By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Sosyudad (Second of five parts)
posted 19-Feb-2010  ·  
1,225 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

(NOTE: The current series is drawn from my Ph.D. dissertation in Anthropology at the University of the Philippines. It is my way of giving back to the community what I had taken the liberty to extract from it, namely its culture – or certain aspects of it. This is the least I can do to reciprocate the generosity.)

Commonly, the sosyudad is imagined in two ways. First as a group that gathers to drink alcoholic liquor and second as a saving-and-lending enterprise. This is fairly correct but as any stereotype goes, it is not the complete picture, reality being more complex than we would have it. In the next two parts we focus on these two aspects of the sosyudad in order to gain better understanding and dispel wrong notions. But let us take the drinking first. When I surveyed the practitioners as to which takes precedence between the drinking and the saving, the former won although the latter held well on its own. It would seem that sosyudad is drinking first, then saving next.

In the first part, we wrote that the reason for being of the sosyudad is the harampang, that face-to-face bonding among equals. Members go into drinking because it creates that situation for egalitarian camaraderie. So it is not the liquor per se but the drinking-with-others. There are a few groups that have given up this habit but they must invent a substitute to create the same effect. For example, a group of ladies in West Garden do their thing over snacks. The Mountain Carers on the other hand derive comradeship through hiking. But the inventive ones are quite rare, so most of the sosyudad groups resort to drinking.

To understand fully the role of drinking, it must be emphasized that the practice of sosyudad is committed to egalitarian relationship between members. If there is an ideology of the sosyudad, it is egalitarianism, a being-with-coequals. True, it leads to other relational values, such as brotherhood, cooperation, and mutual care, but it all start with egalitarianism. And social drinking is quite effective in achieving this. When people come to the sosyudad they leave behind their usual stations in life, which means home, work, and the society-at-large. Regardless you are king at home or the ander de saya type, or whether the boss or janitor in the office, you come to the soyudad as coequal with your drinking buddies. The sosyudad then becomes a regular escape from the drudgery of day-to-day social arrangement, which is usually built on unequal, unfair terms. To be effective mechanism of escape from unequal structures, the sosyudad must be a bundle of equality. To illustrate, one group named "Tropang Close Neck" (why the name? Ta puro sinda to-ok ning agom) is able to act out their machismo unhampered in the confines of the sosyudad.

But why do they have to drink? For many reasons. First, how can there be harampang kung daing biga harampangan? Coming to the drink, one enacts the two basic ingredients of wholesome social relations, namely giving and taking. One brings in his or her contribution (ibit-ibit or chip-in) and consumes his or her share of tagays and sumsuman. Secondly, social drinking as a whole involves a set of norms that reflect the values of egalitarian camaraderie. Like taking shots from the same glass and leaving some amount for the common tong. Such practices are replete with symbolism of solidarity and equality. Thirdly is the interaction facilitated by the drinking. Mostly composed of talk, but the exchange can include all sorts of bodily antics. And courtesy of the effect of alcohol, inhibitions are lost and so the interactions become free-wheeling, daring, playful and obscene, things which society would normally regulate. For example, topics can easily jump from one to the other without pattern. It is a free-for-all that does not have to go in a logical direction and resolution. Opinions from the sublime to the ridiculous can be freely expressed and the language can go grossly bastos but without fear of censure. Antics are performed, such as practical jokes, mock fighting, or role reversals. But these are all for fun and not to be taken seriously. They are merely strategies to afford members with a temporary relief from the social straightjacket.

But the sosyudad harampang is not always shallow ingay and pointless fun. Courtesy of the same breaking down of inhibitions with much help from alcohol, it can also become a venue for more fruitful exchange. One can actually learn and grow from these sessions. Topics of discussion can be serious too, and one can both pick up bits of wisdom from others while being able to practice his or her mettle in expressing opinions. And depending on the level of intimacy, the sosyudad can be a pasungawan of one’s personal problems and possibly find solutions.

