bahay na puti (white house) in Floridablanca; the Samia house in Arayat; the Lazatin and Dizon houses in Mexico; and the Maglalang House in Santa Rita. In Guagua, the Lopez House stood its own against the lahar that flooded its basement.

Bacolor, being a mere 36 kilometers from the Mount Pinatubo crater, bore the greatest damage and number of casualties among the municipalities of Pampanga, with half of its barangays buried in lahar. The interiors of the 19th-century Joven-Panlilio house in Poblasyon Cabambangan were saved in time and donated by the owner to the De La Salle University, Dasmariñas, Cavite for the Museo De La Salle. But three of the oldest houses are now gone: the Gonzalez, De Leon, and Malig houses.

The Malig house, built circa 1750s, was known as the oldest existing house until it was buried up to its roof in lahar. A visitor once described its grandeur as he walked through its arched adobe portal into a courtyard overgrown with bougainvillea and paved with cobbled stones. The front door, topped with a pediment, was unusually located at a lookout tower connected to the house. Azulejos (blue-and-white tiles) lined the floor of the entrance hall. To the left was the family carroza (carriage) of the Mater Dolorosa. To the right was a relatively narrow staircase leading to the caida. Further to the right of this staircase was a smaller staircase leading up the tower. Up in the caida, the centerpiece was a 19th-century matrimonial bed, canopied by a mosquito net and with a headboard ornamented with cranes. The walls had been hand-painted with geometric patterns and thus bore a textured look. In 1961, the house was used as a setting for the film version of Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), directed by Gerardo de Leon.

Three vintage houses of Pampanga have been dismantled and transferred to the heritage park cum open-air museum called Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. These are the Reyes house, 1780, now named Casa Candaba; the Castor house, also of Candaba; and the Arrastia house, 1920, also known as Casa Lubao.

Over the years, most of the traditional structures were replaced by modern ones made of cement and/or bricks, patterned after western architecture, and found in the more developed areas in the province. The one-story house has two types: the tsalet (chalet), popular during the American period, which was slightly elevated from the ground and had a balcony in front of or running around the house; and the bungalow, a concrete house built on the ground itself. Two-story houses, which are related to the bahay kubo and the bahay na bato, are now most common. Regardless of size, the typical house is never without the sala, the comedor, the cocina, and the cuarto (bedroom).

In deprived areas, the lower class is forced to make do with an assortment of materials—wood, galvanized iron, even cardboard—for a patched-up barong-barong (shanty).

Another architectural legacy of the Spanish period are the churches. Pampanga was administered from 1572 to 1898 by the Augustinians who supervised the building of the churches of the province. The Lubao Church is massive and of solid and durable masonry of stone and bricks. In Neoclassic style, it has a five-story belfry the plainness of which complements the simple facade of the church, and is in sharp contrast to the profusely ornamented convent at the opposite end. One of the rare monuments of 17th-century Philippine architecture, the church was declared an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2013.

In the Baroque style, the facade of the Betis Church is enlivened by columns that are decorative rather than functional. The recently built portico is decorated with flower, spiral, curvilinear, and other intricate carvings as well as moldings. Its four-story bell tower has alternating flat and arched windows. Betis has one of the most ornate retablos in the Philippines, murals on all walls and on the ceiling, featuring trompe l’oeil details, colored glass windows, and a wooden floor. The lavish church murals have earned it the label, “Sistine Chapel of the Philippines.” In 2007, the Betis town fiesta committee transformed the ground floor of the church refectory into a mini-museum.

Made principally of bricks, the Macabebe Church was extended in 1864, making it one of the largest in the Philippines. Its facade is only slightly ornamented following the Neoclassic style. The overcrowded carvings on the third level of the three-story bell tower detract from the generally simple lines of the facade. A new wooden altarpiece was installed in 2009.

The Candaba Church facade’s predominant characteristics are simplicity of line and restrained ornamentation. The three-story bell tower mounted on rectangular pedestals interlocks with the church and convent to form a solid-looking unified whole.

The church of Bacolor was restored in 1852 after having been damaged by an earthquake. Richly decorated, it belongs to an advanced stage of the Baroque style. Its main doorway and the windows of both the church and bell tower are arched and ornamented with very intricate designs.

Apalit Church is reminiscent of European neoclassic churches. It is unusual because it has twin bell towers sandwiching the facade. It still retains the old murals on its walls and ceilings, which depict scenes from the Old and the New Testaments.

The Minalin church-convent complex is enclosed by a low stone atrium with four capillas posas (outside altars), considered rare in the Philippines. The retablo-like facade of the church and the lavish floral decorations of the main entrance and the windows above it are its most striking features. The church is also known for its ancient mural map of the town, dated 1614, with many folksy drawings of native animals, fish, and other flora and fauna. In 2011, it was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The facade of Santa Rita Church is solid, while the columns, single and coupled, are relatively slender. It has baroque features, notably the triangular-shaped windows at the facade and the bell tower, and the undulating line and the volutes of the pediment. The church has managed to survive yearly flooding. Its capacious convento rooms have been used to exhibit antique santos and fine examples of ecclesiastical art. In 2007, a carved bust reliquary containing the Holy Relic of Santa Rita was installed in the church’s side altar. Five church bells have been restored.

Finished in the late 18th century, San Luis Church has twin bell towers flanking the stone facade that showcases the “waves” of European Baroque. The carved main entrance is recessed. Flanked by two small niches, the door is crowned with the papal insignia. Triangular, segmented, and arched window panels and arched and oval-shaped blind windows are the only decorations of the facade. The church has survived occasional flooding and underwent some renovation, such as the repainting of the retablo, after the Pinatubo eruption.

Other notable Pampanga churches are those of Guagua, Angeles, and San Fernando. Remarkable is the restoration of the San Guillermo Parish Church of Bacolor, 1895, which was gradually buried by lahar halfway up from 1994 to 1995. The original choir loft window is now the church’s present main door. Its main altar was dug out and repositioned on the new ground level, now 6.6 meters higher. Of the new churches, notable is that of Holy Angel University with its neo-gothic retablo by Wilfredo Layug.

Pampanga's Famous Painters and Artists 

A famous artist of the 19th century was Simon Flores of Bacolor, whose excellent oil renditions of eminent men and women are recognized as masterworks. Born of poor parents in 1839, he started his career by studying drawing and oil painting in Manila under the tutelage of famous art professors. His first work, a painting of Spanish King Amadeo I, was praised by critics. This painting was donated to the town of San Fernando in celebration of a royal feast. His entries to painting contests here and abroad won top prizes. Major works include religious paintings, genre paintings, and the two group portraits of the family of Cirilo Quiason that are considered masterpieces of 19th-century portraiture. Flores also engaged in sculpture and architectural design. He designed altars and church vaults, particularly for the church of Angeles, whose construction was unfortunately not finished. In 1904, the Philippine international jury of the St. Louis World’s Fair awarded Flores an honorable mention in the Fine Arts competition. Another Kapampangan, Rafael Gil, won a silver medal for his mother-of-pearl art creation.

Retablo of the Chapel of Holy Angel University, designed and executed by Wilfredo Layug
Retablo of the Chapel of Holy Angel University, designed and executed by Wilfredo Layug (Center for Kapampangan Studies)

Simon Flores, Niños jugandos,
Simon Flores, Niños jugandos, 1887 (Tardio et al., 2011)

National Artist Vicente S. Manansala, born in 1910 in Macabebe, was a pioneering force in neorealism and transparent cubism. Named as one of the Thirteen Moderns, Manansala was also a landscape watercolorist and muralist, one of his works being the Thirteen Stations of the Cross at the UP chapel. Many of his artworks on paper are now at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts at the Holy Angel University, Angeles City, where his framed charcoal drawings, sketches, and other personal memorabilia have been permanently housed since 2008. It had been the artist’s wish to leaves some of his artistic legacy in his home province.

flower design wood carvings
Juan Flores, Untitled (Center for Kapampangan Studies)

Pampanga’s second National Artist is Benedicto Cabrera, also known as BenCab, born in 1942 in Sasmuan. After settling in Baguio, he established the Tam-awan village, which houses the BenCab Museum and promotes local art. Other accomplished Kapampangan artists are Emilio Aguilar Cruz, Jose Bumanlag David, Jose Hernandez, Elias Laxa, Rodrigo Paras Perez, and Claude Tayag.

Pampanga's Famous Parol-making 

A giant parol, San Fernando, Pampanga
A giant parol, San Fernando, Pampanga, 1990 (CCP Collections)

The artistic bent of the Kapampangan finds expression in folk art. The parul (handcrafted Christmas lanterns), which depict flowers, bells, angels, and other Christmas motifs in kaleidoscopic patterns, colors, and lights, were originally made by families in Barrio del Pilar of San Fernando, but the parul-making tradition has come to include many other barangays. The Davids from Santa Lucia were crafting paruls as early as the 1930s. The patriarch, the late Rodolfo David, is credited with inventing the rotor, which revolutionized the design and lighting mechanisms of paruls, allowing for countless color combinations and animations. David’s son-in-law, Severino, devised the first battery-powered giant lanterns in the early 1940s. By 1958, David had perfected a new lantern design of papel de japon, known today as parul sampernandu. The flat, circular lanterns are designed with individual compartments housing bulbs that light and “dance” with the use of the rotor technology devised locally.

