History & Culture
History of Taal Town
South of Manila, a sleeping giant rests on her throne breathing “the silence of the centuries.” Her majesty is the town of Taal. When people think of Taal, what usually comes to mind is the famed Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano. What is often overlooked is a town with a gold mine of historic treasures, known as the Municipality of Taal. It is home to a rich history, including a collection of well-preserved 19th century bahay na batos (adobe stone houses) from the late 16th to the early 20th century. Primarily characterized by grand architectural structures with Fil-Hispanic lines, Taal is also a basket of culture with unique hand-woven textiles, metal craft, artifacts and a variety of food. This small municipality in the province of Batangas is known as the Balisong (fan knife) and Barong Tagalog (national Filipino apparel) capital of the Philippines.
The tiny Pansipit Bridge, crossing the narrow Pansipit River is the main artery that connects Taal with its neighboring town, Lemery. Lemery and the adjacent town of Sta. Teresita used to be part of the greater Taal land boundaries of the Spanish eras, but the two areas have long been re-classified as separate municipalities. Lemery is a bustling commercial hub that contrasts greatly with Taal’s peaceful residential character. Sta. Teresita has remained as a relaxing residential enclave dotted by fishermen’s villages, adjacent to the Taal Lake. Entering the Taal poblacion (town proper) is like going through a porthole into the Spanish era, with picturesque blocks of homes and small streets fit for horse-drawn carriages. Recognized as a heritage landmark by the National Historical Institute (NHI) of the Philippines, the quiet beauty of Taal town and its majestic Basilica would bring pride to any Filipino.
Once a melting pot for trade and agriculture, with ships coming in from Manila, the Visayan islands and abroad, Taal has experienced days of economic glory. She hailed as one of the most prosperous and influential towns in the Philippines for over two hundred years. Through the centuries, Taal has mercilessly struggled and has been ripped asunder by wars, famine and a series of catastrophic calamities. However, the townspeople always rose like resilient phoenixes destined for greater heights.
Taaleños shine as great examples of the Filipino’s proud spirit, with many of its townsfolk being heroes and heroines etched in the records of Philippine history. The tag “Taaleño,” has always conjured thoughts of respect, bravery, honesty, fairness, and industry.
There is a sense of mystery and character about the town that lingers. Reading chronicles and visiting the scenes of Taal’s saga will bestow an invaluable experience filled with stories of valor, failure and triumph. These efforts give one a deeper understanding and appreciation of the local people’s sacrifices to attain freedom from their foreign colonizers. Forever imbedded in the Taaleño’s DNA is the understanding that in his quest to fulfil his highest potential for posterity, he should not forget lessons from his past.
Although the colonizing Spaniards dominated the Taal region in the sixteenth century, the province was a thriving place of converging cultures and people long before the Spaniard’s arrival. Some of the earliest recorded settlers in the Philippines are found in this region. Archeological diggings from 1958 to 1970 in Taal and in other nearby provinces, yielded thousands of bulk artifacts ranging from stoneware, pottery, tools and jewelry dating back to the Paleolithic period and into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This conveys that there was human habitation in these parts for roughly 40,000 years prior to the Spanish era, making Taal one of the original bastions of settlement in the Philippines. Research also reveals that people may have probably practiced agriculture along the Pansipit River as far back as the Neolithic period.
However, approximately during the first millennium of the Christian era, the small settlements in Batangas deteriorated and disappeared. It is safe to assume that violent volcanic eruptions may have ravaged these settlements. It wasn’t until around the thirteenth century that the Batangas area began to re-populate.
Legend has it that ten Borneo Datus (Datus are leaders or nobility) led by Datu Puti, set sail for Panay Islands, fleeing from the tyrannical rule of the Sultan of their homeland. When they arrived in the Philippines, they found a safe place to anchor at the mouth of the Pansipit river.
By befriending the natives, the datus made their first settlements along the Pansipit River during the thirteenth century. Datu Puti appointed Datu Dumangsil and Datu Balkasusa to unite and rule, patterning their “barangays,” a form of government unit, to that of their homeland’s. This establishment paved the way to prosperous settlements that eventually spread out through Southern Luzon and Mindoro.
