By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Sosyudad (First of five parts)
posted 11-Feb-2010  ·  
1,593 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

(NOTE: The current series is drawn from my Ph.D. dissertation in Anthropology at the University of the Philippines. It is my way of giving back to the community what I had taken the liberty to extract from it, namely its culture – or certain aspects of it. This is the least I can do to reciprocate the generosity.)

The sosyudad is a matter of common knowledge in Virac. Who would not know them? If one roams around during late afternoon or early evening of weekends, it is impossible to fail to see, hear and even smell the noisy and spirited (read: drunken) enactments of camaraderie inside homes, in backyards, or even along roadsides. As a child, I knew about these groups. I remember how my relatives from Buyo would come to town and buy pata and anisado and then hurry home because the carabao knuckles would take eternity to soften in boiling water. You cannot coax them to stay even for a while. They would not miss the sosyudad for anything in the world: it is sacred realm.

Why a research on the sosyudad? Because it tells a lot about the kind of people Viracnons are. We invest time, effort and material resources to reproduce and reinvent this practice time and again, and so it must be something that crystallizes our basic concerns. Anthropology, my field of specialization, is the study of culture or the people’s way of life. It includes not only the more spectacular aspects of it like the arts or religion, but more importantly the every-day practices which people take for granted as something trivial. Usually, these little things that go unnoticed tell more about the people who engage in them, like sosyudad. Some people are embarrassed to acknowledge them because they think it is decadent, nothing but the expression of a people’s weakness. When I ventured into this inquiry, I was ready to reinforce that view. But to my surprise, I found out that the sosyudad is a mechanism that brings out not so much the vices but more so the virtues of Viracnons.

Defining the Sosyudad

When I started the research, I was confident that I knew what basically composed the sosyudad. It is that small group of intimate friends who come weekly for a drinking session and do the regular hulog or saving deposit which they pool together and make available for loaning at an interest. But in the middle of things, I realized that the territory is wider than that. There are actually groups that people call sosyudad which do not neatly conform to the basic mold. While the dinking-cum-saving-and-loaning type remains the big majority, these other types cannot be disregarded because 1) they were among the longest-running groups, the oldest of them being 75 years in existence, and 2) those who identify them as sosyudad were the old folks who knew better. Since most of these other types centered on a religious observance (such as those devoted to St. Joseph, or pa-disinuebe) I designated them as the devotional type sosyudad in contrast to the secular type which simply engages in drinking and/or saving.

There are two other glaring differences between the secular and devotional types. First is that the former are usually short-lived as many of them do not go beyond three years, while the latter, as already mentioned, can go on and on for years. The reason is that the secular groups revolve around the saving enterprise which completes on a yearly cycle, while the religious undertaking of the devotional groups is intended to last long. The second difference is size. The secular group numbers eleven members on the average while the devotional group can run up to a hundred.

But the two general types is not a neat way to classify the sosyudad groups. They differ in many other respects. Like frequency of meetings. Small groups tend to meet weekly or bi-monthly, while large group less frequently, such as monthly or even yearly. The also differ in their composition. Usually, the small secular group is a bunch of peers, a barkada(such as the Piranha Boys of Salvacion). Or they could be officemates (the Municipal Engineering Office group), neighbors (the Tiripon-tipon sa Sirangan), school batch mates (the Los Jubilantes in Palta). A number of groups are relatives and so a sosyudad can actually be a clan (such as the Tomagan Clan Association of Hawan Grande).

Furthermore, sosyudad groups take various mixes of activities. Aside from the drinking, saving, lending of money and religious devotion, some groups engage in mutual help. There are the groups of farmers or fisherfolks which regularly do the cumbinyu, a traditional mechanism for labor-exchange (such as a group in farmers in Pajo). Quite a number also engages in livelihood activities. The Sabang Fsihermen Association of Palnab maintains a communal fish pen in the suba while the Saturday Night group of Francia (now defunct) had, until they disbanded, been maintaining a booth during Christmas Cheers.

A handful of groups on the other hand had gone out of their confines and adopted civic-oriented endeavors. There is a group of couples in Calatagan that is active in the affairs of the local church. Another group in Tibang (Gogon) does regular clean-up drives in the neighborhood. At least one group is engaged in environmental and health advocacy. Aside from the fact that they shun drinking, the Mountain Care & Hikers Association does regular hiking up Mt. Kagmasuso and help in the upkeep of the trail. I consider these groups, with their active embrace of the concerns of the larger community, as the avant garde of the sosyudad. They are pushing the frontiers of an otherwise traditional practice. As a whole, this wide variety of manifestations attests that sosyudad is dynamic and alive, not some backward-oriented remnant of the past, but something that people continue to reinvent and render relevant to the present.

So what then is the sosyudad? At the most basic, the sosyudad is a practice of forming an association that the Viracnons themselves have developed. It is homegrown. It is the "native" way. Any association therefore patterned after something foreign, like the cooperative or the Rotary Club are never called sosyudad. This is the reason why some people do not look at the sosyudad with favor: it is local and therefore lowly, something not to be taken seriously. This regard is held even among sosyudad practitioners themselves. When some people knew I was doing a research on it, they could not believe because they think it is not worthy of academic notice. So sosyudad is never brought to the light of formal society. Like you never hear of a sosyudad being mentioned as sponsor in the misa de aguinaldo. These groups remain to exist in the gilid-gilid of society. They are socially invisible.

Why do people engage in sosyudad? As shown by the wide variety of sosyudad groups, people create them for many reasons, But the overriding purpose is the harampang. Maki-sosyudad means going to partake of the harampang. The sosyudad is that space and time of intimate face-to-face encounter among a group of people. A sosyudad may do other things, such as economic undertakings or religious observance, but without the central role of the harampang, it is no sosyudad. Furthermore, this harampang is one among equals. As one practitioner told me, outside of the sosyudad the members may have different statuses but once in the harampang, pare-pareho na, daing pobre, daing mayaman. That is the reason why they do it around a table. And what could be on the table but food and drinks? So the drinking in the sosyudad is no whimsical feature but essential to it.

Sosyudad Statistics

How many sosyudad groups are there in operation? Based on the survey I did between 2006 and 2007, a good estimate is that there were some 250 active groups of the secular type. Of the devotional kind, I counted only sixteen of them. These groups of both types are almost equally divided between the rural and the urban areas, disproving the common notion that the sosyudad is "barriotic." Sa banwa, sa baryo, pareho ang hilig sa sosyudad. As to the membership, there could be some 3,000 active members which easily consist of 10% of the entire adult population of the town. That should be much bigger if we think of those who had experience one time or the other because people would come in and out of sosyudad membership as they like.

As regards gender, there were three males to two females, demonstrating that while it is not exclusive to males, the sosyudad remains to be dominated by the menfolk. When it comes to age, the range was so wide. The youngest I documented was a 12 year-old who was signed in parent only for the saving, and the oldest was 80, a sosyudad veteran. But the big majority was within the 30-40 bracket. Most of them too were married. The women members were usually past child-rearing years, and understandably so. Economically, the sosyudad practitioners were not the very rich or the very poor. This disproves yet another myth that the sosyudad is the diversion of the unsophisticated poor folks. Membership necessitates financing. The rich however generally shun the sosyudad, perhaps because of the prejudice attached to it and that they have more expensive ways to seek camaraderie and amusement. But there are the so-called elite sosyudad groups. One of them, quite a large group, counted a high elective official. Their weekly sessions were reputed to be luxurious feasts with an array of high-end sumsumans and some five boxes of beer were consumed.

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