A giant parol, San Fernando, Pampanga
A giant parol, San Fernando, Pampanga, 1990 (CCP Collections)

The Quiwa family pioneered the use of plastic in lanterns. Quiman Lanterns, the family business, is now led by Ernesto D. Quiwa. At the forefront of preserving the Kapampangan parultradition is Rolando S. Quiambao, who learned lantern craftsmanship at his nephew’s workshop. He set up his own shop through a government loan. He is credited for popularizing the parul after the Pinatubo eruption as a symbol of hope and renewal for the Kapampangan.

A giant parol, San Fernando, Pampanga
A giant parol, San Fernando, Pampanga, 1990 (CCP Collections)

Today, other barrios in San Fernando create their own huge lanterns, most about 3 to 4 meters high. These are brought by the people of the barrio on a truck, in procession to the San Fernando town plaza for the exhibition and competition known as Ligligan Parul, which take place after the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Because these lanterns are uniquely beautiful, they are now made in all sizes not only for the local market but for export as well.

Pampanga Wood Carving Tradition

Another Kapampangan specialty is wood carving on chairs, tables, beds, cabinets, and dressers, as well as doors, balustrades, window railings, wall panels, and room dividers. Fine 19th-century pieces of wood carving done by Santa Rita craftsmen in colonial times are preserved in museums throughout Spain. However, it is the wood-carvers of Betis that have become famous all over the country for their carving style popularly-known today as dukit-Betis (Mallari n.d. (a), 40-41). Betis was already known in the 17th and 18th centuries for the carving of images, altars, church ornaments, and furniture, as well as for inlaying of mother-of-pearl and bone, gilding with gold leaf, and painting religious pieces and theater drop curtains.

An outstanding Kapampangan sculptor from Betis whose body of work ranges from religious, to decorative, to furniture carving is Juan C. Flores, popularly known as Apong Juan. Born in 1900 among fisherfolk, he left his hometown to seek his fortune in Manila. He became an apprentice under wood-carver Maximo Vicente Sr. After working for six years with the artists of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts on R. Hidalgo Street, Flores went back to Betis and taught his relatives and town mates the art of wood carving and sculpture. His students became fathers and teachers to other artists, thus ensuring the continuity of the tradition of sculpture in Betis. Flores’s numerous works, such as historical bas-reliefs and murals, religious statues, biblical tableaux, chandeliers, console and mirror sets, altar tables, and candleholders can be found in Malacañan and other private collections here and abroad. In 1972, his bust of Richard Nixon won top prize in an international competition held in Washington, DC. The work is now in the White House. His workshop continues to carry on his legacy, under the supervision of his descendants.

Isabelo Tampinco, born in Binondo, was descended from Lakandula through the maternal line. He was the first to popularize the use of Filipiniana motifs such as anahaw leaves, banana, and bamboo in his carving, known today as estilo Tampinco. One of the his workers in his taller (shop) was a Maximiano Jingco (born in 1904), whose roots were in Guagua. Although born in Manila and educated there, Jingco returned to Guagua after finishing his bachelor of arts at the University of the Philippines. He specialized in secular art rather than religious statuaries, which were in demand then. In 1927, he opened his own shop, El Arte, Taller de Escultura y Pintura.

Wilfredo “Willy” Tadeo Layug was born to an artistic family in Barangay Santa Ursula, considered the art center of the town of Betis. Layug grew up among santeros (makers of religious images), sculptors, painters, and folk artists. After earning a degree in architecture and fine arts from the University of Santo Tomas, he opened his religious carving shop in his hometown. When Mount Pinatubo erupted, Layug’s sacred art business generated jobs for 29 skilled workers, mostly relatives, friends, and neighbors. His shop has been credited for contributing to the economic recovery of the barrio, thus restoring its position as the province’s premier wood carving center. Among his works are the retablo at the Pontifical Filipino College in Rome and the gothic retablo mayor of the Holy Angel Chapel in Angeles. During Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines in January 2015, Layug carved the sacred figures used for the papal masses: the Madonna and Child and the crucifix for the Tacloban event, and the central crucifix at the Luneta Mass. Layug also gifted Pope Francis with a smaller Marian image carved from wooden debris salvaged from the Palo Cathedral, which had been destroyed by the super typhoon Yolanda.

A recipient of the Presidential Merit Award for Ecclesiastical Art and the Most Outstanding Kapampangan Award, Layug has been training trade school students in his workshop as a way of encouraging more local people to continue the carving industry. He is a proponent of the annual Dukit Festival in Betis in December. The festival has held the first national competition for the country’s best wood-carvers, who come from Paete in Laguna, Ifugao, Isabela, and Betis.

Pukpok and other Arts and Crafts in Pampanga

Pukpok (metalsmithing), originally for religious use, is still being practiced by a few artists in Pampanga. The art form uses chasing-and-repoussé techniques on metal—usually brass or silver—to form raised designs on the metal sheet with the use of a hammer for pounding the patterns. The beaten metal products are used to make panels for altar frontals and carrozas, decorative ramilletes, and metal accessories for religious statuaries like crowns, diadems, scepters, and halos. The contemporary uses of pukpok have expanded to include export-quality picture frames, jewelry boxes, and beauty-pageant tiaras. Eduardo Mutuc, recipient of a 2004 Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan Award from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and a few other pukpok metalsmiths of Apalit have continued to preserve a heritage craft that is unique to Pampanga.

metalwork carving design Pampanga
Eduardo Mutuc, Untitled (metalwork), 2005 (National Commission for Culture and the Arts)

Kite making is related to lantern craft, which has been mastered by Eulogio “Apung Eloy” Catahan of Angeles City. He was the last of the makers of the rare fish lanterns in Pampanga. But he was also adept at crafting the traditional burarul (kite), such as the diamond-shaped sapi-sapi, the box type tukong, the fighting kites called panyakit, and the giant gurion. He has, however, gone beyond the traditional by creating more elaborate kites in all kinds of whimsical shapes: birds, fishes, angels, superheroes, and even ferris wheels that fly. He also developed foldable, portable kites with wire hinges. His kites have been flown in Taiwan, Los Angeles in the United States, London, and the Middle East.

Many other arts and crafts exist in the various Pampanga towns, although the number of artisans is dwindling. In Apalit and Santo Tomas, the kuran (earthenware), whether utilitarian or decorative, is a minor industry. In Santa Ursula, Betis, a few remaining mandaras (boat carvers) still practice their craft. Some families in San Luis and San Simon continue to to engage in dase (cloth and mat weaving), which were once a major produce for the province.

Kapampangan Literary Arts

Bugtung (Riddles)

Exchanging bugtung (riddles) and casebian (proverbs) was a custom in rural areas in the early days at social gatherings like funeral wakes and weddings. This usually took place at night at the house where a gathering was being held. Riddles usually come in couplets with assonantal rhyme, as may be seen in the following (Icban-Castro 1981):

sleeping dog dreaming of bones art illustration
Illustration by Jonathan Rañola

Aduang bolang sinulad

Anggang banua miraras. (Mata)

(Two balls of thread

Can reach as far as heaven. [Eyes])

Adua lang mikaluguran

Tagalan nong tagalan. (Bitis)

(Two friends

In an endless chase. [Feet])

Metung a butil a pale

Sakup ne ing mabilug a bale. (Sulu)

(A grain of rice

Occupies an entire house. [Lamp])

Like the riddles, proverbs are usually in rhyming couplets (Icban-Castro 1981):

Nung mabuluk ya gamat ing ginawang buru,

ularan de iti.

(A buro maker who works with smelly hands

will produce worm-infested buro.)

Panayan mu caring anac mu

ing depatan mu cang tata mu.

(Expect your children to treat you

the way you treated your father.)

Ing itu

balican ne ing labug na.

(A mudfish

always retraces its path.)

Ing asung balabaluktut

butul man e akapulut.

(A dog curled up all day

won’t find even a bone.)

Kapampangan Poetry

The first known published description of Kapampangan poetry is in Arte y vocabulario de la lengua Pampanga (Grammar and vocabulary of the Pampango language), 1699, by Father Alvaro de Benavente, OSA, who writes that the Kapampangan have two forms of poetry: marungay or manungay, and the dalit. The manungay is a dramatic form, with one person singing an indefinite number of six-syllable lines and the others chorusing a refrain, which has no fixed number of syllables. It is the form used for the people’s rowing song and for celebratory gatherings. The dalit is a graver form, with seven-syllable lines, each line ending with the same syllable. Both forms can consist of four to seven stanzas.