During the arrival of the datus, the Visayan Islands had already been settled and populated for about 1500 years by the Malays and Proto-Malays. The term Proto-Malay, which translates to Melayu asli, aboriginal Malay, are believed to be seafarers. It is this group of people who are likely to have survived in Taal during the Moro marauding through the Spanish era, up to the present.
There is much speculation about whether the thirteenth century history of Panay, also known as the “Maragatas,” is true or not. Historically speaking, no definite conclusions have been reached yet. However, there are still elders in the mountains of Panay (located in the Visayas) who chant in poetic archaic Hiniraya, the legend of the ten datus, with repetitive reference to Datu Puti, Dumangsil and Balkasusa sailing the seas to Taal. To this day, Filipinos refer to their division or village unit as “barangay,” a term traced back to a similar-sounding name of the boat used by the datus, called “balangay.”
Soon after the datus set up the two barangays, a succession of migration waves came to Luzon. Included in these migration waves were the Chinese, called Sanglays, who kept trading practices flourishing. Trading posts sprouted in strategic and safe locations to help avoid “Moro” invasions. Moro is a term used to identify Muslim outlaws or pirates who came from the Southern Philippines. Moro pirates chartered the seas and violently attacked merchant ships and coastal towns.
Although these threats were always at bay, trade and commerce continued to flourish, developing a barter system between Philippine natives and the foreign merchants. Aside from spices, porcelain, silk, and perfumes were brought from China, Siam (now called Thailand) and India. The area from Taal extending to Tayabas (part of Quezon province), down to Marinduque and Mindanao, became the primary settlements for trading posts. This area became known as “Kumintang.”
Terra Cotta and Chinese potteries were excavated by archaeologists from the Pansipit River banks, indicating that the natives were trading with the Chinese during the Yuan Dynasty until the early Ming Dynasty, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century.
Those descendants that remained in Batangas and the Laguna de Bay region became known as the Tagalogs, derived from “taga-ilog,” a term literally translated as the “people of the river.” Some say that Taal got its name because of the Taa-lan trees in the banks of Pansipit River, formerly called the Taa-lan River. This old practice was typical of how many places in the Philippines got their names, usually derived from the native plants found in the area. Others think it was derived from Ta-ad, an old Batangueño term for sugar cane points.
Taal is also an old Tagalog word that alternately means “real, true, or indigenous.” Before the Spaniards arrived, it was possible that a native who wandered to other areas of the Philippines may have been identified as “Taal.” Currently, the correct term which identifies someone with roots originating from Taal is called “Taaleño.”
Taal is also considered the origin of the Tagalog language, which then was a mix of Central Philippine languages, Kinaray-a (native dialect in the Visayan Islands), Old Malay, Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic and other Borneo languages.
Spanish Rule (1572-1898)
In 1571, the first Spaniards that arrived at Taal Lake, by way of the Pansipit River, were met by the natives with bows, arrows and bolos (machetes). Although the Spaniards expressed their friendly intentions, the natives did not trust Spanish generals, Martin de Gotti and Juan de Salcedo, nephew of the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. In terms of warfare, the natives were no match for the Spaniards, but they managed to hit Salcedo in the thigh with a poisoned arrow. Not confident enough to follow-through with their first attempt to subdue the natives, the Spaniards sailed back to Manila to report to Legaspi.
In 1572, a year after Manila was founded, Fr. Agustin de Albuquerque was the first Augustinian priest that came. He gathered the natives in the area and brought them to Balangon, the original Town of Taal. In 1575, the Moro Pirates destroyed Balangon and the town was transferred to Lumang Taal (Old Taal), the precariously-situated area adjacent to the Taal Lake (presently San Nicolas). In 1575, Fray Diego de Espinar (the credited founding Augustinian missionary of Taal) started building the original church dedicated to St. Martin de Tours. Thereafter, the town prospered and became eminent. A succession of priests came after Fray Diego Espinar. Fray Juan Bautista Montoya was the priest when the Virgin of Caysasay was fished from the Pansipit River by Juan Maningkad in 1603.
