A Day in Ternate Cavite: Finding Chavacano II

February 13, 2011

“TA RECIBI MIJOTRO CON USETEDE CON TODO CORAZON”: Everyone’s welcome here. Instead of Tagalog and English the Ternateño’s used their local language to welcome their town’s visitors.

When I wrote an article about the Chavacano situation in Cavite City last year – I was also thinking about Ternate. I’ve always been interested in our creole language. Is it experiencing alarming decline like what Cavite City is experiencing?
When I visited Municipalidad de Ternate my questions were answered.
I was relieved that Chavacano usage in Ternate remains high even after decades without conservation programs. It was almost noon time when I reached Ternate. A town with its own version of Chavacano (that some of them claim to be “mas puro”) not far from Cavite City. The welcome arch greeting is written in old Chavacano – an indication of how proud Ternateño are of their culture and language.
The old poblacion is where you’ll find a significant number of Chavacano speaking families. Speaking with the gracious Ternateños, descendants of the original settlers from Ternate in the Maluku islands was a pleasure and I’m already looking forward to go back maybe celebrate their fiesta with them one of these days. Their appearance reminds me of the Ilocanos of the north. I found out that the Ternatenos, their ancestors, characteristically have darker skin tone and solid built. The loyal Christianized Ternateños  have also figured in many battles against the Moros in defense of Manila. They were trusted and respected during the Spanish era.
The facade of the church of Sto Nino de Ternate. I’m uncertain if the original was damaged or destroyed during the war. How I wish that the original that most Ternatenos during the 19th century grew up with was retained. Sto. Nino is still a popular devotion among Ternateno. This devotion has shaped the Ternateno tradition as we know today. I’m surprised that there are no mass in Chavacano – something that I believe the Church leadership should address.

I entered the Church of Sto. Niño de Ternate to pay my respects to what has become the center of the towns art tradition. Their fiesta is reputed to be one of  the liveliest and most original in Cavite. Locals recount many stories about how their Sto. Niño saved their town from man and natural danger. They’re a people who still pervently believe in the power of prayers offered to their child Jesus. The “hermano” of this Sto. Niño, according to the locals is in the Aglipayan church, a stone throw away from the Catholic church. Its interesting how both groups co-exist in harmony. In fact, some people attend both churches which I find fascinating.
I tried to gauge the usage of Chavacano by observing the people around first then interviewing some of them. I was always welcomed with a smile. A friend once told me that the old families of Ternate are very honest, cheerful and hospitable – he was right. They’re the reason why the Ternateño tradition is alive and well. The first person I got to speak with is Councilor Wilfred Huerto. A cheerful chap with a great sense of humor. He was with his wife and kids near the plaza. Right away they agreed to speak to me and did not mind  our conversation being recorded. Apparently, most Ternateños who speaks Chabacano are likely to teach the language to their sons and daughters because this instills a sense of identity. In their own words, a Ternateño must speak Chabacano. “Most of us speaks Chabacano exclusively inside our homes” said the good councilor.
Children that grew up in these parts are all good swimmers I was told. Fishing is still one of their industry. I can just imagine generations of Ternatenos who had done the same, swimming and fishing around here. I wonder what the Ternatenos of the old would think of the “land fill” and the language situation today.

I then posed the question: why is it that the number of speakers is decreasing then? his answer made sense, “because there are far too many people relocating here, they are outnumbering us!”. The couple acknowledges the presence of the huge Tagalog and Visayan speaking community that moved in the area as a threat but both expressed with confidence that Ternateño will never die. “Imposible” said the councilor who said that Ternateños are too attached to their language that separation is impossible.
The couple’s relatives in Europe and in the US, whose kids has never even set foot in Ternate are speakers of Chabacano. This they told me is “proof” why their version of this creole language will never go away. I can tell that they’re so proud to be Ternateños. They love who they are and this is exactly why its important that we appreciate our history and culture because with this we are able to maintain our true unique identity.
Councilor Huerto, a former seaman, also told me of an experience he had in Ermita back in the early 60’s: “While I was in Manila, I had with me some Francos that I intended to convert to pesos. So I went to Ermita. There I spoke with these money changers near the plaza – I caught them speaking, whispering, in Chabacano, it has a different tone and phase but I can tell it was Chabacano – right there and then, I knew that they intended to buy low. I then spoke to them in Chabacano and they were surprised – I haggled for a higher price in Chabacano of course!”. It was the 60’s, were those people  speakers of the now extinct Ermitense? “I can never tell but the tone was different”, Councilor Huerto said.