Spanish influence is seen in the metrical romances, which are narrative poetry. Unlike the Tagalog who made a distinction between the awit and the korido on the basis of syllabic count per line, the Kapampangan referred to both by the common name kuriru. The kuriruin Pampanga are neither sung nor danced, unlike in some other provinces. Many kuriru are translations of Tagalog originals, but four are assumed to be Kapampangan, there being no editions available in any other Philippine language. These are “Conde Irlos,” “Aring Palmarin,” “Benero at Ursula,” and “Mariang Dau.”

Spanish or Western influence in lyric poetry was adapted by the Kapampangan at the turn of the century. In Kapampangan poetry, sukad (meter) is determined solely by the number of syllables per talatag (line). The most frequent meters are those consisting of 6, 8, 12, and 16 syllables, arranged in a variety of stanzaic patterns. For lyric poetry, the most popular meter is that of 16 syllables in octaves. Lines of lyric verse in Kapampangan are usually bound together by monorima (monorhymes), though some poets have experimented with more complex rhyme schemes. As a rule, the rhyme involves only the final syllables, thus effecting the sunis a e sakdal (masculine or imperfect rhyme). In 1915, Zoilo Hilario introduced into Kapampangan poetry the use of feminine rhyme called sunis a sakdal, which is a rhyme involving the last two syllables, in the form called maladalit (sonnet).

Two other distinguished names in Kapampangan literature who wrote lyric poetry at the turn of the century were Juan Crisostomo Soto and Aurelio V. Tolentino. Love of country dominates their subjects and themes. “Sulu” (Light) may represent the best of Soto. Aurelio Tolentino’s Daclat Kayanakan (Path for the Youth) is a collection of 12 didactic lyric poems, each guiding the youth on proper behavior in the community.

In the early 1930s, Amado Yuzon experimented with the use of timawang kawatasan (blank verse) and free verse, aside from what is called the Asian sonnet. Upon his death, it was renamed the “Yuzonian sonnet” by the United Poets Laureate International. Free verse, although used by some of the more innovative poets, did not gain widespread popularity.

The list of lyric poets in Kapampangan literature is long. One may classify them into three chronological groups. The first group consists of poets who wrote during the first quarter of the present century: Juan Crisostomo Soto, Aurelio and Jacinto Tolentino, Sergio Navarro, Monico Mercado, Brigido Sibug, Agustin Bustos Zabala, Jose Sanchez, and Zoilo Hilario. Writing during a period of political uncertainty, most of these poets wrote passionately on the theme of patriotism and were published in weeklies such as Ing Alipatpat, which was edited by Soto.

The second group includes those who wrote poetry in the 15 years preceding the outbreak of the war: Amado Yuzon, Diosdado Macapagal, Roman P. Reyes, Belarmino Navarro, Eusebio Cunanan, Silvestre Punsalan, Francisco Gozun, Salvador Tumang, Lino Dizon, Cirilo Bognot, Gil Galang, Rosa Yumul-Ogsimer, Rosario Tuason-Baluyut, and Aurea Balagtas.

Lino Dizon and Cirilo Bognot were two of the prominent poets of the period who joined Pedro Abad Santos’s Socialist Party. The prevailing political unrest in the province in the 1920s and 1930s as well as the political inclination of the poets showed clearly in their works, as in Dizon’s Pasion ding Talapagobra (Passion of the Workers), and its companion volume Biblia ring Pakakalulu (The Bible of the Poor).

A third group of poets is composed of those who wrote during the postwar period, such as Jose Gallardo, Delfin Quiboloy, Abdon Jingco, Celestino Vega, and Francisco Fernando. The most prominent in this group is Jose Gallardo, who first attracted attention with his poem “Ing Pamana” (The Legacy). Written in 1944 when he was a member of the Hukbalahap, it won for him the Yuzon Trophy in a poetry contest in Guagua in 1950. In 1982, he published his first collection of poems, Diwa. It features an example of a unique verse form Gallardo claims to have invented called malikwatas (magic poem). Here the rearrangement of the verses allows essentially the same poem to appear in four different forms.

After 1946, social justice became a popular subject, second only to the theme of love. “Kapilan Pa Kaya” (When May It Be) by Jose M. Santos of Tarlac illustrates this concern. In the 1960s, Kapampangan poetic diction became more liberalized, often using direct and colloquial speech while discarding the figurative speech of the preceding periods. Gallardo’s “Ninung Musa…?” (Who Is the Muse?) is an illustration of this change in Kapampangan lyric poetry.

Today’s Kapampangan poets write on a variety of subjects wider than those of their predecessors. Their works reveal other themes, styles, philosophies, and diction, owing mainly to a richer environment and exposure to other literatures through organized literary seminars. Three examples are Oscar Carreon’s “Ing Rural Service,” Homer Calma’s “Ding Bayani” (The Heroes), and Querubin Fernandez Jr.’s “Kutang King Sarili” (Self-Analysis).

Pampanga's Crissotan

The argumentative verse is represented mainly by the crissotan, named in honor of Juan Crisostomo Soto. Described as the younger sibling of the Tagalog balagtasan, the form was baptized by Amado Yuzon in 1926 when he and a few friends organized the Aguman Crissot—Crissot being the pseudonym of Soto. In the same year, two years after the first balagtasan was held, they staged the first crissotan in a private home in Santa Cruz, Manila.

The crissotan is a debate conducted entirely in verse, on such topics as virtue versus beauty, intelligence versus wealth, love versus hate, and the pen versus the sword. It usually consists of eight durut (rounds); at every round, each of the speakers recites two stanzas. The stanza is usually an octave of 12, sometimes 16, syllables per line, bound together by monorhyme. A lakandiwa (moderator) explains the subject of the debate, and then each of the competing poets addresses his muse, imploring inspiration for the duration of the contest. The muse grants the request by giving the poet a flower or a scarf, which he wears throughout the debate. One of the speakers is selected winner by a board of judges.

A variation of this versified debate involves three debaters instead of the usual two. To distinguish it from the more common crissotan, this variant is called tolentinuan in honor of Aurelio V. Tolentino. It consists of five rounds, with each speaker delivering three stanzas per round, one to present his or her argument and the other two to refute the respective arguments of each opponent.

Narrative Verse

Aside from metrical romance, lyric poetry, and argumentative verse, Kapampangan writers created other types of verse narratives. Narrative verse proved to be a flexible medium as the poets used it in a variety of ways. Tolentino used the 12-syllable quatrain of the awit form for two works that were political allegories, “Kasulatang Gintu” (Gold Inscription) and “Napun, Ngeni at Bukas” (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow). “Kasulatang Gintu” attempts to give an account of the pre-Hispanic history of two kingdoms, Wawa and Dayat, in what is now Pampanga. “Napun, Ngeni at Bukas” is more consistently allegorical. Although set in pre-Hispanic times, the characters and events are unmistakably contemporary.

The year 1935 marked the publication of a major narrative poem, “Ketang Milabas” (In the Past) by Monico Mercado. The work is interesting less for its story, a love triangle, than for its historical setting, the outbreak of Philippine-American hostilities in 1899 when the American forces led by General Arthur MacArthur conducted their Pampanga offensive against Filipino forces led by General Tomas Mascardo. The unfolding of the love story is frequently interrupted by lengthy commentaries on miscellaneous aspects of Philippine life and history.

Whether Isaac C. Gomez’s “Calma ning Alipan” (The Fate of the Slave) may be classified as a verse narrative is debatable, since it bares only the faintest outline of a plot. The narrative proper takes up barely a third of the poem, the rest being an impassioned commentary on contemporary Philippine-American relations. The highly critical, sometimes cynical, tone of Gomez’s commentary is well sustained throughout the poem and reaches a climax in the final allegorical scene.

During the last several decades, long narrative poems have waned in both prominence and popularity but have not completely disappeared. In 1965, Jose Gallardo published a long narrative poem, “A las Diez ning Bengi” (Ten O’clock at Night). Almost totally devoted to narrative, the relatively complex plot is that of a mystery thriller.

Sinukuan throwing a boulder at Punsalan
Sinukuan throwing a boulder at Punsalan (Illustration by Jonathan Rañola)

Kapampangan Folktales and Legends

Prose works of the Kapampangan began with folktales. The legend of Sinukuan narrates that in the past, Sinukuan, the King of Mount Arayat, was disappointed with the people in Candaba, so he transferred the mountain from its original site in Candaba to Arayat, leaving a huge depression now known as the Candaba swamps. Later, Sinukuan got into a battle with Punsalan, King of the Zambales mountain range. Punsalan threw a boulder at Sinukuan’s mountain and tore off one section of the mountain’s perfect peak. Sinukuan retaliated by throwing many boulders at Punsalan’s mountains, creating the many jagged peaks of the Zambales mountain range. Sinukuan was also supposed to have married Mariang Makiling, the goddess of the Laguna mountain. They lived in a golden palace in Arayat and had three daughters: Mariang Malagu (Maria the Beautiful), Mariang Matimtiman (Maria the Pure), and Mariang Mahinhin (Maria the Demure). Later, young men courted Sinukuan’s daughters, and the King, reluctant to give his daughters away, devised trials that he thought impossible to surmount. He asked Mariang Malagu’s suitor, Miguel Masikan (Miguel the Strong), to build a tomb bigger than a hundred barns. Masikan succeeded in building the tomb. Next he asked Mariang Matimtiman’s suitor, Miguel Matapang (Miguel the Brave), to rid Arayat of all ferocious animals with his magic crystal ball. Matapang led all the animals to the sea. Last, he asked Mariang Mahinhin’s suitor, Miguel Masipag (Miguel the Industrious), to trim down the trees of Arayat. Masipag’s magic bolo did the job for him. In the end, Sinukuan had to give his daughters away in marriage.

