Tumabasan or Dowry System


The Tagalog tradition of courtship and marriage is a class all its own, especially with respect to dowry-giving. It has no similarity in either the Christian Filipino or pagan practices. Its counterpart cannot be encountered in the Ilocano, Pangasinese, Pampango, Bicolano, Ilongo, Waray-waray, Cebuano or any other practices and customs of the majority ethnic groups. Neither can a version of it be found in the customs of the Igorots, Tinguians or Itnegs, Apayao(w)s or Isnegs, Aetas, Gadangs, Ibanags, Dumagats, Manobos, Bagobos, Badjao(w)s, Maranao(w)s, Maguindanao(w)s, Tasadays, Tirurays, Tagabilis, Tagbanwas, Bataks, Tausogs and other minority groups. But perhaps the nearest things to it is the Bagobo system which requires the bride-to-be’s father to make a return present equivalent to one-half of whatever is agreed upon as dowry. This quaint dowry-giving practice is called Tumbasan, or “the act of making equal.” It boasts of the following mechanics: in an offer by the parents of the bride to give one hectare of riceland as dowry, it calls upon the bridegroom’s parents to even or equal the gesture by also giving one hectare of riceland. In a majority of cases, that would generally settle the marriage.

But sometimes vanity gets the better of them and the whole process transforms into a bidding game. The bride’s parents may up the offer by another hectare or more of the riceland, in which case it devolves upon the bridegroom’s parents to offer an equivalent number of hectare and/or hectares of riceland, and so on and so forth. Where the bidding stops, that’s the amount of dowry. For instance the bridegroom’s parents could only go so far as five hectares, then that’s where the ritual ends: five hectares of riceland from either side or a total of ten hectares. It somehow provides the newly-weds something to start their life. Let it however, be observed that this is a practice that by its very nature is common only among the affluent.

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Anima, N. 1975. Courtship and Marriage Practices among Philippine Tribes. La Loma: Omar.