Sia: On the word 'pamalandong' and other shady thoughts

IN A tropical country like ours, there are two distinct seasons: rainy and sunny. Lately, it has been hard to tell when one ends and the other begins, and according to the organizers of climate strikes, it is none other than climate change causing these erratic weather patterns. This means that there would be sudden heavy downpours in the middle of the summer months, and it could get scorching hot on days when it's supposed to be humid if not raining.

Rain or shine, people would rather protect themselves from the elements and take cover, whether it be in a building, in a car, under an umbrella if they happen to have one, and under a tree for people like me who do not usually have an umbrella handy.

It was while waiting under a palm tree on a sweltering hot day that I found myself thankful for the shade. Having nothing else to do, I decided to think about it some more. (Which reminds me: a philosophy professor once told me that the words "think" and "thank" share the same Germanic roots. After all, is it not appreciation, when we give a thing our full attention and ponder it deeply?)

And then it dawned on me: are we not doing what we here call "pamalandong" whenever we think about things while under a tree?

The Cebuano word "pamalandong" when translated to English is "reflection" -- that is, to consider thoroughly or to ponder deeply. While this might sound too lofty and abstract, there is a more literal and down-to-earth way to interpret the word: "to take shade."

Do these two things taken together sound familiar to you? If it does, that is probably because you heard the story about how the Buddha found enlightenment after meditating long and hard under the shade of a massive fig tree. Trees do not usually have names, but this tree in particular came to be forever known as the Bodhi Tree, and "bodhi" is the Sanskrit word for enlightenment.

Bodhi, in turn, sounds a lot like "budhi," which is the Tagalog word for "conscience." Coincidence? I think not. After all, no matter where you go in the Philippines, you will be sure to encounter plenty of Indian-sounding words even during casual conversation. There are many such cases that we take for granted in our everyday lives, but the lasting influence of Sanskrit on the languages of the Philippines will be more apparent to you if you have been practicing meditation or yoga for some time.

For instance, the Tagalog word "sama" very much resembles the Sanskrit "sam," which means "together," and the Cebuano word "kuyog" must have originated from the Sanskrit "yoga," which means "to yoke." Both "sama" and "kuyog" today mean "to be with," and owing to their Indo-Aryan roots, they are distantly related to the English words "same" and "yoke," respectively.

How is it that we have such words in our vocabulary? One theory is that these islands now known as the Philippines were once part of the Majapahit Empire, a thalassocracy or maritime state that also consisted of territories that today are Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, East Timor, and southern Thailand. Before the arrival of Islam, most people in the empire identified as either Hindu or Buddhist, and this would account for the words of Sanskrit origin that can be found all over Southeast Asia. More importantly, it must be noted that Hinduism and Buddhism are ancient religions that call for their adherents to think deeply -- preferably under the shade of a large tree.

The thinking aspect of the Filipino's nigh-forgotten Indian heritage probably explains why he tends to be surprisingly clever in his words and actions, sometimes even to the point of being irritatingly impish and stubborn. We have seen this curious phenomenon at work in the recent general election, when the westernized and cosmopolitan intelligentsia didn't hesitate to call their fellow citizens "mga bobotante," or stupid voters, for refusing to see things from their college-educated perspective. In retrospect, the intellectuals really should have chilled and thought twice before they did that. Yes, under the shade of a tree, even.

This failure to think things through must have caused the self-styled thinking class to forget that notwithstanding his educational attainment (or lack thereof), the common Filipino is a lot smarter than he usually gets credit for, and is not above doing things just to spite his self-appointed superiors -- things such as voting for the very candidates he was warned about.


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