THE CHABACANO DE ZAMBOANGA
(EL CHABACANO DE ZAMBOANGA)
BY BENJAMIN L. SAAVEDRA
to greet you as we do in Zamboanga. Damas y caballeros, buenos dias.
you for the invitation which I accepted with much hesitation and
uneasiness. However, I am happy to be at UP after a long time. I
have never imagined myself to be speaking before a group from the
College of Arts and Letters. Perhaps I will be more comfortable
before a class in the building a few hundred meters away.
am a victim of circumstances. Prof. Romanillos invited me,
probably, because I am the only Zamboangueño he is acquainted with.
It took him a long time and great efforts to convince me to come. As
you are aware I am not a philologist nor am I a linguist. The only
reason why I am here is that I am a chabacanohablante. All I
can share with you is a layman’s point of view based on lifetime
experience and observation. It is the language of my cradle.
I sound like I am making a management report and bore you to sleep,
you know who to blame.
Zamboangueños all agree that it is the Caviteños who started it
all. In 1635, the constant harassment of the Moro Insurrectos in
Mindanao forced the Spanish authorities to construct a military
fortification in Zamboanga. Although materials were available in
the area, skilled labor was short.
this, the military authorities decided to import labor from Luzon
and the Visayas. Thus, the construction work force eventually
consisted of Spanish soldiers, masons from Cavite-who comprised the
majority, sacadas from Cebu and Iloilo, and those from the various
local tribes of Zamboanga like the Samals and Subanons.
Differences in dialect and culture made it difficult for one tribe
to communicate with another. Add to this, work instructions were
issued in Spanish. Majority of the workers were unschooled and
therefore did not understand Spanish.
they did was to simply parrot the language of the colonizers but
disregarded the language’s grammar and pronunciation. But since the
Chabacano de Cavite had a tinge of Spanish, it became the lingua
franca at the construction site.
the construction, Mexican conscripts were transported to Zamboanga
to be stationed at the fort now called Fuerza Real de Nuestra Senora
Chabacano de Cavite was continuously spoken. Over time, the
original Chabacano de Cavite’s influence began to fade as Zamboanga
developed its own lingua franca now known as Chabacano de Zamboanga.
This developed as Chabacano de Cavite was enriched with Cebuano,
Ilongo, Samal, Tausug, Subanon, Maranaw and other local dialects
while developing its own styles, forms and word meaning.
dialect is mainly spoken in Zamboanga
City. But, its influence extends to half of the Zamboanga
Peninsula—as far as Margosatubig in Zamboanga del Sur and Siocon in
Zamboanga del Norte and Basilan Island. In Zamboanga City, about
214,000 are chabacanohablantes or a little less than 50% of
the total population of over 500,000. When I was growing up in the
60’s, the city’s population was just over 110,000. Practically
everybody spoke Chabacano, including the moro population. As a
percentage to total population, the ratio of Chabacano speakers of
almost 100% in the 60’s decreased to less than 50% today.
CHARACTERISTICS OF CHABACANO DE ZAMBOANGA
articles have been written about the Chabacano but let us discuss
certain characteristics of the dialect:
student at the Instituto Cervantes, I have in many occasions found
myself in embarrassing situations. Thinking that a certain
Chabacano word is Spanish, I would sometimes make the mistake of
using it in my conversation with my professors, who are mostly
Spaniards. To my amazement they would fail to understand me. I
later found out that many of the words in Chabacano are either:
Antiquated or archaic. The Spanish words are circa 16th
and 17th century. They are either no longer used in
modern Spanish or have evolved and acquired new meanings. This type
of word also exists in other Philippine dialects. In Chabacano de
Zamboanga, this type of word includes:
height), en denantes (poco antes de hoy: a
while ago), candela (vela: candle),
vianda (plato; food), condescipulo (compañero
de clase; classmate), herbolario (curandero:
healer). Fortunately, Sr. Santiago Diaz-Jove, the librarian at
the Instituto Cervantes lent me a copy of the 16th
century Spanish dictionary, and I found them all there.
Incidentally, this dictionary printed during the reign of King
Philip II is the first Spanish dictionary. Spain will be celebrating
the 400th anniversary of its printing next year.
Americanismo or words of Latin American origin – The Mexican
soldiers’ influence to the dialect in Zamboanga is very evident in
such words as prijoles (judias: beans),
chongo (mono; monkey), tiange (mercado;
market), mani (cacahuete; peanut),
carajay (sarten; frying pan), bejuco (rattan),
mecatillo (cuerda; string); action words or
verbs like botar (tirar; to throw away),
jalar (estirar; to pull), fregar (enjuagar;
to rinse), caminar (andar; to walk). The
Zamboangueño’s favorite palabrota or expletive “chinga”
is also of South American origin.
