WHAT was Malakas and Maganda doing before the bluebird pecked open their bamboo nook?

Cracking the question is as tricky as unfolding early Filipinos’ attitudes toward love, marriage and sex before the Spaniards came to our shores.

Our indigenous communities, narratives, and language constructions show that Filipinos were typical Asians—creative about love and lovemaking, but which they placed within the context of taboos that served lasting romance. Our “conservative” values may well be our copyright.

But some historians say Filipinos were sexually indulgent originally until the friars “repressed” our women. The problem with these scholars is that they take to faith contradicting Western accounts, some of which purposely “demonized” the pagan natives.

Consider this: The dalagang Filipina is said to be originally malandi.

“The women are beautiful but unchaste,” wrote Miguel de Loarca on the Pintados in 1582. “They do not hesitate to commit adultery, because they receive no punishment. Women are extremely lewd, and they even encourage their daughters to a life of unchastity.”

But Joseph de Laporte‘s La Voyageur Francois gives a contrary account: “The women of this country are of an ugliness which makes the practice of chastity easy.” De Laporte’s advisory is self-contradictory, too. On one hand, he says “there was open profession and a free exercise of (sexual) incontinence,” yet “adultery is treated like homicide” and “polygamy is not allowed at all.”

In the surprising triple-X notes of Magellan’s scribe, Antonio Pigafetta, Filipinos were said to use “abominable” phallic rings. How come Pigafetta knew? He deliberately demanded the natives a show! Either Pigafetta was honest, or his take was meant to please his voyeuristic fancy.

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Virgins or vamps? Jose Rizal was on the defensive. In his Annotations to Morga, he points to the “the religious annals of the early missions filled with countless instances where native maidens chose death than sacrifice their chastity to the Spanish.”

To clear the “issue,” we can survey our indigenous communities whose cultural values remain intact. Their tribal taboos, premarital etiquette, grand marriage arrangements and dowries, and laborious paninilbihan systems have conspired to effect a “no touch, touch move” (no pre- and extramarital sex) rule.

Anthropologist F. Landa Jocano concedes that having multiple partners in early Philippines was allowed but it was uncommon. Too uncommon that 1605 chronicler Fr. Pedro Chirino denied cases of polygamy in Manila, Mindoro, Marinduque, Panay, and other islands. Chirino wrote that he “had lived in the Filipinas almost 10 years” before he even encountered a Don Juan.

In his Filipino Indigenous Ethnic Communities, Jocano notes that divorce was not even permitted in some groups of Agtas, and “even if allowed is rarely practiced. Couples tend to be loyal and faithful to each other.” Our modern heavy litigation of annulment cases is ancient wisdom to the upland Bagobos, whose “divorce involves returning the dowry or losing it in any case.”

One man for one woman. This ideal is no less obvious in our creation myths, and stories of God-men who settled to live with one partner, multiply, and live happily thereafter. So we have the Tagalog Malakas and Maganda, the Visayan Sicalac and Sicavay, the Ifugao Uvigan and Bugan, the Bogobo Toglai and Toglibon, the Ilocano Lam-Ang and Ines, etc.

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Was there any Brokeback Mountain story? Well, the Bilaans tell of a god Melu who formed two men from his dead skin. They were at first alone in all earth. But there’s a subtext: They eventually felt unhappy that Melu made women out of their hair and dry skin for their companions. End of story.

Besides literature, we can also check our language to establish our cultural values. For instance, the Tagalog would call their wives “may-bahay,” indicating women’s right in the household. The family is called “mag-anak,” referring to the procreative nature of the family. And the beloved is held precious, “minamahal.”

This Valentine’s, let’s cherish our Pinoy-style love, marriage, and romance. Who knows, Filipinos may yet make better couples.

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