In 1754, the town was destroyed by the biggest eruption of Taal Volcano. After the volcanic destruction, the town of Taal moved to its current location atop a hill, where the massive and magnificent St. Martin de Tours Basilica now sits. (Because of the constant and highly destructive eruptions of the Taal volcano, the whole seat of the town of Taal was relocated several times, until the construction of the landmark Basilica in its present location in 1755. The current Basilica is reputed to be the largest Catholic cathedral in the Far East.)
In 1578, the installment of the encomienda system began. This was a legal system that was employed mainly by the Spanish crown. One could be an encomiendero if he was a military man. The encomienderos would gain labor, gold and other products in exchange for the protection of warring tribes, and for giving Spanish and Catholic lessons. Many natives were forced to do hard labor and were subject to extreme punishment and death if they resisted. They were treated as slaves. The priests and the encomienderos were always at odds because the priests did not condone the abuse and cruelty from the encomienderos.
The encomienda system was granted to the local nobles, the Principalia, through a law enacted by King Philip II on June 11, 1594. The Principalia was an educated class, a hereditary right, exempted from tax. Their origins are traced back to the pre-colonial royal and noble class of the datus. The Spanish monarchy co-opted the traditional princes and their nobles, thereby ruling the Filipinos indirectly. Only Principalia members were allowed to vote, to be elected to public office, and to be addressed by the title, Don or Doña.
In 1581, the Batangas province was established with Taal as its capital. Batangas originally covered Southeast Laguna, parts of Camarines, Mindoro and Marinduque.
From 1597 to 1732, the town of Balayan was alternately designated as the new capital of Batangas. Taal subsequently resumed its position as the capital in 1732, due to its booming success in trade and commerce. During this time, Nicolas Alvarez was Kapitan and Felipe Ozaeta was the parish priest. In 1811, there was a nationwide separation between the responsibilities of church and state, so Spanish priests no longer governed a town.
The period of Taal’s great opulence suddenly ended in 1749 when the Taal volcano violently erupted and reduced the town to wreckage for a span of six months. In 1754, the Taaleños again relocated to a safer site on an incline, overlooking Balayan Bay, where the town proper currently sits today. The Basilica of St. Martin of Tours (St. Martin de Tours) was also destroyed, but it was rebuilt at the present site in 1755.
Aside from the volatile volcano, the town was vulnerable to Moro attacks. Forts and watch-towers were built for its defense. Some forts still stand in ruins today in Cuta, Nagpulok and in the town of Lemery, which was originally part Taal.
Again in 1849, devastation struck the town. It was ravaged by an earthquake that diminished Taal’s domain. Other calamities which also plagued the people included small pox, cholera, locust invasions, floods and great fires. The ensuing calamities required more cemeteries for the excessive burials. A four- hectare cemetery was donated to the town by a member of the landed gentry, Sebastian Marella. Sebastian and his wife Antonia Mangubat had five children, one of which is Vicente Marella, who married Gertrudes Legaspi. The youngest of Vicente and Gertrudes’ four children was named Gliceria, who married Eulalio Villavicencio. This couple became avid supporters and champions of the Filipino revolutionary forces against Spain.
Taal still progressed with improvements in infrastructure in the face of these catastrophes. A healthy coffee trade became the engine to power a wealthy merchant class. These citizens then sought to resurrect Taal’s glory by rebuilding and refurbishing their grand tropical homes made of adobe stone, called bahay na bato.
Philippine Revolution (1896-1898)
A rebellion started brewing at the start of the nineteenth century when Manila’s ports became open for world trade. The Philippine Revolution began in August 1896 when colonial forces discovered the Katipunan secret society. Teodoro Patiño, a Katipunero (a Katipunero is a member of the Katipunan), had personal grievances with fellow Katipunero, Apolonio de la Cruz. He took revenge by exposing the Katipunan’s existence along with secret documents to Spanish priest, Mariano Gil. While Dr. Jose Rizal was still fervently working to implement reforms and enlighten more Filipinos through peaceful propaganda, a revolution was slowly erupting.
Within days after Rizal returned to the Philippines from his sojourn abroad and founded La Liga Filipina, the Katipunan was discovered by authorities and Rizal was arrested and deported to the distant province of Dapitan. Rizal’s personal thoughts were that the revolution was premature, but by then it was an unstoppable force of unforeseen events. It forced more Filipinos to mobilize for the survival of their cause.
