Sunday, September 2, 2007
History of the Barong
Mythical accounts of anything or anyone popular have always been in existence to give more dramatic or more heroic versions of what would normally be seen as commonplace. These myths, half truths and embellished truths have begun to spread throughout the modern world like wildfire through the aid of the world wide web.
One interesting story circulating around the web which has doubtful origins revolves around the barong, the Philippine national formal dress for males. Online sources have varying accounts of the origin of the barong and certain authorities dispute the veracity of the popular version of the barong story. Like all popular disputed stories however, this one has the ability to gain a fanatic following. I must admit, I would have preferred the story to be true.
According to the popular barong story, the barong was once used as a sign that the wearer belonged to a lower social group. Filipinos were once required by Spanish colonizers to wear the early version of the barong. It was a nearly transparent garment so that the Spaniards could easily spot hidden weapons. It had no pockets so that no Filipino could pilfer Spanish valuables. It was also meant to be worn without being tucked as a sign of inferiority.
In time, middle class Filipinos who became successful in the fields of business and the academe emerged. Instead of looking for ways to discard the barong, they began to wear it with pride. This time, instead of settling for barongs made of inferior materials, the Filipinos began to make the garments out of exquisite cloths and hand wove delicate patterns on them.
This story could have been a source of great pride if it were completely proven to be true. The counter arguments however against the story include the fact that there is no record of the Spanish law that required the wearing of the barong. It is also possible that the barong may have been worn by our ancestors simply because the weather was too warm to wear anything else.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, I'd like to keep this story in my heart and tell it to my kids before they go to sleep at night.