You’ll be hard pressed to find a Kapampangan who doesn’t know the words to the song ATIN KÛ PUNG SINGSING.
This popular folk song has been passed down from generation to generation and is known not only in the Kapampangan region, but in the entire country as well. A quick Google about this will lead you to covers from the likes of Nora Aunor and Freddie Aguilar on YouTube – two of the most popular artists in the seventies and eighties.
And yet, when asked about the real meaning behind the song, we only get a grasp of the surface: the song basically tells the story of a person who lost their ring of inheritance, and would do anything to get it back.
Like most folk songs back in the day, Atin Kû Pung Singsing hides a deeper meaning – deeper than most of us realize — and is not apparent enough in its lyrics. Yet, if we take a closer look at the format of the song, coupled with the lyrical arrangement and the choice of words, we’ll find both a message and a prophecy hidden in its seemingly innocent words.
The song takes on the form of a basultu, which is characterized by eight lines with six syllables each. A basultu is usually allegorical in nature, used by children back in the war to warn the Katipuneros in hiding that their enemies were coming.
So, at the onset, Atin Kû Pung Singsing was made with the intention to hide something… or perhaps pass something on under the guise of something innocent, presumably to stand the test of time.
Further, we need to look at these TWO key lines which cannot be understood unless we grasp of the concept of ALÁYA, which is mentioned in the seventh line (Me-Aláya Iti) and the eighth line, (É ku Kam-Aláya-n), both in the first paragraph. The word alaya is cleverly hidden in the supposed lyrics, “Me-Alaya” iti, eku Kam”alaya”n.
For Kapampangans, aláya is the intangible, metaphysical, universal, infinite, divine, life force or spirit. It is the soul, and literally means “that which is not there”. The concept of aláya can be seen in the following Kapampangan proverbs.
Pilan lang yátâng sísimbul,
Ibat king makapabúsal?
Dápot dumúgang alî ya,
Nung é mû king alâ ya.
This is an ancient saying that signifies the concept of “that which is not there”. It talks of a wheel with many spokes and demonstrates how the wheel is dependent not solely on the presence of said spokes, but on the empty spaces within that allow the wheel to turn.
Another relevant Kapampangan saying is the following:
Nú ya ing pángasarû ning sarû,
Nung é mû king alâ ya.
Here, Kapampangans are saying that a cup (sarû) cannot serve its purpose without the empty space with which you can fill with a beverage of your choice. This also stands true with a house. Without its empty spaces — such as its rooms, doors, windows — a house cannot fulfill its function as a place where you can be sheltered. Thus the Kapampangan saying:
Nú ya ing pángabalé ning bale,
Nung é mû king alâ ya
Nú ya ing pángatáwu ning táwu,
Nung é mû king alâ ya.
Man cannot be man without the intangible aspects of his being. His love, kindness, compassion, goodwill, his soul, and his spirit. That which motivates him and wakes him up every day.
Kapampangans of the olden days believed that it was possible to capture aláya. But questions now start to form in skeptics’ minds: How is it possible to capture that which isn’t there in the first place?
To answer that question, we have to explain the central figure of the song: the ring.
To this date. many people believe that the ring symbolizes eternity because of its circular nature. The band has no beginning and no end, thus creating the ideal metaphor for couples seeking to tie the knot as a sign of their everlasting love.
However, the Kapampangans of the olden days believed that they can capture aláya through the ring. In fact, they had another saying about this:
“King singsing yá mû ati ing alâ ya.”
The empty space inside the ring is the aláya. Not only can we see it, but we can capture it as well. This is how Kapampangans also interpreted the concept of eternity within the ring, as the empty space, the aláya, has no beginning and no end.
Now onto the song itself.
The song is divided into two stanzas, and we can easily divide both into THE MESSAGE and THE PROPHECY.
The first two lines, Atin ku pûng Singsing, Métung yang Timpúkan, establishes the premise of the song, where the ring holds an important part, central or tampúk in the lives of Kapampangans, thus the word TIMPUKAN. It holds their identity, their soul, their culture, and their aláya.