During the initial formation of the revolutionary forces, the Guardia Civil were the terrors of Taal town. In 1877, Don Flaviano Agoncillo and Julian Ilagan were hog-tied for no justifiable reason. Such were some of the atrocities of the local Spanish forces which the Filipinos could no longer tolerate.
Many other Taaleños rallied to the revolutionary cause. Among some of these historic figures were, Ananias Diokno; Martin Cabrera and his brothers, Leonardo, Mariano and Aguedo; Vicente Ilustre and Felipe Agoncillio. General Ananias Diokno made successful attacks against Spain in Panay. General Emilio Aguinaldo later made him governor of Capiz. Martin Cabrera was a brigadier general and politico-military governor of Zona Oriental. Felipe Agoncillo, the eminent diplomat, was appointed by General Aguinaldo as Representative to the United States of the First Philippine Republic. His wife, Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo, was tasked by General Aguinaldo to make the first Philippine flag. She designed and sewed it with pride in Hong Kong, where she was living at that time with her husband. Her daughter, Lorenza and Dr. Jose Rizal’s niece, Delfina H. Natividad, helped her in sewing the flag.
Don Eulalio Villavicencio and Doña Gliceria Marella Villavicencio, a prominent couple in Taal, also dedicated their lives and contributed a great deal of their resources to the revolution against Spain. Gliceria was considered a heroine and a “Godmother of the Philippine Revolutionary Forces,” by General Emilio Aguinaldo. Her husband Eulalio, incarcerated by the Spaniards, gave up much of his financial resources and sacrificed his life to fight for his convictions.
At one point in the national revolution, the Spanish fleet was gaining ground while the Katipuneros were divided in their choice of leadership between General Emilio Aguinaldo, who was winning battles, and Andres Bonifacio, who was losing battles. During this period, an election of officers was held for the leadership of the revolutionary government. Bonifacio lost and the leadership was turned over to Aguinaldo, who was away at battle. Angered and insulted by the final decision, Bonifacio tried to force a coup‘d etat against the newly established government. He ordered a town in Cavite to be burned when the residents refused to supply provisions. Aguinaldo had Bonifacio and his brother Procopio arrested when he learned of this atrocity. The War Council sentenced them to death for committing sedition and treason. (*To date, there are several opinions regarding the true reason on why Aguinaldo had Bonifacio killed. Furthermore, there are some who still believe that Bonifacio, a brave fighter and a simple man of the masses, is more deserving of the honor of being the “National Hero of the Philippines,” instead of Dr. Jose Rizal, who had a privileged upbringing and who was influenced by western education.)
Aguinaldo and his men found refuge from the war in Biak-na-Bato, where they settled and established the Republic of Biak-na-Bato. Newly appointed Spanish Governor-General Fernando Primo de Rivera declared, “I can take Biak-na-Bato. Any army can capture it. But I cannot end the rebellion.”
Governor-General de Rivera offered the peace pact of Biak-na-Bato, which Aguinaldo and his men eventually signed in agreement on December 14 to 15, 1897. As part of the agreement, Aguinaldo and twenty-five other top officials were banished to Hong Kong with 400,000 Mexican pesos. Aguinaldo planned to use the money later for firearms. However, the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato did not end the revolution. Armed conflicts resumed in almost every province. Convinced that Spain would not keep her promise of amnesty and relinquishing financial dues owed, Aguinaldo and his men renewed their commitment for attaining Philippine independence by any means.
Spanish-American War (April 25- August 12, 1898)
The culmination of the Cuban War of Independence and the explosion and sinking of a U.S. Navy warship in Havana harbor in 1898, resulted in American attacks on Spain’s colonies, including the Philippine Islands. Commodore George Dewey sailed to Manila with a fleet of seven U.S. ships. On May 1, they encountered a fleet of twelve Spanish ships led by Admiral Patricio Montojo. This marked the first battle between the Americans and the Spaniards, known as the Battle of Manila Bay.