In short, the sosyudad is where one can give vent to his or her "true" self, by removing one’s masks so to speak, and both to the direction of playfulness and being "bad" or towards the more profound aspects. Either way, it makes the sosyudad anti-society. It becomes a means to resist, a form of protest to many things the society at large represent: unequal statuses and relationships, "proper" manners and language, "good" habits, conformity, and practicality (imbis na ipakaon sa pamilya, i-igtok!).

Yes, ga-sosyudad ta ma igtok. Lablab. Mamam. Indeed sosyudad’s detractors have good grounds for critique. Alcohol as in alak is one of the big trio of bisyo (the other two being babae and sugal). It has its obvious adverse effects not only to the individual but to the people around the drinker. In our province, health conditions related to alcoholic drinking are responsible for much of the incidence of morbidity and mortality. And how we hate to see the drunkard, going atras-abante down the street, seeking trouble and another bottle of gin, while at home banggi na dai pang ga aso sa kusina. But then too it is easy to justify our fondness for drinking. One can always say that it is part of our culture. Drinking is a way of life among Catandunganons. We drink at the slightest pretext. Even our local dance, the pantomina, glorifies drinking: an marhay caiyan, igwa ning bacayaw. . .! As for the people of Virac, they seem to have institutionalized drinking (read: vice) through the sosyudad.

Personally, I have an ambivalent attitude towards sosyudad drinking. I do not want to romanticize it, but I am also reluctant to condemn it. It will mean condemning Virac "culture," whatever that is. However, having stayed away from Virac for some twenty years, I have started to become an outsider, and looking from the outside, all that drinking in the sosyudad indeed seemed "too much." Early in my research, people told me about a sosyudad group called "Waltams" (Walang Tamoy, apparently alluding to non-stop drinking by inveterate drunks). People talked about this group with amusement, even with admiration, because reportedly it is the drink-iest sosyudad ever, ga-poon ning ilinum dai pa ngani nag-kape sa kaagahon, tapos naabutan ning tukturaok. So I searched for this group. This, people say is evidence as to how much drinking there is in the sosyudad.

But then things are not what they appear to be. After diligent field work, which involved a lot of drinking with countless groups, I realized that drinking in the sosyudad is not really that excessive. In fact, sosyudad is a way to control one’s drinking, and this insight is one of the most surprising and compelling I gathered in the course of my research.

It is really so simple. According to one informant, he joined the sosyudad in order to limit his drinking. So he drinks only once a week instead of three. He used to get an average of three invitations to drink in a week. Normally, it is difficult to refuse them, but when you say you have a sosyudad on Saturday, they would understand your refusal. On his part, he reserves his drinking on the weekend and the anticipation makes the drinking more enjoyable. This is what creates a member’s attachment to the sosyudad, the anticipation of a rewarding weekend after a week’s toil.

Another way by which drinking is regulated in the sosyudad is by controlling the amount consumed. In occasional drinking outside of the sosyudad, terminating the session is a difficult process. The more that drinkers get intoxicated, the more they get out of control in terms of consumption. They would even knock on closed stores deep in the night in order to have more to drink. But a sosyudad group in the long run gets to establish the amount needed for a session and so the host knows how much to prepare. The individual drinker too establishes his/her limit. I was amazed at how easily sosyudad sessions ended at the point when the predetermined quota of liquor had been finished. They simply fold up and go home. As I observed, a regular session averages only two to three hours. Dai ning naagahan nin iligtok.

But going back to the legendary group "Waltams." I did not find any trace of this group, not even a former member or somebody who knew one. Puro daa. I realized it was just part of sosyudad folklore, something that people imagined to exist as an expression of the common thinking about the sort of alcoholism going on in the sosyudad. Contrary to popular perception, sosyudad is actually disciplined drinking.

Email your comments and suggestions to: monxar@yahoo.com

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