Puso: More than hanging rice

- Marigold Lebumfacil (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2012 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Who would have thought that from its humble spot in food stalls, the hanging rice would become one of the country’s tourism and trade icons? Aside from landing on the cover of the Department of Tourism brochure, the Department of Trade and Industry has also thought of capitalizing on the hanging rice’s unique characteristics – for instance, making accessories shaped like it.

Dr. Reynaldo Inocian, author of “Lukay Art in the Visayas: Cebu’s Cultural Pride of a Unique Ritual Identity” certainly did not think the hanging rice, locally known as “puso”, will generate this kind of commercial appeal.

Back in 2005, he used the “puso” as a model for the decorations in his wedding. For 10 months and with the use of ribbons, he wove 5,000 pieces of “puso”. Yet he explained that the “puso” had a much deeper use than being just decorations.

“I made it as a decoration in the church and at the reception. Puso is not only a kind of stuff. It is a dimension, which can be incorporated with fertility. With the seven years that we’ve been together with my wife, there are no hardships, I believe there’s abundance, we don’t have time to quarrel and it influenced the aura of my strong belief,” Inocian said.

However, this aspect of the existence of the “puso” is feared to be slipping away. Inocian’s colleague, Romola Savellon, said this ethnic aspect of the “puso” seems to have been obliterated by Western influences, not to mention that rituals are being frowned upon by the Catholic Church.

These days, only but a few know that the “puso” originated as a ritual object intimately associated with the animist religion of the pre-Hispanic Cebuanos with animistic farmers connecting the “puso” to an unexplainable mystical experience. At that time, the people were said to have shown adherence and loyalty to the rituals without doubt and not even the teachings of the church could stop them.  

As wide Christianization occurred, the rituals slowly disappeared because of the severe punishment imposed on those who practiced them. Some of those who disobeyed and insisted on their pagan worship received severe punishment.

The rituals are still being practiced by a small community in Taptap, one of the highland barangays of Cebu City, something that Inocian himself witnessed during 1970’s up to the 1980’s. The rituals reportedly began fading in the 90’s.

In 1998, Inocian decided to pursue research on the “puso” when he joined the Cebu Normal University as a professor with Savellon prodding him to never give up.

“At first I was hesitant. This question popped in my mind: What is there to research about? But with all compelling requests, I produced a thin compilation about it being a ritual object since when I was a child, I noticed that this was practiced by the natives in Taptap where I was born,” he said.

His research revealed much more than he asked for.


“Puso” is made out of a simple tropical material called “lukay”, a local term that refer to coconut fronds. The “tukog” or midrib of the “lukay” is removed to make “lilas” or coconut palm strips to start the “lah” which means “to weave”. 

In his book, Inocian said that the experts in making “puso” are called “manlalah”. Every Cebuano family in the upland areas is expected to learn the weaving of “puso” as part of the informal education handed. This craft is taught especially by mothers in preparation for the occasional “HIKAYAN”.  

There are several farm rituals (butangan) associated with the use of several designs of “puso”. Residents of Taptap observed these rituals according to purpose or family intentions: (1) “Harang sa mga kalag” (ancestor worship offering), (2) “Buhat Silung” (diwata ritual for good fortune and thanksgiving for abundant harvest), (3) “Tigpo” (for farmers’ atonement of sins of the spirits of the underworld), (4) “Sagangsang” (for tuba gatherers’ ritual for abundant wine), (5) “Damit” (in preparation for abundant harvest), (6) “Balangkisaw” (rituals for the atonement in sinning the spirits of the water gods), and (7) “Pamisa” (for the souls in purgatory).  

Inocian’s father, Noy Paulino, himself manifested his high regard to nature’s reverence and preservation when he stopped swidden agriculture in favor of contour farming - to preserve the fertile silts on the ground and minimize the use of commercial fertilizers and soil erosion. This was one of the popular programs of the hilly-land development projects in the early 90s of the local government, which Noy Paulino and the rest of the locals seriously observed and involved.