Aguinaldo met in Singapore with U.S. Consuls E. Spencer Pratt and Rounceville Wildman, where they discussed the potential cooperation between U.S. forces and Filipino insurgents, while Pratt communicated with American Admiral Dewey through telegram. They persuaded Aguinaldo to join American forces and lead the Filipino insurgency in a combined effort against Spain. What transpired in that meeting has been a matter of debate. There are two different sides to the story. Aguinaldo wrote that Pratt had assured that the United States would recognize the Independence of the Philippines under the protection of the U.S. Navy, adding that there was no necessity for entering a formal written agreement. Aguinaldo stated that he hoped that the United States would assume protection of the Philippines for a time period long enough to allow the inhabitants to establish a government of their own. Aguinaldo then agreed to lead the insurgents under the commanding leadership of the American forces with an understanding that the United States would not extend its sovereign power over the Philippine islands.
On May 19, 1898, Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines from Hong Kong, where he was exiled during the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. He returned on the American battleship “McCulloch” to continue the revolt against the Spaniards. With the help of the Americans, Filipino warriors had finally achieved their long overdue triumph over Spain. On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine Independence in Kawit, Cavite, gloriously raising the first Philippine flag made by native Taaleña, Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo.
Felipe Agoncillo, another Taaleño, was the first diplomat to the United States, representing the Philippine Republic. He was also an envoy to the Treaty of Paris in 1898, where he endeavored to block the cession of the Philippines by Spain to the United States. With regard to this, the Filipinos did not succeed in their collective efforts. On December 10, 1898, the Philippines, along with Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and parts of the West Indies, were ceded by Spain to the United States for the sum of $20,000,000.
Philippine-American WAR (1899-1902)
On February 4, 1899, an American sentry patrolling the border between the American and Filipino lines shot a Filipino soldier, after which Filipino forces returned fire, thus igniting the second battle cry for Filipinos. The Philippines declared war against the United States on June 2, 1899. Pedro Paterno, President of Congress, issued a Proclamation of War. The Philippine-American war began in 1899 and officially ended in 1902.
Taal suffered greatly when the Americans put up a garrison in the convent and later burned Taal, from the poblacion to the countryside. Many people were killed. Miraculously a few houses were saved. With the capture of Aguinaldo in March 1901, the remaining days of the war wrote defeat for the Filipino cause. The Philippine leaders accepted defeat after over one million Filipinos died during the American conflict and occupation. Over twenty percent of the country’s population had been killed. Approximately two-hundred thousand men, women, and children perished. American firepower was superior to anything the Filipino insurgency could muster.
In 1934, the Tydings McDuffie Act was passed by the United States Congress. It promised independence to the Philippine islands after a ten year transitional period known as the Philippine Commonwealth. Two Taaleños, Conrado V. Sanchez and Antonino Barrion, were elected as Representatives of the Constitutional Convention of 1934 that drafted the Philippine Constitution of 1935. Conrado V. Sanchez successfully presented precepts of Women’s Suffrage.
In 1935, the National Economic Protection Association, also known as NEPA, was established. It ushered programs and parades with the primary goal of encouraging the patronization of native products. Before the end of the transitional Commonwealth Period, World War II had reached Philippine shores.
Japanese Occupation (1942-1945)
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after Japan’s attack on American aircraft in Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded the northern and southern areas of Manila with aerial bombardment and ordered the landing of ground troops. General Douglas MacArthur (Chief of Staff of the United States Army and Philippine Army Field Marshall) was away in Australia, so the Japanese were able to easily advance and attack. Under the pressure of superior numbers, the defending forces withdrew to the island of Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula. The Japanese occupied Manila on January 2, 1942 and began to immediately organize a new government structure.
On April 9, 1942 the 76,000 starving and sick American and Filipino defenders in Bataan surrendered and were forced to endure the Bataan Death March, where 7,000 to 10,000 died or were murdered (death tolls vary for lack of real records of escapees). The Bataan Death March was the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of Filipino and American prisoners of war after the three-month Battle of Bataan. The march was characterized by a wide range of physical abuse and murder and was later judged by an Allied Military Commission to be a Japanese war crime.
