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Leo Francis F.


Hi185 Cultural History of the Philippines

Research Paper

A Historical and Cultural Survey of Marriage in the Philippines:

Law, Custom, and Religion
This study is a survey essay of the cultural history of marriage in the Philippines. Noting a general lack in
a detailed history of marriage in the Philippines, this study does not aim to provide the comprehensive
history of marriage in the Philippines that is missing in the literature. Instead, this paper seeks to outline
some ways by which to approach such a project in the future by creating a brief survey of marriage in the
Philippines and its concomitant historical elements. As such, this essay aims to explain the salience of
marriage as a historical institution in the Philippines, provide a brief narrative of the development of
marriage in the Philippines, identify the social forces that conditioned the temporal development of
marriage in the Philippines, identify major cultural themes in the understanding of marriage in the
Philippines, and provide recommendations on how to write a history of marriage in the Philippines.
Ultimately, it is the historicity of marriage that this essay seeks to highlight in order to establish some
common foundational ground from which to base future studies.
Key words: marriage, Filipino, culture, practice, norm, symbol, theology of marriage, meaning, institution,
rite, law, spouse

Marriage and the family constitute two inseparable, pervasive, and all-important institutions in a
given society. Responsible for more than just the transmission of life, these basic institutions condition the
ways by which societies operate by governing and regulating sexual norms between individuals, as well
as by being the primary agents responsible for the upbringing and education of offspring (state institutions
such as schools being secondary agents). At the same time, these institutions are also governed,
regulated, and conditioned by historical developments, cultural norms, shared values and expectations,
and greater societal forces. As such, marriage is observed to have both similarities and differences in the
development of form (or even substance) across societies. We turn to the Philippines to examine the
ways by which indigenous marriage practices were formed, were shaped, and continue to persist
throughout centuries of colonization and Christianization.
This essay is a survey essay on the history of marriage in the Philippines. As a historical survey,
it does not seek to formulate a grand narrative of the history of marriage and explain it through a singular
thesis. Rather, it is the historicity of marriage that the essay seeks to highlight in order to establish some
common foundational ground from which to base future studies. Moreover, this study is concerned with
marriage as a cultural and historical institution. As such, it will not deal intensively with the doctrinal
foundations of marriage nor take them as standard truth. As a survey essay of cultural history, use of
theological sources is restricted to being used to understand the religious meanings associated with

marriage and how marriage practices are affected by these spiritual convictions. The assumption is that
the nexus between religious belief and marriage practice is unexplored, thereby possibly leading to the
hypothesis that their relationship may not be as coherent, automatic, uniform, or stable. Moreover, while
the study is a survey essay and will thus have relatively great temporal and spatial scope, it will not go
into most of its findings in detail. The objective, to reiterate, is not to analyze particular instances or
moments of marriage as a historical institution but to demonstrate how marriage is, on the whole, a
cultural and historical institution. Therefore it will not use any sophisticated sociological theory to provide
a catch-all explanation for the development of marriage (although sociological theories are applied to
explain some aspects of marriage relations). Rather, it seeks to piece together salient points about the
history of marriage for better nuancing in the future.
This study takes on two major historical dimensions in its approach: the temporal and the spatial.
Simply put, because the study is a survey essay, it seeks to highlight the salient features of the history of
marriage in the entire Philippines from pre-colonial times to the modern era all the while taking into
account regional variations. In it, I shall selectively parse through marriage patterns across the regions of
the Philippines as I briefly tell the story of marriage itself from the times prior to Spanish colonization to
the present day. It will not contain in-depth analyses of each major point. Rather, the objective of
magnifying the details is to demonstrate the institutions historicity and to provide a detailed guidepost for
a future, more comprehensive work.

Marriage What is It?

