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The Best Filipino Proverbs that Define Our Culture

Filipino culture is best defined by these Filipino proverbs.
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Our culture is replete with all kinds of beliefs and traditions, some of which are superstitions that have no scientific explanation, while others are proverbs which contain important life lessons. Filipino proverbs are unwritten knowledge passed down from generation to generation and typically contain advice from our ancestors. These pieces of advice are time-tested nuggets of wisdom from hundreds of years of our ancestors' experiences and blunders. Here are some of them.

1| Pag binato ka ng bato, batuhin mo ng tinapay.

(If someone throws a rock at you, throw him bread.)

If there is a Filipino proverb that can very accurately capture the Filipino character, it is this one. It’s a metaphor that instructs you to be compassionate and forgiving if someone has wronged you. It also reflects the notoriously non-confrontational nature of Filipinos, who prefer peace and quiet.

2| Nasa Diyos and awa, nasa tao ang gawa.

(To be merciful is God’s, while to act is man’s.)

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Basically, this proverb tells us not only to pray for blessings but to work for them. God will be gracious to people who act and help themselves.

3| Mahirap gisingin ang nagtutulug-tulugan.

(It’s difficult to wake up someone who is only pretending to be asleep.)

This Filipino proverb simply means that you cannot force someone to believe facts when they don’t want to. Sometimes, there is something about the truth that some people just don’t like to bear.

4| May pakpak ang balita, may tainga ang lupa.

(News have wings, while the ground has ears.)

This old Filipino proverb is a fair warning to all: Gossip travels fast. Interestingly, it also gives us insight that our Filipino ancestors may have peddled gossip long before the birth of mass media.

5| Ang taong walang kibo, nasa loob ang kulo.

(A silent person could be boiling inside.)

This proverb is also a warning to people not to take someone’s silence as a sign of being okay, especially if he is being picked on. He might be hiding his true feelings and could be harboring ill thoughts or intentions about you without you knowing.

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6| Lahat ng gubat ay may ahas.

(Every jungle has a snake.)

This old Filipino adage offers another nugget of wisdom about being wary of your surroundings, environment, or the people around you because they could betray you or might not have the purest intentions.

7| Ang taong gipit, sa patalim kumakapit.

(A desperate person will cling to a knife.)

This is the Filipino proverbs’ version of the Western adage, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” This simply means that people in dire situations may do terrible things to survive and get themselves out of trouble.

8| Ang naglalakad nang matulin, pag natinik ay malalim.

(A person who walks fast will have a deeper wound when he is pricked.)

This old adage is actually lecturing about prudence in making decisions. A person who makes decisions on a whim or impulse tend to make bigger mistakes. This could also apply to modern work. A person who works fast could make more mistakes along the way.

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9| Ang sakit sa kalingkinan ay ramdan ng buong katawan.

(The pain in the little finger is felt by the whole body.)

This is one of the Filipino proverbs that teaches us about the importance of family or community. It means that the problem of a single member often extends and impacts the whole family.

10| Ang masamang damo ay mahirap mamatay.

(Weeds are difficult to kill.)

This pertains to how bad people always seem to live longer. It also means that bad habits are difficult to get rid of.

11| Walang nakasisira sa bakal kundi sariling kalawang.

(Nothing destroys iron except its own rust.)

This adage is a metaphor for persons who destroy their reputation by their own actions.

12| Ang palay ay parisan, habang nagkakalaman ay lalong nagpugpugay.

(Be like a rice stalk, the more grains it bears, the lower it bows.)

According to this Filipino proverb, the more achievements you have, the humbler you should be.

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13| Ang nakatikip na bibig ay hindi pinapasukan ng langaw.

(A fly will not enter a closed mouth.)

This proverb is a warning to anyone who talks too much—you will eventually get into trouble. Less words, less mistakes.

14| Aanhin ang palasyo kung ang nakatira ay kuwago?

(What good is a palace if only owls live in it?)

This is one of the Filipino proverbs that emphasizes what is truly valuable in life, and that is relationships and family, not money. Owls tend to inhabit abandoned structures, hence signifying emptiness or loneliness. The palace signifies wealth. Worded differently, this proverb could also be understood as “What good is your money if you live miserably?”

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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