Old timers in the public market are all Chabacanos and those people that would come to do business have no choice but to learn the language. A vegetable vendor, originally from Cebu, told to me that she can’t speak Chabacano but could understand it well.
I was then led to the house of the poblacion’s barrio captain located next to the river where a brahminy kite incessantly circles up above the scenic Maragandon river. Children were jumping in and out of the water near where I was interviewing the man they simply call Kapitan Meyong. He was a very accommodating man. He was pleased hearing that someone from the outside is interested to study their beloved language.
Capitan Meyong and her daughter with the visitor. Almost all the old families residing in Ternate are descendants of the legendary seven clans that came from the Maluku islands, Ternate, an Indonesian island situated in the Malay peninsula which was once governed by Manila.

Capitan Meyong is from the old town of San Jose where Chabacano is exclusivley spoken.Its common to hear locals transacting in the creole language in the market place but perhaps the biggest community of Chavacanos can be found in Barrio San Jose. “San Jose is 100% Chabacano”, he confirms. But all the other barrios outside the poblacion and San Jose are not speakers of Chabacano he said. Unlike the couple I spoke with earlier, Sr. Meyong is worried that Ternate would be completely wiped out by Tagalog and that one day it will finally lose its foothold in  Ternateño society.
He acknowledged that there has been no major project to promote Chabacano as a Ternateño laguage that can be offered to all people now living in the municipality. But he firmly believes that it is necessary. He said, “we have to teach this (chavacano) to all children that is now living in Ternate, whether from the original families or those who recently settled here”. I mentioned that Spanish as a subject in school is already close to being realized. He said, “much better, we could understand Spanish, Cavitenen (Cavity City) and Zamboanga anyway, its all related”.

When I visited the Barrio Captain, he was having a hearty lunch with his family right beside the river. I wonder what the place use to look like in the old days. I’m always consumed by what places use to look like. I try to find an old photo and compare them with the new ones that I shot – it amazing seeing the transformation, sadly, most of our old towns had seen better days.
The Barrio Captain then spoke about the  pressing issues the municipality have like the garbage dump its effect on the enviroment. This is truly a sad development. I believe no town deserves to be a site for waste disposal – I could not imagine the pain (giving up space for other towns garbage) this people have to live with. Garbage disposal is a tricky and complicated issue, we all know that garbage will have to be deposited somewhere and I’m sure no one wants to be given this unfortunate role – I hope that someday no town would ever have to deal with being elected as garbage site.
After my visit to the Captains home I headed straight to San Jose where I met an old woman who married into one of the oldest clan in Ternate. Almost everyone is related in this beautiful town, well, at least it felt that way. She was Waray but has resided in Ternate for almost four decades now and believes that she’s a Ternatena through and through. “I’m more Ternateña than waray”, she said with a big laugh. She told me that it only took her “less than a year” to learn the language. The language sounded like “singing birds” to her when she first arrived in the 70’s. All her grandchildren speaks Chavacano saying that its ” [not speaking it] unacceptable as it is our language inside our home”. She then instructed her son to take me to another relative of theirs who have “more stories to tell about the history of the town and the language”. The man then invited me to his tricycle and took me to this relative – he refused my payment.
A reputed Ternateno from the days of yore. not exactly sure if he really was that colorful but its the thought that counts. Right?

