Filipino culture is a combination of Eastern and Western cultures. The Philippines has aspects found in other Asian countries with Malay heritage, but its culture also shows a significant number of Spanish and American influences.
Traditional festivals known as barrio fiestas (neighbourhood festivals) to commemorate the feast days of patron saints are common. These community festivals involve feasting, music and dancing. The Moriones and Sinulog festivals are some of the best known.
However, some traditions are changing or gradually being forgotten due to modernisation. The Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company has been praised for preserving many of the various traditional folk dances in the Philippines. They are famous for their iconic performances of Filipino dances such as the Tinikling and the Singkil, both of which involve beating bamboo sticks together.
One of the most visible Hispanic legacies is the prevalence of Spanish first and last names among Filipinos; however, a Spanish first and last name does not necessarily imply Spanish ancestry. This peculiarity, unique among the peoples of Asia, is the result of a colonial edict by Governor General Narciso Clavería y Zaldua, who ordered the systematic distribution of surnames and the introduction of Spanish nomenclature among the population. The names of many streets, towns and provinces are also in Spanish. Spanish architecture has left its mark in the Philippines, as many cities were designed around a central square or Plaza Mayor, but many of the buildings that had this influence were demolished during World War II. Some examples remain, mainly among the country’s churches, government buildings and universities. Four Philippine Baroque churches are on the UNESCO World Heritage List: San Agustín Church in Manila, Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Santa María) Church in Ilocos Sur and Santo Tomás de Villanueva Church in Iloilo.
Vigan in Ilocos Sur is also known for the many Hispanic-style houses and buildings preserved there. In Iloilo, many of the colonial buildings from the time of the American occupation of the country can still be seen. Commercial buildings, houses and churches from this period are abundant in the city and especially on Calle Real.
However, certain areas of the country such as Batanes have slight differences as the Spanish and Filipino lifestyles adapted differently due to the climate there and limestone and coral were used as building materials. Idjangs or Ivatan castles were the primary protection of the people from the Spanish conquest of the entire Philippines.
The general use of the English language is an example of American influence on Filipino society. It has contributed to the ready acceptance and influence of American pop cultural trends. This affinity is evident in Filipinos’ preference for fast food and American movies and music. Fast food outlets can be found on many street corners. American global fast food chains have entered the market, but local fast food chains such as Goldilocks and especially Jollibee, the country’s leading fast food chain, have also emerged and compete successfully with their foreign rivals.
Filipino music has developed rapidly due to the various influences stemming from colonialism among other countries. Before the Spanish conquest of the islands, most music was based on or strongly influenced by nature. Some examples of this tribal music are Koyu No Tebulul by the T’boli and Ambo Hato by the Ifugao. This genre is often accompanied by gong music and a well-known instrument is the kulintang.
During the Spanish era, rondalya music, using traditional mandolin-type string orchestra instruments, was widespread. In the Philippines, rondalya refers to any group of stringed instruments played with a pick or plectrum. The Filipino instruments are made of native Filipino wood; the picks or plectrums are made of tortoise shell. Other stringed instruments that make up the standard Filipino rondalla are the 14-string bandurria, found only in the Philippines, the laúd, the octavina, the twelve-string guitar, the ukulele, the bajo de uñas or double bass, the guitarrón mexicano, and other instruments made in the Philippines that were modelled on the guitar. Harana and kundiman are widely used in this period, with these songs often used in courtship rituals
Marcelo Adonay (organist), Simplicio Solis (organist), Diego C. Perez (pianist), Jose Conseco (pianist) and Doña Dolores Paterno (composer) were some of the recognised musicians during this era. Nowadays, American pop culture has a strong influence on Filipinos, evolving from the Spanish period when the American occupation took place. Together with Korean pop, these two dominate the current music scene in the media. However, the revival of Spanish-influenced folk music has been through the various choral groups here and abroad such as the Philippine Madrigal Singers.
Pottery and weaving are among the very earliest art forms to show artistic design in the Philippines and are found in cave dwellings throughout the country. Among them are mainly anthropomorphic clay vessels dating from about 5 B.C. to 225 A.D. Weaving was mainly done by women who used fibres from abaca, pineapple, cotton and bark to make clothes, carpets and hats. Baskets were mainly used to transport grain and other foodstuffs.
Early Filipino sculpture is characterised by frontal nudity. One of the earliest forms are the bulols of the Ifugao people, which serve as promises of rich harvests. The original function of these sculptures is related to the ceremonies and beliefs of the tribes that created them. Arab and Russian missionaries also brought bevelled carvings in the shape of Okkil. The beginnings of this type of sculpture started with the Islamisation of Sulu. The Spanish colonisation of the country did not stop Filipinos from creating sculptures for objects of worship. During this time, sculptures of deities and saints were used to teach Christian doctrines to Filipinos. During American colonialism, believers were not discouraged from creating sculptures to decorate churches.
Filipinos first came into contact with painting when Spain conquered the Philippines, and it was used as religious propaganda and often displayed in churches. However, as education progressed and wealth increased, more and more artists began to move away from traditional religious motifs to a more secular pattern of imagery.
Paintings by early modern painters such as Damián Domingo often still had a religious reference, but the art of Juan Luna and Félix Hidalgo showed a trend towards political statements. The first Filipino national artist Fernando Amorsolo used postmodernism to create paintings that illustrated aspects of Filipino culture, while other artists such as Fernando Zóbel used both realistic and abstract techniques.
In the modern period, the integration of architecture happened in the Art Deco style. Many of these examples can be seen in statues throughout the country, especially in public parks and squares.
