The Customs of Old

I think I’m part of the last generation [ born in 1967 ] that still makes “mano po” to the elders — kissing the hand or putting it to one’s forehead as a sign of respect.  In my youth, it was already being rapidly replaced by kissing the cheek, since the Baby Boomers didn’t want to acknowledge their advancing age [ not that they could stop it ].  Now that my generation is becoming old, and rapidly so, we’ve advanced to “kissy-kissy,” “beso-beso” air kissing [ how it will hold up with the threat of the “swine flu” is anybody’s guess   😛 ].


For those who think that “mano po” is a rural, backward practice best left to the quaint provincials, then one should read what Alfonso Zobel de Ayala y Roxas had to say about it in a reminiscence of their Calatagan hacienda [ “Calatagan:  Visits to an Enchanted Country” from the book “Ayala:  The Philippines’ Oldest Business House” 1984;  Alfonso was the father of Jaime Zobel de Ayala, the paternal grandfather of Jaime Augusto, Fernando, and Bea Jr., et. al. ].  For surely, no other clan in the Philippines, even the ultrarich taipan families, can match the total equation of wealth, culture, history, tradition, education, arts patronage, philanthropy, not to mention the elegance, of the patrician Roxas-de Ayala-Zobel-Soriano clan.

Alfonso reminisced:  “Another custom which I ought to mention is how the younger persons greeted their elders by taking the right hand and touching it to the forehead to manifest respect.  This action was accompanied by a slight inclination of the head as a sign of obedience and deference.  This custom is deeply rooted among the people of the whole archipelago and we first saw it practiced in Calatagan.  They used to do it to my grandmother [ Carmen Ayala viuda de Roxas — ed. ] and my uncles [ Antonio Roxas de Ayala, et. al. — ed. ] and later when the ownership of the estate fell on our shoulders, we also became the recipients of this custom.”


In the olden days, everything stopped at 6:00 p.m. for the traditional prayer to the Virgin Mary…

“El Angelus”

V:  “El Angel del Senor anuncio a Maria.

R:  Y concibio por obra del Espiritu Santo.

V:  Dios te salve, Maria.
Llena eres de gracia:
El Señor es contigo.
Bendita tú ere entre todas las mujeres.
Y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre:

R:  Santa María, Madre de Dios,
ruega por nosotros pecadores,
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.

V:  He aqui la esclava del Senor.

R:   Hagase en mi segun Tu palabra.

V:  Dios te Salve, Maria…

R:  Santa Maria…

V:  Y el verbo se hizo carne.

R:  Y habito entre nosotros.

V:  Dios te Salve, Maria…

R:  Santa Maria…

V:  Ruega por nosotros, Santa Madre de Dios.

R:  Para que seamos dignos del alcanzar las promesas de Jesucristo.

V:  Oremos.

R:  Derrama, Senor, Tu gracia en nuestros corazones;  que habiendo conocido la Encarnacion de Cristo, Tu Hijo, por la voz del Angel, por los meritos de Su Pasion, y cruz seamos llevados a la gloria de la Resurreccion.  Por el mismo Cristo, Nuestro Senor.  Amen.”

“Ave Maria”

“Dios te salve, Maria.
Llena eres de gracia:
El Señor es contigo.
Bendita tú ere entre todas las mujeres.
Y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre:
Santa María, Madre de Dios,
ruega por nosotros pecadores,
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.


Alfonso continued:  “There was a religious custom which impressed us and which continued to be practiced for years:  the Angelus.  As the bells chimed the hour of six, everyone stood up.  My grandmother obliged us to do the same.  Together we recited the “Ave Maria.”  After prayers, everyone approached my grandmother to wish her good evening:  “Magandang gabi po” — to which she replied, “Magandang gabi po naman.”  This meant that first we had given praise and thanks to God and then, that the evening tide had began.  It was a beautiful custom that continued to be practiced until the manor house was torn down in 1958.”

“Late in the afternoon, my grandmother used to sit in the huge balcony of the manor house which faced the church and the town plaza.  At about 5:30 p.m., the womenfolk of the town came to visit her, as they felt obliged for one reason or another to pay their respects to the hacienda owners.  At the same time, they exchanged ideas and impressions, asked for advice and talked about their problems.  These informal gatherings used to last until past seven in the evening when they gradually took their leave one by one.”