The man we were supposed to visit wrote a book about Chavacano and is an active member of the historical comittee of the province. He is considered a foremost expert in the creole language. Unfortunately, he was not there when I dropped by. True to the hospitality of the Ternateno’s I was still invited inside their home which is right beside a basketball court. Not far is a monument, painted in color of an ancient Ternateño dressed in his traditional costume standing proud amidst the modern houses and structures that surrounds him. They are indeed a unique people and I’m really happy to have been able to meet so many of them in one day.

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  1. hi! 🙂 lolo ko yung expert sa chavacano, qng gsto mo pang dag-dagan yang mga infos sa Chavacano namen, let me know. 🙂 muchos gracias. nakakflatter.

  2. Hi Sir! I’m enjoying all your blog entries! Pls. do continue and never get tired of posting wonderful articles about our culture. Always bear in mind that a lot of people are reading and enjoying these articles that you’re posting.

  3. Hola! buenas tardes!
    Que tal vosotros alli de Ternate?
    alegre gat yo lee este de ustedes blog donde segun ta explica acerca de vuestro lenguaje llamado Ternateño como uno del mana dialectas del idioma Chavacano y como yo un Chavacanohablante tambien pero usando el dialecta zamboangueño.
    aqui na de nuestra Ciudad, muchas ya mana resolucion ya pasa para queda ordinanza sobre el requerida usada del idioma Chavacano na Escuela, privado y na gobierno, de mas reciente solamente donde uno de los consejales ya pasa un resolucion para hace un ley donde segun para celebra el mes de Junio 23 1635 como el “Dia De La Fundacion de Lengua Chavacano” O ” Dia de Fundacion de Chavacano”. tambien muchas ya mana diccionario ya publece na publico para queda el guia del mana gente quien interesado aprende el idioma.
    si ya puede vosotros oi, recio ya tambien el tocada na aire el Musica Chavacano como el banda “Maldita”.;-)
    bueno… adios!
    hasta aqui ya lang el mensaje…
    Dios Te Bendiganos A Todos Ustedes!
    Ronan Paul
    un Ciudadano Latino Zamboangueño

    1. @Ronan – el municipio debe involucrarse mas. Se deben promulgar leyes para la protección y conservación del idioma Chavacano.

    2. hola,
      yo soy Mexicano y adoro la idea que apoyen el crecimiento del idioma chavacano. Arriba el chavacano, arriba el Espanol en las filipinas.

    1. yo soy un escritor malo. but thanks for being so kind Dn. Guillermo. muchisimas gracias por tu apoyo y tus palabras!

  4. buenas tardes con todos mga chabacano aqui na cavite….sa totoo lang no yo original ya de cavite pero quiere yo este lenguaje de chabacano, y ya estudia yo este lenguaje na escuela chabacano aqui na ciudad cavite….viva con nisos todos…

  5. Buenas dias con ustedes todo! Carioso el historia de ternate,cavite. Mi de ternate ahi yo ta queda.Gora ta mira quel mga muchachu muchacha no ma sabi platika chavacano, con suerte tieni sujeto chavacano na elementary y secondary aqui ya ternate para sabi lohotro platika ta queda nuai ma quel chavacano aqui ya ternate bung carioso quel lenguaje de mijotro aqui.

  6. Amigos filipinos que hablan Chabacano, los admiro por la dedicacion y el amor que sienten por su lengua natal y por el esfuerzo que ustedes realizan para que esta lengua tan interesante siga siendo hablada en aquel pais de Filipinas.
    Un saludo amistoso desde Placetas, Cuba
    José Rojas

  7. hola a tods!! yo de zamboanga y me gusta ujir este blog.. te supporta yo el preservacion del dialecto chavacano en cavite, especialmente a mi ciudad hermosa Zamboanga City la ciudad de flores y el nuevo nombre del este ciudad es ” asia’s latin city”.
    bueno, hasta aqui ya lang! muchisimas gracias .. ciao!
    Miguel de la Ciudad de Zamboanga, Filipinas!