Noy Paulino tried to imitate that reverence to nature, but dropped that animistic ritual for sole reverence of one God. Still, he did not discount its anthropological significance – a Malayan heritage worthy of admiration in the preservation and orderliness of nature. 

Based on the accounts by Spanish Fathers Alcina and de San Buenventura in the 16th century, it was obvious that the natives in the Visayas had made use of “puso” in their so-called offrenda, an offering to the anitos in the form of pagdiwata.

Cebu, being located in the center of the Visayas, had contacts with different international traders since the beginning of the 13th century. Many Chinese traders came here to pursue their business interests.

Also in his book, Inocian cites Jeffrey James Y. Pacres (2006) of Ontario, Canada who says in his blog: “These Chinese people were good at making rice dumplings and the Cebuanos tried to imitate the so called "ma-chang" which is delicious. Then a Cebuano came, proud of what he has made and showed it to the Chinese, the Chinese did not agree with what the Cebuano had cooked out of the palm leaves and said "phu-shr" (which means "it isn't") while pointing out on the puso, and saying "ma-chang" while pointing on the rice dumpling, that was when the Cebuano realized that, what he made is named "pu-so" (in which the Cebuano didn't get the pronunciation well). Well, that was how the pu-so was born.”

If this is true, then the veracity of “puso” braiding might have been practiced by Cebuanos before the arrival of the Chinese traders, as an indigenous Malay art. Although this theory might have been validated by other findings, the Malays also have their own “ketupat” (Malay rice pouch) – a heritage food in Malaysia. Lin & Lin (2003) cited that the “ketupat” is matched with “satay” (lamb meat barbecue) or “rendang” (a type of dry beef curry) for very important celebrations like the “Eid ul-Fitr” (Breaking of Fasting Festivity), marking the end of the Ramadan and the Hari Raya (festival).

The Malaysians were also greatly influenced by the Hindu and Chinese cultures. Therefore, it is evident that traces of this culture reached the Philippines during the golden ages of the Shri-Vijayan and the Madjapahit Empires in Southeast Asia.          

In the island of Bali, Indonesia, these rice pouches are known as “ketipat” primarily used for important celebrations like weddings.

In the Balinese article “Rice and Ritual”, Fred B. Eiseman, Jr. records his findings about the rituals related to rice culture and preparation. One of the findings that he observed among the Balinese rituals that resembles Cebuano “puso” is the “ketipat”.

Eiseman says that a “ketipat” is a kind of a rice pouch woven of coconut leaves. The “ketipat” is then put into the rice steamer or boiled in the pot. The rice swells to fell the container then put into the rice steamer, or boiled in the pot. The rice swells to fill the container and the result is a package of rice that the husband can take to the field for a snack or the kids can take to school, or that can be used as an offering in whatever rice rituals”.

Dewi Sri, an Indonesia goddess of rice, has been an embodiment of the “Rice Mother” whose body the Indonesians believe, where the first rice ever produced. She is responsible to ensure good harvests. The “Rice Mother” is believed to be the guardian of all the crops.

This version among the Indonesians is similar to the culture of rice practice in Thailand. Mae Possop, the “Rice Mother”, is being paid homage in a Royal Plowing Ceremony to signal the rice planting in the country. This ceremony is spearheaded by the King, who leads the oxen and the slough for three times while the Queen broadcasts rice seeds across the newly plowed earth. Then, the oxen are led to a Hindu shrine erected in honor of Lord Vishnu, the “Preserver God”. Whether or not the Thais’ Mae Possop sounds like “May Puso” in Bisaya. This would theoretically make a conjecture of how it is uttered. With Thailand’s “katupat”, there is a possible connection that despite language variance, a probability could have been established, with Malaysia’s “ketupat”, and Indonesia’s “ketipat” with “puso” and “tamu” in the Philippines.

