So you want to live in Pampanga, or room with a Kapampangan, or even marry a Kapampangan? Prepare for a bumpy ride! Here are tips to help you survive the company of this much-admired, much-reviled and much misunderstood people:
1. Kapampangans talk loud when they’re together. They enjoy listening to themselves and to the sound of their language. They love their language with a child’s love for his mother, calling it amanung sisuan (“suckled word”). They’d navigate across a crowded room to find anyone speaking in Kapampangan, and when they do, they’d gush like long lost friends. They sound like they’re arguing, but they’re actually just tracing their six degrees of separation in search of a blood relation or a common acquaintance. You can’t blame them for savoring each other’s company. There are only two million of them left on Earth, compared with 22 million Tagalogs, 20 million Cebuanos and eight million Ilocanos.
2. Kapampangans are proud of their race. Call them conceited, call them ethnocentric, but they sincerely believe that they’re the first, the best and the most in everything. Bravest soldiers? Check. First Jesuits? Check. Best cooks? Check. Prettiest women? Check. Longest literary work, first woman author, first vernacular zarzuela, first novel in English. Check, check, check, check! Kapampangans are fiercely patriotic — not to the Filipino nation, but to the Kapampangan Nation, which they claim (correctly) to be older by a thousand years. Other Filipinos deny their ethnicity, but Kapampangans will announce it even when no one’s asking! Their attachment to their land of birth compels them to stay, but if they leave at all, they always look to Mt. Arayat as a sentimental beacon guiding them on their way back.
3. Kapampangans are offended when they’re called dugong aso (dog-blooded). They take it as an attack on their personal integrity and an affront on the memory of their ancestors. Generations of Kapampangans have endured humiliation from people carelessly and even maliciously calling them traitors. Who wouldn’t resent being told that treachery runs in your blood?
4. Kapampangans can really cook, and Pampanga is really the food capital of the Philippines. You can contest the other claims, but this one is universally accepted. Other regions are known for single dishes and desserts; Pampanga has a whole cornucopia of culinary delights, from colonial to folk to exotic. This gift can be traced back to their access to the friar’s kitchen, their land’s plentiful harvests and the episodes of floods and famine that have taught them to improvise. Everyone in Pampanga can cook, even the men; woe to the Kapampangan who can’t cook!
5. Kapampangans are notorious bashers. You make one small mistake, you won’t hear the end of it. You cook caldereta (stew) that’s a tad bland, you’ll be the topic for days. State a contrary opinion and you’re dead. Kapampangans are highly opinionated and contentious, probably the result of pampering by their colonial masters who gave them access to exclusive schools in Manila and Madrid (while their compatriots could only attend parochial schools) which in turn made them feel intellectually superior.
6. Kapampangans are deeply religious which, of course, is not the same as spiritual. Their fetish for anitos (spirit idols) has morphed into an excessive, almost irrational, devotion to anything associated with their colonizers’ religion. Kapampangans have found their new idols on which to lavish their affections: the church temple for which they’d spend any amount to build, rebuild and renovate; the retablos and santos (altars and icons) which they over-decorate, over-dress, and over-process; and of course their priests whom they over-revere to the point of electing one as governor. Pampanga is home not only to the most devout Catholics in this country, but also to Eli Soriano’s Ang Dating Daan and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ’s Apollo Quiboloy plus a host of other churches, sects and cults.
7. Kapampangans love the good life. They can’t last a week without “malling,” movies and mahjong. A birthday, an anniversary, a promotion—there’s always an excuse to party and a justification for spending all their savings. This joie de vivre, this utter lack of proportion between work and play, has put them in stark contrast with the thrifty Ilocanos, whom God has only given a sliver of craggy land to work on while Kapampangans wallow in fertile fields and rivers teeming with fish. Kapampangans’ devil-may-care attitude is the reason hospitals, diagnostic clinics and dialysis centers thrive in Pampanga.
8. Kapampangans have fine tastes — another offshoot from early exposure to their colonial masters’ lavish lifestyles. The rise of feudal lords and wealthy families in the province also nurtured artists and turned bucolic towns like Bacolor and Guagua into thriving cultural and political centers. Kapampangan writers like Aurelio Tolentino, Crisostomo Soto, Amado Yuzon and Bienvenido Santos; Kapampangan artists like Fernando Ocampo Juan Flores, Vicente Manansala and Bencab; and Kapampangan performers like Rogelio de la Rosa, Cecile Licad, Lea Salonga and Apl.de.ap all raised the bar of Kapampangan aesthetics and refined Kapampangan tastes.
9. The other side of the carefree nature of Kapampangans is their durability. When Pinatubo erupted in 1991, even the proud scions of genteel families and descendants of poets and warriors had to suffer the indignity of staying in evacuation centers and the difficulty of starting over in resettlement areas. How the Kapampangans rose from a depth of despair this low to the economic peak this high is one of the most spectacular recoveries ever seen in this country. Kapampangans are a hardy people after all. It took a cataclysmic eruption, followed by four years of pounding by lahars, to bring out their hidden fortitude.
10. Kapampangans are risk-takers, almost to a fault. When the “brave youth from Macabebe” unsheathed his sword to take on a whole Spanish armada in 1571, he began a tradition of brave and bold Kapampangans who’d fight in battle, see the world, or start a business enterprise with an almost reckless audacity. The landscape of history is littered with fallen Kapampangans who dared to cross swords with much bigger enemies, from Maniago’s rebels in the Kapampangan Revolt of 1660 and the Macabebes whose town was razed to the ground by the revolutionaries, to Taruc’s Huks who fought the Japanese and Dante’s NPAs who fought the government and even Ninoy Aquino who fought the dictatorship.
So there. The list is by no means complete, and Kapampangans are certainly much more than the sum of these descriptions. But for starters you can use it as a roadmap to get into the conflicted, unpredictable heart and mind of Kapampangans.
Kapampangans are hard to understand, and harder to live with. The contradictions that shaped their land and history — the cycle of feast and famine, the tension between loyalty and rebellion, feudalism and peasant unrest, Church tradition and folk Catholicism, and the presence of the largest US military base in the hotbed of Communist insurgency — have made Kapampangans truly unlike any other people in this country.
First published in SunStar, July 30, 2013
Robby Tantingco is the Director of the Center for Kapampangan Studies and Vice President for External Affairs of Holy Angel University. He is the author of "Destiny and Destination" and "Pinatubo: The Volcano in our Backyard" which