  8. Good day to you! I am judith, a 3rd year student and I was really happy as I read your blog about Ternate. I said YES! I’ve learned some ideas about the Case Study that we’re going to conduct this coming Wednesday! Thank you for the information’s, it will help us a lot.
    If you don’t mind, I have certain questions. I also really want to know all about Ternate. If it is okay to you, can I get your email add so that I can email you? I just really want to have a background study about the place before we go there. :>)) I can give you my email and you can also response there – Thank you very much! God bless you. I’m looking forward to your positive response. Thank you!

      1. Hello again. Sorry for disturbing you. 🙂 Actually that is really the question i want to ask you, whom we shall interview or someone that we can talk to that knows all about Ternate. We need to make a study about the place about their main issues specially regarding the tourism spots there. If you don’t mind i can give you my number so that even you can’t able to reply here. I can text you because tomorrow is our schedule to go there.. :))) Thank you very much, you’re such a big help De Anda! :>)) here my mobile. 09153505986!

        1. There’s only one authority when it comes to Ternate’s history and that is – Dr. Evangelino Nigoza. He lives right beside the basketball court near the church. Hope this gets to you in time.

    1. Ola Señol Huerto, tiene ba bo nuevo publicaciones tungkol na bahra? Hasta gora ta estudia pa yo platica lenguaje di bahra. Ta visita yo siempre el website di bo. Gracias.

  9. Chabacano (de Zamboanga, de Cavite, de Ternate) in the Philippines must be not only protected but preserved. Filipinos should know that when Spain ceded the archipelago to the US, it did so under duress. Today, it has been proven that the blow-up of the Maine vessel was purposefully carried out. Americans just wanted to have their colonies. SHAME ON THEM.
    El chabacano (de Zamboanga, de Cavite, de Ternate) en Filipinas tiene que ser no solo protegido sino preservado. La población filipina debe saber que cuando España cedió el archipiélago a los EE.UU. lo hizo bajo presión extrema. En la actualidad, ha sido probado que la explosión del Maine fue absolutamente intencional. EE.UU. sólo quería sus propias colonias. QUE CERDOS HAN SIDO.

    1. Well, that’s America, The state of their economy would force their hand to change. I hope. They have so much to offer this world. They can lead but not by policing the world but by doing what they do best – creating technology and pioneering science research. And making great movies of course

  10. Speaking as a Zamboangueño, it is saddening to hear that Ternate Chavacano is threatened to disappear. Makes me wish it was more mainstream like us here, even with the influx of people from other parts of the country. I’ve always wanted to meet, speak, and listen to Chavacanos from Cavite. And I think Vigan has, too?
    I’m not sure if there is already but maybe the local governments of Tenate and Zamboanga City should form a partnership to stay connected and promote the dialect. Maybe we can start, too. If you are interested, message me add me in Facebook, Pinoy Subasta.

    1. I’m all for the promotion of our local languages and I hope that these Chabacano municipalities would work together in the future.

  11. I am Filipino-American and support the preservation of Hispanic Filipino culture. Chabacano and the teaching of Spanish in the Philippines is linked. Spanish films, TV and shows should be shown locally in Cavite. I organized a Spanish practice group and Chabacano speakers are welcome.
    Please join the Spanish Language Meetup of the Philippines.
    Siempre he querido apoyar la preservacion de nuestras lenguas chabacanas (espanol-criollo) de Filipinas. Se ha escrito que la preservacion del Chabacano se basa en la continuacion de la enseñanza del espanol. Son vinculados. Porque la lengua es un ser vivo y se necesita nueva infusion de espanol, si no, se mezclara con mas ingles u otro. Ya ocurre con el Chabacano de Zamboanga.
    Soñamos, luego planeamos!

    1. Congratulations for what you do. We have to do our part in promoting Spanish and educating Filipinos of its historical and cultural significance. – un abrazo, A

        1. he is according to family accounts an uncle of my father, but i have yet to find written records of this. i live in Singapore but i can get you in contact with spanish interest groups in PH. I would recommend you meet them and my distant uncle, guillermo gomez rivera, foremost advocate of spanish getting back to our schools.

