Thursday, May 24, 2012

Culture Share: Philippines - Engagement and Wedding feasts in Ifugao

This post is part of The Writer's International Culture Share, in which writers discuss their personal experience with world cultures: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz discusses engagement and wedding feasts in the Ifugao province of the Philippines.

Engagement and Wedding feasts in Ifugao by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

In Ifugao, courtship begins with a show of informal interest between a man and a woman.  If a man is interested in pursuing a formal relationship with the woman, his first step is to approach the elders of the woman’s family. Not just her parents but also her elders.

While there may be some unspoken agreement (as tends to be the case in this modern age) the woman’s family will still ask the woman for her reply to the man after the man has presented his case and asked for the permission to court her formally.

If the woman says “no” before the elders, this means the man has been turned down. If she says “yes” to the man’s declaration, then it means that they will have to arrange for a formal engagement ceremony. This ceremony is negotiated by the mediator and usually takes place some months after the woman has given her “yes” to the man’s declaration.

To the Ifugao, this formal courtship is the man’s statement of his seriousness and his intent to marry.
If the woman says yes then the following things take place:

1.    The man has to bring a mediator who will speak on his behalf. In my brother’s case, we had a family friend who was a former Mumbaki (native priest). This man agreed to negotiate and act as go-between for elders of the woman’s clan and my brother.
2.    The mediator is very important because it is he who negotiates the date for the engagement ceremony which must take place before the entire clan. This engagement ceremony is called the moma.
3.    The mediator also negotiates the number of pigs the prospective groom must bring to the moma. In my brother’s case, he was asked to bring two pigs of a good size.
4.    During the engagement ceremony itself, only the groom, the mediator and members of the woman’s clan are present.  Sometimes a member of the groom’s family will be allowed to attend, but basically the ceremony is held for the woman’s clan.

These are symbolic elements used during the engagement ceremony:
Dried Meat

In some cases, the engagement ceremony is as far as it goes. Marriage is a very costly endeavour and unlike marriages in cities like Manila that are westernized, there is no such thing as rsvp when you get married in Ifugao.

In Ifugao, the wedding feast is a community endeavour with the entire community pitching in and everyone working together to prepare the food and to provide for the wedding feast.

Tradition dictates that marriage should take place a year after the engagement ceremony. Terms are set before the engagement. In the case of my youngest brother, his wife-to-be expressed her desire to continue on with her intention to obtain her degree in medicine. In this, her family as well as my brother agreed to support her.

Terms were also set with regards to what the family desires the man to provide for the marriage ceremony. The normal demand is for the groom to provide ten to twelve good-sized pigs for the wedding feast.

Some couples chose to elope or to get married in the Western way to evade the high costs. Some get married in the city as getting married in the mountains costs a lot. One of our friends who got married spent half a million pesos for her wedding. This included the cost of a wedding performed in the Christianized way as well as the cost of a marriage feast conducted in the Ifugao way.

There is a reason why ten to twelve pigs are asked for.  A marriage is meant to be celebrated with the entire village and it is meant to symbolize a sharing of joy as well as a sharing of abundance.  It is not simply an endeavour of the groom. The bride’s family and her community contribute towards the feast as well. Some will bring rice for the marriage feast, others will bring salt and herbs needed for cooking, and others will bring vegetables as well as other delicious treats.

During the wedding feast itself, there is no telling the exact number of guests who will come as the feast is open for guests who are considered family, friends, and members of community as well as the extended community.

Rochita was the first Filipina writer to be accepted into the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop. She attended the workshop in 2009 as the recipient of the Octavia Butler Scholarship. At present, Rochita resides in the Netherlands, but this could change in the future. Her short fiction has been published in The Philippines as well as outside of The Philippines. She has a livejournal at

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