Culture & Traditions / Philippines

Exploring the Culture in Southeast Asia: A Guide to the National Symbols of the Philippines

With the stunning views of unique natural sites, Philippines has long been regarded as one of the best “getaways” when it comes to a relaxing vacation. Philippines is also known for its gorgeous landscapes. Its rich and diverse historical background shape its unique architecture and culture, making it a country worth exploring. However, do you know about its national symbols? Representing the Philippine traditions and customs, these national symbols symbolize the Filipino peoples’ national solidarity and rich culture.

Here are some of the most well-known national symbols of the Philippines:

Philippine National Bird: Philippine Eagle

The Philippine Eagle is regarded as the largest eagle in the world with its tall height and long wings. Because of its endangered status and strength, the Philippine Eagle is named the National Bird of the Philippines. Due to the dramatic decrease in forest area, a scarcity of habitat has threatened the living space of Philippine Eagles greatly. With its majestic size, blue-grey eyes and dark claws, the Philippines Eagle looks fierce and is the species most desired to be seen by birdwatchers. It was in 1995 that the Philippine Eagle has officially become the National Bird, declared by former Philippine President, Fidel V. Ramos.

Philippine Eagle (also known as the monkey-eating eagle)
Philippine Eagle (also known as the monkey-eating eagle)
Philippine Eagle (also known as the monkey-eating eagle)

Philippine National Flower: Sampaguita

Sampaguita, also known as the Asian Jasmine or the Sacred Jasmine, is the National Flower of the Philippines. Sampaguita is cultivated in many places in the world, yet is most widely common in South and Southeast Asia. It became the Philippine National Flower in 1934 by the Proclamation No. 652, issued by American Governor-General Frank Murphy. The word Sampaguita is indeed derived from the Spanish words “sumpa kita”, carrying a romantic meaning of “I promise you.” This is why in many South Asian countries, the Sampaguita represents a symbol of love, purity, devotion, and hope. For this reason, it has become the National Flower of Philippines. Widely used in celebrations and occasions, people in the Philippines often place these flowers for decoration or give them out as rewards for winning contests.

Sampaguita Flowers (Photo by @maipat31 on Instagram)
Sampaguita Flowers and Flower Buds (Photo by @orcalesaiza on Instagram)

Philippine National Tree: Narra

The Narra tree can be found in Asia and Africa and is regarded as the National Tree of the Philippines. In the Philippines, the Narra tree can be found in the Bicol Region, the Southern part of Luzon, which is the largest island of the Philippines. The color of the Narra tree is red, and its size can grow up to 100 feet with its massive leaves. Because of its sturdy and durable characteristic, it is widely used for furniture-making and construction. The reason why it is named as the National Tree of the Philippines is because it represents the Filipinos’ strong and resilient identity. Also, with its adaptability of growing in various types of soil, it symbolizes the toughness of Filipinos.

Narra Tree

Philippine National Sport: Arnis

Arnis, also widely known as eskrima, kali and garrote, is a form of martial art that applies swinging and twirling, along with striking, and techniques of defense and offense. Arnis is a sport with a long history, being passed down from generation to generation. It largely requires speed and accuracy. First created by the indigenous people of the Philippines, early Arnis was played using weapons such as rattan, spears and swords. However, due to foreign colonization, the modern Arnis became deeply influenced by the Spanish people. It was not until 2009 that Arnis became the National Sport of the Philippines, proclaimed by former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Check out this cool Arnis practice session video:

Video by Jeric Pantaleon (@jericpantaleon on Instagram, Jeric Pantaleon on YouTube)

Philippine National Anthem

After 1898, when the Philippines gained independence from Spain, the leader of the independence movement, General Emilio Aguinaldo, invited musician Julián Felipe to compose the Philippine National Song that is to be played during the announcing of the Declaration of Independence. Yet, after six months, the Philippines once again became colonized- this time by America- after the Spanish-American War, so the song was then prohibited to be played or sung. It was in 1899, when a young soldier named Jose Palma, wrote Spanish lyrics to be included in the National Song. They are however required to play the National Anthem of America after playing the Philippine National Song. Currently, the National Anthem is sung in Filipino lyrics. It was not until 1956 that it was revised and officially named the National Anthem of the Philippines.

National Fruit: Mango

Mangoes in the Philippines are meaty, sweet and nutritious. Ranked as the third most important fruit crop in the country, mangoes are the national fruit of the Philippines. With wide varieties and its high popularity among tourists and locals alike, they are very tempting to eat and are very commonly seen in the Philippines. Also known as “Mangga” in the Philippines, they can be found almost everywhere in the streets- sold by vendors or in the backyard of a tree. The most famous type of mango is “Kalabaw”, which is renowned all around the world with its sweetness. Another commonly known mango is “Pico”, which has more of a sour flavor compared to Kalabaw. Mango is the third most important fruit crop of the Philippines, next to banana and pineapple.

Philippine Mango
Sliced Philippine Mango

National Gem: Philippine Pearl

The Philippine Pearl, also know as the South Sea Pearl, is a type of pearl oyster with two color varieties: silver-lipped and gold-lipped. Also known as the “mother of pearls”, its significant importance greatly contributed to the artistic reputation of the pearl industry in the Philippines. An interesting fact is that the world’s largest natural giant clam pearl, weighing up to 34 kilograms, was discovered in 2006. Yet, it was not until 10 years after, in 2016, that it was publicized to the general public- having been reported to be hidden by a pearl farmer. According to the farmer, he said he kept it as a charm under his own bed. Another story is that this aforementioned world’s largest natural giant clam pearl was indeed found off the coast of Palawan Island by a Filipino diver. In 1996, former Philippine President Fidel Ramos proclaimed the Philippine Pearl to be the Philippine National Gem.

Portrait of a South Sea Pearl from the back of the Philippine 1,000-peso bill

If you like to travel and explore different cultures, you might care a lot about the history of every country and be passionate about how every distinct culture is shaped. Having a rich history that is a mix of various influences from Spain, America, Japan, and China, the Philippines is truly a diverse country- one of the most charming ones in Southeast Asia. Knowing and understanding the national symbols of Philippines will definitely help shed some light on the vibrant spirit of the Filipinos.

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