All-Time Filipino Souvenirs

Filipino souvenirs abound at Kultura, a store outlet in SM malls that showcases Filipino crafts, in Divisoria, a favorite destination for bargain goods, and in other niche stores featuring Filipino craftsmanship. Among the souvenirs are a number of miniature 'kalabaw' (carabao), 'calesa' (horse carriage), 'bahay kubo' (nipa hut), 'agila' (Philippine eagle), 'dyip' (jeepney), 'mamang sorbetero' (ice cream vendor), and 'padyak' (pedicab). Kultura outlets also sell home and body accessories made of bamboo, buli (palm straw), coconut parts, abaca (Philippine hemp), tinalak, batik, sea-shell and capiz.

The Favored Beast
Since majority of the Philippine landscape is agricultural, the carabao has become a mainstay in the Filipino psyche. Some Tagalog sayings stream from a general consciousness of this beast of burden. For example

  • "Ang langaw na tumuntong sa kalabaw, mas mataas pa sa kalabaw" (The fly who sits atop a carabao is taller than the carabao) - braggart
  • "Balat-kalabaw" (carabao skin) - not sensitive
  • "Kalabaw lang ang tumatanda" (Only a carabao gets old) - don't worry about ageing, it's all in the mind.

First Song
Meanwhile, the song that toddlers learn from the time they can babble some words is "Bahay Kubo". Roughly translated, the song goes

    Bahay kubo (my nipa hut)/ kahit munti (even though small)/ ang halaman doon ay sari-sari (plants abound around it).

    Singkamas (yam or turnip)/ at talong (eggplant)/ sigarilyas (string peas) at mani (peanuts)/ sitaw (stringbeans) / bataw (beans) / patani (beans).

    Kundol/ patola/ Upo't/ kalabasa/ at saka meron pang labanos, mustasa.

    Sibuyas (onions)/ kamatis (tomatoes) / bawang (garlic)/ at luya (ginger).

    Sa paligid-ligid ay puno ng linga (around it are plenty of sesame seeds).

This song lists some spices and other sustenance found in the backyard of most Filipino homes in the provinces. Filipino artists and architects have long pondered the Filipino Nipa Hut, how it reveals the Filipino soul. The Filipino souvenir bahay kubo will always awaken a longing and nostalgia for one's roots.

Days of Romance
These days, the Filipino souvenir calesa is crafted using soft wood, capiz, tin cans, hemp, and bamboo. The calesa is a main tourist attraction in Manila Chinatown and on the brick roads of Vigan in Ilocos. In the Filipino mind, the calesa brings back memories of the old days, when the streets were not yet suffused with grime and smoke. Seeing the calesa immediately takes the imagination back to centuries of women in baro't saya, of men in kamisa and loose and light trousers, mostly in those days of Spanish occupation, of Filipino revolutionaries and their romantic and daring escapades. Celeste Legaspi, that quintessential voice of the early 70s sang a song that romanticizes the calesa:

    Kalesa'y may pang-akit na taglay/... Nakakahalina kung pagmasdan / Kalesa ay pambayang sasakyan.... Kabayo'y hindi natin problema/ pulot at damo lang ay tama na...

In Vigan, local tours invite tourists on a calesa ride.

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Another Filipino souvenir which evokes childhood memories is the image of mamang sorbetero. Every child who grew up in the Philippines will remember this on-call guy who wears a hat and pushes his colorful 'dirty ice cream' cart on the street under the blazing sun. He entices customers with a bell, the ringing of which has become identified with 'sorbetes'. Wherever he goes, a Filipino will always remember those days when he ran to buy ice-cream from this vendor. The all-time favorite craving in three choice flavors: cheese, ube, and mango never failed to help him chill.

    Mamang sorbetero tayo'y sumayaw (Ice cream man, let's dance) 
    Kalembang mong hawak, muling ikaway (Once again, ring your bell) 
    Batang munti sa 'yo'y naghihintay (The little child waits for you) 
    Bigyang ginhawa ngayong tag-araw…. (Quench his thirst this dry season)

Fast Lane Ensemble
Last but not the least, a Filipino souvenir worth keeping and giving away is the Philippine jeepney. Born during the American time when military jeeps were abandoned and extended to accommodate more passengers, the jeepney is a familiar sight in every Philippine street. Pinoy artisans inscribe their quick art on these vehicles, and the creative output brings a kaleidoscope of colors on the fast lanes. There is a huge psychology of Filipino-ness that could be drawn from the 'jeepney-symbol' - among these, such Filipino traits as general tolerance and a preference for togetherness. 

Filipino souvenirs going out, Pasalubong and other ideas for gifts going in. Check it out.

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