Although largely forgotten, the legend of Sinukuan is still told occasionally by Kapampangan elders with slight variations. However, in earlier periods up to the 1930s, every child was familiar with the mighty deeds of Sinukuan. From the cycle of legends of Sinukuan has come forth literary works such as Leon Ma. Gonzalez’s Sinukuan, Ana Vergara’s Una Leyenda de Arayat (Legend of Arayat), and Evangelina Hilario-Lacson’s Sinukuan: A Fantasy.

Sinukuan and Mariang Makiling, with their three daughters
Sinukuan and Mariang Makiling, with their three daughters (Illustration by Jonathan Rañola)

Kapampangan Stories and Novels

Kapampangan literature makes no distinctions among the various types of prose narratives. Short stories, novels, and tales are referred to by the common term salita because of the similarities in subject matter and narrative techniques used by these various forms. The only apparent difference is in their length. The narrations remain basically both romantic and didactic, and therefore are not very different from the kuriru they were meant to replace.

From 1905 to 1980, fiction and poetry were published in the newspapers: El Imparcial-Ing Emangabiran, 1905-1913; Ing Balen, 1910; Ing Capampangan, 1919; Ing Catuliran, 1929-1940; Ing Manamulin, 1920; Ing Catimauan, 1929-1940; Ing Emangabiran and Ing Alipatpat, 1950s; Baculud Athenas ding Capampangan, 1960s; and The Voice, 1960-1980. A monthly magazine named Ing Balen was published from 1951 to 1954. It actively solicited short stories and in 1952 sponsored a poetry and short story writing contest. In 1954, it initiated a writers’ organization, Capisanan ding Talasulat.

Lidia, 1907, by Juan Crisostomo Soto is the first narrative of its kind in Kapampangan literature. By using contemporary material for the plot and prose as medium, Soto gave his work the features of modernity and realism that were to ultimately distinguish the new prose narratives from the metrical romances. Lidia remains the most popular novel in Kapampangan literature, a rank it shares with only one other work—Aurelio Tolentino’s Ing Buac nang Ester (A Strand of Ester’s Hair), 1911. In subject matter, the former might be said to have set the rule for Kapampangan fiction, and the latter was the exception that confirmed the rule.

Lidia is about a love triangle involving Lidia, her sweetheart Hector, and her secret admirer known only by his initials F. D. Hector and Lidia have professed undying love for each other, so he is distraught to find her avoiding him. One Christmas eve, he appears beneath her window and pleads with her to explain her strange silence. Lidia’s only answer is to return his love letters and to demand hers back. Later Hector discovers among the returned letters one that is not his: a brief note asking Lidia for a meeting, signed with the initials F. D. Unable to guess the identity of the writer, Hector suspects that he is Lidia’s new lover. One day he overhears Lidia confiding to her girl friend that she has broken off with Hector because someone informed her that he had been maligning her name. Hector asks Lidia to reveal the identity of her informant but she refuses. Meanwhile, F. D. visits Lidia, providing as proof of Hector’s treachery some love letters that Lidia had written him while he was away at school in Manila. Unknown to Lidia, F. D. who had lived in the same boarding house as Hector during those days, had stolen these letters as part of a plan to win Lidia for himself. Driven to desperation, Hector stops Lidia on her way to church one afternoon. When she ignores him, he creates a public scandal by loudly professing his love for her and by impulsively kissing her on the cheek. Some nights later, Lidia is haunted by a dark vision of Hector’s corpse: She watches helplessly as the corpse rises from the casket, opens the window, and flies off into the air. Within a few hours after seeing the vision, Lidia hears that Hector, missing for the last three days, has poisoned himself dead. A year after Hector’s death, Lidia visits his grave and offers a white flower as a token of her love. Outside the cemetery, she meets F. D., whom she forces to his knees to ask for Hector’s forgiveness.

Most Kapampangan fiction travel the well-worn path of Lidia, but not Tolentino’s detective novel Ing Buac nang Ester, in which the love story is merely a framework for the main plot. Gerardo, the adopted son of Don Luis Gatsalian, is jealous of Ruben, Don Luis’s real son. The latter, home from medical studies, is being feted at a dinner where there is talk about his entering politics. He is engaged to be married to the beautiful Gloria, with whom Gerardo is also in love. With the assistance of Dimas, a bandit, Gerardo abducts Gloria. He then kidnaps Ruben and frames him for both the abduction and Gloria’s murder. Gerardo does this by staging a scene where he, disguised as Ruben, actually poisons his mistress Quintana, who is disguised as Gloria. On the basis of the testimony of several eyewitnesses, Ruben is tried in absentia and sentenced to hang. Oscar, Ruben’s best friend, devises an elaborate ruse to capture the real villain. He advertises a reward for the return of a folded handkerchief bearing a strand of hair belonging to Ester, Ruben’s sister and Oscar’s sweetheart. (Ester had given Oscar the strand of hair as a pledge of love, but had later asked Ruben to retrieve it from Oscar.) Having earlier seen Ruben put the handkerchief in his breast pocket, Oscar hopes that whoever claims the reward will lead him to Ruben’s whereabouts. But before the avaricious Gerardo can claim the reward, the police find Ruben and arrest him for murder. Oscar tries to save Ruben from the gallows by falsely confessing to the crime. He hopes in this way to call for a reinvestigation of the case. In the meantime, Juaning, Dimas’s wife, prevents Gloria’s rape by Gerardo but is later killed. A remorseful Dimas confesses the whole truth to Gloria, pointing to Gerardo as the mastermind of the sinister plot. Gloria returns to town in time to prevent the hanging of Oscar, publicly accusing Gerardo of the crime. When Gerardo calls her a liar, Gloria grabs from his coat pocket the handkerchief with the strand of Ester’s hair wrapped in it. Thus, it is the simple strand of Ester’s hair that incriminates the guilty Gerardo.

Although there are other Kapampangan fictional works with plots constructed around similar crimes, they are not mysteries in the way Tolentino’s novel is. In Zoilo Galang’s Capatac a Lua (Teardrop), which comes closest to Ester as a detective story, a crime is solved by the convenient devices of coincidence and confusion. Galang wrote one other novel, which he published in two parts, each under a different title: Ing Capalaran (Fate) and Ing Galal ning Bie (The Prize of Life). Isaac Gomez, another novelist, wrote Magdalena, which, as its title suggests, is about a prostitute who is inspired to reform her life. After the war, though, Kapampangan fiction declined. The prohibitive cost of publishing novels in book form discouraged would-be novelists and led them to write short stories instead.

In 1907, the prolific Soto published his short stories, such as “Ing Sampagang Adelfa” (The Adelfa Flower), which tells the story of a girl who marries somebody she does not love and becomes insane in the end; “Ing Catapla” (The Parrot), which focuses on a heroine betrayed by her lover whose ambition is to marry a wealthy woman; and “Celia,” which is about an unfaithful woman and the sad fate that befalls her.

From 1921 to 1941, notable short story writers included Jose F. Sanches, Amado Yuzon, Belarmino Navarro, and Diosdado Macapagal. Their works reveal knowledge of the narrative plot, the choice of details for character delineation, and other elements which they presumably got from exposure to western writing in the course of their schooling. Macapagal’s short story, “Sisilim,” uses the epic flashback for the mutual recognition of the two chief characters, which end their more than 60 years of searching for each other.

More recent works are mostly prize-winning entries in the annual writing contest sponsored by the Office of the Governor. One of these is Cecilio R. Layug’s “E Balang Kikinang Gintu” (Not Everything That Glows Is Gold). A prize-winning entry in the 1981 to 1982 contest, it is about Angeles City and its nightlife. The first-prize winner in the same contest was Vedasto Ocampo, who wrote “Apung Hinu” (Old Hinu), a story about Apung Hinu and a blind girl whose sight he helps regain.

Maikling Kuwentong Kapampangan at Pangasinan (The Short Story in Kapampangan and Pangasinan), 1996, contains 20 Kapampangan stories, with their Filipino translation on facing pages. The stories, culled from the region’s local newspapers and a magazine, had been written and published between 1900 and 1980.

