The Visayan’s Timekeeping in Pre-colonial Times.
The Visayans divided the daylight hours into a dozen or more specific times according to the position of the sun. Between dawn and noon, they called it nasirakna, shining, and nabahadna, climbing, and then iguritlogna, time for hens to lay, and makalululu, when your bracelets slid down your raised arm if you pointed at the sun. High noon was odto na an adlaw; followed by two points of descent in the afternoon, palisna and ligasna; until midway to setting, tungana. Natupongna sa lubi was when the sun sank to the height of the palm trees seen against the horizon; and sunset was apuna; or natorna, when the sun finally disappeared. Day ended with igsirinto, when it was too dark to recognize other people.
Beyond the day, however they distinguished no time period shorter than one month. This means they did not recognize either the Eurasian seven-day or Javanese five-day week, neither of which, as a matter of fact, was based on any celestial cycle. But they reckoned the days of the month precisely—that is, the days from one new moon to the next. Just as they divided the hours of the day by the movement of the sun, so they identified the days of the month by the appearance of the moon in the night sky.
The new moon was subang the first night it could be seen, or more colorfully, kilat-kilat, a little lightning flash. When it appeared as a full crescent the next night or two, it seemed to have opened its eyes (gimata) or closed its mouth (ungut)—like a baby on a mother’s breast. Then came a “three-day moon” or high new moon, hitaas na an subang, followed by balirig, the fourth or fifth night, and next it was “near the zenith” (odto). When it appeared as an exact half disk—what western calendars call the first quarter moon—it was directly overhead at sunset, and therefore odto na an bulan. Then as it continued to was, it “passed the barrier” (lakad), and when it was lopsided both before and after the full moon, it looked like a crab shell (maalimangona).
The full moon was greeted with a variety of names—paghipono, takdul, ugsar—but most significantly as dayaw, perfect or praiseworthy, fit recognition of its spectacular shape and sunset to sunrise brilliance. And as it began to wane—that is, darken (madulumdulum)—a night or two later, it set on the western horizon just before dawn and so was called banolor, to exchange or take by mistake—like a man who dies just before a son or grandson is born. The fifth or sixth night of waning was parik, to level or flatten, because it then rose so late the witches had many hours of darkness in which to beat down the earth by stomping of their feet during their dances. Katin was the third quarter, so it had crossed this second barrier (lakad na an magsag-uli) by the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth night, and then got ready for the new moon again (malasumbang) about the twenty-ninth. This was the dark of the moon, or what the Spaniards called conjuncion (meaning the conjunction of the sun and the moon) when the moon disappeared for a night or two. To the Visayans, it was then dead, lost, or gone hunting.
These phases of the moon were common time markers known to all. They would say, for example, “Duldulman an bulan [The moon begins to wane today]” or “Paodtononta an bulan [Let’s wait for the quarter moon]” (Sanchez 1617, 37, 188). And nasubang nga tao was a newcomer or upstart. But the Visayan month was a lunar month—a 29 and a half days and 43 minutes to be exact—so twelve of them did not add up to a year, but only added up to 354 days like seen in lunar calendars used today such as the Islamic Calendar. They were therefore not the equivalent of months in the Western calendar, which are arbitrary divisions unrelated to the moon, approximately one-twelfth of a solar year of 365 days. Thus, unschooled Visayans—plebe imperita, as Father Alcina said—calculated months in the Christian calendar as beginning with a new moon, and observers familiar with the twelve-month year, both 16th century Spaniards and 20th century Filipino’s, tend to equate the two: the use of a moon-based calendar with lack of education. But Miguel de Loarca (1582, 164, 166) wrote more carefully in 1582.
“They divide the year into twelve months though they do not name more than seven, and these are lunar months because they count them by the moons. The first month is when the Little Goats [Pleiades] appear, which they call Ulalen. The next month they call Dagankahuy, which is when they clear off the trees to plant. The next they call Daganenan Bulan, which is when they pile up this wood in the fields. The next they call Elkilin, which is when they burn the field. The next they call Inabuyan, which is the time of the bonanzas [fair winds when the monsoon is changing]. The next they call Kaway, which is when they weed the fields. The next is called Irarapun, which is when they being to harvest the rice. The next they call Manululsul, which is when the harvest is finished. The other months they take no account of because they have nothing to do in the fields then.”
