Bayanihan demonstrates what Filipinos can do in a crisis. A pandemic, like Covid-19, brings out the best, the inner hero in each of us. Like malasakit, bayanihan is a cultural value that lifts us our spirit every time we practice them. Filipino artists romanticized bayanihan as the community helps a family transport their bahay kubo (nipa hut) into a new location.
Bayanihan is a celebration of Filipino heroism. You can find many articles on the net, but I think none has captured the essence of the bayanihan spirit.
Today, I will share with you the deeper meaning of bayanihan, how it works, who practices it, and how you can inspire, lead, and join the practice.
What is bayanihan?
Like malasakit, bayanihan is one of the most abused words. We have the Bayanihan Festival that romanticized house-transferring definition. The government, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, called its solution the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. At the end of the day, it is really those without power and titles, ordinary Filipinos who demonstrated bayanihan, that made the biggest difference in response to the pandemic.
To understand the meaning of bayanihan, let us consider the word origin. Doing so will help us get the essence of words that google translate cannot do. Consider the terms bayan and bayani in defining bayanihan.
The Filipino word bayan may refer to a community, town, or nation. Community and town are places where Filipinos associate themselves. Community and nation refer to people with whom Filipinos associate themselves. In many provinces, Filipinos refer to bayan as the center of the town.
Mike Hanopol’s song Bayan ni Juan refers to both.
Bayan Ko, which was composed in 1928 and made even more popular by Freddie Aguilar’s, refers both to the country (place) and nation (people). Here is a copy of the original lyrics of Bayan Ko.
Students today may think that the word bayani means heroes. Google translate says so.
There is a much deeper meaning that can help us make sense of bayanihan.
In the western world, a hero refers to a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. They are somewhat like the superheroes like Superman, Wonderwoman, Captain America minus the superpowers.
You don’t need to have outstanding achievements to be a bayani.
Bayani is a Filipino who show their love for their bayan – both place and people. Our national anthem has the line “ang mamatay ng dahil sayo.”.” A bayani sacrifices his life for his bayan.
Ninoy Aquino said that Filipinos are “worth dying for.” It is worth to be a bayani for them.
The song Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo celebrated a peaceful revolution through people’s power- the highest form of bayanihan.
We call our OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) our bagong bayani (new heroes). They can be unknown, ordinary people who sacrificed their lives for their families and their bayan.
This is why our health workers and front liners are called bagong bayani during the Covid-19 crisis. A bayani does not have to be a mighty warrior. The measure of heroism is his love for his people.
Based on the words bayan and bayani, bayanihan means sama-samang pagpapakabayani. Bayanihan is a community, town, or nation’s act of love for its people. Without expecting anything in return, Filipinos show their love to those who are in need. Filipinos believe that everyone, rich or poor, has something to offer – and we celebrate the opportunities to be “heroes” to each other.
Yes, a bayani is a hero. But this bayani is not measured by his power or strength but by his love.
Now that we understand the deeper meaning of bayanihan, we can answer how to make bayanihan work.
How Bayanihan Works
Bayanihan is practiced everywhere in the Philippines. Foreign tourists can see this in practice easily, but they don’t have a name for it. In a country of typhoons, floods, and earthquakes, bayanihan is a lifestyle.
But how does it work?
Bayanihan begins with one.
When I was in college, I thought of helping the victims of the Mt Pinatubo eruption. I have no money to give, but I felt that others would be willing to help. I told my classmates about it, and they loved the idea., then we started talking to other students. After two weeks, we went to Pampanga with four trucks of relief goods and some money. We did this project two more times.
Bayanihan begins with one person. That person can be a politician, a celebrity, a professional. or an ordinary person.
The act can be as simple as pushing a car that refuses to start. When one person is willing to help, others soon follow. I bet you see this happening almost every day.
Or as heroic as Jericho Rosales’s rescue of those who were stranded in their houses during two super-typhoons. He is a living bayani and there are many who are like him.
Then others follow.
One mother cooked food for those in rescue centers after an earthquake — and then her friends followed her lead. An entrepreneur sold her beauty products for significant discounts to donate the proceeds, then men and women bought the products even though some of them didn’t use the product.
It begins with one, but it never stops with one. There are always people who will follow – and often scale up the reach of the deed.
In our lifetime, we have received help from strangers. Our sense of utang na loob, our debt of gratitude, inspires us to pay forward.
To foster the spirit of bayanihan, you only need one person to start. Then others will follow. And those who benefit from the act, directly or indirectly, will pay forward.
To appreciate bayanihan beyond the “house-transfer definition,” we ought to give it face. We will see how one person can become a bayani and encourage bayanihan.
I am sure that there are thousands of stories you can find out there, most of which are unwritten.