Earth Hour

Monday, May 8, 2023

Salawikain: Filipino Nuggets of Wisdom and Life Lessons

 I met some friends from college over the weekend; during our chat, one of them blurted out a Filipino saying, “palay na ang lumapit sa manok,” or “It’s the palay (rice) that came to the chicken.”   We laughed and then wondered if Filipinos still use these sayings or what we call “salawikain” in daily conversations.

Salawikain are short sayings that offer wisdom, insights, and guidance on various aspects of life. These proverbs are deeply rooted in Filipino culture and used by elders to impart moral values and lessons to the younger generation.

Our discussion shifted to these sayings, and we had fun explaining what we thought they meant. Let me share some of the salawikain that cropped up during our talk.

 Let’s begin with the one that started the conversation,”palay na ang lumapit sa manok.”  or  “It is the rice that came to the chicken.” The saying connotes that someone got lucky since the opportunity presented itself to him. Often though, it takes a negative meaning, like in our chat, where the speaker talked about a friend who had an affair because the woman made the first moves. What else can he do since “palay na ang lumapit sa manok.” NOTE: I know this example could trigger some people, but I do not intend to cause harm, and  I am just putting some context.

If anyone wants to say something unpleasant and doesn't want to name the persons involved, she'd probably say "Bato bato sa langit, tamaan ay huwag magalit" or "rocks in the sky, whoever get gets hit should not get angry."  If it is something that should remain secret, the speaker should be warned that "may tainga ang lupa, may pakpak ang balita" or "the ground has ears and stories have wings," which implies that stories could spread fast 

One of the most well-known Filipino proverbs is “Kung may tiyaga, may nilaga,"  which translates to "If one has patience, he will have soup." This proverb highlights the value of hard work, patience, and determination in achieving one's goals. Perhaps our ancestors used nilaga as a metaphor for hard work because it was hard to cook before pressure cookers and slow cookers. Nilaga consists of beef slowly boiled until the meat is tender before adding potatoes, cabbage, and other vegetables. Of course, they only have wood stoves and clay pots to cook in, so it must have taken a lot of patience and hard work.

A similar proverb is "Habang may buhay, may pag-asa." (While there is life, there is hope.) This proverb reminds us that no matter how difficult our circumstances may be, there is always hope for a better future. My favorite salawikain reflects the Filipino’s resilience and our ability to make the most of what we have: “Kung maigsi ang kumot, matutong mamuluktot” or “If the blanket is short, learn to curl.”

 On the flipside is the saying, "Ang taong nagigipit, sa patalim man ay kumakapit,” which means, "A desperate person  will cling even to a sharp edge." This proverb suggests that people will do whatever it takes to survive in difficult situations, even if it means taking risks or doing something unlawful.

 Filipino proverbs often encourage people to remain humble and treat others with respect. For example, "Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." This proverb says, "Those who do not look back at where they came from will not reach their destination." This proverb reminds people of the importance of remembering their roots and acknowledging those who helped them along the way. 

"Huwag kang magtiwala sa di mo kakilala,"  (Do not trust people you do not know) cautions against trusting strangers.  "Ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay ramdam ng buong katawan," (The whole body feels the pain of the smallest finger) stresses the importance of every part of society and that the problems in a small area could affect the entire community. Finally, “aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo” (what’s the grass for when the horse is already dead) teaches us to solve our problems immediately and not wait until it is too late.

Filipino proverbs play an essential role in Filipino culture and are an excellent way to impart wisdom, values, and insights to the younger generation. They offer guidance on various aspects of life, including relationships, work, and personal development. Whether used in casual conversations or formal settings, these proverbs are integral to Filipino culture and identity.

Do you know any salawikain aside from what I shared?  Please share in the comments section.

All images created using Canva


  1. Ang kasal di tulad ng mainit na kanin na kung mapaso ay iluluwa. Marriage is serious business that you cannot simply cast aside when it becomes difficult.

  2. "Kung hindi ukol, hindi bubukol" is a saliwakain that tells us that if we desire something that is not meant to be, it will never be. Literally, "if it's not meant to be, it will not make a lump."