What Loarca called months were seasonal events connected with swidden farming: they do not appear in early Visayan dictionaries as the names of months, nor do any other names. Rather, the year is defined as the time between one harvest and the next, a time which naturally varies according to whether the monsoon rains come early or late and in what quantity. Alcina (1668a, 3:40) explained the word tuig, year, as follows:
“It is a word with which they also counted the years, but without computing or numbering the months, which from harvest to harvest they would count as eleven or twelve distinct and past, and which they called tuig, and although they now confuse it with the year, it was not a single year but an indefinite time because that word means to them the same as “time” does to us.”
There were three Visayan words for year—taon, tuig, and dag-on. Taon actually meant harvest—”Taon na didto dile [It’s already harvest in their place]”—and was used for calculating age: old folks were those who had seen many harvest (Sanchez 1617, 504v). Tuig was both harvest (for example, tinutuigan, what is ready for the harvest) and any recurring period of time, not necessarily annual. Tinuig na siya was said of a menstruating woman, and panuigan sang olan sang habagat was the coming of the rains either from the south or sang amihan, from the the north. Dag-on was used in the same way: panog-on sa manga kakahuyan was when everything was in bloom. Indeed, it was the flowering of trees and plants which indicated the rotation of the seasons, Katparasan (January-March), Kattaloto (March-May), Katlawaan (June-August), and Katkisiw (October-December) were the months during which tress of these names blossomed. The seasonal behavior of birds was another indicator: when the kahaw bird gave its “kahaw” call in the morning, it was time to plant.
The agricultural cycle began, as Loarca noted, with the appearance of certain stars. Most often these were the Pleaides in the constellation of Taurus which can first be seen in June, locally called Moroporo, meaning either “the boiling lights” or a flock of birds. Swiddens were prepared at that time, and seeds were sown in September when they were directly overhead at sunset, though the exact time depended on local climatic conditions. Indeed, because the rainy reason varied from island to island, in some places farmers made use of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), which they called Losong (rice mortar) or Balatik (ballista), though in Panay Balatik was what they called the two bright stars in Gemini. Still others planted when the Southern Cross was upright at sunset, a constellation that looked to the Visayans it looked like a coconut palm, Lubi, or blowfish, Butete. Similarly, the constellation Aries, the Ram, they called Alimango, the Crab.
Visayans also believed that just as the moon times the human menstrual cycle, so its phases controlled all biological growth. Starfish were said to increase and decrease in size as the moon waxed and waned; crab shells hardened and softened to the same rhythm; yellow turtles only grew at nighttime when there was a moon, black ones during the dark of the moon, and white ones during the daytime. So too, coconut trees were thought to produce one new sprout each new moon; the silk like fibers of the ulango palm had to be gathered at quarter moon; and stems of boats made from dao roots could be expected to outlast the vessel but only if cut during the waning moon. Furthermore, Visayans had a prescription for which phase of the moon was best for gathering any of a dozen varieties of abaca. though the most commonly planted variety was one that could be cut at any time.
The dark of the moon was considered sinister because it was the favorite of witches and aswang, who fled at the first sight of the crescent moon showing its horns. Fieldwork and weaving were accordingly forbidden the following day as a precaution against illness during the coming month, and a one to three day holiday was taken to celebrate the full moon because the diwata came to earth at that time. Nobody doubted that an eclipse was cause by a huge sawa, sea python, trying to swallow the moon who was known as Bakunawa, and that it had to be frightened away by noisy pounding on mortars and house floors, followed by another holiday. They treated the sun in the same manner during a solar eclipse, but otherwise rendered it no such public veneration, nor even recognized the point of its rising as a cardinal compass bearing called East.
Source: Barangay: 16th Century Philippine Culture and Society by William Henry Scott, Chapter 6: Natural Science, pages 121-124.