The third line, King Indûng Íbatan, with the keyword being Indû, which to the Kapampangans, means their parents, and used for terms such as Indûng Tibuan or Indûng Kapampangan, to mean their homeland.
The next two lines Sangkan kéng Sinínup, King métung a Kaban, describe how the Kapampangans concealed the ring from the public, or in this case, from the colonial authorities who wish to cleanse the Kapampangans of their culture, thus robbing them of their identities.
But the kaban, or container, here cannot be something physical. The message cannot be written in a book, as it may burn or its text may fade over time. It has to be contained in something intangible, something that transcends the physical plane — something everlasting — like a song. Thus, the next line, which says Me-Aláya Iti, tells us that the message was contained and hidden within a song. And a song, in essence, is aláya, as it cannot be touched, burned, nor can it’s text fade.
And finally, the last line of the first stanza says, É ku Kam-Aláya-n, which means that the song’s meaning may fade into the consciousness of the people, to the point that they may no longer appreciate it. However, as long as we continue to sing it, the spirit of the song — its aláya — will remain. Our ancestors hope that we will eventually be able to unlock its real meaning and find the lost ring.
However, the Kapampangan Katipuneros in the 19th century realized that the people were not quite ready for what the song’s message entails, as the people simply shifted allegiance from the Spaniards to the Americans. Thus the need for the second stanza, which starts with the lines Ing súkal ning Lúb ku, Súsukdul king Banua.
To manifest the disappointment of the Kapampangan as it continues to assimilate the American way of living during the latter’s occupation, the dirt (súkal) within them now reaches the high heavens, and even the dead can’t move on to the next world because of this. They feel disappointed that their descendants have decided to take on a different culture, and thus, take on a different identity.
To further display disappointment, the Kapampangan crossed his hands on the table, as in the next two lines, Píkurus kóng Gámat, Bábo ning Lamésa. However, the mere fact that the person was able to cross his hands on the table, meant that the table was empty.
The Kapampangan table almost always has something in it. Whether it was just a piece of fish on a plate, some bread, or fruit. In lieu of food, the Kapampangan table would also be host to people having a conversation, or maybe even playing cards. You can always count on something happening around the table.
However, because it is empty in this context, it meant that there is nothing left to identify the Kapampangan table with the Kapampangans. The song, in these two lines, prophesied how there would no longer be any Kapampangans in the future, if the people continue in this path of cleansing their own culture, which starts by not using their own language.
And thus, the next two lines, Nínu mang Manákit, King Singsing kung Mána, is a call for help, asking for anyone who would be able to unlock the meaning of the song. And if they do, the final two lines, Kalúlûng púsû Ku, Mánginu ya Kéya (my suffering and impoverished heart, will follow you forever), explains how the Kapampangans can discover their true selves by acknowledging their Kapampangan roots, using their Kapampangan language, learning about the Kapampangan script Kulitan, and essentially embracing their Kapampangan identity.
Atin ku pûng Singsing,
Métung yang Timpúkan,
Ámána ké Iti,
King Indûng Íbatan,
Sangkan kéng Sinínup,
King métung a Kaban,
É ku Kam-Aláya-n.
Ing súkal ning Lúb ku,
Súsukdul king Banua,
Píkurus kóng Gámat,
Bábo ning Lamésa,
Nínu mang Manákit,
King Singsing kung Mána,
Kalúlûng púsû Ku,
Mánginu ya Kéya.
This article is based on the study of Pangilinan, Michael R.M. (2001) Atin ku pûng singsing: discussions on the mystical and anti-colonial symbolisms of an ancient Kapampangan song. 1st International Conference on Kapampangan Studies, 2001 September, Holy Angel University, Angeles City, Philippines, http://siuala.com/alaya/, and Pangilinan’s lecture, Alaya ampong Singsing: A discussion on Kapampángan Philosophy and the Mystical and Anti-colonial Symbolisms of an Ancient Kapampangan Song (2019.01.19).