Sugar Sun series glossary term #31: banca (bangka) (but really this is the post on language)

The Definition

What is a bangka? It depends on whom you ask.

Javier was not thrilled to be out on the water at such a late hour, even if the moon was bright and the rowers competent. Had this been a pleasure tour, the hacendero would have had no complaint, but tonight he wanted to get on with it or go home. As if they could read Javier’s mind, the rowers abruptly beached the banca, hopped out onto shore, and dragged the vessels away from the water line.

Under the Sugar Sun

As you can probably guess from the context, banca or bangka means boat—specifically a double-outrigger canoe. If you have visited anywhere outside Manila, you have probably taken a bangka. When I first drafted Sugar Moon, Ben and Allie did a fair amount of bangka travel in Samar.

Historic image of banca at Taal volcano by University of Michigan as illustrating Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series.
A colonial photograph of a banca in the crater lake of the Taal volcano, accessed at the University of Michigan Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.

But here’s the problem: bangka may mean outrigger canoe in Tagalog and Cebuano, but I found out that it means cockroach in the Waray language of Samar, Biliran, and parts of Leyte. While strange stuff happens in Sugar Moon, riding a cockroach through the surf is a whole new level. So I took the word out and used boring old English.

The Implication

This brings up an important point about the Philippines: it the tenth most linguistically diverse country in the world. There are eight language groups, 19 local languages that can be taught in early childhood education (from kindergarten to 3rd grade), and now 200 total languages identified. Such linguistic abundance makes geographic sense. The Philippines is an archipelago nation of 7,641 islands, and it is so spread out that it stretches almost from Seattle to Los Angeles. No wonder one language could not dominate. But this doesn’t make things easy.

Area comparison map of the Philippine and United States and a linguistic and language map of the Philippines for illustrating Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series
On left, an area comparison map of the Philippines as created by the Central Intelligence Agency; on right, a linguistic map of the Philippines by GeoCurrents.

As you may remember from previous posts, the Americans turned this rich multilingual heritage into a justification for a monolingual (English) education system. English is still one of the two official languages of the country, along with Filipino. (Filipino is the “most prestigious variety” of the Tagalog language of Metro Manila, according to the chair of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, or the Commission on the Filipino Language.)

For the purposes of my series, Filipino (or Tagalog) had not yet been designated official (1937), which means that regional languages, such as those in the Visayas (like Cebuano and Waray) would have been even stronger at the beginning of the twentieth century. I have to thank Liana Smith Bautista (and her mom) for being my newest go-to research sources on Cebuano, though all errors in my books are my own. I also am deeply indebted to the creator of the amazing Binisaya online dictionary and reference guide.

Top ten language myths in the Philippines from Inquirer newspaper to illustrate Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series
From the article “Debunking PH Language Myths” in the Inquirer newspaper.

American readers, have I utterly confused you? The number of indigenous languages is daunting—and I have not even mentioned the foreign tongues spoken in some families, like Hokkien (from China). Is it any surprise that most Filipinos grow up bilingual, at the very least? As Javier said to Georgina when they first argued about her English textbooks: “I grew up bilingual, learned three more languages in school, and another while traveling. It’s only Americans who can’t seem to manage more than one.” (And with the direction of funding for foreign language education in US public schools, we will not be getting much better.)

Allegra is a polyglot, too, by the way:

“To be honest,” Ben said, “it’s a little eerie how American you sound, Allie. From what the folks here tell me, you also speak Spanish like an Iberian. And Cebuano, and Tagalog, and Latin…”

“I was raised speaking Spanish in the house and Cebuano everywhere else, and I had to learn Tagalog in Manila. No one but a priest speaks Latin, but I learned how to read it in school—”

“You’re missing my point. You’re a linguist, a natural.”

She blushed even more furiously than when he had first taken her hand. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I’m telling you why you scare those American phonies at the club. Do you really think they’ll award you a scholarship for being smarter than they are?”

— Sugar Moon (upcoming)

Ben’s respect for Allegra’s intelligence has been one of the most fun things about writing this couple. He is not a scholar and doesn’t pretend to be, but he is not intimidated by her skills, either. In fact, as we’ll see, he needs them.