The first published Kapampangan essay was written by a woman, Doña Luisa Gonzaga de Leon, who is the first Filipino woman known to have published a book, which is titled Ejercicio Cotidiano: Iti amanuyang Castila bildug ne quing amanung Capampangan nang Doña Luisa Gonzaga de Leon, India quing balayang Baculud (Daily Devotion: Translated from the Spanish language to the Kapampangan language by Doña Luisa Gonzaga de Leon, India of the town of Baculud), circa 1844, a translation of Spanish prayers and meditations to Kapampangan. The essay is the book’s preface, in which Doña de Leon refers to her frailty and poor health to indicate why she has written the book. She also explains why she uses Kapampangan, not Tagalog or Spanish.

Although the essay was not as popular as the other literary forms, a few prominent Kapampangan writers followed in Doña de Leon’s footsteps as they communicated their ideas by writing letters, treatises, and short essays. Zoilo Hilario was not only a poet but also a researcher. His interests were broad and inclined to scholarly matters, such as historical topics. In his essay “Tarik Soliman,” he challenges the claim of Spanish historians that it was Rajah Soliman who was killed in the Battle of Tondo in 1571.

Other Kapampangan essayists were Serafin D. Lacson, Felix B. Bautista, Eligio G. Lagman, Silvestre M. Punsalan, and Jose P. Fausto, who wrote from 1921 to 1941. Some of the more recent noteworthy pieces are the following: “Ing Pamilyang Cristiana” (The Christian Family) by Vicente B. Catacutan; “Ing Capampangan, Napun, Ngeni, at Bukas” (The Kapampangan, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow) by Vedasto D. Ocampo; and “Ing Amlat ning Kapampangan” (History of Pampanga) by Candido Sibal. Most of these writers have been prizewinners in the annual literary contest sponsored by the governor of Pampanga.

A number of Kapampangan wrote literary works in English. The first English novel written by a Filipino is A Child of Sorrow by Zoilo Galang of Bacolor. The novel was made into a movie in 1930. Galang’s greatest work, though, is the 10-volume Encyclopedia of the Philippines, published in the 1950s. Kapampangan writers in English include lyric poets Angela Manalang Gloria and Gonzalo Martin Jr.; essayists Sol H. Gwekoh and Felix Bautista Jr.; columnists Renato D. Tayag, Juan Gatbonton, Emilio Aguilar Cruz, and Jose Luna Castro; fictionists Bienvenido N. Santos, Loreto Paras-Sulit, and Albina Peczon Hernandez; and playwright Marcelino Agana Jr.

Kapampangan literature became the subject matter of literary scholarship beginning in the 1980s. Kapampangan Literature: A Historical Survey and Anthology, 1981, by Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, described the major forms of Kapampangan literature and anthologized samples of these forms in the original Kapampangan and in English translations. Literature of the Pampangos, 1981, by Rosalinda Icban-Castro, speaks of the literary forms and writers, and gives translations of poems and excerpts from plays and novels. Kapampangan Writing: A Selected Compendium and Critique, 1984, by Evangelina Hilario-Lacson, followed the format of the first three anthologies, but added a discussion of Kapampangan history and culture and Kapampangan writing in English.

The destructive effects of the Pinatubo eruption reawakened the Kapampangan’s interest in the material heritage and culture of the province. What the previous war, floods, drought, earthquakes, and other natural and man-made calamities failed to destroy, the Pinatubo eruptions obliterated, including precious literary works. For this reason, the Center for Kapampangan Studies was founded by Holy Angel University in 2011, which took major steps to preserve written works in danger of being lost. In its first years, the regional study center concentrated on publishing, translating, and reprinting long-lost works that include novels, dictionaries, and books on grammar, language, culinary, poetry, music, and local history. Eventually it published the scholarly research journals Alaya and the magazine Singsing, which carried articles on Kapampangan history, art, and culture.

Some titles that the center has published include the long-lost novel Gloria, 2003, Roman Leoncio’s Kapampangan translation of Huseng Batute’s verse-novel; the English translations of Vocabulario de Pampango en Romance y Diccionario de Romance en Pampango (1732), 2003, the Kapampangan-Spanish dictionary compiled by F. Diego Bergaño; Arte y Reglas: Kapampangan Grammar Rules circa 1621, 2005, by F. Francisco Coronel; contemporary books like Serenata, 2009, a collection of traditional Kapampangan songs; Abe, 2006, Nick Joaquin’s biography of Emilio Aguilar Cruz; TEN: Coming Home and Nine More Short Stories, 2006, by Albina Pecson; Atching Lillian’s Heirloom Recipes, 2011, by culinary historian Lillian Borromeo; and The Volcano in Our Backyard, 2011, by Robert Tantingco.

Kapampangan Traditional Musical Instruments 

Pre-Spanish Kapampangan music utilized three kinds of instruments: percussion, string, and wind. Percussion instruments used to create rhythm and melody were the drum, which is made of bamboo and goat or cow hide; and the culaing (mouth harp), a piece of bamboo with a “tongue” cut out on one end. Wind instruments were the bamboo flute, which varied in length and number of holes, and the tambuli, a trumpet made of carabao horn. Of the stringed instruments, the bamboo violin and guitar were the most popular. The Kapampangan guitar had four strings used to create rhythm during rice planting and rice pounding in mortars. The Kapampangan also used the banana and atis leaves to produce musical sounds.

Floating pagoda carrying the image of Apung Iru on his feast day
Floating pagoda carrying the image of Apung Iru on his feast day (Center for Kapampangan Studies)

With the coming of the Spaniards, the Kapampangan began to use European musical instruments, like the viguela, a guitar with many strings; the bandolon, a smaller kind of guitar which had 24 metallic strings; the bajo de viguela, a large guitar the size of a violoncello, and the violin. Other instruments introduced were the bandurria (mandolin), cilindro (harmonica), cordion (accordion), and flauta (flute). During the latter part of the Spanish regime, affluent homes had German- and French-made pianos, while churches had harmoniums and organs.

By the end of the 19th century, small-scale orchestras played in sarsuwela performances and dance parties. Orchestra Palma, organized by Pablo Palma of Bacolor, was one such band that composed the music for Juan Crisostomo Soto’s sarsuwela, Alang Dios! (There Is No God!). Similarly, before 1898, most towns already had their own brass-and-reed bands supported by Spanish parish priests. These bands played for all kinds of processions and for the band tournaments held during the three-day fiesta celebration. Held in the town plaza, these competitions showcased the repertoire and the standards of a band. The test piece of most bands was “La Batalla de Castillejos” (The Battle of the Castillejos). At the 1909 Manila Carnival band competition, the 32-member Banda ning Angeles won first prize for its stirring rendition of “Crème de la Crème” by Tobani.

Kapampangan Folk Songs

Folk songs in Kapampangan include many forms. The tumaila, also known as bingcayu, is the lullaby that survives to this day. The basultu is a verse contest participated in by both men and women, accompanied by music and dancing, and held during festivities such as weddings or barrio fiestas. The verses were usually composed spontaneously as every participant danced, the next taking cue from the last line of the preceding participant. A basultu form that has become a folk song is “O Caca, O Caca.”

Occupational songs include the dalit pangtatanam, a rice planting song. Examples are “Deng Tatanam Pale” (The Rice Planters), “Ortelanung Alang Pansin” (The Farmer Who Cares Not), and “Tatanam E Bibiru” (Planting Rice Is No Joke), the last being the Kapampangan version of “Magtanim ay Di Biro.” Songs of love and courtship include the lyrical kundiman, such as “Mekeni, Irug Ku” (Come Here, My Love) and “Pusung Dinukit king Mangga” (Heart Carved on the Mango Tree), and the pan-arana (serenade songs), such as ”Ating Metung a Dalaga” (There Was Once a Maiden).

The goso has a slow tempo and a definite moral message. It is sung to the accompaniment of violins, guitars, and tambourines by young people going from house to house on the eve of All Saints’ Day. Other Spanish-influenced forms used by Kapampangan musicians include the marcha (standard, processional, or funeral), such as the “Pampangueña March”; the valse, fantasia, bolero, jota, and rigodon.

The pamuri, derived from the word buri (like or desire), is a love song. An example is “Aro! Katimyas na Nitang Dalaga” (Oh! How Charming Is That Maiden). “Bye Ning Kasamak” (A Farmer’s Life) is a pang-obra, a song in praise of labor. Love for parents or friends is expressed in a paninta, from the word sinta (love). Examples are “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” (I Have a Ring) and “Ecu Pa Kelingwan” (I Haven’t Forgotten).

The Kapampangan have ballads such as “Ing Bangkeru” (The Boatman), which tells of a student who, on his way home from Manila for the summer vacation, rides a banca to get across a wide river. Eager to show off his newly acquired knowledge, he asks the boatman for the answer to a difficult question. The boatman, saying he has never been to school, is unable to answer. He proceeds to ask his own questions on boats and boating which anybody who is observant may be able to answer. The student, taken aback, is at a loss for answers. Humbled, he realizes that “knowledge for show… is useless.”

