Symbols hold vital underlying importance in forming a region’s cultural base. The culture of the Philippines is an amalgamation of both eastern and western influences. Filipino identity dates back to pre-colonial times.
Pre-colonial notions, mixed with the influence of Spanish colonizers and Chinese traders, have formed modern-day Filipino culture. Many Filipino tribes and community members have had a reverence for nature as an interactive universe of elements (the seen) and a reverence for their spirits (the unseen). (1)
There are numerous ancient and modern Filipino symbols that play an integral role in forming national identity.
Listed below are the top 7 most important Filipino symbols of strength:
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Indigenous people in the Philippines were able to retain aspects of their culture by resisting advances by colonizers. One indigenous group called the Butbut, based in the Kalinga region, retains an important aspect of their identity called the ‘Whatok’ or permanent tattoos that are adorned over the body. (2)
The Whatok traces its origins back to stories and legends as well as riddles and proverbs within the Filipino culture. When receiving body-adorning tattoos during a tattoo session, excerpts from epic stories called ‘ullalim’ were sung by tattoo practitioners. (3)
2. Textile Making
The t’nalak was a woven textile popular in Filipino communities such as the T’boli. It was woven out of Manila hemp and had many popular traditional uses. It was used to pay the price for a bride or while making a sacrifice in order to cure illnesses. It was also used as currency to barter livestock.
The size of the cloth determined the number of animals such as horses. The traditional weavers of the T’nalak only wove the cloth in red, black, or white, even though the commercial version of the cloth existing today comes in many different colors. (4)
A notable symbol of Philippine mythology, Amihan is a deity without a specified gender, depicted in the form of a bird. Tagalog folklore states that Amihan was the first-ever creature to inhabit this universe. Amihan was accompanied by gods Aman Sinaya and Bathala.
According to legend, Amihan was the bird that saved the first two human beings to tread upon the planet, Malakas and Maganda, from a bamboo plant. Several legends have depicted Amihan in different lights. In one legend, Amihan is depicted with Habagat, as the children of Bathala, the supreme deity.
Amihan is the gentler sister, while Habagat is the more active brother. Their father lets them play in turns half of the year, as they cause destruction in the land when playing together. (6)
4. 3 Stars and a Sun
The 3 stars and a Sun symbol represents modern-day Filipino patriotism and pride. This symbol is derived from the flag of the Philippines. It represents three major regions of the Philippines, the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The sun with eight reflecting rays represents ties with colonial Spain.
The rays symbolize the original eight provinces of the Philippines, which are the Tarlac, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Laguna, and Batangas. Today, the 3 stars and a Sun symbol dominate merchandise related to the Philippines, T-shirts, and tattoos.
This symbol was popularized by many notable artists and musicians. It reflects the pride of the Filipino people and is a mark of Filipino identity. (5)
The Baybayin is regarded as an indigenous Filipino writing method. The Baybayin script was widely used during the early years of Spanish colonization. Merchants of the time started using this script to record data.
This became quite popular at the time, as the Spanish would accompany their written scripture with the Baybayin script to explain their message more concisely. There is speculation that the Baybayin script was introduced in the post-1500 period, especially to document trading.
Before that, Filipinos passed down their traditions in an oral fashion. Some also say that the Baybayin script is of Sanskrit origin. There is a possibility it reached the shores of the Philippines through Borneo via trading. The Baybayin script represents a national symbol of Philippine identity and is a treasure the Filipinos are proud of.
6. Narra Tree
The national tree of the Philippines, the Narra tree, is known to be sturdy, reliable, and durable. This directly symbolizes the indomitable spirit of the Filipino people and their strong character.
The Narra Tree was first declared as the national symbol of the Philippines by General Frank Murphy in 1934, with the Sampaguita’s declaration (7)
7. Sampaguita Flower
The Sampaguita flower was declared as the national flower of the Philippines in 1934 when the Philippines was under American occupation. It is commonly assumed that the same ‘Sampaguita’ was closely derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Sampenga.’ But some legends say that this name was derived from the words’ sumpakita,’ which means ‘I vow to you.’
The legends trace the story of two lovers. The girl in the legend is very pretty with soft, delicate features similar to the flower Sampaguita. As this flower blooms all year round, it symbolizes the girl’s love for her beloved and her vow never to leave his side, even after death.
She proved her promise true through a sweet-scented flower that sprung from her grave. She felt her presence to be known every night when the flower bloomed. (8)
Our Final Thoughts
Filipino symbols of strength give insight into the traditions and ideals of the Philippines. These Symbols are explained through plants, trees, mythical beings, and divine heroes.
How many of these Filipino Symbols of Strength were you aware of? Let us know in the comments below!
- Sacred Texts and Symbols: An Indigenous Filipino Perspective on Reading. M Elena Clariza. University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA. P.84
- Wliken, 2011
- Sacred Texts and Symbols: An Indigenous Filipino Perspective on Reading. M Elena Clariza. University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA. P.81
- Repollo, 2018; Alvina, 2013
- Boquet, Yves (2017). The Philippine Archipelago. Springer. pp. 46–47