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The Importance of Nature, Community, and Interdependence in Filipino Culture

Updated: Apr 5, 2023


As this writer looked out of his bus window on his trip to Belfast, he noticed the imagery he had grown up with in children's books was almost identical to the scenes passing by. It made him realize how little Filipino culture was depicted in those books. This realization hit him harder after listening to Professor Joseph Renta III of Miriam College speak about the importance of building our social and economic development on our cultural identity and strengths, not colonial doctrines. Prof. Renta believes meaningful change can only happen by integrating community expertise into mainstream research.


During a workshop organized by the Abot-Kamay Community Solidarity Fund Awardees on January 27 to 29 entitled “Community-based Research and Documentation Using the Lens of Filipino Indigenous Culture and Wisdom", Dr. Renta III passionately advocated for the reframing and decolonizing of our mindset in his presentation. He urged us to reconnect with our roots and build on our cultural genius rather than continue to rely on external influences. His words re-echoed a reminder: to develop truly as a society, we must first embrace and celebrate our unique identity.


The workshop renewed our appreciation for the richness of Filipino culture and the potential for positive change. By valuing our cultural heritage and integrating community expertise into our development efforts, we can create a more vibrant and sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.


Here are some key takeaways from the workshop.


Everything is alive

In the Philippines, nature is not just a source of resources or a backdrop to daily life; it is considered to have a life of its own. "We believe in unseen creatures and acknowledge the existence of a universe outside our own that we must respect and coexist with," says Dr. Joseph Renta III, who advocates for the decolonization of the Filipino mindset.


Cultivating the land is a prime example of how this mindset manifests in Filipino culture. According to an article by Joselle Panganiban, land cultivation is a communal activity that requires community participation. Unlike in the West, where individualism is highly valued, Filipinos see land cultivation as a way to bring people together and foster a sense of community.


This communal spirit is encapsulated in the term pakikipagkapwa, which refers to the Filipino way of interacting with others. Pakikipagkapwa means sharing, cooperating, and working with others to achieve a common goal or purpose. The idea of being interdependent with other people or groups is central to Filipino culture, and it is considered impolite for a Filipino to be a "lone wolf" and do things alone.


By embracing this deep connection with nature and the importance of community, Filipinos have developed a unique culture that values the collective good over individual gain. As Dr. Renta III argues, this mindset is essential in achieving sustainable development that builds on our cultural identity and strengths. "Our connection to the land's spirit through nature-based rituals and ceremonies is a way of living in constant harmony and communion with nature," he says.


Pandama

Tuning in with someone's energy or loob is something we do all the time, even if we do not realize it. It is how we connect with others and build meaningful relationships. We treat each other as equals or kapwa, with respect and dignity, regardless of position or authority. Arrogance has no place in our community because everyone has the same power and importance.


In Tagalog, loob means heart, mind, personality, and character. When we say we have "magaan ang loob" with someone, it means that their heart and soul are in harmony with ours, and they are good people.


Conversely, someone with "masamang loob" has evil intentions and hurts others for their gain.


We emphasize kalooban or trust because we are trusting and generous people who value strong relationships. People who betray that trust will have difficulty connecting with others, as they will no longer be viewed as worthy of a relationship.


Flexibility

Filipino culture values flexibility and adaptability, as reflected in our everyday practices. "Filipino time" is often misunderstood as tardy or late, but it is more about measuring a person's relational energy with others. It is also a cultural concept often reflecting Filipinos’ relaxed and laid-back attitude.


Communal solidarity

Filipinos have a strong sense of community and believe in the power of coming together to build relationships and support each other. Sharing is an essential aspect of Filipino culture, as it expands their sense of self and fosters relationships based on mutual appreciation and respect. Filipinos have a solid collectivistic orientation, prioritizing the group’s needs over the individual. They believe in social relationships, group harmony, and interdependence, so they tend to be more cooperative and helpful toward others. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the strong sense of community among Filipinos. In response to the crisis, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was signed to bring back community cohesiveness during immense vulnerability and crisis. This act emphasizes the importance of coming together as a nation to support each other during difficult times. Furthermore, many Filipinos stepped up to help those most in need, regardless of location, through community pantries, mental health support groups, and medical assistance. The pandemic has reinforced the value of community and the importance of supporting each other in times of crisis.



A Filipino Approach to Research: Embodying Flexibility, Sensitivity, Spirituality, and Community

Have you ever heard the saying "common sense is not so common"? That is the idea behind Prof. Renta's differentiation between "matalino" and "marunong." While being book-smart and well-versed in theories is essential, practical, real-life experience and a thorough understanding of Filipino culture are equally valuable. We value community and systems’ impact on people, as reflected in our research approach. Rather than starting with a top-down approach, we focus on the people and then look at the system above them. This approach considers the impact of any changes or suggestions on them.


A "bottom-up" approach to research allows for more meaningful and relevant results. This approach involves engaging with the community and actively involving them in the research process. By doing so, researchers better understand the local context and are better equipped to address the community's needs. So, while being "matalino" is undoubtedly important, being "marunong" and having a practical understanding of Filipino culture are equally valuable when conducting research. Moreover, by using a "bottom-up" approach that emphasizes community involvement, cultural sensitivity, and spirituality, we can ensure that our research is meaningful and relevant to the people we study.


Stimulating senses

In a country where the fiesta is king and kuwentos reign, Filipinos find reading and writing to be a chore. With their multiple-choice format, surveys and questionnaires are less appealing than engaging in conversations and hearing stories. We want to participate and contribute and do it in a way that stimulates our senses and emotions.


This preference for narrative and emotional experiences extends to research as well. The Philippines is one of the most emotional countries in the world. We feel deeply and intensely, which should be considered when conducting research in our communities. To effectively share knowledge, it should be presented in a narrative format, preferably in our local language, which is the language of the heart.


Dr. Joseph Renta III reminds us that our research approach must embody our flexibility, sensitivity, spirituality, and sense of community. We must move away from the constraints of Western methods and ideals and adopt a "bottom-up" approach that focuses on the people first and considers their impact before suggesting any changes.


In doing so, we can create research that appeals to the Filipino way of sharing knowledge - through stimulating our senses and emotions, engaging in conversations, and hearing stories. This way, we can ensure that everyone participates and contributes and that nobody is left out.


Documentation

The Philippines has a rich history and culture intertwined with our language. We must preserve and promote our language and culture, which starts in our schools. However, our educational system is geared towards individualism and competition rather than cooperation and collaboration. The materials used in our schools, mainly in English, make it challenging for our students to learn and appreciate the Filipino language and culture.


Filipino words are not just words; they are also visual and descriptive and carry much emotional weight. It is critical to teach new concepts in the context of stories or situations rather than abstract concepts that lack meaning. Storytelling can help learners comprehend abstract concepts better. In our culture, storytelling is an essential part of our oral tradition, where stories of the past are passed down from generation to generation through songs and dances.


When documenting our stories, it is essential to embrace the quirkiness and lack of structure found in traditional stories and songs. It is also essential to involve and engage stakeholders, including the intended audience, throughout the planning and implementation stages to ensure cultural relevance and appropriateness.


Reflection

Understanding people's experiences and perspectives is crucial in conducting research, especially regarding behavior and decision-making. As Dr. Renta III suggests, the phenomenological approach provides a deep and immersive perspective into how people perceive the world around them. This method is beneficial when studying complex social phenomena such as culture, identity, and beliefs.