In celebration of the month of love, let’s talk about the traditions of Filipino courtship. Not flowers or chocolates, but something cultural. And, no, not haranas or serenades either. It’s something a lot more cultural, even historical, than that.
It’s the Philippines’ own dowry system, or historically known as dote, or bigay-kaya.
Winning a ‘yes’
Everyone knows about all the hoops a man jumps through just to win the interest and favor of the woman of his dreams. If the lady reciprocates, then she gives her long-awaited ‘yes’ and a loving couple is formed.
Happy ever after? Not quite.
Traditionally, after winning the lady, a man now has to win over the parents.
Dote, or bigay-kaya, is the Philippines’ own version of a dowry system. A dowry is commonly given by the bride’s family to the groom before the two can be married. However, in the Philippines, the man shoulders that responsibility.
The groom’s payment of bigay-kaya is determined by the parents of the bride according to their social position and/or sometimes selfish motivation. No dowry means no marriage.
How does agriculture fit into this?
In Filipinos’ early customs of courtship, if a man wants to marry a woman, then in comes the cows, the carabaos, the pigs and chickens. Throw in a deed for land and maybe some produce, and the man gets a winning ticket to the parents’ sweet approval for marriage.
After gaining the parents’ approval for marriage, it is still the man’s responsibility to provide for the feast celebrating their betrothal. The custom of dote is known to have been practiced by Irosinons in Sorsogon, Igorots in Benguet, and other ethnicities. It is also believed to have been practiced by the Moros and Muslims in Mindanao according to their Islamic culture.
As the years went on, dote became less practiced. A study conducted in the 1960s reviewed the opinions of Filipinos when it comes to the custom, and a majority answered that it was not necessary nor expected by themselves or their parents.
In the current century, there’s a lot more to be done than presenting a carabao to a woman’s parents just to get their approval. However, there’s no need to forget the role that Philippine agriculture played in Filipino courtship.
Not only did livestock and crops become symbols of abundance and wealth, but it was also proof of sincere love and determination.