Also in those days, everyone attended Sunday holy mass, usually in the early morning, well-dressed.  Yes, there was such a thing as one’s “Sunday best”:  people actually made the effort to dress up for church.  Rich, bourgeois, or poor came well-scrubbed, neatly combed and brushed, in well-ironed and starched clothes, shod in polished shoes.  The ladies’ veils were of French, Italian, and Spanish laces;  French perfume scented the air.  There was no such thing as casual attire much less grunge.  Even the vendors selling goodies outside the church were decently dressed in kimonas and skirts, camisa chino and cotton trousers.

Sunday was family day.  The members of the family gathered at the paternal home for lunch or dinner, or both.  Lunch could be with the paternal side of the family, while dinner could be with the maternal side, or vice-versa.  Traditional family specialties were the fare along with whatever was fashionable at the moment.  There is currently much stylish ado about “Slow Food” but it has always been the food served on Filipino families’ tables!  The Sunday tradition has certainly maintained the close bonds of the Filipino family.

“Cumplida” was the order of the day:  polish, politesse, and courtesy.  “Maneras” were everything.  The young were continually admonished about bad manners:  one doesn’t do this, one doesn’t do that.

Back then, the younger people in a room immediately stood up in acknowledgment when an elder person entered the room, even if they were familiar family members.  In a privately circulated history of the de Leon y Joven-Lichauco family of Bacolor, Pampanga, it was related that the younger Jose “Peping” de Leon y Joven immediately stood up whenever his father, the senior Jose Leoncio “Pitong” de Leon y Hizon strode into the room, be it in the house, the offices, or anywhere else.  Needless to say, his stepmother and aunt, Natividad “Titang” Joven [ y Gutierrez ] de Leon was accorded the same courtesies.

Polish, politesse, and courtesy were so prevalent that it could be excruciating.  “Lita” Manzano – de los Reyes related that in the 1930s, she and her friend Germelina “Germie” Escaler Fernandez went to the Legarda residence one afternoon to visit their friend, one of the Legarda girls.  Benito Legarda met them, patrician gentleman that he was, exchanged pleasantries, and offered them seats in his living room.  It was only later that Lita realized the nobility of Benito’s civilized behavior, especially towards Germie Fernandez, since he had just lost a lot of money [ a fortune in those days ] in a failed financial transaction with her father Raf*el Santos F*rnandez and his unwitting partner M*riano Cu-Unji*ng.  Benito Legarda behaved as the patrician gentleman through and through.

My question is:  Are polish, politesse, and courtesy still relevant in this day and age?

Isn’t it more efficient to “bulldoze” one’s way to success?



  1. April 1, 2010 at 5:16 am

    Hi ,I am trying to find Aenlle Family ties in Intramouros= my fathers family lived there but the house was bombed during the war–my fathers name was Eliodoro de Aenlle his fathers name was Edmundo de Aenlle -they were a big family-lived there till the war= any info would be appreciated—

  2. Dr. Taddy Buyson Gonzales said,

    June 9, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    What I remember to be rather unusual, when we would be in Bacolor the elderly casamac would graciously greet my mother with…dispu, siclod cu po…and they would remain standing the whole time.
    but my mother was definitely younger!
    it was a tradition I guess….

  3. ynchaustti said,

    May 18, 2009 at 5:50 am

    I’ve always been curious since Ant*n Roxas was mentioned, is he a brother of P*dro Roxas or a cousin. As far as I know, he sits on the board of R*xas y Cia.

  4. Garganta Inflamada said,

    May 10, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Uh… ok. He can kiss my feet if he wants!! 🙂

    G.I. 🙂

  5. Toffee Tionko said,

    May 10, 2009 at 10:15 am

    It really is so unbelievably casual now. I still make sure my kids do the mano to all elders upon arriving and before leaving a party or gathering. Yes it takes a while since we have a big family but I value the habit because that was the way we were brought up. Kids with correct social manners are the best.

  6. l*ding said,

    May 10, 2009 at 6:52 am

    garganta hijo,

    only the patrician ant*n roxas can order that.

  7. Garganta Inflamada said,

    May 10, 2009 at 6:10 am

    I would like my grand nephews and nieces to kiss my feet.

  8. Don Escudero said,

    May 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Very nice fragment of memory, Toto. So evocative. Somehow, the mano-ing skipped my generation but my nephews and nieces do it with less reluctance than I would have when I was their age. Now that I’m older showing respect to elders seems more
    than ever a mark of being well brought up, whether a polite greeting, a beso or even a mano.

  9. Sabin Arranz said,

    May 9, 2009 at 3:57 am

    OMG, I remember that exact same prayer. My parents/grandparents used to recite it… certain times of year only, though (I don’t remember when exactly anymore). Ours was never a devout family.