Vulgar words - Most of the Spanish soldiers in the Philippines
were not highly educated and obviously lack the refinements of the
Spanish language. Two Chabacano words come to my mind preñada
(pregnant) and parir (to give birth). These words are
only used for animals. Incidentally, I notice that Camilo Jose Cela,
who the University recently honored with a doctorate degree, is fond
of using this type of words in his writings. I have been admonished
by one of my professors not to use the word rempuja,
to push in Chabacano since its very vulgar in Spanish. Until now I
have not been able to find its Spanish meaning.
Adopted Spanish words - These are Spanish words but with
different meaning in Chabacano. One classic word is Cerilla.
Cerilla is a match in Spanish but in Chavacano it refers to
According to Bernardino Camins, the author of the Chabacano de
Zamboanga Handbook and Dictionary published in 1988, Chabacano de
Zamboanga is spoken in two forms and styles – the formal and the
common or familiar.
formal style, Spanish words and phrases predominate. It is often
used to show courtesy and respect towards the elders in general.
Sermons and speeches are normally delivered in this style.
common or familiar style is a way of conversing with close
relations, subordinates, or among friends. A mixture of local or
composed words are more pronounced.
Different sets of pronouns are used for each style. The formal
style uses all the Spanish pronouns such as yo, uste, el,
nosotros, ustedes, vosotros, ellos, nuestro, con nosotros, suyo,
common or familiar style pronouns include the following: iyo,
tu or evos, ele, kita, kamo, sila, diamon, kanaton, desuyo, etc.
words too have their formal and common or familiar equivalent:
TESTADURO DURO CABEZA
the dialect is very fluid. There are no strict rules to follow.
During conversation, shifting from one style to another is not
uncommon. Grammatical rules may or may not be observed.
rule there is no concordance of number and gender in Chabacano but
you may do so if you desire. One may even conjugate the verb the
following poem written by Agustin Atilano is an example of the
formal style. It is replete with Spanish words and phrases.
However, the pronoun used is in the familiar/common form tu.
Listen closely or else you will mistake it for Spanish:
El dalaga Zamboangueña
Bien graciosa y hermosa
Tus risas es un inspiracion
Como un estrella del mar
Y en tus pillas ojos
El alegria ta vene
El camino de mi vida
Perdido ya sin tu amor
Zamboangueña mi inspiracion
Tu el sueño de mi vida
Que dispierto o dormido
siempre ta soña
Tu el querida de mi corazon
Yo un esclavo quien ta adora
Tu es el luz y el camino
Tambien mi unico amor.
Tu es el luz y el camino
Tambien mi unico amor
author wrote a witty column in Chabacano for Antorcha a Spanish
newspaper in the 30’s. This piece entitled “Ay, Este Mana
Mujer”, published on Novenber 25, 1935, is a conversation
between a man and a woman in the common or familiar form.
Didang, cosa ba ta pasa con el mana mujer de ahora?
ba, Compadre Achoy? Cosa el de uste reclamo con el mana mujer?
anay, comadre. Mucho del mana mujer ahora en vez de atender con el
trabajo na casa ta anda na otro casa lang para man cuento del mana
vida de otro jente y ta man jutik-jutik, ta murmura y mucha veces ta
encontra enemigos. Na, bueno ba ese?
Compadre Achoy, cosa man uste quire hace con el mana mujer? Camo
mana hombre tiene libertad anda na carrera de caballo na Baliwasan,
anda mira juga bola pati anda na gallera. Ancina tamen mana mujer,
necesita un poco de diversion.
comadre, ese puede uste habla con el mana jente que no tiene otro
distraccion como sila ocupao na di ila trabajo na oficina. Pero el
mana mujer no conviene camina camina na otro casa. Yo ta mira que
mucho ahora del mana mujer ta juga pangguingui y ta mete hasta na
juego del mana hombre, como ligot, landay, monte, y otro clase de
juego, y ta mescla pa sila con el mana hombre ta juga hasta na buuk.
