Pag-ibig and Pagmamahal: Filipino Truths On Love.

photo from Microsoft Office Image

Just 2 weekends ago, I talked about Love to group of college students. It is always natural for young people like them to be drawn to the topic, as I always observed in many of my conversations with people of their age. They are always interested in learning more. As usual, I engaged these young people with my natural flow of connecting Love with many concepts and experiences. During our conversation, one of them asked a very interesting question: What is the difference between Pag-ibig and Pagmamahal? Prior to the question, I have not yet given much thought on these words in the years of my personal learning of Love, although I have plans to outline my insights. Surprisingly, they had engaged me more, as new insights sparked that moment.

Pag-ibig and Pagmamahal are both Filipino translations of Love. I am referring particularly to the Tagalog Language, which is widely spoken in the Philippines. (Other regional languages in the Philippines have their own equivalents, and perhaps bear much more profound nuances. I hope to learn more about them in the coming years. In this case, I can only talk about my insights based on Tagalog.) These words are both used in local parlance, although depending on certain contexts. Sometimes, they are compared as if one has a greater meaning than the other. Now, I want to share a colorful perspective, one that makes these two words as equal archetypal of Filipino psyche of Love.

Many Filipinos speak of the word Pagmamahal as part of everyday talk. It is the word referring to a quality of Love between non-romantic relationships such as parents and children, friends and siblings. Pagmamahal, at least in common meaning, means endearment. It refers to the way people value their country, their jobs or anything important to them. But often, in both fictional and real life romantic dialogues, when a lover says “Mahal kita” (I Love you) to the beloved, Pagmamahal becomes a confession of Romantic Love. The word has dual connotations. Pagmamahal is a word of both romantic and non-romantic  expressions.

It is because the words Pag-ibig and Pagmamahal although different in origin and nuances, bear the same truths of Love in the collective soul of Filipinos.

Pag-ibig is more poetic. Poets like Francisco Balagtas used the word as a surge of romantic force. Patriots like Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal used the word as the summation of their longing and devotion to the Motherland. In most cases, Pag-ibig religiously describes the kind of Love God gives. It is scattered in many songs and sweet nothings. The phrase “Iniibig kita” (I Love you) recalls a history of Filipino courtship, serenades and romantic culture. Pag-ibig sounds more sincere yet a little outmoded. Pag-ibig has its both romantic and filial qualities, which are essentially quaint and timeless.

photo from Microsoft Office Image

Pag-ibig and Pagmamahal are similar because these words represent the deepest knowing of Love among Filipinos. Interchanging them in conversations is common; by heart, there are no separate meanings except Love. Whoever gives and receives Love, the words of Love for Filipinos always intend connection between people, things and realities.

Pag-ibig and Pagmamahal are different not because one is too poetic and the other is vernacular. These words actually encode two facets of Love. I heard a professor who once said in her speech that aside from the last sound “-ig”, the words Pag-ibig, tubig (Tagalog: water), and pasig (Tagalog: river) share the same qualities of rhythm and flow. Whereas Pagmamahal’s root word “mahal” shares a meaning with a Sanskrit root word maha, which means “great”. Like stone, Pagmamahal  seems to bear that  greatness, power and strength.

Love’s ultimate nature unfolds into two great truths: Pag-ibig is the symbol of Love’s becoming – like water, always flowing, changing, transforming, evolving. Pagmamahal is the symbol of Love’s being – always solid, unchanging, firm, eternal. These facets do not oppose; they always complement. Through these words, Love always reminds us its indivisible yet distinct and paradoxical opposites. It is because the words Pag-ibig and Pagmamahal, although different in origin and nuances, bear the same truths of Love in our collective Filipino soul .


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