In this essay, I argue that the proper way by which we can approach the history of marriage,
particularly in the Philippines, is to conceive of marriage as a social institution, as a system of customs,
and as a religious rite and sacrament. These three interdependent dimensions of marriage, to be sure,
dispense of interlocking conceptualizations that cut across the disciplines. That is to say, the history of
marriage can only be written if the very historicity of marriage is examined from the perspective of multiple
intellectual traditions that have guided humanitys collective understanding of marriage and how this
understanding shaped the story and development of marriage. This is because marriage as a subject
matter and object of inquiry is frequently analyzed in terms of the viewpoints obtaining in mans social,

political, cultural, and spiritual experience. It is with this premise that I justify my extensive borrowing from
the fields of sociology and theology to frame marriage as history and marriage as culture in my tripartite
definition of marriage as social institution, system of customs, and religious rite.
Marriage as a social institution speaks of how it forms a discrete and essential component of any
given society. It refers to how it is a tradition that forms through the years of human existence, is modified
by historical experience, and is appropriated by society to meet certain goals. This conception of marriage
is therefore structural and functional. As a dimension of marriage, it takes into account how its history
reveals societal forces coming together to erect and maintain certain systems of relationships associated
with matrimony. These societal forces come in the form of political power, ideological persuasions,
economic conditions, cultural tenets, religious influence, etc. It is deeply ingrained in the idea that
marriage and the family are a form of associational life between private individuals and governed by
public concerns and public choices. While at the very core, marriage is a relationship established
between two individuals, from the perspective of society it is first and foremost a contract. As such, an
intimate understanding of law and how the law works is necessary in the elucidation of the history of
marriage as a social institution. Some of the social forces that inform our idea of marriage history in the
Philippines are the advent of colonization, the Christianization of indigenous tribes, the erection of a state
apparatus, the enacting of formal laws (civil and canonical) that regulate the institution of marriage, and
the changes in sexual norms and beliefs that come with secularization.
Marriage as a system of customs and practices highlights the more human and agential element
to marriage. That is, it seeks to view marriage as a way by which human beings express themselves in
the world, in society, and to each other. This is also notably the more cultural dimension to the study of
marriage, as it is a way by which society forms for itself a notion of identity, creatively building upon the
institutions that sustain and regulate it to affect a sense of transcendence and contingency. As such,
studying this dimension of marriage entails examining marriage practices and customs with all their
associated and embedded meanings and symbols that attend their significance in a lived culture.
Marriage as a religious rite or sacrament brings to attention the conspicuous and vitally
inseparable religious underpinnings of the institution itself, which in the Philippines fall mostly under the
ambit of the Catholic Church. Marriage and family are unique in that they are primary social institutions in

which the Church takes vital interest. In fact, it is marriage among the social institutions and systems of
customs and practices that exist in society that is also governed by religion. No other institution or cultural
system in most modern societies has that same distinction of sharing its governance by history, social
conditions, and state laws, with churches and their own varying spiritualities. The relationship and the
tensions between civil and canonical laws on marriage exhibit this distinction quite well (Sta. Rita, 1964).
But beyond that, spirituality also conditions marriage as an institution and cultural entity because it has
the primary responsibility for the transmission of life, and therefore, the perpetuation of a given society.
And still further, marriage and the family bring forth a mingling of cultural and spiritual notions of such
values as love, devotion, commitment, fidelity, work, happiness, etc. It is with these in mind,
notwithstanding the fact that marriage has been a supremely spiritual affair as it was a socio-cultural one
ever since man came to build society, that I posit the third dimension of marriage history as a religious rite
or sacrament.
It is with the above framework that I attempt to provide a brief sketch of the history of marriage in
the Philippines. Hopefully, my marriage theory in the three dimensions and their attendant themes
explained above will help the development of scholarship in the cultural history of marriage in the

