The Traditional Bahay-kubo and the Filipino Concept of Space

When I visited the Philippines for the first time I spent one month there and, as I said in some other post, because my wife was not particularly interested in going on some adventure, like most Filipinos whom I know here in Italy (and, in fact, during my first visit to the Philippines I only managed to see the One Hundred Islands, Tagaytay, Manila and some rivers and waterfalls in the Sierra Madre Mountains and that was it), we spent most of our time there inviting friends and relatives over and, basically, staying home most of the time.

And I spent that time trying to observe as many details as I could to gain some understanding of the culture and the mentality of the Philippines.

In my blog I often talk about a fundamental difference between the Western world and the Philippines: we in the Western world value privacy while the Philippines it’s all about pakikisama or togetherness.

This difference is reflected in the way houses are built in the Philippines and in the West and, while in the Philippines, I had plenty of time to observe how the way houses are built in the Philippines really reflects the pakikisama culture.

In the Philippines there are both traditional bahay kubo and modern-style houses, and basically modern houses in the Philippines follow the original pattern of the traditional bahay kubo.

The Bahay Kubo and the Single Room Lifestyle

The traditional bahay kubo follows the Southeast Asian tradition of having a single-room environment where all family activities happen.

Bahay kubo near my wife’s house

Modern Housing in the Philippines

The rural bahay kubo evolved into a more modern house, usually made of concrete and hollow blocks (like my wife’s native house in Bulacan) with a metal roof on top, where much of the one-room lifestyle remained basically intact.

Our house in the Philippines

The one in the picture above is my wife’s native house in Bulacan.

What’s interesting about this house is that the balcony runs along the exterior of the upper floor linking the various bedrooms to each other and to the salas, and, because the windows have no blinds, anyone who is watering the plants or hanging clothes on the balcony can see everything that happens in the bedrooms.

The “Salas”

The bedrooms do not open out into a corridor, like most houses here in Italy, they open out on a very large salas (dining room) where all the cooking, eating and kwentuan (chit-chatting) take place.

No Ceiling

Another interesting detail is that there is no ceiling sitting on the tops of the walls, there is only a metal roof and so there is a gap between the roof and the tops of the walls.

My wife explained to me that the reason why there is no ceiling is because this way the air conditioner (there is only one in the house) can circulate the air around the whole interior. The only thing is that this way air is not the only thing that circulates but even what people say “circulates”.

I am not sure that this has anything to do with air conditioning because I have seen a very similar structure in other Filipinos houses that have no air conditioning, no ceiling almost anywhere.

House Compounds

On top of that the house is not an individual building but part of a house compound where the rest of the extended family lives and in between the various homes there is a communal space where salu-salo (parties), kwentuan (and sometimes inuman) and other family activities take place.

Communal space between the houses that form a house compound

Here in Italy rooms open out into a corridor and there are closed doors and a ceiling

Rows of apartment buildings in the outskirts of Rome: there are no house compounds in Italy and each family unit lives in its own house

So, yes, the way houses are built in the Philippines reflects the culture of limited privacy and togetherness, while the way houses are built in the West reflects how us Westerners cherish privacy.

Marrying a Filipina entails being willing to understand and accept these differences and being willing to find a loving compromise.

15 thoughts on “The Traditional Bahay-kubo and the Filipino Concept of Space

  1. That’s an interesting point, I never thought of the common salas that way! It reminds me of an article I recently read on the parts of a traditional Filipino house — the balcony sounds like a “galleria volada” — a walkway that runs along the side of the house, historically used by “servants to go from room to room, since the main floors of the house were reserved for the masters”.

    Liked by 3 people

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