In his younger days my father was supposedly a very good singer. So good that he was usually asked by local men to help them in the middle-of-the-night courting ritual so popular in the old days called harana. It was supposedly a romantic spur of the moment act on the man’s part, to wake up the focus of his affection with songs of love and longing accompanied by nothing but a guitar, but I for one do not believe that it was ever really that spontaneous: for what young woman would want to be woken up in the middle of the night, sleep in her eyes, unkempt and hair all a tangle and be expected to be gracious about it? I am sure that advanced words would have always been served, and the intended young woman would have spent hours in anticipation, if the feelings were mutual.
At the appointed hour, a small group of young men, usually three: the suitor, the singer and the guitar player, would turn up at the woman’s house, whose front window would always be shut, indicating that everyone was asleep. The opening strains of guitar strings, the pasakalye would break the silence of the night, and a strong but soothing masculine voice would then join the music with a composition appropriate for the moment. The first song could be something like “O Ilaw”, comparing the intended to a bright beacon of light in the night.
It is not expected that the window would open after the first song, as this would indicate an over-eager young woman, so a second or even third song would be in order. One of the more popular was “Pakiusap”:
|“Natutulog ka ba? Irog kong matimtiman?||Are you asleep, my chaste love?|
|Tunghayan mo ang larawan ng nagpapahabag;||Please gaze at this pleading image|
|Dahan-dahan mutya, buksan mo ang bintana||Slowly my love, open the window|
|Tanawin mo’t kahabagan ang sa iyo’y nagmamahal.”||Look down and have a heart for the one who pines for you.|
After this, and if the intended was receptive, the window would open, the young woman demurely seated and always with a chaperone. If all goes well, and after another song, then men would be invited up, and more songs, carefully selected to indicate the desire for a closer and more passionate intention would be in order. This could go one for hours, and would usually end with “Umaga Na Pala!” indicating surprise at how quickly, and hopefully how well, the evening went.
While the outcome of the ritual mainly depends on the mutual feelings between the suitor and the intended, a good singer could very well influence the result as well, and many young men usually tried their best to engage the very best. My father, we were always told, was one of these singers, and as such was always a popular choice.
Whether that was true or not, I will never know. While we were growing up, with a business to run and all these children to look after, he was just way too busy to indulge in trivial things such as singing those old-fashioned haranas that were so much a part of his youth. He did have time, though, to sing to us, as my sister Ennie recently reminded me, especially just before bedtime, when he would just as easily burst into a simple song:
“Telebong-telebong, and tatay nagsabong,
nanalo ng piso, isinakay pa sa awto!
Ang awto’y pabaling-baling
and tsuper pala’y duling,
Nabangga sa pader, naipit si Mang Enteng!
Sa tulay ng Colgante may kaligay, kabibe,
may ipinanganak na babae, ang pangala’y si Here.
Si Hereng lapot-lapot, kung kumai’y kakarumpok,
bumili ng binatog, habang daa’y kinukutkot!
These were mostly nonsensical children’s ditties and did not in any significant way showcase the voice that, at least in his own little part of the world, made him a well-known and popular figure.
Much later in his old age, when life had virtually grounded to a halt for him, I would sometimes slip quietly on to the verandah while he was there by himself, and catch him in mid-song. The voice by that time was in tatters, the sounds choked and just a bit stifled. But every now and again the voice would float ever so easily, lovingly caressing and shaping a line and I would in that one brief moment almost believe that my father was the great singer they said he was. I can still see him now, sitting in the front porch thinking he was all alone, his mind some place far away, lost in the words of those gentle love songs with which he used to serenade beautiful young maidens of so many decades gone by.
|“Kung ako’y mamamatay, sa lungkot n’yaring buhay||If I should ever die from the sadness of this life|
|Lumapit ka lang, lumapit ka lang, at mabubuhay.||Just being close to you, I will live again.|
|At kung magkagayon, mutya’y maganap na ang buhay ko,||And should that happen my love, life would be complete|
|Magdaranas ako ng tuwa, ng dahil sa iyo.||I will then have joy because of you.|
|Madaling araw na sinta, liwanag ko’t tanglaw,||Dawn has arrived, my light, my muse|
|Halina irog ko, at mahalin mo ako!||Come, my beloved, come and love me!|
© August 2007