Marriage in the Philippines A Brief Historical Sketch

Several aspects must be noted when discussing marriage in pre-colonial Philippines. Prior to
Spanish colonization, pre-colonial Philippines was largely characterized by the cultures of different
agrarian societies and disparate nomadic and horticultural tribes. Due to the closeness of social relations
as was needed for the survival of their miniature polities, the extended family unit was the most cohesive
component of society. Strong networks, alliances, bonds, and kinship ties were what characterized precolonial Philippine society, as was evident in the existence of very large families. Marriage in traditional
societies, where mechanized tools have yet to appear in order to make work more efficient, was an
institution developed in order to provide society a steady supply of labor. The reason that marriage and
family at that time was closely guarded and governed by very strict norms was to ensure the stability of

the contract that would guarantee the production and decent upbringing of offspring, who would
contribute to the future of the tribe, the farm, or the barangay.
Another aspect about pre-colonial Philippines that must be highlighted is its animist religious


orientation. Save for the southern sultanates that were Islamized in the 14 and 15 centuries, the rest of
the Philippine archipelago was inhabited by peoples who believed in elementals and nature spirits,
prayed to varying gods and goddesses, and worshipped their ancestors. As such, marriage and all its
Christian theological underpinnings were completely unknown at this time. The fortunes of marriage and
the family were determined by the capricious favors and blessings bestowed by the gods to whom the
natives subscribed and submitted their fate. Nid Anima (1975) observes that a marital union in preChristian Philippines was always addressed to a pagan god. Therefore, at this time, Christian concepts
such as the love between the spouses mirroring Christs love for His Church were well inexistent. It was a
pagan god, not Christ, that ruled over a natives household. Fr. David Antonio (2002), in studying how to
develop an inculturation model of the Catholic marriage ritual in the context of Ilocano unions, notes that
pre-colonial religion was one of anitism. He cites Fray Andres San Nicoles (1664) in elaborating on how
the Spaniards who came to the Philippines saw the natives worship of anitos or spirits as enslavement by
the devil. In fact, the Ilocano anitos were simply just primitive spirits of persons who perished violently

and may be buried beneath a tree and from whom the Ilocanos asked permission to penetrate a forest or
to cut trees. For pre-colonial Ilocano marriage ceremonies, these were administered by old men, or
women called catalonas. At these rites, the practice of offering sacrifices (as is common in most animist
cultures) was observed, with the Ilocano sacrifices called maganitos.
Anima (ibid.) continues further and identifies other incontrovertible features of marriage customs
that were common in the non-Christian tribes of pre-colonial Philippines. Firstly, courtship was nonexistent. As a contract, marriage was primarily viewed as a transaction more than a social relation and the
establishment of new life. Courtship as a prerequisite to marriage was introduced with the advent of
Christianity, where the practice of courting served as proof of love, commitment, and fidelity, quite unlike
the impersonal exchange of goods or monetary compensation. Indeed, Anima (ibid.) obliquely indicates
that the dowry system formed an indispensable part of traditional marriage, where the dowry was meant
only for the bride-to-be, always arranged and delivered before the wedding, and even casts some form

of stigma. A perusal of some primary sources would help corroborate and confirm this significant finding.
In an undated relacion, the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi condescendingly takes note
of the transactional nature of marriage in the Philippines, which he finds savage:
"Marriage among these natives is a kind of purchase or trade, which the men make; for they pay
and give money in exchange for their women, according to the rank of the parties. The sum thus
paid is divided among the parents and relatives of the woman. Therefore the man who has many
daughters is considered rich. After marriage, whenever the husband wishes to leave his wife, or
to separate from her, he can do so by paying the same sum of money that he gave for her.
Likewise the woman can leave her husband, or separate from him, by returning the double of
what he gave for her. The men are permitted to have two or three wives, if they have money
enough to buy and support them. The men treat their wives well, and love them according to their
habits and customs - although they are all barbarians and have no manners or politeness."

