Eight Complicated Things about Kapampangans

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By Robby Tantingco

Peanut Gallery

Monday, January 6, 2014

AS THINGS stand today, Kapampangans are already harassed from all directions — their language and culture are vanishing, their reputation is being tarnished by persistent stereotyping, and their very existence is threatened by natural calamities — and yet instead of getting their act together to face their common enemies, they keep bickering among themselves over details.

For example, they allow the issue of their orthography (is it c or k?) to distract them from the bigger problem of saving a dying language, they quarrel over whether the MOKA (Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awards) should include Kapampangans born outside the boundaries of Pampanga, and they tear each other apart over the name of a 16th-century martyred chieftain (is it Tarik Soliman or Bambalito?).

We are what we are today because we are the product of the land we live in and of the inexplicable choices our ancestors made, which resulted in events in history that we can’t undo anymore.


Pampanga is a land of contradictions, and Kapampangans are a people of many paradoxes.

People scratch their heads and wonder why they fall head over heels for our sisig yet absolutely despise our buru, or why the country’s most festive Christmas and most morbid, most brutal Holy Week are found in the same province, where its supposedly beautiful and vain people mutilate their bodies to atone for their sins. People also call us dugong aso but can’t quite decide if it’s for loyalty or treachery.
We will always be an enigma to other people. They will always belittle us, mock us and throw potshots at us for all the things they will never understand about us: our pride, our vanity, our devotion, our extravagance, our loud and combative nature, our love for the good life, our devil-may-care attitude.

Here are eight perplexing facts about the landscape and mindscape of Kapampangans:

First, the Province of Pampanga and the Kapampangan Region are two different things. One is a political entity and the other is an ethno-linguistic identity. Just because you live in Pampanga does not make you a Kapampangan. By the same token, even if you live outside the political boundaries of the province, you have as much right to be called a Kapampangan. Tarlac, Bulacan, Bataan, Nueva Ecija, and Aurora were once part of a historical Pampanga, and many residents in these provinces still speak fluent Kapampangan and can actually trace their bloodlines to Pampanga.

Second, the province is split into Upper Pampanga and Lower Pampanga. The towns north of the capital city of San Fernando (namely Angeles, Mabalacat, Porac, Magalang, Mexico, Sta. Ana, and Arayat) are generally dry, elevated and agricultural lands, while the towns south of the capital (such as Macabebe, Masantol, Sasmuan, Apalit, Lubao, Guagua, Minalin, Sto. Tomas, San Luis and Candaba) are mostly swamplands and river communities whose psyche, lifestyle, diet, values, beliefs, festivals, etc. are all shaped by the cyclical ebb and flow of floods. Kapampangans of the northern towns are so radically different from the river people in the southern towns that they get culture-shocked when they trade places.

Third, Pampanga is at once the best place and the worst place to live in: best because it’s the richest province in Luzon and worst because it’s the most dangerous province to be in. The culprit in both cases is the mighty Pampanga River, whose annual floods fertilize the farmlands and replenish the river and the bay. At the same time, however, all the floodwaters from the surrounding Sierra Madre, Caraballo and Zambales Mountain Ranges converge in the Pampanga River and head towards the province before draining into the sea, making Pampanga the most flood-prone province in the country. It’s as if the suffering caused by floods is the price we pay for the bounty of the land.

Fourth, Pampanga is torn between a volcano and the deep blue sea. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was only one of many recurring eruptions that have turned the province into a see-saw between two geological phenomena: lahars and subsidence, i.e., the volcano’s pyroclastic flows weigh down the province, causing it to sink into the sea, but the next eruption dumps another round of pyroclastic flows that reclaims the land back from the sea, only to weigh it down once more and submerge it again. Guagua south of San Fernando was once under the sea before a prehistoric eruption caused its reappearance. Eventually, however, it will sink again.

Fifth, the repeated evacuation of Kapampangans due to floods, volcanic eruptions, and colonial persecution created a cycle of feast and famine in Pampanga that gave us a split personality: on one hand we are a carefree, wasteful, pleasure-seeking people, but on the other hand we are also a hardened, resilient people, whose hard work and entrepreneurial skills enable us to rise above the worst natural and manmade calamities. These two faces of Kapampangans are reflected in their cuisine as well: our dishes and delicacies reveal both our aristocratic tastes and excesses (lengua, galantina, duman, tibuk-tibuk, sans rival, etc.) and our proletarian improvisations (betute, burung talangka, kamaru, pindang, etc.).

Sixth, Kapampangan history is a constant pendulum swing between rebellion and loyalty. The first Filipino to die defending his motherland (in 1571) was a Kapampangan from Macabebe (a chieftain named Bambalito), and the biggest revolt ever staged against the Spaniards before the Revolution was the Kapampangan Revolt of 1660.

Yet Kapampangans and Spaniards fought side by side against Chinese pirates, Dutch and British invaders, and even against fellow Filipinos. Bacolor became the center of resistance against Spain (and later, against the United States) while only a couple of kilometers away, the town of Macabebe remained the last sanctuary for fleeing Spaniards and recruiting area for the newly arrived Americans, yet both towns showed the best qualities of Kapampangans, for whom bravery and heroism are equally shared by warrior and collaborator as well as by victor and martyr.

Seventh, the Socialist Party of the Philippines, the Communist Party of the Philippines, the HUKBALAHAP, the New People’s Army, the Kabataang Makabayan, the Kilusang Mayo Uno, the National Democratic Front, etc. were founded by Kapampangans, and yet Pampanga hosted the biggest offshore US military base in the world. Clark Air Base and the insurgents thrived only a few feet away from each other, in spite — or maybe because — of each other’s presence and proximity.

Eighth, Pampanga is a bastion of Catholicism and clerical authority. Here, the priest is king (ing pari ya ing ari). The faithful pamper their clergy to the point of sinfulness, calling them Ámong (lord) and trusting them enough to elect one as governor. Yet the same priests are powerless against a thriving folk Catholicism that rivals the canonical church services in terms of attendance and intensity of religious fervor. Kapampangans find God in the kuraldal, lubenas, libad, majiganggas, batalla, sabat santacruzan, magsalibatbat, tanggal, pusu-pusuan, pakbung hudas, etc. They don’t need to attend church, they have puni; they don’t need to read the Bible, they can chant the pasyun; they don’t have to go to confession, they can become magdarame for a day.

Kapampangans as a people were born out of the mythical battle between two mountain gods, raised in a land torn between the sea that keeps claiming it and a volcano that keeps reclaiming it, and nurtured by a culture that’s split right down to the double helix of its linguistic DNA. No wonder Kapampangans will always be misunderstood.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on January 07, 2014.


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