Among three Southeast Asian countries, these rice dumplings: “ketupat” in Malaysia, “ketipat” in Indonesia, “katupat” in Thailand, Laos, Guam and other Pacific islands, “patupat” in Northern Philippines, “puso” in central Philippines, and “tamu” in Southern Philippines are all basically woven and braided with the use of “lukay” (young and supple coconut fronds), Inocian says in his book. 

He also attributes this similarity to the rice, the best staple in Asia. Known with its scientific name “Oryza Sativa”, rice is grass popularly grown in Orissa, an eastern province of India where its name was derived. This essential grass grew widely in Southern China’s Yang Tze River valley, which archaeologists believe that rice cultivation could have started in this area and extended to Northeastern Thailand to that of the Irrawaddy river valleys in Myanmar since 4500 B.C.

Considered as staple food for many in Southeast Asia, rice links Heaven and Earth, between mortals and gods. As a scared food, rice has been used for numerous offerings in animism. Lakshmi and Annapura are two rice goddesses of India, illuminate through the people’s faith as they offered “puja” or ritual prayer with elaborate decoration to yield abundant harvest.


Still in his book, Inocian sites Jenny King (2002) who pointed out in her book, “World’s Religions”, the countries that practice Hinduism as a religion and the people doing “puja” –a certain ceremony that may include making offerings to their gods or deities, in the form of coconuts, flowers, and apples.

The use of coconut, dubbed as the “Tree of Life”, has been noted as significant in the ritual as its leaves are being used in the “puso” among the Cebuanos, the “tamu” among the Tausugs in Basilan, the “ketupat” among the Malaysians, the “ketipat” among the Indonesians, and the “katupat” among the Thais proves such a diversity with one common identity.

The flourishing trade relations of the Hindu Malayan traders and the early Filipinos during the Shri Vijayan Empire in Southeast Asia heavily influenced the culture of the “BISAYA”, the natives of the Visayas, which comprises the islands of Negros, Siquijor, Bohol, Leyte, Samar, Biliran, Panay, Guimaras, and Cebu.

Cebu being at the center of these islands had remarkably espoused the culture of “lukay” art across centuries ago, Inocian notes. 

Hindu Malayan culture influenced the social ideals, cultural traditions and practices of the early Sugbuanons. One of these traditions is “puso-making”, an industry which reflects Cebuano ingenuity, their superstitious beliefs and social life. It became an activity performed in ceremonial celebrations in victory, harvesting, planting, weddings, birthdays, baptisms, and burials, vis-à-vis its economic value and paramount importance for survival.

With these accounts, enough justifications were provided on Inocian’s researches on Cebuano heritage related with the ethnography of “puso”-making in Cebu. These researches brought light to both private and government sectors in bringing out the best for Cebu among the rest of its Asian neighbors.

The different designs of hanging rice

As a “puso-weaver” himself, Inocian learned the craft at the tender age of seven from his mother who was a “MAMUMUSO”. There are six major designs of “puso” that were used in the rituals while other designs in some areas like the “kinabayo” (horse-like) and others still need further validation. The local names of these designs are derived from the Sugbuanon tradition of HIKAYAN and the uses of each.

Each of the six designs of the “puso” is an intricate example of the native weaver’s craft.

The six designs Inocian identified in his book are binaki, manan-aw, binosa, dumpol or pudol, kinasing and badbaranay.

“BINAKI” means frog-like. This is offered to the gods as a reminder of the earthly-life-relationship of man with the supernatural forces.

In human dreams, frogs symbolize spiritual and emotional transformation. It reminds human transition or turning points from our ordinary life to another level of life’s challenges. Frogs are always associated to fertility and abundance.

