When I wrote an article about the Chavacano situation in Cavite City last year – I was also thinking about Ternate. I’ve always been interested in our creole language. Is it experiencing alarming decline like what Cavite City is experiencing?
When I visited Municipalidad de Ternate my questions were answered.
I was relieved that Chavacano usage in Ternate remains high even after decades without conservation programs. It was almost noon time when I reached Ternate. A town with its own version of Chavacano (that some of them claim to be “mas puro”) not far from Cavite City. The welcome arch greeting is written in old Chavacano – an indication of how proud Ternateño are of their culture and language.
The old poblacion is where you’ll find a significant number of Chavacano speaking families. Speaking with the gracious Ternateños, descendants of the original settlers from Ternate in the Maluku islands was a pleasure and I’m already looking forward to go back maybe celebrate their fiesta with them one of these days. Their appearance reminds me of the Ilocanos of the north. I found out that the Ternatenos, their ancestors, characteristically have darker skin tone and solid built. The loyal Christianized Ternateños have also figured in many battles against the Moros in defense of Manila. They were trusted and respected during the Spanish era.
I entered the Church of Sto. Niño de Ternate to pay my respects to what has become the center of the towns art tradition. Their fiesta is reputed to be one of the liveliest and most original in Cavite. Locals recount many stories about how their Sto. Niño saved their town from man and natural danger. They’re a people who still pervently believe in the power of prayers offered to their child Jesus. The “hermano” of this Sto. Niño, according to the locals is in the Aglipayan church, a stone throw away from the Catholic church. Its interesting how both groups co-exist in harmony. In fact, some people attend both churches which I find fascinating.
I tried to gauge the usage of Chavacano by observing the people around first then interviewing some of them. I was always welcomed with a smile. A friend once told me that the old families of Ternate are very honest, cheerful and hospitable – he was right. They’re the reason why the Ternateño tradition is alive and well. The first person I got to speak with is Councilor Wilfred Huerto. A cheerful chap with a great sense of humor. He was with his wife and kids near the plaza. Right away they agreed to speak to me and did not mind our conversation being recorded. Apparently, most Ternateños who speaks Chabacano are likely to teach the language to their sons and daughters because this instills a sense of identity. In their own words, a Ternateño must speak Chabacano. “Most of us speaks Chabacano exclusively inside our homes” said the good councilor.
I then posed the question: why is it that the number of speakers is decreasing then? his answer made sense, “because there are far too many people relocating here, they are outnumbering us!”. The couple acknowledges the presence of the huge Tagalog and Visayan speaking community that moved in the area as a threat but both expressed with confidence that Ternateño will never die. “Imposible” said the councilor who said that Ternateños are too attached to their language that separation is impossible.
The couple’s relatives in Europe and in the US, whose kids has never even set foot in Ternate are speakers of Chabacano. This they told me is “proof” why their version of this creole language will never go away. I can tell that they’re so proud to be Ternateños. They love who they are and this is exactly why its important that we appreciate our history and culture because with this we are able to maintain our true unique identity.
Councilor Huerto, a former seaman, also told me of an experience he had in Ermita back in the early 60’s: “While I was in Manila, I had with me some Francos that I intended to convert to pesos. So I went to Ermita. There I spoke with these money changers near the plaza – I caught them speaking, whispering, in Chabacano, it has a different tone and phase but I can tell it was Chabacano – right there and then, I knew that they intended to buy low. I then spoke to them in Chabacano and they were surprised – I haggled for a higher price in Chabacano of course!”. It was the 60’s, were those people speakers of the now extinct Ermitense? “I can never tell but the tone was different”, Councilor Huerto said.
Old timers in the public market are all Chabacanos and those people that would come to do business have no choice but to learn the language. A vegetable vendor, originally from Cebu, told to me that she can’t speak Chabacano but could understand it well.
I was then led to the house of the poblacion’s barrio captain located next to the river where a brahminy kite incessantly circles up above the scenic Maragandon river. Children were jumping in and out of the water near where I was interviewing the man they simply call Kapitan Meyong. He was a very accommodating man. He was pleased hearing that someone from the outside is interested to study their beloved language.
Capitan Meyong is from the old town of San Jose where Chabacano is exclusivley spoken.Its common to hear locals transacting in the creole language in the market place but perhaps the biggest community of Chavacanos can be found in Barrio San Jose. “San Jose is 100% Chabacano”, he confirms. But all the other barrios outside the poblacion and San Jose are not speakers of Chabacano he said. Unlike the couple I spoke with earlier, Sr. Meyong is worried that Ternate would be completely wiped out by Tagalog and that one day it will finally lose its foothold in Ternateño society.
He acknowledged that there has been no major project to promote Chabacano as a Ternateño laguage that can be offered to all people now living in the municipality. But he firmly believes that it is necessary. He said, “we have to teach this (chavacano) to all children that is now living in Ternate, whether from the original families or those who recently settled here”. I mentioned that Spanish as a subject in school is already close to being realized. He said, “much better, we could understand Spanish, Cavitenen (Cavity City) and Zamboanga anyway, its all related”.
When I visited the Barrio Captain, he was having a hearty lunch with his family right beside the river. I wonder what the place use to look like in the old days. I’m always consumed by what places use to look like. I try to find an old photo and compare them with the new ones that I shot – it amazing seeing the transformation, sadly, most of our old towns had seen better days.
The Barrio Captain then spoke about the pressing issues the municipality have like the garbage dump its effect on the enviroment. This is truly a sad development. I believe no town deserves to be a site for waste disposal – I could not imagine the pain (giving up space for other towns garbage) this people have to live with. Garbage disposal is a tricky and complicated issue, we all know that garbage will have to be deposited somewhere and I’m sure no one wants to be given this unfortunate role – I hope that someday no town would ever have to deal with being elected as garbage site.
After my visit to the Captains home I headed straight to San Jose where I met an old woman who married into one of the oldest clan in Ternate. Almost everyone is related in this beautiful town, well, at least it felt that way. She was Waray but has resided in Ternate for almost four decades now and believes that she’s a Ternatena through and through. “I’m more Ternateña than waray”, she said with a big laugh. She told me that it only took her “less than a year” to learn the language. The language sounded like “singing birds” to her when she first arrived in the 70’s. All her grandchildren speaks Chavacano saying that its ” [not speaking it] unacceptable as it is our language inside our home”. She then instructed her son to take me to another relative of theirs who have “more stories to tell about the history of the town and the language”. The man then invited me to his tricycle and took me to this relative – he refused my payment.
The man we were supposed to visit wrote a book about Chavacano and is an active member of the historical comittee of the province. He is considered a foremost expert in the creole language. Unfortunately, he was not there when I dropped by. True to the hospitality of the Ternateno’s I was still invited inside their home which is right beside a basketball court. Not far is a monument, painted in color of an ancient Ternateño dressed in his traditional costume standing proud amidst the modern houses and structures that surrounds him. They are indeed a unique people and I’m really happy to have been able to meet so many of them in one day.