From 1933 to 1941, the Philippine Socialist Party had a repertoire of rousing and inspirational songs. The following are one-stanza excerpts from four of these songs (Maceda 1996):

Ortelanong Talapagobra

... Macalaganap ne qng kaparangan ing kilusan

Gisingan la ding mag mamatudturan a alipan

Anggang eya sumikat at sumilang

Miblas ing Capampangan

Sulong ing labanan!

(Peasant Worker

… The movement has spread all over the countryside

Awake, you slaves pretending to be asleep!

Until the sun rises and shines

The Kapampangan must be prepared,

Advance the struggle! [sung by Ka Loring 1983])

Magbiba Ka, O Maluca*

... Ing diwa ning Abad Santos,

Del Rosario, sampung Taruc, Felix Manabat,

E laring painggulut

Cabanding busabos.

(Long Live, O Maluca

… The spirit of Abad Santos,

Del Rosario, and Taruc, Felix Manabat

None of them have ever abandoned

The oppressed, remember this.

[sung by Rosario Macapagal 1983])

Ing Bie ding Anac Mu, Balen

... Lalu ding babayi, simpa rang matibe

Mulang mayapas man, mayangu ing bie

Ayatbus dasanang, mesintang mung puri

Mate qng labanan, anti mong lalaki.

(The Life of Your Child, Compatriot

… Especially the women, staunchly they vowed,

Though they be annihilated, they would recover,

Reclaim their lost honor,

Die in battle, just like the men.

[sung by Ka Loring 1983])


... Kng bundok naning Sinucuan

Sakup ning Capampangan

Ing hucbu daring guerilla

Minuquiat la kng catasan.


… The mountain of Sinucuan

In Kapampangan territory

The guerilla army

Climbed up its peak.

[sung by Manaluz et al. 1981, 1983])

* acronym for Maria Lourdes ning Cabetican

** a type of hardwood

In 2001, an artists’ group named ArtiSta.Rita was founded by Andy Alviz of Santa Rita primarily to revive Kapampangan music. It has produced five recordings of traditional Kapampangan songs, some of which are in modern arrangements.

Kapampangan Folk Dances (Traditional Dances of Pampanga) 

Many dances of the Kapampangan are known for remarkable movements accompanied by significant clapping of hands. A favorite dance of theirs is the sapatya, performed by farmers during the planting season as an offering for good harvest. The name “sapatya” is believed to have been derived from the word zapateado, a Spanish dance introduced during the colonial period. Performers dance to a song improvised or taken from popular kuriru (Reyes-Aquino 1960). They also dance the pandanggo, cachucha, polka, and mazurka.

Another popular Kapampangan dance is the basultu, which is performed by only one person. The cadiritan dance is a kind of melodramatic monologue in which the actor sings and dances at intervals.

Devotees during the Kuraldal Festival, Sasmuan, Pampanga
Devotees during the Kuraldal Festival, Sasmuan, Pampanga (Center for Kapampangan Studies)

The curaldal, also kuraldal, is performed before the image of a saint by several individuals waving handkerchiefs and with no permanent partners. The best known curaldal takes place in Sasmuan, centering on its patroness, Santa Lucia. The devotees’ petitions range from the traditional, such as the wish for a child, to the material, such as the winning lotto number. In Sasmuan, the curaldal begins on 13 December, the day of the town fiesta, and culminates on 10 January. After the evening mass, the frenzied street dancing begins to the accompaniment of brass bands and lasts till the early morning hours. There are shouts of “Viva Santa Lucia! Puera sakit!” (Long live Santa Lucia! Away with all ailments!). On the other hand, in Barangay Santa Ursula of Guagua, Betis, the curaldal lasts for nine days leading up to feast day of its patron Santiago Matamoros or Saint James, on 25 July. In a choreographed dance reminiscent of the moro-moro or komedya, 24 dancers led by two individuals engage in swordfights. Santiago is Spain’s patron saint, whom the Spanish soldiers invoked when they went to fight the Moors.

Even more closely related in spirit to the moro-moro is the batalla (battle), which barangays of Macabebe reenact on their feast days, particularly in Barangay Dalayap. Its patron is Santa Rita, whose feast day falls on 22 May. After the afternoon mass, the procession begins with participants forming two lines behind the andas, which bears the image of the patron saint. They walk up to the footbridge, where the dancing, which alternates between hopping and swaying, begins. Maintaining this formation, they dance back to the church but stop at the door, where there is much shouting and running around. Then begins a stylized and noisy tug-of-war for the image. This intensifies until the image is finally let into the church.

A lively and popular dance performed by the peasants of Floridablanca during festivities is called Pulosang Floridablanca, which is accompanied by a harmonica or an accordion. The dancers go from house to house begging for money, which is customary among the peasants of this town during fiestas, the Christmas season, and other town celebrations.

During the American colonial period, American-introduced dances were performed at the bailes (balls) of the elite, together with the more conservative valse and rigodon. In the decades after World War II, the tango, “slow drag,” and cha-cha became popular. Today, young people dance the latest foreign dance crazes from the United States. Advanced media technology and the proliferation of discos and other dance venues have resulted in the immediate popularization of these dances.

Kapampangan Drama: Bulaklakan, Karagatan, Kumidya and Sarsuwela 

The roots of Kapampangan drama may be traced to the bulaklakan, the karagatan, and perhaps even the potei or kikimut. At funeral wakes, the people whiled away their time by staging poetical contests. Two of the most popular contests were the bulaklakan and the karagatan. The bulaklakan is a game involving two groups of participants, one composed of young women who take on names of flowers, the other of young men who are named after trees. It is presided over by a king, who sits at the head of a table and opens the game by announcing:

Uling quening culungan cu

Cabud nia mewala cacu

Ing mariposang sese cu

Nuya caya mo tinuru?

Sinulapong sari catas

Babatiawan queng tinacas

Carin ya lipalapacpac

Caring sanga na ning Biabas.

(My pet butterfly

Has suddenly escaped

From its cage.

Where has it flown?

I saw it flying high

As it escaped,

Playfully fluttering its wings

Above the branch of a guava tree.)

The butterfly then alights on a flower or a tree, and the participant representing that flower or tree has to say in verse that the butterfly has alighted on another tree or flower, and these in turn have to pass on the “butterfly” to the others. Sometimes a male and a female get to discuss theories about love as they debate.

Even more popular than the bulaklakan was the karagatan. Several versions of karagatan involve two participants, one of whom, the poderdante, is upstairs, and the other, the suplicante, is downstairs. The latter begs the former to allow him to go up the house, but he is allowed to do so only by stages. He has to answer the questions in verse to the satisfaction of the poderdante, who asks the questions usually based on the Bible. Other debates in verse are the duplo and crissotan, while the basultu and the sapatya include males and females who dance and sing their verses. The potei or kikimut, on the other hand, is the Kapampangan version of the Tagalog carillo, a type of shadow play, which includes manipulating wooden puppets against a lighted backdrop. The performance may either be silent or accompanied by dialogue.

What is known to the Tagalog as komedya or moro-moro is called kumidya by the Kapampangan. The most famous kumidya was the Comedia heroica de la conquista de Granada o sea vida de Don Gonzalo de Cordoba (Heroic Comedia on the Conquest of Granada, or the Life of Gonzalo de Cordoba) by Padre Anselmo Jorge de Fajardo. The story tells of the love between the Christian hero, Gonzalo de Cordoba, and the Moorish princess, Zulema. Consisting of 31,000 lines, it was performed only once, at Bacolor for seven nights in February 1831. As a literary work, Gonzalo has become a veritable treasury of maxims from which generations of Kapampangan love to quote. The work circulated for a long time in manuscript form until it was printed by Cornelio Pabalan Byron in Bacolor in 1912. Other kumidya have not equaled the standard set by Fajardo, acknowledged as the Father of Kapampangan literature.

The Spanish zarzuela, a prose drama interspersed with songs, arrived in Pampanga in the late 19th century, and was enthusiastically received by the people. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, when the struggle for independence was sweeping the country, the Kapampangan lost interest in the Spanish zarzuela.

Illustrious playwrights of that period were nationalists who joined the Katipunan and used their own language in creating works with native settings, native characters, and native speech and humor. Mariano Proceso Pabalan Byron wrote the first Kapampangan sarsuwela, Ing Managpe (The Patcher), thus initiating the indigenization of Kapampangan plays. The first to feature the Filipino family as material, the one-act comedy is developed around the subject of a domestic quarrel. Humor and play of words are evident in the author’s use of two “patchers”—a spotted dog and the maid who patches up the quarrel between her master and mistress. The sarsuwela premiered at the Teatro Sabina in Bacolor in September 1900 and was published by Cornelio Pabalan Byron in May 1909.

Pampanga’s outstanding dramatist is Juan Crisostomo Soto. Crissot, as he was more popularly known, was a prolific and versatile writer. He wrote approximately 50 plays of various kinds. His most popular play, Alang Dios! (There Is No God!), remains unsurpassed in popularity in Kapampangan drama. It was first presented at Teatro Sabina in November 1902.