As a general description, Filipinos’ distinct value system is rooted primarily in personal covenant systems, especially those based on kinship, commitment, friendship, religion (especially Christianity) and commercial relationships.
Filipino values are largely focused on maintaining social harmony, motivated primarily by the desire to be accepted within a group. The main sanction against deviating from these values are the concepts of “Hiya“, roughly translated as “sense of shame”, and “Amor propio” or “self-esteem”. Social recognition, acceptance by a group and belonging to a group are important concerns. Concern about what others will think, say or do strongly influences Filipinos’ social behaviour.
Other elements of the Filipino value system are optimism about the future, pessimism about present situations and events, concern and care for others, the presence of friendship and kindness, the habit of being hospitable, religious character, respect for self and others, respect for the female members of society, fear of God and abhorrence of fraud and theft.
Internationally, the Philippines has been well documented for its success in beauty pageants. While in most parts of the world the popularity of formal female beauty pageants has declined, in the Philippines they remain both popular and widespread. The country’s recent surge in the Miss Universe pageant in the 2010s alone marks the renewed interest of not only the Philippines but also the rest of Asia as a whole in international beauty pageants against their rivals in Latin America. Binibining Pilipinas is an event closely followed throughout the country, along with other major national pageants such as Miss Philippines Earth and Miss World Philippines. The Philippines has won one Miss World, three Miss Universe, five Miss International and three Miss Earth, making it the third country in the world (after Brazil and Venezuela, and the first country in Asia) to win all four major international beauty pageants.
Just like the development of Filipino music, dance was also subject to constant change. Before colonial rule, the Philippines had a variety of ethnic dances from different tribal groups. This is mainly due to the fact that the Philippines is an island, which is how the different types of dance developed. Both Luzon and Visayas were initially more similar to tribal movements until the Spanish arrived. Mindanao represents more of a set of Muslim-inspired dances and the Spanish influence was minimal in the Zamboanga region.
Universal dances are found in the Philippines at social functions such as rituals, mimicry, life cycle and parties. During the Spanish era, most dances were accompanied by rondalya music, usually with 14-string bandurrias invented by Filipinos or with other stringed instruments that also evolved locally in the culture.
A well-known dance is the Tinikling, which involves a band of Rondalya musicians playing along to the percussive beat of the two bamboo poles. It usually begins with men and women playing a scene about how the rural people “mix”. The dancers then roam around beating the bamboo poles together, which are held on opposite sides. The end shows the paired bamboo poles crossing each other. The Muslim version of this, which also uses bamboo poles, is called singkil. Nowadays, in modern and post-modern times, dances vary from graceful ballet to the more street-oriented styles of break dancing, to name a few.
Filipino cuisine has evolved over several centuries from its Malay Polynesian origins to a mixed cuisine with many Hispanic, Chinese, American and other Asian influences adapted to local ingredients and the Filipino palate to create distinctive Filipino dishes. Dishes range from very simple dishes like fried salted fish and rice to elaborate dishes like paellas and cocidos created for fiestas.
Popular dishes include lechón, adobo, sinigang, kare-kare, tapa, crispy pata, pancit, lumpia and halo-halo. Some common local ingredients used in cooking are calamondins, coconuts, saba (a type of short, wide plantain), mangoes, milkfish and fish sauce. Filipino taste buds tend to prefer strong flavours, but the cuisine is not as spicy as neighbouring countries.
Unlike many of their Asian counterparts, Filipinos do not eat with chopsticks but with Western cutlery. Possibly due to the fact that rice is the primary staple food and a large number of stews and main dishes with broth are popular in Filipino cuisine, the main pairing of utensils seen at the Filipino dining table is that of spoon and fork, not knife and fork.
The traditional way of eating with the hands, known as kamayan (bringing the food to the mouth with the washed right hand), used to be seen more in the less urbanised areas. However, with the various Filipino restaurants introducing Filipino food to people of other nationalities as well as Filipino city dwellers, kamayan quickly became popular. This new trend sometimes includes the “Boodle Fight” concept (as popularised and coined by the Philippine Army), where banana leaves are used as giant plates on which rice portions and Filipino foods are placed for a childlike, friendly and/or communal kamayan feast.
Various sports and pastimes are popular in the Philippines, including basketball, boxing, cockfighting, volleyball, football (football), American football, both rugby sports, badminton, karate, taekwondo, billiards, bowling, chess and sipa. Motocross, cycling and mountaineering are also becoming more popular. Basketball is played at both amateur and professional levels and is considered the most popular sport in the Philippines. In 2010, Manny Pacquiao was named “Fighter of the Decade” for the 2000s (decade) by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA), the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO). The country’s national martial art and sport is Arnis, Eskrima or Kali in some regions.
The Philippines has participated in the Summer Olympics since 1924 and was the first Southeast Asian country to participate and win a medal. Since then, the country has participated in every Summer Olympics except for the US-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics. The Philippines is also the first tropical nation to participate in the Winter Olympics, making its debut in 1972.
Traditional Filipino games such as Luksung Baka, Patintero, Piko and Tumbang Preso are still played mainly as children’s games among the youth. Sungka is a traditional indigenous Filipino board game. Card games are popular at festivals, with some, including pusoy and tong-its, used as a form of illegal gambling. Mahjong is played in some Filipino communities.
Sabong or cockfighting is another popular entertainment especially among Filipino men and existed before the arrival of the Spaniards. Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Magellan, first documented this pastime in the Kingdom of Taytay. The yo-yo, a popular toy in the Philippines, was introduced in its modern form by Pedro Flores, the name coming from the Ilokano language.