Thursday, January 6, 2011


Uli-uli magtanda ka!
--Tagalog expression, which translates as: Next time, learn from your experience!

Uli-uli magtanda ka!
Uli-uli magtanda ka!

Sorry, I just can’t help but chant it! Those syllables just seem to command me to sing and shout them. To me, the sentiment behind those syllables--urging us to profit from what happens to us, to remember our history, to evolve--it’s just such a basic cornerstone of spiritual practice.

Uli-uli magtanda ka!

It’s a truism in American culture that we enshrine what’s new, what’s young, what’s glitzy. It’s so... revolutionary (and perhaps evolutionary) instead to rediscover what’s old, what’s true-because-it’s-been-tried. And that’s why I’m happy to share with you today the Filipino virtue of Katandaan (Experience/Age), and to do so on the birthday of a wonderful and revolutionary lady named Melchora Aquino de Ramos, a grande dame of the Philippine Revolution.

In the Tagalog language, the root “tanda” carries connotations of “age,” but also of “sign” or “symbol”; the word “tandaan” means “to remember” or “to remark upon.” Katandaan, then, can translate as “the quality that remembers,” that is, Seniority, Experience... Wisdom.

Melchora Aquino certainly gives us a story worth remembering. She was born January 6, 1812, on the isle of Luzon in the “Spanish East Indies,” just north of Manila. Despite her peasant heritage and never having had a chance to attend school, she learned to read and write. She sang in church when she was young, and later married a tribal chief. She bore six children, being widowed when her youngest was only 7 years old. She opened a “sari-sari” store--sort of a Filipino version of a five-and-dime--to make ends meet.

The Spanish had colonized the Philippines in the 1570s, bringing industry and education to the archipelago, but also monopolizing its resources and dominating the populace. In August, 1896, Spanish authorities discovered that a secret Filipino nationalist organization called the Katipunan planned to secede from the Spanish Empire. This brought the islands into open armed revolt.

During the outbreak of fighting, Melchora, already 84 years of age, fed and tended wounded revolutionaries in her little shop, and she allowed the rebels to meet in her home. Encouraged by her motherly advice and prayers, the Katipuneros nicknamed her Tandang Sora, which means something along the lines of “Tough Old Broad.” When the Spaniards learned about her, they interrogated her to learn the rebels’ secrets, but she would not crack. The Guardia Civil arrested Tandang Sora and deported her to the Mariana Islands.

Once the U.S. took control of the Philippines in 1898, Ms. Aquino, like other exiles, returned to the Philippines. She lived quietly until her death on March 2, 1919 at the age of 107. Her remains lie in her own backyard--now called Himlayang Pilipino Memorial Park--in Quezon City. A section of the town was named for her, and she has appeared on Filipino coins and bank notes.

Melchora Aquino de Ramos is a fabulous demonstration of Crone power--showing that experience can bring Wisdom and Compassion, and that age does not rule out Vitality, Courage, and Tenacity.

Who are the Wise Old Women and Wise Old Men in your life? What trials have they survived? How have their travails served as crucibles for their own lives, and what can you learn from their examples? Take a moment today to think about an elder who has grown rich and vital and strong from life experience, and then holler, exclaim, or simply whisper quietly to yourself:

Uli-uli magtanda ka!

You, too, can be enriched by your experience. 

May we see the gates of Katandaan, and perhaps make a home there.

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