Dec 9, 2010

Why do Filipinos point with their lips? (Part 2 of 3)

Dear Filipino,
 
(Source: Western-Asian.com)
First question: don't you notice that when you are in the men's restroom with fellow Pinoys, we usually spit before making weewee? Hahaha!  Or how we use our lips for pointing things and making sitsit (psst psst) to others, esp. kids?  More serious qs to come -- hope Mark Zuckerberg buys this great site for $ 1 billion!

Sweaty in Singapore

[Part 1 -- "Spitting before pissing" has been answered here.  This is Part 2 -- "Pointing by lips."  Part 3 -- "Making sitsit" -- to follow soon.]

Dear Sweaty,

Yes, we do use pursed lips to point to a specific direction, with minimal (if at all) movement of the neck.

But we are actually not the only people who do so. 

According to Ms. Corina Roberts, founder of the nonprofit Redbird, Native American Indians do the same thing -- and for them, "it isn’t just people that you shouldn’t point [your fingers] at, but also trees and animals, homes, graves, regalia and medicine items."  She enumerated several reasons:
Pointing to an object or person is unnecessary when you can describe it with a name or word, and when the person you are conversing with knows the name or description of the subject intimately.  There were few things that were unfamiliar.  You wouldn’t need to point out a stranger; their unfamiliarity would be quite obvious.
Pointing would also have been confusing in communicating, since there was a system of sign language that often bridged the gap between native peoples who spoke different languages.  The sign made to ask someone their name is about as close to pointing as this language comes, and it is done with the palm toward the person making the sign, and the index finger pointing upward as much as toward the person in question.

Pointing is perceived, with somewhat universal agreement among tribal people, to be accusatory.  As one Hupa grandmother told her grand daughter, “finger pointing was an accusation of someone doing something bad and that was a way of telling on that person”. She said “there was always a silent agreement among our people to never tell on one another”.

There is another all-important factor that is often not expressed with regard to pointing, whether it is at a person or an object.  There is energy, or medicine, relating to all living things.  To point at someone could be perceived as affecting them with your energy, or taking theirs.  When you live with a conscious awareness of the physical, spiritual and energetic presence of those around you, pointing takes on additional gravity. 

As one Creek woman from Green Country, Oklahoma put it, “We don’t point with our fingers or hands. I think that it is not just rude, but also because some people use their hands for medicine, and so it creeps people out. It’s rude to make people feel like you might be doing something when you are not. It’s also bad to touch people you aren't close to unless you are shaking hands at certain times. Even then, many people are still uncomfortable about that...no touching and no pointing...may be someone puttin’ their bad on you”.
Now, this explanation is interesting because we do have a historic link with Native Americans
With the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, two new groups of people were introduced to the country.  These are the Spaniards and the American Indians....The American Indians that were brought here, according to author Austin Craig, nearly numbered similar to the native population. Most of them are of Nahuatl (Aztec) or Yaqui descent, or are Mexican mestizos themselves. Many of them intermarried with the indigenous population, particularly in Luzon.  (Source: NationMaster.com)
Now, maybe we did acquire the habit from our Native American forebears, and generally for the same uses and reasons given above by Ms. Roberts -- i.e., pointing is too rude, too open, too blatant, too accusatory.  But most of my experiences with Filipinos' lips-pointing suggest, well, other uses not touched on by her explanation. 

Let's talk about men first.  There are numerous uses, but I will only highlight two:

One: What does a typical Filipino guy do to alert his buddies that a chick is coming?  Answer: Purse his lips, point it slightly to the direction of the chick, and let the black of his eyes follow the same direction WITHOUT any neck movement.  Note: For this signal, the size of the dilation of the guy's pupils is directly proportional to the gorgeousness of the chick.

Two: Seeing his friend busy flirting with a new girl, what does a loyal wingman do once he sees that his friend's girlfriend -- known to have Talibanic tendencies when wronged --  is unexpectedly arriving?  The answer is the same: Purse his lips, point it slightly to the direction of the girlfriend, and let the black of his black eyes follow the same direction -- again WITHOUT any discernible neck movement.  Note though that the most important facial feature accompanying this signal is the furrowed brow which should unmistakably warn of a clear and present danger.

But what about for Filipino women?  Well, the sexual inverse of the two uses I outlined above applies as well.  However, my experience also taught me that they use lips-pointing much more often and much more creatively.  They'll use it when gossiping talking about others, each other, or you.  Sometimes, because they're too shy to put wants and needs into words, they'll use the signal if they want something -- "this thing" or "that thing" -- and where they want it -- "here" or "there."

So how do you figure out what exactly they mean?  Well, you have to pay attention to the eyes -- because indeed, the Filipina's eyes are the windows to her soul. 

And let me end with a warning: Misread the signal at your peril -- or your loss, as the case may be. ;-)

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

2 comments:

Jonathan Estrada said...

i point with my lips because:
1. my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles taught me that pointing at someone with a finger is impolite.
2. to emphasize the last syllable of doon/dun (the only syllable in this case).
3. i'm too lazy to lift my hand.
4. it has slightly more degree of urgency (it could just be me), like "someone's at the door, go see who it is kung ayaw mo ng palo."

Jonathan Estrada said...

i point with my lips because:
1. my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles taught me that pointing at someone with a finger is impolite.
2. to emphasize the last syllable of doon/dun (the only syllable in this case).
3. i'm too lazy to lift my hand.
4. it has slightly more degree of urgency (it could just be me), like "someone's at the door, go see who it is kung ayaw mo ng palo."

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