The Japanese detachment headed by Captain Ito was stationed in Taal. The Mayor of that period, Fernando Barrion, was caught between trying to please the conquerors while at the same time protecting his townsmen. He was branded by his people for being a Japanese collaborator, with the guerillas also threatening to kill him. Chief of Police, Numeriano, also suffered the same reputation and hardships.
In 1943, a Taaleño, Petronio B. Huerto, Chief Mate of TSS, Mactan, returned to the Philippines by submarine after bringing wounded soldiers to Australia. He distributed medicine and ammunition to the guerillas and engaged in intelligence work throughout the war in the hills. Fellow Taaleño, Captain Julian Tamayo, was the skipper of the TSS Mactan in this epic voyage to Australia.
Taal men did not wait for the Americans before they took action against the Japanese invaders. Former members of the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) became the nucleus of the resistance movement. The first group was first known as the Volcan Regiment (Volcano Regiment) and later the Kanluran Regiment (West Regiment). When they attached themselves to the 11th Airborne, they became known as the Blue Eagles. Another group, the ROTC Hunters, was lead by Batallion Commander Rafael Zagala, a full-blooded Taaleño who survived the brutal Death March from Balanga, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga. He was one of those who were ferried by rail to Capas,Tarlac and who walked the few last kilometers to Camp O’Donnell.
Taal women were also recruited under the command of 1st Lt. Emiliana Noble. Taal womenfolk set up a hospital and make-shift clinics which took care of released, sick prisoners of war. Taal Doctors who gave free services were, Dr. Dorotea Coronel, Gregorio Noche, Dr. Felino Salazar, and Dr. Isabelo Noble.
During the Japanese era, educational, political, religious, and health services were demoralized and the whole country was flooded with cheap paper money, called “Mickey Mouse Money.” “Mickey Mouse Money” was like play money with little value. When the end of the war was near, Taal’s barrios (enclaves in the countryside) bore the brunt of brutality from the killing and burning Japanese rampage. Many of the people who evacuated to the barrios from the poblacion (town center) were brutally hunted and massacred.
The Japanese occupied the Philippines for over three years until Filipinos succeeded in ousting them with the highly effective guerilla campaign of Filipino resistance forces. The guerillas controlled sixty percent of the islands, in mostly jungle and mountain areas. General Douglas MacArthur helped supply these guerrilla forces with their needs. Using submarines, he sent reinforcements and American officers until his return, where he deployed 700 vessels and 174,000 men to help extinguish Japanese reign.
THE TREATY OF MANILA (1946)
In Manila on July 4, 1946, a treaty of general relations was signed by the Government of the United States and the Republic of the Philippines. The treaty recognized the independence of the Republic of the Philippines and the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands, deemed effective in the United States on October 22, 1946.
TAAL in the Period of Independence from American Rule
Taal was on its way to progress when in 1953, a market debacle caused by a misunderstanding, reduced the town to a purely residential area. This is known as the vendor’s exodus to Lemery. In spite of the debacle, Taal remained a first class town because of the Pansipit Fishery. Taal deteriorated and was classified as a 5th class municipality when two of its barrios, San Nicolas and Sambat, were separated from it.
Today it is slowly but surely improving. It has achieved a Third Class (3rd) municipality ranking within the last 6 years. It is still a peaceful residential town with small business establishments slowly improving the economic landscape, while maintaining the quaint streetscape. Private citizens have rallied Municipal Government Officers in creating sustainable restoration efforts of their landmark structures; promoting tourism, and encouraging fair practices for new business ventures to thrive, to help renew Taal’s glory of yesteryears.
According to Najeeb Saleeby, author of History of Sulu, the development of the Malayan-Filipino passed through four stages. These stages were marked by different historical eras represented by different people with separate cultures. These cultural mixtures make up the DNA of the present Filipino. Since Taal was already a trading hub, it is safe to conclude that the present-day Taaleños are typical of this “cultural mix”:
1) The Prehistoric Era – A primitive culture of mostly hill tribes of Luzon and Mindanao
2) The Commercial Era – Hindu-Malayan culture of pagan tribes of Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon; pre-Spanish occupation.