So we’ve gotten a little bit away from the bangka in this glossary “definition”—sorry—but you probably just needed a picture for that. (If you want more nautical know-how, read about this group trying to help local fishermen design bangkas out of fiberglass—a light, durable, super-typhoon-proof alternative to wood.) Otherwise, I hope that you, like me, have learned a larger lesson about language through the study of this one little word.

 

Maybe we all need a vacation to ponder these languages a bit more. Photo at Pixabay. Featured photo at top of post also from Pixabay.

EDITED TO ADD: Bangka is also a verb! This is from Liana: “Also it’s to be noted that in Bisaya, bangka with a hard stress on the final syllable refers to a type of boat, but keep the pronunciation soft and it is a verb meaning to treat someone out (usually to a meal, but can be used in other contexts where you pay for another person’s fare, lodging, etc.). It’s not uncommon for my cousins to say ‘bangkahi ko, beh?’ (Won’t you treat me?) when we talk of going to lunch or seeing a movie, for example.”

Research Notes: Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines

Do you remember the days of card catalogs? Or the days when, if your library did not have the book you wanted, you had to wait weeks—maybe months—for interlibrary loan? (And that was if your library was lucky enough to be a part of a consortium. Many were not.) Even during my college years, I made regular trips to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., because that was the only place I knew I could find what I needed. Since I could not check out the books, I spent a small fortune (and many, many hours) photocopying. I still have their distinctive blue copy card in my wallet.

The point is that “kids these days” are lucky. Do I sound old now? Sorry, not sorry—look at the wealth of sources on the internet! With the hard work of university librarians around the world, plus the search engine know-how of Google and others, you can find rare, out-of-print, and out-of-copyright books in their full-text glory.

Today, I (virtually) paged through an original 1900 copy of Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines to bring you some of the original images that you cannot find anywhere else. For example, you may know that almost every village in the Philippines—no matter how remote or small—had a band of some sort, whether woodwind, brass, or bamboo. In fact, these musicians learned American ragtime songs so quickly and so enthusiastically that many Filipinos thought “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” was the American national anthem. You may know this, but can you visualize it? You don’t have to anymore. Here is an image in color:

Filipino street band 1900 full color image from Harper's Magazine in Gilded Age American colony
Full color image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Smaller bands than the one pictured above played at some of the hottest restaurants in Manila, like the Paris on the famous Escolta thoroughfare. I have seen the Paris’s advertisements in commercial directories, but I had never seen a photo of the interior of it (or really many buildings at all) since flash photography was brand new. Harper’s had a budget, though, so they spared no expense to bring you this image of American expatriate chic:

American expatriates navy officers at Paris restaurant in Manila Philippines in Gilded Age colony
Image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Not every soldier or sailor ate as well as the officers at the Paris. The soldiers on “the Rock” of Corregidor Island, which guards the mouth of Manila Bay, had a more natural setting for their hotel and restaurant:

Corregidor Island hotel in mouth of Manila Bay Philippines during war between Philippines and United States during American colonial period
Image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Another interesting image is of a “flying mess” (or meal in the field). Notice the Chinese laborers in the bottom right hand corner. Despite banning any further Chinese immigration to the Philippines with the renewal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1902, the US government and military regularly employed Chinese laborers who were already in the islands.

American Army soldiers field mess during war between Philippines and United States in Gilded Age
Full color image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

But enough politics. It’s almost the weekend, so this relaxing image might be the most appropriate:

Filipina girls women in hammock posing for American photographer during colonial Gilded Age
Image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Want to learn how to find such cool sources yourself? Next weekend, on April 22nd at 1pm, I will give my research workshop, The History Games: Using Real Events to Write the Best Fiction in Any Genre, at the Hingham Public Library, in Hingham, Massachusetts. The hour-long workshop is free, but the library asks that you register because space is limited. Follow the previous library link, if interested. Hope to see you there!

(Featured banner image of card catalog from the 2011 Library of Congress Open House was taken by Ted Eytan and is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)