Posted by: mensab | November 3, 2007

Katoninongan asin kariribukan

 Katoninongan and Kariribukan: Personally, Etymologically, Religiously, and Culturally Speaking

As a single, Catholic, Bicolano, male and graduate student, I would present my view on katoninongan (peace) and kariribukan (chaos). Supposedly, I would talk about conflict, but I could hardly find a word in Bikol for conflict. Thus, the closest that I could think of was chaos. My narrative of katoninongan and kariribukan is certainly informed by experiences, and culture/religion. In addition, I would try to find contradiction with our notion of katoninongan and kariribukan based on my experiences and culture/religion.

            Growing up in a rural area, I would illustrate my personal interpretation of katoninongan and kariribukan in the context of my experiences with my family. For me, katoninongan is being understood by others in the premise that others are also being understood. In my family, tasks or household chores were distributed among siblings when we were still young. Since I am the second youngest in seven siblings, I normally was assigned to do light work like washing dishes and my two older brothers assumed the heavy loads like fetching water, cutting firewood, etc. This distribution and set-up of tasking was clear and made life easy and fun for us. In other words, we were at peace with the situation and each other. However, things were not always like that, and kariribukan arose when we began to misunderstand each other. In this case, sometimes, I could not wash the dishes because there was not enough water from the jar. Irritated, I could not understand why my older brothers missed to do their work. So, I started not to do my work if there was not enough water. This resolve caused a kariribukan with my mother who oversaw our performance and overall housekeeping. When she noticed that I had not done my task, she got angry with me. I reasoned that I could not do my task because others failed to do their tasks. Then my mother explained that my brothers were going to school and so, they missed to fetch water. At that point, I understood my brothers and my mother, in turn, understood me. The opening up of communication helped in settling the kariribukan.

It is worth-noting in this incident that my mother kept the katoninongan in the house. This role could be attributed to the Great Mother or goddess who in the matriarchal monotheism gave and controlled life in the world. However, the institutionalization of marriage and society relegated this role and elevated the patriarchal monotheism.

In the energetic concept of katoninongan, communication is important because katoninongan is relational. Especially in a family system where harmony is very much desired in the relationships, the understanding of katoninongan in this setting could very well be in the concept of energy.

Why then peace as katoninongan in Bikol? To understand a word, it always helps to trace its etymology or meaning in its local language.

            I was born and raised in Milaor, Camarines Sur in Bicol region. Apart from the “national” or legislated national language, Filipino or mainly Tagalog language which is widely-spoken in the region, I grew up with Bikol language as my mother tongue. As presented earlier, peace in Bikol is katoninongan. What is interesting in this Bikol word is the word ninong, which literally means godfather. Ninong has a religious underpinning. There is “the clear statement of the Bible that circumcision was given to Abraham, as ‘a sign of the covenant’ (Gen. xvii, 11).”[1] As Catholicism is the dominant religion in the Bicol region, many people are generally exposed to Catholic rituals such as baptism, wedding, and confirmation. These religious rituals assign godfather (ninong) or godmother (ninang) on the baptized child on his/her way to Catholic adult life. The primacy of ninong in the baptism could be traced to its relation to circumcision which is primarily a male experience and seemingly a non-religious ritual which may have connection with “phallic worship, and thus regarded as an offering to the deity of fertility.”[2] However, “St. Thomas holds that circumcision was a figure of baptism: this retrenches and restrains the animal man as that removed a part of his body — which physical act indicated the spiritual effect of the sacrament (De Sac., Summa, III, Q. lxx, a. 1).[3] He connected the circumcision ritual with the sacrament of baptism, a mundane activity (circumcision) being connected to a divine activity (saving grace through baptism).  The circumcision which is exclusive for males may have aided in the rise of male dominance of society, just like the warrior in the hero narratives. Its institutionalization and practice in society put reverence and patronage on the male population who subscribes to it.

Interestingly, I had a ninong on both Catholic baptism and traditional circumcision which were rites of passage for me. Baptism accepted me in the Christian world while circumcision signaled the start of my adult and sexual life. The basic task of a ninong in both occasions is to guide me on the road to this Christian world and adult life. If circumcision prepared me to this adult and sexual life with the guidance of a ninong, then it was very much connected to the concept of peace in relation to fertility. According to my ninong in circumcision, it is believed that it is unclean and unsafe for a woman to have sexual act with uncircumcised man. It is also believed that sex with uncircumcised man will bear an abnormal child. So to make peace, katoninongan, with women and the potential child who may carry a stigma of being an offspring of uncircumcised father, I underwent circumcision which was witnessed by a ninong who would watch over my adult life. That is probably why ninong is godfather because he functions like a god who gives security. And we know that peace is God in the moral concept of peace.

How about kariribukan? In relation to this conception of peace with ninong, the concept of conflict in Bikol word makes a lot of sense. Conflict in Bikol is kariribukan, which could be the closest translation is chaos or noise. There is a belief that the world is chaotic for an unbaptized person, either in sacrament or circumcision. So in both rituals (baptism and circumcision), a person is able to have a ninong who will guide him in the midst of chaos to make sense of the chaotic world. Ninong becomes an instrument to prevail over the chaos of this world. Thus, another concept of peace comes into play with ninong giving guidance and making sense of this chaotic world – peace as security. With my ninong on my side, I feel secured about my undertakings in this world because I have the guidance of my ninong. In other words, I find peace with the guidance of my ninong.

The main contradiction I found in this peace with ninong and conflict as kariribukan (chaos) is that the two is not a duality – between good and bad. Normally, we think of peace as the opposite of conflict. In this case, katoninongan is not the opposite of but an instrument to confront and transform kariribukan with the help of ninong. The transformation of kariribukan is in making sense of the whole which leads to understanding of the world. Again, I go back to my personal interpretation of peace as being understood. The contradiction to our notion of katoninongan and kariribukan as duality or, at times, opposite or rupture of the natural state, makes us revisit the concept of Great Triad of Taoism – heaven, humanity, and earth. A variation of the Great Triad in this case corresponds to peace, katoninongan, with ninong acting as god (heaven), understanding (humanity), and kariribukan (earth). In this variation, it is conceived that the end of humanity is understanding each other in this chaotic earth with the aid of peace brought about by ninong.

[1] See for further discussion on the history and religious flavor of circumcision. Date Accessed 28 September 2007.


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


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