    Funny thing is, our really old maids said that prayer in Spanish, too. It was us youngsters (steadfastly refusing to speak anything but English, much to my father’s chagrin), plus the younger household staff, who mouthed the words and went through the motions without really bothering to think about what we were saying.

    Thanks for the memories. 🙂

  10. kongwi said,

    May 9, 2009 at 2:54 am

    we still have the “angelus” in sta. rita, pampanga followed by the holy rosary (via public address system – mounted in the church belfry) both in kapampangan…but some of the practice like stopping whatever you’re doing and face the church have few practitioners…i remember as a young we are required to make “mano” to the elders in our presence, whether they are relatives or not…

  11. mabel said,

    May 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    my parents, uncles, and aunts always ask us when we arrive from work, school or visit our elders “nagmano ka na ba?” or “nag-amen ka na ba sa lola mo?” …. i used to think that kissing on the cheeks was cool and we do this still in my family specially for the kids but i realized that in this era the teeners and those who are in their 20s or older prefer “mag-amen” …. personally, i prefer this “mano” in the family than air kissing and beso-beso with friends.

  12. dpb said,

    May 8, 2009 at 12:50 am

    I love that custom. I grew up in the US, but was taught by my parents to do that to our elders whenever we visited the Philippines.

    I see others do that to my parents now. There is elegance in the old ways.

  13. Presy Guevara said,

    May 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Naughty naughty, GI. Pillados come from the witty. Somebody’s gonna tickle you, you’ll see. No head? Quite an imagination!

    Well, for the sake of sharing, my mother’s godfather was an amputee at his right arm and only had his left hand. We called him Lolo as though he was our natural grandfather, thus we gave him the Mano Po respect and held his left hand instead of the usual right. He gave us his blessing wholeheartedly followed by a hug and tussling of our hair with his only hand. Now that I remember, I miss his wisdom.

    I suppose a simple nod of respect is appropriate if the elder is obviously lacking both hands. Etiquette is based on practicality after all.

  14. social climber said,

    May 7, 2009 at 1:07 am

    We still practice making “mano” to our elders in Pampanga but whenever I make “mano” to our elders in Manila, they always just tell me to kiss as they “don’t want to look old” daw. But for me, the mano po is a sign of respect. Now that I am a mother, I have taught my kids to make “mano” even right after we hear mass. I have also trained my nephews and nieces to make “mano” to me even if they live in Manila although they find it old fashioned. I know in time, my pamangkins will appreciate this practice I have taught them.

  15. Garganta Inflamada said,

    May 6, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    What if the elder has no arms??

    Or the bowee has no…head? 🙂 🙂


  16. Thundernut said,

    May 6, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Toto, who is joemaya123? He has a blog called Precious Few that featured “Filipino Philosophy of Mano Po” on April 18, 2008. His page design is exactly like yours, lace, color and all. I thought it was yours. That was a good thesis on Mano PO.

  17. zippo said,

    May 6, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Larry! How is Louie? It totally slipped my mind that it was his birthday. Louie is one of the kindest people I know.

    Z 🙂

  18. Ardelrosa said,

    May 6, 2009 at 5:22 am

    Hi Toto,

    I am an avid reader of your blog and I totally agree with you on this one.

    Breeding can’t be bought….

  19. larry leviste said,

    May 6, 2009 at 3:54 am

    WITH A WORLD PARALYZED BY PARANOIA about the latest plague spreading across oceans and mountains, A MANO PO ( hand to forhead may be the safest yet most respectful sign of greeting a superior, an older relative and the public in general.

    Japaneese won’t get it, they bow respectfully.

    Last night was the rollicking, no-tomorrow birthday bash of Louie Cruz and lotsa peeps were not even air kissing. Signs of the times. Instead they exchanged calling cards and smiled and nodded.

    Ah, the pinoy, cautious and conscious about contacting a social disease.

    I for one, will always bend my head and guide the hand of anyone I fancy to my forehead. They never forget me for that time honored, cultured, educated gesture. It’s an instant connection, always a positive smile producing act of respect.

    Well, maybe because I’m Batangueno or was simply raised that way.

  20. zippo said,

    May 6, 2009 at 12:48 am

    My parents have always told us to make “mano” to our elders. Now that some of my parents’ friends are my clients, I still make “mano” during social functions or even during professional meetings if the 2 of us (the client and myself) are alone. A foreign friend describes the practice as being “servile.” I argue that it’s a sign of respect.

    Z 🙂

  21. l*ding said,

    May 5, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Well, the classy Iren* Marcos-Araneta makes sure that she does “Mano” to all her elders on her father’s side. It has been a tradition taught by Ferdie to all his children. I like that.

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