Father Pedro Chirino (1604) makes a similar observation, albeit more neutral in tone, about the existence
of a dowry:
"In the marriage there figures a dowry, and the surrender of the woman, with consent for the
present, but not perpetual. It is not the wife, but the husband, who gives her the dowry - an
amount agreed upon, and fixed in accordance with his means."
Antonio de Morga (1609) also confirms the existence of a dowry system:
"The dowry was furnished by the man, being given by his parents. The wife furnished nothing for
the marriage, until she had inherited it from her parents. The solemnity of marriage consisted in
nothing more than the agreement between the parents and relatives of the contracting parties,
the payment of the dowry agreed upon to the father of the bride, and the assembling at the wife's
parents' house of all the relatives to eat and drink until they would fall down."
Miguel de Loarca, in another undated relacion, does not mention the dowry system, but note the relative
ease and peculiarity which characterizes the marriage process he describes. It would seem that asking
ones hand in marriage and simply pledging payment would wholly suffice:
When any man wishes to marry, he, since the man always asks the woman, calls in certain
timaguas who are respected in the village. The chiefs, them, I say, send as go-betweens some of
their timaguas, to negotiate the marriage. One of these men takes the young man's lance from
his father, and when he reaches the house of the girl's father he thrusts the spear into the
staircase of the house; and while he holds the lance thus, they invoke their gods and ancestors,
requesting them to be propitious to this marriage. If the marriage takes place, the lance belongs
to the go-between, or it is redeemed.
The above passage validates two things about our understanding of pre-colonial marriage. One is the
relative absence of a courtship process. The second, as Anima (ibid.) would verify, is that superstition

plays a significant role in the realization of marriage. This, after all, is simply an extension of the premise
that pre-colonial marriage was primarily animist in outlook.


There are more aspects that describe pre-colonial marriage in the Philippines. Anima (ibid.) says
that parental intervention always attends a marriage. I believe this was also evident in the preceding
passages. But what is striking is the observation that pre-colonial marriages in the Philippines were also
generally monogamous (Anima, 1975; Antonio, 2002). Chirino (ibid.) attests to this, adding that only the
Muslims in the south prevalently practiced polygamy:
"I had lived in the Filipinas for almost ten years before I learned that there was any man who had
married several wives; and I did not know it until I went to the islands of Ibabao and Leite, for in
Manila, Mindoro, Marinduque, and Panai, I had not observed the practice of such a custom. I had,
however, been told once by a Spaniard that in a certain part of Mindanao, toward Dapitan, it was
the custom for the Bissayan women... to marry two husbands; the practice of having several
wives I had understood to belong only to the Mahometans who dwell in Mindanao and Brunei. It
is certainly, however, not a general custom in the Filipinas to marry more than one wife."
This is not to say that men and women at that time were almost completely equal, although they had
some semblance of equality. For instance, Chirino (ibid.) says that while in a divorce, the division of
children between the husband and wife was generally equal, but the divorce customs were generally
harsher on women:
"For the husband, the adultery of his wife is sufficient ground for divorce; for the woman, just
cause for divorce is more limited. In case of divorce, the children are divided equally between the
two, without distinction of sex; thus, if they are two in number, one falls o the father and one to the
mother; and in a state of slavery the same thing occurs when husband and wife belong to
different masters."
Of course, punishment for adultery itself was generally not harsh. In keeping with the transactional nature
of marriage, de Morga (1609) notes similarly that a fee was sufficient for atoning for such a crime.
Adultery was not punished corporally by the aggrieved party but was compensated for by a fee (Belen,

