The Kapampángan-Chinese Connection

February 21, 2019

Are Kapampángans more Chinese than they think?

With Kapampángans being the 7th largest ethnic group in the Philippines, you can expect a wide range of cultures and traditions from it’s population of almost 2 million people.

We especially have strong cultural ties with the Chinese that the similarities, especially with our facial features, can be quite uncanny.

One can easily mistake Willy Láyug, a well-known Kapampángan ecclesiastical sculptor, for Shing Fui On, a Hong Kong actor in the 80’s and the 90’s.
Photo from slide 6 of KAPAMPÁNGAN: The forgotten “Chinese”?, a lecture by Mike Pangilinan.

It’s not only these unmistakably strong oriental features that we share with the Chinese. We also have words like “ingkung” and “atchi”, our fascination with food such as dimsum, tikoy, and pancit, and our last names that range from “Tuazon” to “Pecson”. 

Do these stand as enough proof to make us think that Kapampángans are actually just Chinese in hiding?

Let’s take a look at some of the “most Chinese” things that describe Kapampángans.

1. Their Business Acumen

The Chinese generally possess strong business sense, to the point that they have been stereotyped and even parodied to businessmen roles in popular culture.

With Pampanga being the first colonial province created by the Spaniards, it would be a no-brainer for the Chinese to establish trade relations with
Kapampángans in the then known Kingdom of Luzon, which covered vast territories across the Northern and Central Philippines.

Trade continued to flourish between China and the Kingdom of Luzon, and this was also manifest by the presence of the Siàng Lâi, merchants from Fujian, who were known to deliver goods and then went immediately back to their homeland. These Fujian merchants had strict orders to exclusively travel to Luzon, and only Luzon, creating a funnel of business and wealth for Kapampángans.

This trade was so popular that even the Japanese had to have their hand in it, putting up shops in Luzon in the 16th century to participate in the China-Luzon trade.

Today, Pampánga is undeniably one of the country’s booming business hubs, seen to be the next major megalopolis after Metro Mania.

2. Kinship Terms

With Fujian merchants visiting on a regular basis, there slowly followed an osmosis of Chinese words — particularly Hokkien —  in the local language.

For instance, several of our two-syllable names actually come from the Chinese.

Kapampángan kinship terms such as koya 哥兄 (eldest brother) and atchi 阿姊 (eldest sister) can also be attributed to the Kapampángan-Chinese connection. Today, we use koya and atchi to address any sibling older than us. However, in the earlier days, we use words to call the 2nd eldest brother or sister, the 3rd eldest son, the 4th eldest daughter, and so on. This practice is still upheld in some parts of the region as well.

These kinship terms cover even the extended family, with words such as BÁPA [爸伯] ‘uncle’, ÁPÛ [阿婆] ‘paternal grandparent’, and INGKUNG [外公] ‘maternal grandfather’.

3. The Food

One cannot deny the kitchen skills and culinary prowess of Kapampángans, which can be heavily attributed to their close proximity to the river (thus KaPAMPÁNGan), allowing them to experiment and come up with various cooking methods to add an interesting twist and flavor to food.

It is this appreciation of distinct and varied cooking styles that perhaps allowed the Kapampángans to have an appreciation for foreign flavors, and a penchant to learn how to cook foreign cuisines.

Case in point: we often get confused with the origin of dishes such as ókuî, bâtsuí, pésâ, and suám mais. While these dishes are definitely
Kapampángan, the words are clearly not local. In fact, further research suggests that these words can also be found in the Hokkien vocabulary, pointing more or less to the same dish.

Do you know other words, traditions, food, or practices that are unmistakably Chinese? Tell us in the comments!

Based on KAPAMPÁNGAN: The forgotten “Chinese”?, a lecture by Mike Pangilinan of Sínúpan Singsing: Center for Kapampángan Cultural Heritage, February 2, 2019, Angeles City Library & Information Center.

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  1. It is said that the Guagua River was a docking and trading area for Chinese vessels even before the Spaniards came. Thus, many antique chinese porcelain are found in excavations and cemeteries.

    1. Yes this is true. My grandmother told us when we were young that trade with foreign countries was on going in Guagua via the Pampanga River. My grandmother also taught us that Capampangan has its own alphabet with closer similarities to the Spanish alphabet rather than Tagalog, that our alphabet did not have the letter K, that is why during their time the Capampangan started with a C and not a K, that in place of the letter K, QU used, thus, Keni was spelled as queni and keka was spelled as queca. If given a choice, I would prefer the former alphabet as it distinctively shows the uniqueness of the Capampangan dialect and further proves that Pampanga was indeed the first colonial province created by the Spaniards.

      1. Hi Ms. Monette! Thanks for your comment! Actually, the alphabet you talk of is just an orthography (or in simpler terms, a variation of how to use the alphabet). The real “alphabet” or form of writing of the Kapampangans is the Kulitan, which existed waaaay before the Spaniards and other colonizers came. While you are correct in saying that we could’ve been the first colonial province by the Spaniards, we should take more pride in the fact that we’ve had had a rich culture before the colonization happened — something that our grade school history books chose to ignore, sadly.

      2. Yes. Hence it is very hard to read the authentic Capampangan prose. I have with me a hand-written Pasyon y Muerte, that was used in singing/reading during the Holy Week in the senaculo,

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