Another prolific dramatist is Aurelio V. Tolentino, who produced 67 literary pieces in three languages—Kapampangan, Tagalog, and Spanish—and in various genres (Manuel 1970). His 21 Kapampangan works constitute approximately a third of his total output. Most of his plays are sarsuwela, ranging from lighthearted comedies to melodramatic tragedies. One of the more interesting of these is Ing Poeta (The Poet), a comedy of errors, where Don Pedro will consent to the marriage of Augusto and his daughter, Maria, only if Augusto can come up with a sarsuwela for the coming fiesta. Taking up the challenge, Augusto, a poet, sets the stage for a real-life comedy involving Don Pedro and the other townspeople. He sends separate anonymous notes to Don Cumeris and his wife, Calara, leading each of them to suspect that the other is having a clandestine affair. Each disguises himself/herself as the other and meets the suspected lover at the designated rendezvous. The confrontation that follows is a merry mix-up. At the height of the confusion, Augusto appears and tells the townspeople that they had unknowingly been made to play roles in a real-life sarsuwela. Don Pedro is impressed by Augusto’s resourcefulness and promises him Maria’s hand in marriage.

Another Tolentino play, Damayan (Cooperation), is a one-act sarsuwela that combines nationalist sentiments and tomfoolery. Tolentino’s most significant contribution to Filipino drama, however, is his symbolical plays, the most celebrated of which is Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), which he wrote in Tagalog and Kapampangan.

Felix Galura is said to have written several plays but only one, Ing Mora (The Muslim Woman), a one-act sarsuwela in verse, seems to be extant. His O Kasiran (O Disgrace) and Azucena are adaptations of Spanish works. Galura also collaborated with Soto on Ing Singsing a Bacal (The Ring of Iron), a three-act sarsuwela which is a translation of a popular Spanish play.

Roman Reyes was another prominent Kapampangan writer of the pre-World War II period. He and Isaac Gomez were the leading playwrights during World War II and the decade and a half preceding it. Dayang Azul (Blue Blood), a three-act play on the theme “Blood is thicker than water,” was the most popular of Reyes’s works. It was first presented in Macabebe in 1930 and at the Manila Grand Opera House the following year. According to the playwright, this play, which has been presented over 120 times, must be the most frequently staged play in Kapampangan theater history. His other plays include Bulaclac ning Casalanan (Flower of Sin), Caduang Dios (The Second God), Filipinas, and Lihim ning Cumpisalan (Secret of the Confessional). He wrote most of his plays for the Dramatica Fernandina (later named Compania Reyes), a theater group he organized in 1936. It was active during the Japanese Occupation and remained so until about the early 1950s.

Isaac Gomez wrote about 20 plays, most of them during the late 1920s when for five years he was the resident playwright and director of the Compania Ocampo in Candaba. He and Doña Concepcion Ocampo y Limjuco of Candaba founded the company in 1923. The most popular of his plays is Sampagang Asahar (Orange Blossoms), a two-act play about parental opposition to the marriage of a poor girl and a rich man. Another popular play by Gomez is Ing Sumpa ning Ulila (The Orphan’s Vow), which is about a love triangle involving two brothers and their adopted sister. Other plays by Gomez are Anac ning Kandidata (The Candidate’s Child), Bijag nang Mandi (Prisoner of Mandi), Uma nang Judas (Kiss of Judas), Daya ning Alipan (Blood of a Slave), and Ing Sinta Bulag (Love Is Blind).

Urbano Macapagal was a known playwright and a man of letters. He and his son Diosdado wrote Bayung Jerusalem (New Jerusalem), first shown at a barrio fiesta in Lubao in May 1932. The sarsuwela has been ranked equal in popularity with Crissot’s Alang Dios! It has a large dose of romance and a little bit of comedy in the characters of Sebio and Sebia. Macapagal also saw fit to inject gentle satire in the characterization of minor characters, such as the policeman and the gambler, as well as Sebio and Sebia.

Jose Gutierrez David, a future Justice of the Supreme Court from Bacolor, grew up amidst a very cultured milieu: His father had an ardent interest in sarsuwela while his brother Amado composed music for these plays. Often, their spacious house served as rehearsal halls for sarsuwela productions. Already a gifted writer for local papers, he also wrote dramas like Migdusang e Micasala (The Guiltless Sufferer) and Ing Independencia (The Independence), which was turned into a sarsuwela.

Pampanga’s theater companies had resident playwrights, directors, and actors. The first and most significant of these companies was the Compania Sabina of Bacolor, which was organized in 1901 by Ceferino Joven, then governor of Pampanga. Joven placed the group under the supervision of Soto, whom he appointed resident playwright and director. Other drama troupes during the pre-World War II period were Compania Paz and Compania Ocampo in Candaba; Compania Dramatica in Bacolor; and Compania Lubeña in Lubao. Rogelio de la Rosa, born in 1915 in Lubao, was a highly popular sarsuwela actor and, with the decline of the sarsuwela, he shifted to film, his first being the silent movie Ligaw na Bulaklak (Wild Flower), 1932.

During the post-World War II period, the only playwright who achieved prominence was Jose M. Gallardo. He wrote, directed, and occasionally acted in plays. The best known of about a dozen plays he wrote was a three-act sarsuwela titled Crucifijong Pilak (Silver Crucifix), which was first staged in 1956.

Religious playlets continue to be performed in Pampanga towns. On the feast of the Three Kings, Floridablanca holds a procession featuring three men costumed as Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar. On Palm Sunday, Catholic churches still stage the blessing of the palms and reenact the entry of Christ, represented by the priest, and his apostles, represented by laymen, into Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday, the priest washes the feet of the Apostles in commemoration of the events of the first Maundy Thursday. On Good Friday, from 12:00 to 3:00 pm, the siete palabras of Betis, Pampanga, features a wooden figure of Christ, nailed to the cross atop a mound next to the church. As the priest mentions each of the seven words, the head of the Christ moves, and smoke rises as thunder and lightning are heard on the public-address system. After Christ “dies” at 3:00 pm, men dressed as Nicodemus and Arimathea bring the figure down and lay it on a stretcher for the procession back to the church. In Lubao, Pampanga, a play depicting the resurrection of Christ is staged on the evening before Easter morning.

On Easter Sunday, the encuentro (meeting) between the Risen Christ and the grieving Mater Dolorosa is staged. In Santo Tomas, an angel is lowered from the galilea (four-posted structure), to sing the “Regina Coeli, Laetare” (Queen of Heaven, Rejoice) and to remove the black veil of the Virgin. Then the angel goes in procession with other angels holding the Virgin’s veil, accompanied by a group of 12 young ladies, who stop at appointed corners to dance to the accompaniment of a violin. Also on Easter Sunday morning at about 9:00 am in Santa Rita, the bamboo-and-paper figure of the traitor Judas is “devoured” by black birds and shattered by exploding firecrackers as punishment for his betrayal of Christ in the event called pakbung Hudas.

Gathering during the Pakbung Hudas in Santa Rita, Pampanga
Gathering during the Pakbung Hudas in Santa Rita, Pampanga, 2010 (Ivan Henares)

The sinakulo seems to be less popular now in Pampanga. But Virgilio Vitug has tried to reinterpret the events of the pasyon according to contemporary issues and realities. His Sinakulo ning Balen (Passion Play of the Country), first staged in Lubao in 1983, is about Hesus Makabalen, who lashes out at fiscals who accept bribes from recruiters of overseas workers and at sellers of medals and candles who make money on religion. The enemies of Jesus succeed in killing him, but he “rises” again through the characters who represent the sectors of the peasants, workers, teachers, ethnic minorities, and other oppressed classes.

In the wake of the 1991 Pinatubo eruption, Teatru Balen was founded by Tonette Orejas of San Fernando City in 1995 to provide some therapeutic relief to Pinatubo victims, particularly children. They performed the play Anak ning Pinatubo (Child of Pinatubo) in 50 evacuation centers housing over 3,000 children in resettlement areas.

ArtiSta.Rita, founded in 2001, and its all-female theater wing Teatru Ima at Arti, also known as MaArti, founded in 2002, both aim at reviving the Kapampangan sarsuwela. Their Kapampangan sarsuwela include Perry, 2010; Ima and Beauty Parlor, 2011; Ciniong, 2012, in honor of Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto; and Tulauk (Cock’s Crow), 2013, a modernized passion play with special effects depicting Christ’s miracles. To mark its 10th anniversary, ArtiSta.Rita presented Mikit Tamu king Milabas (Romancing the Past), 2011, which was a retrospective revue of excerpts from its sarsuwela.