Our informants from the early 17 century reveal additional things about the pre-Christian norms
of marriage among the Philippine tribes. For instance, de Morga (ibid.) notes that concubinage was a
common practice at that time, since it was not rare for a man to live with his wifes sister. Incest was also
tolerated to an extent, where uncles and nieces and first cousins would marry each other freely, barring

combinations of brother and sister, grandfather and granddaughter, and father and daughter (Chirino,
With the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, they brought with them a force that would significantly
alter the make-up of the institution of marriage and its associated practices in the Philippines: Christianity.
Indeed, the Spanish colonial project was anchored on the missionary spirit and evangelizing zeal of the
West in their efforts to propagate Catholicism in unknown lands and counter the growing strength of
Protestantism in the European mainland. And so began the colonization of the erstwhile fragmented
archipelago, with the erection of a colonial state and the beginnings of a Church presence in the
Two things must be remembered when studying the influence of Christianity on Filipino life during
the Spanish period (Christianity was after all the organizing principle of Hispanic colonization and
imperialism). First is that the Church was closely tied to the State. The system that existed at that time
was called the patronato real in which the Spanish monarch was the sworn Defender of the Faith (Fidei
defensor) and so accorded the Church the prerogative of state support, endorsement, and enforcement
(De la Costa, 1965). For our study of the history of marriage, this means that the laws governing marriage
in the Philippines were Church laws, as canonical law and civil law during the Spanish period were almost
always one and the same. The second thing that we must remember is that the imposition of Christianity
did not bring about the complete destruction of native culture. To be sure, the Spanish authorities and
friars had been very successful in eradicating the explicit expression of pagan-inspired practices in the
Philippines. But by no means was the Christianity received by the natives the same Christianity that the
Spaniards had intended to cultivate. In many ways the spread of Christianity was shallow and uneven,
and this reflects well in the syncretic nature of marriage practices in the Philippines even after extensive
As is stated above, the laws that were binding on the practice of marriage in the country were
essentially Church laws, which had no force and effect unless enacted upon by the civil authorities. In
particular, the forms and solemnities of marriage were all governed by the statutes of the Church as
elaborated in the Council of Trent (1545-1563), as these were the laws accepted in the Spanish kingdom
(Fisher, 1926). Thus reads the said Council:

"The State might, and did, legislate concerning the civil effects of marriage, but its creation and
dissolution were subject to the jurisdiction of the Church exclusively. The Catholic Church
uncompromisingly maintains the doctrine that marriage, once validly contracted, can be dissolved
only by death.
As such, many of the norms regulating and governing marriage during the Spanish period were
indisputably Christian. As it is stated in Catholic doctrine, divorce shall henceforth be prohibited and the
only way spouses could separate was through valid dissolution or through annulment.
The entry of Christianity also introduced some new practices in the institution of marriage and the
customs that were observed prior to the marriage itself. Anima (ibid.) notes that Christianized tribes
developed various forms of courtship as a prerequisite to marriage. For instance, the Ilocanos developed
a preference for teasing as a way of courting ones beloved. Singing and serenading also became
incorporated in the native practice of courtship, known as suayan in Ilocos, which was a kind of
balagtasan-in-song. Another form of courtship was rooster courtship in Ilocos, Pangasinan, Zambales,
or even some parts of Mindanao. An old man with a rooster serves as a go-between for the couple, in
which the bride-to-be inquires of the roosters origins (the suitor) and expresses her sentiments. Also,
although most of the tribes were Christianized, they retained many of their animist practices. For instance,
love charms were extensively used for courtship in different regions, along with the taga-amo of
Pangasinan, panggayuma of the Tagalog region, and even the love potions of the Igorots. In Palawan,
instead of singing to or bewitching ones beloved, it would suffice to simply be able to answer love riddles.
In many of the regions, wedding gifts were common because Filipinos belong to a gift-giving culture
(Anima, 1975; Antonio, 2002). All in all, marriage and courtship practices symbolized a fusion of
indigenous and Christian perceptions of love during the Spanish colonial period. In a southern Bulacan
matrimonial ballad (which was commonly a part of the marriage ritual) analyzed by Paula Malay (1966),
she explained that the subject of love was premised on Gods love and expressed by Jesus Christs
suffering on the cross. The man and womans role was defined allegorically by the roles of Adam and
Eve. It was a very religious ballad, but she argued that it certainly was not theological. It was rather very
folklorish since it revealed many aspects of indigenous attitudes towards marriage, such as the mixture of
the feeling of security and fear of uncertain future when one is married, the desire for lambingan or

affection, and marriage as a matter of the two people concerned (although the parents played a
significant part).