--Ay compadre, ta habla el mana viejo que ese
castigacion del mundo.
comadre, que lastima el hora que ta gasta lang na mana cuento de
nuay provecho y na juego. Que lastima ese clase de mana mujer, que
pobre el marido, y que miserable el mana anak que por neglegencia
del mana nana, el casa nuay arreglo y dejao lang. Por eso nuay bien
resultado el familia. Mana nana lo mismo que ta enseña con el di
ila mana anak para juga baraja, ligot o landay, y para habla malo
con el otro jente.
compadre, cosa ba quiere uste que hace el mana mujer?
comadre, muchas cosas, por ejemplo, limpia el casa, siembra masetas,
atende na cucina, laba el mana ropa.
compadre, el contesta yo con uste na otro occasion ya, porque tarde
ya y atrasao ya yo.
donde ba uste anda?
siempre alla canda Doray donde tiene pangguingin.
illustrate the fluidity in Chabacano, let us read the following
Bantayonan. Bantayonans are Zamboanga’s folk songs sung at social
gatherings and musical jousts at the turn of the century. They were
a popular and humorous form of entertainment. These were sung in
singsong fashion with the singers, usually a man and a woman,
alternating with each other and improvising the lyrics as they went
Santol, sampaloc, sandia Ya nace tres maravillas
Sampinic, sambon, sampaga De rodillas Jesucristo
hierva de Sta. Maria. Cuando bautiso San Juan.
Flor de Canela Jila, jila mi baroto
de la peligrana Apunta na barrigon
hermana de la luna Pregunta cosa el carga
Lucero de la mañana. Un bayon de camaron.
Bunito para mira Jila, jila mi barquito
Batalan cun barandilla Para anda na Cotabato
pitar a las doce Pregunta man cosa el carga
niña Florentina. Un alat de rabo gato.
Florentina de mi vida Banda arriba, banda abajo
Florentina de mi corazon Con mi saya de sangut
Quiere yo mucho contigo Arriba bien oloroso
un grande estimacion. Abajo bien mapansut.
Bunito para mira Duerme, duerme bata diutay
Batalan cun barandilla Palanga di su nanay
vida del maga umang Al quedar man dao vos grande
mang camang na urilla. Cortadora de palay.
Anoche ya pasia yo Arriba del gulud
mi caballo pugug Ta vivi si Columbre
mira man yo cun Ñor Kong Hace pitik el orejas
lleva pescao bulug. Para quita el mal costumbre.
Anoche ya pasia yo Bula bula aniniput
mi caballo pujino Adentro del palagpag
encontra yo cun Ñor Berto Masquin pea mi nanay
man liguid na camino. Cantadora su anak.
arco de vuestras cejas Arriba de aquel gulud
Cuando llega enamorar Tiene pono de naranjita
Parece un arco del cielo Ya parte yo para come
Bebiendo agua del mar. Ya sale tres bonitas.
AMERICAN COLONIAL PERIOD
above pieces were written during the American colonial period. I
tend to believe that this period is the golden age of the Chabacano
in Zamboanga. Spanish was commonly spoken and written which is
curious since one would expect that the Americans would force the
decline of Spanish and Chabacano. Could it be because the elite and
the ilustrados of Zamboanga who were educated in Spanish and
controlled the media resisted the flourishing of English? From 1908
to 1930 there were eleven Spanish newspapers in Zamboanga. The
newspapers did not only carry the news of the day but served as the
venue for the publications of the literary works of Zamboangueño
writers, whether in Chabacano or in Spanish. Unfortunately,
Zamboanga City was completely destroyed during the war. Most of the
literary works were burned and lost.
Post World War II
50’ and early 60’s Zamboanga was a quiet place; population was in
the hundred thousand. Everybody spoke Chabacano. The elite spoke
Spanish and formal Chabacano. Remember, they were the teenagers of
the pre-war days. The local newspapers were now in English. El Sur a
Spanish newspaper owned by the Camins family tried to make a come
back. I remember reading a Chabacano column by Ñora Felisa Apostol.
But, after a year or two, it disappeared from circulation.
not allowed to say evos. In addressing the elders it
was a rigor to use the formal style e.g uste, ustedes,
nosotros, vosotros. In my lola’s place my old spinster aunt
was always ready with her bejuco , the whipping rod, when you
slipped and said “ya man landug yo” instead of “ya
resbala yo”, or when you need more rice and
asked for more kanon instead of morisqueta.
middle 60’s radio came to town. Chabacano, in the familiar style,
was all over the airlanes. Radio serials were in Chabacano. I still
remember the first one—El Alma Perdida. Spanish music filled
the air. Believe it or not, all the radio advertisements of PMC,
Proctor and Gamble, Colgate Palmolive were in Chabacano. It would
be interesting to find samples of these advertisements.
my generation did not speak Spanish. All we have are smattering of
Spanish words learned from the elders. More often than not, these
were stored deep into the sub-conscious for there was no opportunity
to use them.
war in Mindanao was at its height. Thousands of soldiers from
different parts of Luzon and Visayas were stationed in Zamboanga
City, it being the headquarters of the southern command. Refugees
from all over Mindanao sought haven in the City.— from Basilan, Jolo,
Zamboanga del Sur and del Norte, Lanao, and as far as Cotabato and
Maguindanao. The soldiers and the refugees refused to return to
their place of origin for life was easy and comfortable in the City.