3) The Firearms Era – A Muslim culture of Moro Tribes
4) The Spanish Era – The Spanish-Christian culture represented by Catholic Filipinos
The Chinese, dating back to pre-Spanish occupation, makes up another cultural influence. The American occupation is also a big cultural influence. Stories passed down from generation to generation reveal that pre-Spanish Filipinos had their own system of government dictated by the Codes of Kalantiao and Margatas. The Spanish colonizers tried to wipe out local culture and destroyed most of the literature of the early years in their attempt to convert the natives to Catholicism. With the disposal of their pagan literature and practices, the locals were made to believe that their history and culture were not worth preserving. This leaves many loopholes, making it difficult for historians to come to a definitive agreement or conclusion about pre-colonial times, as in the era of the Margatas. However, the passing-on of “legends” via oral anecdotes ensured that the history and culture of the Filipinos lived on.
By the same token, the legacies of religion and language left by the Spanish colonizers cannot be denounced, for much of it has proven to serve the Filipinos well. To this day, majority of Filipinos deeply embrace and cherish the Catholic faith, making the Philippines a main stronghold of Catholicism in the world. In terms of Language, Spanish-sounding words permeate the Filipino vocabulary, some with the same Spanish spelling and meanings like: mesa (table), silya (chair), tinedor (fork), kutsara (tablespoon), kutsilyo (knife); kutsarita (teaspoon),etc.
The legacy of religion will never perish in Taal town, for many of its legends and traditions live on. In Taal, people constantly honor their patron saints such as The Lady of Caysasay & St. Martin of Tours, through processions, fiestas and luas. There is also the famous pabasa where incantations of the life of Christ are recited during Lent.
Along with their religious beliefs, the people of Taal are superstitious, like many Filipinos all over the Philippines. Although the younger generations have not been as superstitious, some archaic beliefs of the older Taaleños are:
-The belief that the best day to marry, move, open a store, or establish a business is when the moon is in the growing stage.
-The belief that if a person comes home hungry and greets someone in the house who is also hungry, the person who is already in the house will get very sick.
-The belief that if a corpse is brought down the house, the windows must be closed and the house should not be swept for four days. Cleaning is only done by wiping, using a rag and never by sweeping a broom.
Despite the imposing cultures which have come within these shores, Taaleños have proudly kept many of the Filipino traditions alive. Examples unique to Taal are:
-When newlyweds meet at the threshold of a home, they are fed with honey and a special sticky native rice cake for lifelong understanding, sweetness and togetherness.
-Coins are showered over a newly baptized baby by the godfathers and godmothers for good fortune. Coins are also showered in house blessings and inaugurations of establishments by the sponsors and the guests who then scramble for these same coins. Keeping the picked coins brings the “picker” good luck.
Tagalogs, Taaleños in particular, are very respectful. They always use the word po when talking to elders and superiors as a sign of respect. They practice mano po with their lolos and lolas (grandparents), wherein they bow their heads onto their elder’s hand as a greeting or as permission for departure/blessings.
Some of the most creative, hardworking, and industrious citizens of integrity and pillars of Philippine Society come from Taal. True Taaleños believe that rewards and fortune are not worthy unless it is acquired through honorable work, which can explain why Taal is the Barong Tagalog and Balisong capital of the Philippines (Balisongs are machetes or fan knives). Embroidery-work and forging metal is a long and painstaking process that requires diligence, sophisticated skills and dedication, resulting in finished-products with Taal’s signature intricate craftsmanship.
Taal has been referred to as the “home of heroes” because of the numerous Filipino revolutionaries and patriots that have originated from here. These people are famous for their passionate, bold, adventurous, valiant, and noble characteristics. The Balisong is a great symbol of the fierce warriors of Taal during the bygone eras, who have left a legacy of bravery and love for town and country.
Present-day heritage-warriors who restore their ancestral homes, promote the arts, culture and education, have new bridges to cross and battles fight to ensure that future generations fully appreciate the value of past experiences and the intrinsically rich culture. Civic-minded individuals, church leaders, municipal officers and concerned town folk are encouraged by the “calibrated” and well-planned developments in the town in the recent years. It is a dream to have a common goal and mind-set, to ensure that future development does not destroy the landscape, local practices and the uniqueness of this quaint town.
TAAL by Paulina Gahol Orlina