At the end of the 19 century, liberalism in Spain had affected the enactment of her laws in the
Indies, as Associate Justice F.C. Fisher of the Philippine Supreme Court during the American Period
(ibid.) explains. The Spanish Constitution of 1869 was the result of a struggle for religious liberty and the
recognition of the freedom to worship. The Law of Civil Marriage (1870) allowed officers of the State who
were not priests to solemnize marriage. The Spanish Civil Code of (1889) recognized both the canonical
and civil forms of marriage. Although it still insisted on the indissolubility of marriage, for the first time it
made provisions for legal separation and stipulated grounds for divorce.


This was a breakthrough

because with the promulgation of the Civil Code in the Philippines by extension of Royal Decree, it had
superseded centuries of legal jurisdiction of the Council of Trent, making it legally possible to celebrate
civil marriages in the Philippines where they may now be solemnized not just by priests but also by
judges and justices of the peace. However, Fisher (ibid.) notes that this lasted for only a few months.
Spanish Governor-General Valeriano Weyler suspended several titles of the Civil Code on marriage,
particularly on civil marriage and judicial separation, restoring the old regime and reversing liberalization
until the coming of the Americans.
American rule in the Philippines finally instituted civil marriage as a legitimate path for
establishing a family, with the enactment of General Order No. 68 by Major General Elwell Otis as
Commander-in-Chief of the American army (Fisher, 1926; Sta. Rita, 1964). In many ways, such laws were
very liberal for their time, considering the vastly conservative legacy of the Spanish regime. However, the
American Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court F.C. Fisher lamented that these laws were also
essentially unjust and discriminatory, especially against women because the penalties stipulated in the
Penal Code were far more lenient towards men, resulting in his clamor for more progressive divorce laws.
During the American period also, Filipinos themselves became more aware of the salience of marriage as
an institution of society. Writing in Filipino (presumably due to the Filipinization direction at this time),
Ambrosio Alcaraz (1936) wrote about the need for marriage and cautioned against not marrying as bad
social stigma. His book Ang Saligan ng Lahi is like an instruction manual on the things that the youth
ought to consider in marrying, often reflecting conservative values like the wifes submission to the whims


of her husband and the need of the wife to know household skills, but also the need for the husband to
have a good upbringing and means of livelihood.
The contemporary period (after the Second World War) brought with it many changes for
marriage in the Philippines. In particular, the sociologist Medina Belen (ibid.) identifies modernization,
industrialization, and urbanization as social forces that shaped and modified courtship practices. Where
traditional practices were centered on virtue, modern practices were characterized by liberation and free
exploration. While civil marriage was still frowned upon due to the Filipinos penchant for their religion and
their desire for expensive festivities (in Catholic wedding celebrations) and extravagance, there were
other indicators for this more liberal attitude. Among women, there was higher educational attainment
which meant that wives were no longer just house wives but also were part of the labor force. Other
attitudes and norms are observable in the modern age, such as individualism and sexual liberation (as
brought about by the sexual revolution in the United States). Trial marriages became more common to
avoid the expenses of a marriage ceremony, and are now common among middle-income Filipinos.
Belen (ibid.) explains that where traditional marriage was just an economic contract where love did not
factor in, present Filipino culture prescribes love as the appropriate basis for marriage and procreation.
Also, norms change as before, where the male was seen as the pursuer and the female as pursued, now
even women may initiate the relationship. Belen (ibid.) however similarly laments a lingering doublestandard in the culture of Filipino marriages, particularly because sexual rights are still construed in favor
of the male, where men are given greater freedom than women. Women are still expected to maintain the
highest standards of virtue and chastity, and any shortcoming on her part merits high social sanction
while society remains tolerant of male infidelity.
Inferring from Belens scholarship, it is increasingly clear that modern Filipino marriage is a mix of
both Christian conservatism and increasing trends towards liberalization. While marriage is still seen as
the only legitimate and conventionally approved means for sex expression and reproduction,
extramarital affairs are not uncommon, with the husband usually maintaining a querida resulting in a twofamily system where a legal wife and legitimate children share the husband and father with a mistress
and illegitimate children, (Belen, 2001). Religiosity still has a role to play in marriage, positively affecting
marital adjustment. The emergence of communities like the Marriage Encounter Movement (ME) or


