By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Sosyudad (Fourth of five parts)
posted 3-Mar-2010  ·  
1,718 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 term sosyudad is a localization of the Spanish sociedad which refers to "voluntary associations." In some areas such as Calatagan and Bigaa, the sosyudad is also called unyon, another Spanish derivative which basically means the same. But it is not to say that the sosyudad as practiced in Virac was introduced by the Spaniards. Being collectivists, the natives surely had been into regular voluntary groupings for camaraderie and other purposes even before colonization. When the Spaniards saw the practice, they labeled it according to their language: sociedades. The natives appropriated the term and refashioned it into their own by pronouncing it in a different way and applying it to a very specific type of association, hence the sosyudad as we know it now.

But the kind of sosyudad groups that we see presently do not exactly look like those that existed before. They have evolved through time, brought about by changes in the social system. According to my oldest informants, the sosyudad before the war were already drinking circles but did not engage in saving and lending. Most of those groups in the past were really cumbinyu gangs. The cumbinyu is a group of farmers, usually of adjacent farm lots, who enter into a labor exchange agreement. They work together on each other’s farm on a rotation basis. After a day’s work, they would gather and drink. Some cumbinyu groups decided to continue the gathering even when there is no more collective work to do, thereby they become a sosyudad. Here we see that the sosyudad since its early days was a mutual help arrangement, that is with a practical purpose, rather than merely for socialization.

What the Spaniards have contributed to the development of the sosyudad would be its religious component. At present, there are still a handful of groups that maintain a religious devotion such as the Pa-disinuwebe and Salvacionan. These are the most favorite types although I have come across groups devoted to San Roque, the Nazareno, the Lalawgon (Divino Rostro) and the Omboy (Infant Jesus). The Viracnons were so religious such that aside from the Church-mandated religious organizations (the sodalities), there are the lay initiatives that proliferate even without Church supervision. These initiatives are sosyudad if they have a regular core of members who regularly meet for fellowship and may engage in mutual help arrangements, such as collecting contributions in case of death in the family of a member. It may be assumed that there were more of these devotional type sosyudad before than at present.

How did the saving-and-lending scheme come into the picture? After the war, the economy became more cash-based. This was brought about by the reconstruction program and the pursuit of "development" by our newly independent country which also was increasingly incorporated into the world capitalist system. Practices such as labor-exchange (cumbinyu) went out of fashion as agriculture became more capital intensive. Farmers, rather than join the cumbinyu would just hire laborers and/or become wage laborers themselves for the cash. Generally, cash took more important role in the people’s daily lives. Before, neighbors did a lot of bartering: naki-hagad o nana-o ning kalayo, asin, kalungay, ugbos ning kamonte, limon. I can even remember a time when it was okay for someone to maki-buntog ning malughaw in a neighbor’s frying pan, to save on oil. But now, such practices are a thing of the past. Everything has to be had with cash.

Such a turn of events profoundly affected the sosyudad. With the cumbinyu gone out of fashion, the sosyudad fashioned a new form of resource pooling that was relevant to the new cash-orientation of the times. And so the saving-and-lending enterprise developed. It could be that the saving came earlier than the lending. Apparently, the original scope of saving was modest as indeed it was merely pang-rikado during fiestas. But with a build-up of cash, it is easy to see how else the money can be of better use: make it available for borrowers and earn interest.

Another change the sosyudad sustained was in the norms of drinking. While drinking remains central to sosyudad practice, the way to drink has evolved.. Since I left Virac early in the 1980’s I have observed the changes that took place along this line. Broadly, we can differentiate between traditional and contemporary styles of drinking. In the former, there is only one kind of liquor being consumed and everybody took shots from a single glass being passed around by turns. In the latter, drinks can be more than one kind and drinkers take shots at their own pace, and from different glasses. The traditional increasingly was taken over by the contemporary and there can be several reasons for this. When I asked people, they mostly cited health as the reason for these changes. But it can also be economic. More varieties of drinks are now available in the market, and people can afford it. In any case, there is now more consideration given to individual differences.

In part two of this series, we said that drinking is central in the sosyudad because it is a ritual replete with symbolisms that promote egalitarian camaraderie such as in the way the drinkers drink the same thing from the same glass. With the change in style, does it mean that the present sosyudad has given up on the pursuit of fellowship among equals? Not quite so. With the rest of society changing its values, the sosyudad cannot help but readjust its own. Egalitarian camaraderie remains a core value but it has been redefined to include an increasing recognition of individuality. Sosyudad’s goal of bonding among equals has now assumed a more democratic framework.

There are even more recent changes observable in some sosyudad groups today. A few groups, mostly dominated by women, have altogether given up the regular sessions that involve the partaking of food and drinks. All they have retained is the saving and lending. According to them, ombis na i-gasto pa sa harampang, i-hulog na sana. They have reduced the sosyudad to its economic aspect and eliminated what used to be the central component, which is the harampang. They would just come to the treasurer to transact during each member’s convenient time so they do not really meet as a group. Clearly, the increasing economic hardship is taking its toll on the sosyudad. Enacting camaraderie entails expenditure, and when the going is rough, people can give this up; survival has priority over it. Some purists would not call these groups as sosyudad. Some see them as being more of the paluwagan but then the paluwagan is quite a different thing. But would this type of sosyudad that is anti-sosyudad increase in numbers in the future?

One other new type of sosyudad that had emerged in recent times is what may be described as "civic-oriented." For the longest time, the sosyudad remained exclusive circles that hardly bothered with the world beyond its small confines. They were happy enough having their weekly merry-making and their annual barangaan. But now, we see groups that have started to get actively involved with the concerns of the wider social milieu. A group in Palta lends their hands in barangay activities such as clean-up drives, and would heed the invitation of a neighbor for duksoy or the communal building of a house. A group in Tiad regularly spearheads beautification campaigns in the neighborhood, while a group of couples in Calatagan engages in the projects of the local ermita. I have already mentioned about the Mountain Carers who took in the environmental cause. The all-women group in West Garden, before they broke-up, was in serious discussion about establishing a day care center in their place, while the Friday Club had been planning to put up waiting sheds near public elementary schools.

What we see then is a trend wherein the sosyudad is getting out of its invisibility. While they used to operate in the underground, preferring to lurk about the margins of society, they are increasingly integrating into the mainstreams. In Palnab, perhaps the sosyudad capital of Virac, all the sosyudad groups (about fifteen) have been absorbed into the barangay federation of civic groups put together by the joint forces of the religious and political governing bodies, and contributing their part in the various barangay improvement undertakings.

Whether these emergent types would become the dominant forms in the future or not remains to be seen, but their presence in out times is testament to the fact that the sosyudad is not some fossilized hold-over from the past. It is a dynamic part of the present, having been reinvented to suit prevailing conditions. Therefore, we expect it to be part of our lives for a long time to come. People mobilize their traditions, access their heritage from the past, but refashion them to be able to address the demands of the present. The sosyudad is not through and through sa gugurang: it is also as modern and contemporary as the computer or the cell phone.

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