  12. Hello Arnaldo,
    I truly enjoyed your articles on Ternate, Cavite and its mother language. (I will comment on this later below).
    My first reason for writing you is to ask the email address and/or contact info of Dr. Guillermo Gomez Rivera. I have been thinking about contacting him for a few years now, but had not had the time, until my father passed away in Nov. 2017. I first encountered Dr. Rivera’s name while I was following the articles written in Revista Filipino, whose Editor is Edmundo Farolan. I have always been interested and fascinated in the spanish language, because my paternal grandfather, Felipe Mojica, hails from Cavite and spoke Chavacano. Not only the spanish language is what interests me, but that I wanted to communicate with Dr. Gomez Rivera about WWII history in the Philippines, specifically about the Hunters ROTC Guerrillas My father, Proculo Mojica, wrote a book of the same title published in 1965. The book contained the life of the filipino warriors (guerrillas) fighting the Japs in WWII. My dad and his colleagues during that time were the guerrillas who put their lives in harms way to fight for freedom for the filipino people. Among his colleagues at the time were: Senator Eleuterio Adevoso, Sen. Raul Manglapus, Sen. Frisco San Juan (who recently passed away); Sen. Manuel Manahan, to name a few. The rest are mentioned in his book. Lucky Guillermo, Founder and Director of a Film company, who interviewed my father 3 years ago, made a documentary film about the war in the Philippines. This film was shown in a symposium held at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia in July 2016. Lucky is presently promoting the awareness of this portion of the Philippine history by visiting public schools in the Philippines and abroad, from Elementary to high school. He said, it should not be left unlearned because it was a crucial part of War history.
    As far as the Chavacano dialect is concerned, I am 100% for the promotion of the language not just in all of Cavite, but in the entire nation of the Philippines. We should not forget our native language’s heritage and inheritance. I have studied Spanish in all 4 years in college and tried to speak it whenever there is an opportunity. When I took on my first jobs when I was in my 20s, I worked at Wrigley, Phils., whose President at the time was, Mr. Luis Garcia, a native spaniard; he and our other managers like Jose Sian (a Portuguese mestizo) would speak in spanish. Then when I got a job in an advertising agency in Makati, the president was an American, married to a Spaniard, and other executives were spanish speaking, like our Vice President, Gerardo Rotes (first husband of Leila Benitez, and brother of Paquita Rotes, wife of Armando Goyena).
    I speak intermediate Spanish; I attend a spanish speaking church here in Lansing, Michigan; our Pastor is Cuban, but the congregation is made up of hispanics from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Honduras, Dominican Republic.
    Anyway, I love to learn the Flamenco; this is also why I would like to meet Dr. G. Gomez Rivera. I think it is the spanish culture in me that is surfacing in my music; as I love to play Latin ballroom music, the old standards; my father, a violinist, infused classical and popular latin music in me as a youngster and it stayed in me in my adulthood; I am classically trained on the piano, but I can play by ear some, playing the old spanish love songs and Italian love songs. Some of them, Became Mucho, danceable music like Rumba, as El Choclo, La Cumparsita, etc.
    Glad to know that there is a meetup group of spanish language in the philippines. I shall check it out when I am in the Philippines.
    I hope Dr. Rivera would not mind sharing his email. I shall support any one or any organization that will promote the Chavacano language. We can even use concerts that play spanish music – – these have very good rhythm and are very danceable; With music as a start, people will come to love the language. It’s late here now. its 2AM EST. So am in a hurry to go to bed. Will write in spanish next time. I was in Spain in 2010.
    Dios les bendiga a todos!!
    Irene Mojica Haug

    1. Hi Irene, sorry for responding late. You can email him ay or reach out to him via his facebook. He’s very much active there.
      We share the same historical interests. There are Spanish interest group in back home, one that’s growing in number is founded by a friend.
      Let me know if you ever get in touch with Señor Gomez, if not I’ll ask him to reach out to you.

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