1. Cebuanos are the friendliest, smilingest most fun-loving people in the Philippines. Wherever you go, you won’t see a glum face among the denizens of the island. They’re not phony smiles turned on for both tourists and inhabitants, but sincere heart-felt expressions seen on the faces of Cebuanos because they’re generally a cheery and hospitable people.
They were always hospitable until the time Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese navigator who organized the Spanish voyage to what were then known as the East Indies, arrived on Mactan island in 1521. By engaging in some unfriendly actions, he upset the inhabitants of that island, prompting the local chieftain Lapulapu to wade out into the sea with his men to do battle with the Spanish interlopers. In the ensuing melee a poisoned arrow unleashed by Lapulapu brought Magellan down.
Cebuanos thought nothing of naming a fish after that momentous event, probably because great amounts of seafood are traditionally ingested by folks, not just on Mactan itself but throughout the province.
But lately the national government has decreed that Lapulapu be bestowed the proper homage, and has asked Filipinos to desist from using the name of a national hero for a fish.
And now that Cebu has a fancy new airport on Mactan that’s been called the best in the country, the hero Lapulapu will also be honored.
2. Cebuanos are inherently musical, which is why the guitar-making industry in Mactan is famous. There’s a plethora of Cebuano folksongs and love songs like the popular classics such as “Matud Nila,” “Usahay,” “Dandansoy, inum tuba laloy” (about drinking tuba, the fermented coconut drink) and “Talina, ang kabao balhina (telling Talina to move the cow to another pasture). One of the most popular Cebuano songs is "Kasadya Ning Taknaa," the Christmas tune that has been translated into Tagalog as "Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit."
This very popular Christmas song originated from Cebu as “Kasadya Ning Taknaa.”
Cebu has also produced famous singers as Pilita Corrales, Dulce, Amapola, Vina Morales and Manilyn Reynes, among others.
3. Cebuanos are the dancingest folks anywhere. With so many fiestas taking place each year to honor various saints in the towns and barrios, there’s always an excuse to engage in dancing during events like the yearly Flores de Mayo procession and other religious activities
There was a time when inmates of the main Cebu City jail choreographed and performed jazz and rock-and-roll dances, including those of Michael Jackson. Locals and tourists flocked to those shows, which can still be seen on YouTube.
Recently during an event honoring press freedom week, costumed dancers with furry bear faces danced a Bruno Mars number at the Cebu’s Capitol social hall before getting down to the serious business of listening to luminaries expatiating on the need to uphold freedom of the press.
On the third weekend of January each year, there’s an absolute orgy of singing and dancing when the Sinulog festival takes place, with various decorated floats threading their way through Cebu’s main streets amidst great chanting crowds carousing from morning till night.
4. One thing Cebuanos excel at is in not overdoing the obsequiousness displayed by other Pinoys. Tagalogs pepper their sentences with “Po” and “Ho” when speaking, not just to their elders but to their equals as well. It all sounds quite bogus and insincere. I can meet a Cebuano in Manila or abroad and once we know we’re provincemates, we’ll soon be on a chummy basis, no matter our ages or stations in life. There’ll be none of that “ma’am” or smarmy bending over backwards from either party. We’ll be pals immediately.
5. Recently, a short film was submitted to the Busan International Film festival entitled “Manila Is Full Of Men Named Boy.” For some reason, Cebu is full of women named Girlie, Baby, Ging and Inday. It’s an endearing trait Cebuano parents bestow on their female infants; names that stick into adulthood as Boy, Dingdong and Tonyboy do in Manila.
6. Food is another thing Cebuanos are famous for, particularly the local lechon. That renowned dish had the late globe-trotting gourmet Anthony Bourdain rhapsodizing about it. Even though the lechon isn’t served with the liver sauce as it is elsewhere, it’s absolutely scrumptious because the pig is pampered during its life (rather like how cows are treated in Japan to make their great Kobe beef). After the pig is slaughtered it’s stuffed with aromatic herbs, which makes it unnecessary to have an accompanying sauce.
7. Cebu boasts the most delicious mangoes on the planet. They’re not like those stringy ones from Mexico, or the blah ones from Florida. When I lived in Hong Kong for some years, I was challenged by an Indian lady who heard me say that the best mangoes ever come from Cebu. She asked if I’d ever had an Indian Alphonso mango, which she claimed was the sweetest, fleshiest fruit on earth. I’d never tried them and she couldn’t produce one for me to taste, but there were lots of our mangoes in the Hong Kong markets, so we ended up in not very good terms.
8. Cebu has no rice fields like Luzon does, but it grows a lot of corn, so corn rice is often eaten by the natives. Unfortunately, imported rice has made some inroads in the Cebuano diet, which is of little benefit to the locals; those misguided few of the population who consider polished rice a sign of wealth, look down on the corn-eating natives who stay very healthy.
Once when I saw a dentist in Cebu, he didn’t have much work to do, saying my teeth were in good condition. He couldn’t believe it when I told him about my advanced age. I informed him that all the corn I’d eaten since childhood is what contributed to my dental health!
9. Cebuanos like to boast of being the source of the most beautiful women in the archipelago, many of whom not only win beauty contests, but also end up on the silver screen. Because so many foreign men become enamored of the lovely Cebuanas, their offspring are very pretty and tend to win beauty titles. A couple of years ago, a Miss Cebu named Raine Baljak revealed she had a Croat father. Cebuana Pilar Pilapil, who won the Miss Binibining Pilipinas Universe in 1967, has won two best actress awards for her work in films. She has not only had commercial sponsors use her face to promote their products, but had also set up a foundation to help abused women.
10. Tagalogs and other Pinoys like to make fun of the way Cebuanos speak English. Cebuanos admit they have “gahing dila” (a hard tongue), which is why “e” is invariably pronounced like “i” and vice versa. You’ll hear sentences like “My cousin Beety (Betty) married an Ameereecan from Tiksas named Jehms Marteen. When he came to Cebu they eht (ate) leetson, panceet, tehnola and dissirt.” Martin finds Betty’s English pronunciation cute and charming.
11. Back in the 1950s when the Government set up a Commission to formulate a national language, the majority of the members were obviously Tagalog because they did not take into account that Cebuano was the majority dialect then. Those clueless officials did not bother to incorporate words like “bana” for husband and stuck to the confusing “asawa” for both husband and wife. There were other such incongruities that every schoolchild has had to learn in school ever since.
12. It’s long been known that the Philippines has more call centers than India, which once had the lead. Filipinos’ cultural affinity with the West is the reason many Western firms set up their BPO offices in the Philippines. The LA Times has called the country the “Call Center Capital of the world.” A large number of those centers are in Cebu, because the locals are among the smartest in the business.
Isabel Taylor Escoda has written about migrant workers, especially in Hongkong where she lived for many years before moving in 2015 to her birthplace of Cebu. She is a contributor to the Philippines Daily Inquirer and her books include Letters from Hong Kong, Pinoy Abroad and two children’s books.