The Filipino's Heritage of Smallness


The Philippines is perhaps the only country in the world where people can buy and sell one stick of cigar, half head of garlic, a sachet of hair gel, a single piece egg, one piece of candy and a whole lot of other stuff in small quantities. To foreigners this would come as a surprise as they are used to working in larger scales, but where does this knack for smallness come from? Why do we like things to be packed in small bundles - the tingi. Why do we like to operate in a small scale, and as a result we gain less and we work more.

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The answers to these burning questions? Filipinos think small - at least that is how the national artist for literature Nick Joaquin puts it in his controversial essay Heritage of Smallness. According to his essay, our heritage of smallness is manifested in a variety of ways in our daily lives. Our society, for instance, is the small barangay, our enterprise is the sari-sari store, and our commerce is the tingi. In our culture and history, this heritage of smallness is revealed in our preference of the nipa hut, the jeep, and the tinigi trade. In addition. all our pre-colonial artifacts are miniature and so is our folk literature which is mostly proverbs and dogmas in miniatures. We seem to have a native aversion to the large and ambitious. Where fear is our collective response to the unknown, instead of curiosity. We are used to small effort, and as a result we get tired of a sustained effort and lose momentum fast in what we call ningas-cogon. Perhaps our heritage of smallness is what keeps us from truly progressing - that we buy and sell small, that we aim small and try small, that we think small and do small. This probably explains why we have so much "missed the opportunities to progress." We lack foresight due to our small thinking. As a result, we failed to see the benefits of retaining the Spanish language in our curriculums. We demolished our heritage structures in exchange for generic architecture. We treat elections as a pageant. This probably also, explains why when someone of our kind takes a big leap outside we are fast in dragging them back into smallness - in what we call a crab mentality.

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