I drew a map of the Philippines on the board (it was a terrible drawing!) and asked my weekday humans where the center was. It was our first meeting in our Philippine literature class; and I found it befitting to start the lecture with a lesson on geography.
How do we define center in the first place? So their answers varied. Center is where the capital is. Center is where Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao meet.
Center is where home is.
Some months ago, in a small island in Bohol, I met a woman in the process of feeding her brood of native chicken. She was sitting by the threshold of her home. She told me, “Usa ka salmon sa bugas buntag, lain na sang usa ka salmon unyag ka hapon.” One salmon of corngrits in the morning, another one in the afternoon. Salmon here is used as a form of measurement, a can a bit bigger than the usual sardine one. Pretty much like Caltex—a word I grew up with back in my hometown—when neighbors loaned (manibo) a Caltex of rice or corn grits from Mama. Perhaps she could not understand the smile slowly itching in my face, but hearing such word was pure fascination to my ears. How funny, how beautiful the evolution of language and its meanings can be.
I told my weekday humans that there should be no hierarchy of languages, that all, yes, all languages are beautiful—that the beauty of this archipelagic country lies in its plurality.
As a tribute to our many languages, I collated some words from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. This is an ongoing effort. Feel free to pitch in some of the words and their meanings.