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Chavacano Corner by Aiding D' Orazio

(pdf format)

Allow me to greet you as we do in Zamboanga.  Damas y caballeros, buenos dias.

Thank 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.

Indeed I 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.

In case 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.

To solve 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. 

What 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.2

After the construction, Mexican conscripts were transported to Zamboanga to be stationed at the fort now called Fuerza Real de Nuestra Senora del Pilar.

The 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.3 

The 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. 


Various articles have been written about the Chabacano but let us discuss certain characteristics of the dialect:

A: The Spanish content:

As a 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:

1. 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: altor (altura; 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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.

4. Adopted Spanish words - These are Spanish words but with different meaning in Chabacano.  One classic word is CerillaCerilla is a match in Spanish but in Chavacano it refers to ear wax.


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. 

In the 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.

The 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, etc 

The common or familiar style pronouns include the following: iyo, tu or evos, ele, kita, kamo, sila, diamon, kanaton, desuyo, etc.

Certain words too have their formal and common or familiar equivalent:

            FORMAL                 COMMON/FAMILIAR

      RESBALOSO                     MALANDUG

      MORISQUETA                    KANON

      VIANDA                             ULAM

      FASTIDIO                          MALIHUG

      AGUACERRO                    ULAN

      ORGULLOSO                    HAMBUG/BUGALON

      TESTADURO                     DURO CABEZA

However 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. 

As a 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 Spanish way.


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

                        Contigo 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


The same 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.                               

--Comadre Didang, cosa ba ta pasa con el mana mujer de ahora?

--Porque ba, Compadre Achoy? Cosa el de uste reclamo con el mana mujer?

--Oi 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?

--Pero, 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.

--Ay 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.

--Ay 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.

--Bueno, compadre, cosa ba quiere uste que hace el mana mujer?

--Ay, comadre, muchas cosas, por ejemplo, limpia el casa, siembra masetas, atende na cucina, laba el mana ropa.

--Bueno, compadre, el contesta yo con uste na otro occasion ya, porque tarde ya y atrasao ya yo.

--Na donde ba uste anda?

--Na siempre alla canda Doray donde tiene pangguingin.5

To 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 along.

Siete palo tiene el monte            En el rio de Jordan

Santol, sampaloc, sandia          Ya nace tres maravillas

Sampinic, sambon, sampaga     De rodillas Jesucristo

Y hierva de Sta. Maria.             Cuando bautiso San Juan.

Maria Flor de Canela              Jila, jila mi baroto

Hija de la peligrana                 Apunta na barrigon

Prima 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

Al pitar a las doce                    Pregunta man cosa el carga

Adios 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

Con un grande estimacion.        Abajo bien mapansut.

Bunito para mira                       Duerme, duerme bata diutay

Batalan cun barandilla             Palanga di su nanay

El vida del maga umang           Al quedar man dao vos grande

Ta mang camang na urilla.        Cortadora de palay.

Anoche ya pasia yo                     Arriba del gulud

Con mi caballo pugug                Ta vivi si Columbre

Ya mira man yo cun Ñor Kong   Hace pitik el orejas

Ta lleva pescao bulug.                Para quita el mal costumbre.

Anoche ya pasia yo                     Bula bula aniniput

Con mi caballo pujino               Adentro del palagpag

Ya encontra yo cun Ñor Berto   Masquin pea mi nanay

Ta man liguid na camino.          Cantadora su anak.

El 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.6



All the 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

In the 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.

We were 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.

By the 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.

However 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.  

By 1972, 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. 

Today, more soldiers and refugees continue to arrive. The peace and order condition in Mindanao has not stabilized.

Many of 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.

But 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?

Let us 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.

After 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.         

            Si 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 para siempre.7


The second text is a song entitled El Lavandera by Tranquilino Gregorio written in early 90’s for the Chabacano song writing contest.


            El 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

            Asegurao tamen, di suyo mantencion

              Con ele yo ta dedica este cancion.8


Has the 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.

Thank you.  Muchas gracias.


1 Paper read at the Symposium of the Chabacano of Cavite and Zamboanga, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines, 29 September 1999.

2 Bernardino Camins, Chabacano de Zamboanga Handbook; Chabacano-English-Spanish Dictionary, Claritian Publications, 1989.

3 Ibid

4 Mayor Maria Clara L. Lobregat, Producer, Canciones de Zamboanga, Zamboanga Heritage Foundation, 1993.

5 Antonio Orendain, et. Al , Zamboanga Hermosa, Memories of the Old Town,  Manila, 1978.

6 Ibid

7 Agapito Ferrero, cmf, Maga Parte del Misa Pati Maga Lectura – Adviento, 1981

8 Mayor Maria Clara l. Lobregat, Producer, Nostalgia Canciones Chabacano, 1993