Famous Music Artists from Pampanga

Music artists of Pampanga who have gained transnational recognition but maintained their ties to their home province are Conrado “Titus” del Rosario and apl.d.ap (pseudonym of Allan Pineda Lindo), both of Angeles City. Titus is a classical composer and conductor who has mastered the flute, alto saxophone, kulintang, and gamelan. In 1982 he won first prize in the League of Filipino Composers Chamber Music Composition Competition and received a Young Artists of the Philippines Foundation Scholarship for further studies at the Berlin Hochschule der Kuenste (now Berlin University of the Arts). He beat over 300 contestants from 32 countries at the Hambacher Competition for his composition Darangan and won second prize at the Hitzacker Composition Contest for Yugto (Chapter), which he composed for a chamber ensemble. He was invited for a Concert-Lecture tour in the 1997 Pacific Music Festival in Canada. His comprehensive list of oeuvres includes works for orchestra, chamber music, pieces for improvising ensembles, electronic music, music for radio and a chamber opera, which have been performed in different European, Asian, and American cities and festivals. After living in Germany for 30 years, he returned to Angeles City in November 2013 and formed a jazz band named KAPAMU (Kapampangan Musicians) Jazz Collective, which has regular gigs in and around Angeles.

Apl.d.ap is a founding member of the rap/hip-hop group the Black-Eyed Peas that has won several Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, and Billboard Music Awards. He established the Apl.d.ap Foundation, which, in partnership with other foundations and companies, has donated school equipment and facilities to areas in the Philippines that were damaged by natural disasters, and in particular to his elementary and high schools in Angeles City. He also contributed to the founding of apl.d.ap Studio at the Holy Angel University, his alma mater, which aims to develop young budding talents by providing them with musical instruments, recording equipment, and vocal training.

Kapampangan folk singers such as Totoy Bato (pseudonym of Rodolfo Laxamana of Porac, also known as Totoy Bato 1, Totoy Bato 2, and so on), Ruth Lobo, and Bong Manalo have recorded modern-day versions of polosas or pulosas (folk songs), some with borrowed tunes. There are recorded discs of Kapampangan rock songs (“RocKapampangan”), Christmas songs (“Paskung Kapampangan”), and Kapampangan jazz by Mon David. Selections from these recordings are played regularly on contemporary mainstream radio stations such as RW and GV Radio.

Kapampangan's and Pampanga in Media and Movies

Although political commentary and American music dominate the air waves in Pampanga, Kapampangan poets Amado Yuzon, Jose M. Gallardo, and Vedasto Ocampo have ventured to use radio since the 1960s to interest the listening public in literature. Pulosas, poesias (poems), sapatya (song in verse), and notes on grammar were heard on such stations as DZYA and DZAF. Since the 1970s, cultural activist and poet Romeo Rodriguez has promoted the literary use of Kapampangan through radio. Through the years, he has performed the basultu, the kawatasan, and lawiwi (song) in the various radio programs that he has hosted. Poet Jose M. Gallardo cohosted his radio program Parnasong Kapampangan. Ing Lahing Penibatan is a Kapampangan literary program of RW 95.1 FM. Begun in October 2013, it is hosted by the Parnasong Kapampangan, a society of Kapampangan poets led by the Ari ning Parnaso (King of Parnassus) Renato Alzadon.

Patsy (pseudonym of Pastora Mateo), born in 1916, also known as Patsy Patsotsay, was one who crossed the line from vaudeville to radio to television, and to film with ever increasing popularity. Her success rode on her use of mixed Kapampangan-Tagalog lines to great comic effect. In the 1980s, Nanette Inventor, also known as Doña Buding, started as a stand-up comic, borrowing Patsy’s goofy Kapampangan comedic style to create social and political satire.

The Kapampangan people have contributed significantly to the development of Philippine film since its inception in the first decades of the 20th century. Gregorio Fernandez, born in Lubao in 1904, was one of the country’s first-generation actors, having become one in 1926. In 1937, he directed his first film, Asahar at Kabaong (Orange Blossoms and Coffin). His directorial career reached its peak in 1955, when he won the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) best director award for Higit sa Lahat (Above All), the screenplay of which he also wrote. This film went on to win him the best director award at the Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong and to win the best actor award for his fellow Kapampangan, Rogelio de la Rosa. The story portrays a man’s capacity to make great sacrifices for the sake of the woman he loves. Ultimately he sacrifices even his own identity when a corpse is mistaken to be his, and he decides not to reveal himself so that his family will receive the insurance money.

Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara of Tarlac directed the mainstream movie, Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo (Once There Was a Moth), 1976, 110 minutes, which depicts the oppression and brutality perpetrated by the Americans on Filipinos in Clark Air Base, Angeles City. Two other film artists of national renown are Hilda Koronel (pseudonym of Susan Reid) and Raquel Villaviciencio (pseudonym of Racquel Nepomuceno). Koronel, born in Angeles City, played the lead role in Insiang, 1980, director Lino Brocka, which was shown at the Cannes International Film Festival. In Brocka’s Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa (Three, Two, One), 1974, she plays a slum dweller and daughter of a Filipina and an American G.I. An Amerasian engrossed with the great American dream, her character waits for her father to come and take her to America for adoption. Writer, actor, and production designer Villaviciencio is best known for her award-winning screenplay of the film Batch ’81. In Migrante (The Filipino Diaspora), 2006, director Joel Lamangan, she plays the role of a Kapampangan Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Italy, where she makes good and thus becomes a role model for her fellow workers. In the Kapampangan movie Dukit, she plays the role of the wife of wood carver Willy Layug. Villaviciencio has more than 50 films to her credit and remains active in the industry.

Kapampangan filmmakers, some of whom have won national and international awards, are contributing significantly to the Philippine New Wave movement, also known as alternative cinema. Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista (Masseur), 2005, 76 minutes, shows the unlikely parallels between a young masseur’s job in Manila’s sex trade and the preparations for his father’s burial in Angeles City. Serving as backdrop are the giant parul or Christmas lanterns, which are part of Pampanga’s identity. His Kaleldo (Summer Heat), 2006, portrays an authoritarian Kapampangan father and his three daughters, each of whom struggles to find happiness within her stifling domestic circumstances. The first daughter is married to a man whose loyalty is foremost to his family, which is contemptuous of her; the second engages in an adulterous liaison, which causes her father’s heart attack and her husband’s violent act of retaliation; and the third is a lesbian whose partner leaves her for a conventional, heterosexual marriage as a result of the complications arising from their relationship. Set in Guagua, Pampanga, the story depicts traditions and cultural practices immediately associated with the Kapampangan: wood sculpture, the Holy Week practice of the darame (flagellation), the fastidious preparation of food, and the language, which required the use of English subtitles in the film. That same year, Mendoza collaborated with the Center for Kapampangan Studies to produce and direct the digital movie Manoro: The Aeta Teacher, which tells of the mission of an Aeta girl in Sapangbato, Angeles City to teach the tribe’s elders how to write in preparation for the coming presidential elections. The jury at the 24th Torino International Film festival, which gave Manoro the CinemAvvenire Award, cited the film’s “lucid, deep study of the first stirrings of a new democracy” (Twitch Film 2006). Mendoza’s Serbis (Service), 2009, 90 minutes, focuses on a pornographic movie theater in Angeles City, which serves as the intersection for the traffic of various people involved in the porno business: the family that runs the theater, their relationships outside of it, gay hustlers and their clientele who use the theater as a brothel. Mendoza’s films have triggered some discussion among critics and academics over the terms “poverty porn” and “the cinema of squalor” (Zafra 2009).

Coco Martin in Brillante Mendoza’s Serbis, 2008, shot entirely in Angeles City
Coco Martin in Brillante Mendoza’s Serbis, 2008, shot entirely in Angeles City (Photo courtesy of Centerstage Productions and Brillante Mendoza)

Jason Paul Laxamana’sfilms are in Kapampangan with English subtitles, like Babagwa (Spider’s Lair), 2013, 101 minutes, set in Angeles City. Based on the current phenomenon of Internet scams, it tells the story of a man who engages in online romances with rich, middle-aged women so that he can swindle them. Ang Magkakabaung (The Coffin Maker), 2014, is set in Santo Tomas, known for its coffin-making industry. A low-salaried carpenter in the industry inadvertently causes his daughter’s death and sets off an inexorable series of consequences and quandaries for himself.

Dukit (Wood Carving), 2013, cowritten by Honie Alipio with director Armando Lao, is also entirely in Kapampangan and set in Betis, Guagua, which has a century-old woodcarving tradition. The film tells the story of real-life sculptor and Presidential Merit Awardee for Ecclesiastical Art Willy Layug, who plays himself in the movie. But it focuses as well on Kapampangan life and culture, particularly its arts and crafts, cuisine, music, and traditions.

The CineKabalen Kapampangan Film Festival has been showing and awarding Kapampangan indie filmmakers in Angeles City since 2011. It evolved from the Sinukwan Kapampangan Film Competition, which began in 2009 as part of the traditional Sinukwan Festival. CineKabalen aims to encourage Kapampangan filmmakers and promote the Kapampangan language, life, and culture through short, digital films.


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This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition.

Title: Kapampangan

Author/s: Edna Z. Manlapaz, Marita Cleto, and Nicanor G. Tiongson (1994) / Updated by Alexander Castro, with contributions from Rosario Cruz-Lucero (2018)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: September 08, 2022

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