Couples for Christ (CFC) provides group support for the marriage and attaches a religious meaning and
significance to everyday marital norms and practices to make the marriage stronger. Filipino families are
now also dual-earners with women being employed. Though statistics provided by Belen show that
Filipino marriages are generally stable, marriage breakdowns do occur, although coping with such
situations is easier for higher-income families because they can better afford annulment procedures since
divorce is illegal in the Philippines. Of course, the locus of the Filipino family is the child, because the
child gives the family its form and structure. Belen (ibid.) notes that whereas parenthood in traditional
families made fathers and mothers strict disciplinarians, modernization made them now more liberal with
their children, permitting them to think and act independently. Also, in an increasingly globalized world,
migration has also altered the family structure by contributing to the now common norm of single
parenthood. Also, the Philippine Wedding Book (1992) is evidence of the influence of global capitalism on
the institution of marriage, because its emphasis on material culture (wedding gowns, suits, cakes,
reception costs, churches, make-up artists, decorations, etc.) indicate the commercialization of marriage
in an industrializing society, and the deep penetration of capital into wedding culture.
I also argue that the modern age has inaugurated two main cultural responses to marriage
breakdown, as expressed in and conditioned by the expansion of print media. The first main response is
what I would like to call the psychiatric self-help approach, where the modern Filipino consults materials
produced by journalists, psychiatrists, social scientists, and informal authorities when dealing with issues
such as incompatibility, sexual frustration, infidelity, divorce, jealousy, etc. Examples of these are books
such as One in the Lord: Love, Sexuality, Marriage and the Family in the Philippine Setting: A Christian
Perspective (Gonzalez, 1994), Husband and Wife Speak (Meily and Meily, 1976), Buhay May-Asawa (de
los Reyes, 1997), Filipino Marriage in Crisis (Lapuz, 1977), and Family Relationship: A Sociological
Interpretation (Zaide and Fabella, 1967). The rise of womens magazines is also indicative of this
approach, as many of these magazines include articles and columns precisely dealing with the marriage
problems of the contemporary Filipina. Some examples of these are Womens Journal and Mirror Weekly,
which came to prominence in the 90s. The other approach is what I would call the legal self-help
approach, where spouses who can no longer handle the pressures of married life seek legal counsel and
a way to settle their disputes peacefully in court. The rise of books such as Questions on Marriage,


Legitimacy, and Succession Answered (2000) Virginia Diaz and The Law on Annulment of Marriage:
Rules of Disengagement, How to Regain your Freedom to Re-Marry in the Philippines (2001) by the
renowned lawyer Jim Lopez is suggestive of this. Even the Church contributes to the circulation of such
media, as illustrated by Marriage Tribunal Ministry (1992) by Archbishop Oscar Cruz.