Today numerous regional groupings exist in the City—such as groups
representing the Ilocanos, Ilongos, Pangasinenses, Bicolanos,
Aklanons, Cebuanos, Boholanos, etc..
Satellite television and radio soon invaded the city in the 80’s.
Today, local radio stations still have programs in Chabacano.
However, Chabacano radio serials are now rare; most are in Cebuano
or Tagalog. Spanish music is not heard any more except for Ricky
Martin’s “Living La Vida Loca”. Even in the remotest barrio,
national television is favored over radio.
more soldiers and refugees continue to arrive. The peace and order
condition in Mindanao has not stabilized.
the older generation of Zamboangueños do not look with favor the
sudden increase in population. They believe that it strains the
resources of the City, as well as contributes to the deterioration
and /or decline of the Chabacano. Many of the new migrants do not
exert effort to learn Chabacano. They tend to congregate among
themselves and speak their native dialect.
among the true Zamboangueños and long time residents of the City,
Chabacano is spoken vigorously. Has the Chabacano changed over the
past fifty or sixty years?
review Chabacano texts from the 80’s and early 90’s. The first text
is the translation done in the 80’s of the Magnificat from
the Catholic Missal for Advent.
the Second World War there were hardly any serious writings in
Chabacano. This time English was the language. We should be thankful
to the Catholic Church for the efforts exerted in translating the
New Testament, the Missal and the various liturgies into Chabacano.
This at most helped sustain the use of Chabacano.
Maria ya habla:
Mi alma ta proclama el grandeza del Señor,
Mi espiritu ta alegra con Dios, mi Salvador.
Cay ele ya mira con el humilidad de su muchacha,
Cay el todopoderoso ya hace maga cosas grande comigo,
Y santo su nombre.
Su misericordia para con
aquellos que tiene miedo con ele,
Desde un generacion hasta otro generacion.
Ele ya dale mira el poder del di suyo mano,
Ya desparrama el orgullo na corazon del maga soberbio.
Ele ya icha afuera con el
maga poderoso na di ila lugar,
Y ya exalta con el maga humilde.
Ele ya llena con el maga pobre con muchas cosas,
Y con el maga rico ya manda afuera con mano sin laman.
Ele ya recibi con Israel su muchacho,
Con todo su lastima.
Como ya promete le con el di aton tata;
Con Abraan y con su maga relevo
second text is a song entitled El Lavandera by
Tranquilino Gregorio written in early 90’s for the Chabacano song
labandera de mi Tia Asuncion
Temprano pa ta levanta para lava
Maga camisa, manta, punda, pantalon
Y otro ropa ya encontra le sucio pa.
Ta observa yo pacensiosa si Sayang
Di su lavada limpio y garantisao
Enbuenamente ta sirve con Tia Chong
Di su trabajo mes cumplid, mes pagao.
Talli pa si Sayang
Ta continua lava
Di mio Tia
Chong, su sueldo pirmi ta aumenta
tamen, di suyo mantencion
Con ele yo ta dedica este cancion.
Chabacano changed over time? Evidently, the latter texts are not
written in the formal style of “Inspiracion”. These texts
are in the common or familiar style, hence Spanish phrases and words
are less. As a layman, I see little differences between the 1930’s
text “Ay, Este Mana Mujer” and the Magnificat and
El Lavandera. Definitely, the formal style is no longer
prevalent since it is highly dependent on Spanish. Spanish is hardly
spoken now even among the elite and the educated. Spanish is no
longer an influence in the life and consciousness of the
Zamboangueños. Hence the Chabacano will lean towards and be
dependent on other existing forces such as English, Tagalog and
Cebuano which are the languages of mass media today.
Chabacano is no doubt alive. As a living dialect it is continuing
to evolve around other dialects, local and foreign. The process of
evolution, which many Zamboangueños fear, including myself, may
result to the total loss of the Spanish element, the unique
character of the Chabacano that sets it apart from other Philippine
dialect. If this happens, can you still call the Chabacano Creole
Spanish or Hispanized Filipino? I leave that for the specialists
and academicians to answer.
you. Muchas gracias.