Towards a Thematic Understanding of the Cultural History of Marriage

The historical survey above has already highlighted some of the integrated issues concerning our
study of the cultural history of marriage. I posit that future studies on marriage should focus on its
development along the logic of the three dimensions to marriage that I highlighted at the beginning of this
For marriage as a social institution, pertinent areas of study include the relationship between civil
and religious marriage, both in law and in practice. A Proposed Form of Civil Marriage: For Catholics and
Other Religious Denominations in the Philippines (1964) by Rev. Emilio Sta. Rita, Jr. precisely explores
the legal difficulties that came with the establishment of civil marriage in the Philippines with the coming of
the Americans. For instance, because of the incompatibility of law that was the problem of the juridical
administration of marriage rites and the validation of such marriages, frequent problems at that time
include how a mistake of law can lead to prosecution on the basis of bigamy, since the different systems
had different provisions for impediments, validity, and dissolution. Also, the question on divorce and
annulment should itself be studied, particularly on the cultural acceptance or non-acceptance of marital
separation in the Philippines.
Marriage as social custom would provide a very rich area of inquiry for the cultural history of
marriage. Scholars who will attempt to chart the history of marriage in the Philippines may opt to conduct
a comprehensive ethnographic survey of marital customs and practices. For instance, the practice of
pamanhikan, or how the future spouses formally inform each others parents of their intent to marry, is
something that can be studied as a distinctive mark of pre-marriage norms in the country (de los Reyes,
1997). Wedding ceremonies and associate symbols should also be studied. For example, the Philippine
Wedding Book (ibid.) and de los Reyes (ibid.) both indicate that wedding celebrations are rich in
symbolism, deeply rooted in material culture with the varied uses and embedded meanings of rings,


cords, coins, vestments, and candles. The culture of married life should also be put to scrutiny. Gender
roles, infidelity, in-laws, and children form part of the day-to-day interactions of spouses that ought to be
part of recorded cultural history.
Lastly, marriage as a religious rite raises more legitimate concerns about the study of cultural
norms related to marriage. Notwithstanding the theological underpinnings of marriage as elaborated in
Catholic doctrinal documents (such as catechisms and papal pronouncements), the application of such
theological understandings to lived cultural life presents a lot of tensions. The problem of mixed marriages
or disparity of cult (for instance, marriages between Christians and Muslims) is one promising area for
cultural inquest. Modern marriage and social conservatism also highlights more tensions, as the rise of
trial marriages, the fight for reproductive health rights, the proliferation of interracial marriages, the advent
of same-sex unions, and even such mundane and quotidian phenomena such as the dirty old man
(DOM) or aged foreign sexual partner of the financially needy Filipina, present issue areas where
theological discourse and cultural study may intersect.
To conclude, I would simply like to emphasize that marriage is an often overlooked institution in
cultural history. As an essential human institution operating in society, it must be said explicitly that
marriage has a history and moreover, marriage has a culture. To neglect marriage history is to elide a
vital component of the human experience. To neglect marriage history in the Philippines is to elide a vital
component of the Filipino experience.

Historia general de los religiosos descalzos del orden de los ermitanos del gran padre y doctor de la iglesia san
agustin de la congregacion del orden de espana y de las islas (Madrid); English translation in Blair and Robertson,
vol. XXI, 137. Quoted in An Inculturation Model of the Catholic Marriage Ritual by Fr. David William Antonio (2002).

This is not to say that the Christianization of marriage would diminish the salience of superstition. Indeed, in many
Christian practices that still exist to this day, superstition had all but disappeared. Syncretism is the organizing
principle of religious life for a great many of Filipinos in contemporary times.

Council of Trent, Session 24, Chapter 8. Quoted in Marriage and Divorce in the Philippines: A Monograph by F.C.
Fisher (1926).


Among the grounds for divorce were a) adultery of the wife in every case, and of the husband when public scandal
or disgrace to the wife results therefrom, b) personal violence, or grossly abusive language or conduct, c) violence
inflicted by the husband upon the wife in order to change her religion, d) the proposal of the husband to prostitute the
wife, and e) the attempt of the husband or wife to corrupt their sons or to prostitute their daughters, and connivance
at their corruption or prostitution (Fisher, 1926).


These symbols vary not only from region to region but also from sect to sect. For Christians in general, however,
rings symbolize marital unity and commitment, coins symbolize blessings, candle fire symbolizes Christ who is light
of the world, etc.



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