“MANAN-AW” is a local Sugbu-anon term for white “phalaeonopsis amabilis” – native orchids which locals hang near the window to be admired by spectators for their captivating charm and beauty. Its cascading bunch of flowers resembles the eight leg-strips of this rice pouch. This is the most intricate design. It is made up of eight little strands of “lilas”, (strips) that would produce the biggest “puso”. This is offered to the highest gods especially for asking special favors like good health, good fortune, and a good harvest. Caring of orchids is actually ancient custom in different cultures. It symbolizes love, beauty, royalty, luxury, elegance, strength, perfection, virility and fertility. Among the natives, they used these pouches for asking very important favors like to conceive a child, strength in the marital vow, obtaining perfection in one’s mission and the like.

“BINOSA” (a shot glass), is a one strand “puso” or “inumol” (molded) or “kinumo” (human fist-like mold) among the weavers of Anda, Bohol, when they perform the “pagdiwata” ritual before clearing a stretch of farmland or erecting the first post of a new house (Nocheseda, 2009). This rice pouch resembles a small shot-glass. This is offered in bunches of a dozen each to the spirits of the lesser gods of the underworld to start a joyful banquet molded (inumol) with the family’s pure intentions. These rice pouches resemble a wine-shot glass used primarily in a social gathering. This represents a great rejoicing for a very important celebration of a family’s achievement, victory, and thanksgiving.

“DUMPOL, or “PUDOL”, is a variation of the “KINASING”, which has the same number of strands and features, but unlike the latter, it possesses a flattened bottom. In some other areas, the villagers call it “TINIGIB” (chisel), such as among the weavers of Glan, Sarangani province (Nocheseda: 2009), because the bottom looks like a chisel blade. This pouch is offered to the spirits of the gods by placing it on the ground below the “LANTAY”, a table-like platform decorated with coconut fronds as side skirting with two white flag lets on two opposing ends, which would make it look like a floating vessel. 

This is where the term “LANTAYAN” is derived, which means annual or occasional “HIKAYAN” (an annual tradition). For a carpenter, a chisel is one of the most essential tools in furniture-making, the same way that in “hikayan”, the “tinigib is one of the rice pouches that should not be missed out in the actual ceremonies. These rice pouches represent the carpenter’s passion for furniture construction and building of houses. This reminds the essentiality of carpenter’s labor and the satisfaction towards his craft.

“KINASING” (heart-like) or “KASING” (top) is a two strand “puso”, which resembles a diamond or a heart-shaped pouch, a precious design, used to remind us of nature’s bounty; it is offered to the important minor gods. The “kasing” (top) once played with by children is a symbol of joy with a happy heart. A happy heart is capable of generating love which these pouches primarily symbolized. It is offered to the gods with pure intentions and love. The Kinasing rice pouches are the common designs among the Cebuano rice pouch weavers. This design reminds our trait of being sincere to one another, “kinasing-kasing”. Like the human heart, this design also means the source of love, which is one of the foundations of peace in the family, community, nation, and the world.

“BADBARANAY”, which means unraveling or opening with an “abridor” (opener). This is offered together with other designs, in the belief that the gods can open up and grant a pleasant and successful celebration officiated by the “MANANAMPIT” or the local” tambalan” (priest or priestess) to the “MAMUMUTANG”, the family which offers the “hikayan”.

As a component of the animistic practices of the early Sugbuanons, they braided different rice pouches (puso) and other objects as an offering for religious celebrations and rituals. The term “puso” is derived from a Visayan word, denoting “bunga” or “bulak” which means fruit or flower. The banana flower called “puso” is an obvious example. Like the “puso sa saging”, (banana flower) that is suspended from its natural trunk setting, the “puso” depicts a Sugbu-anon belief in fertility and abundance.

This is the reason why why other people call the Cebuano puso “hanging rice,” calling to mind bunches of these which are hung from a local “tabo-tabo” store, (village faire) in the rural areas. Similarly, upland farmers living on the hilly slopes of Sugbu, made and cooked “puso” in several designs during harvest season to celebrate a bountiful harvest of farm crops, especially corn and rice. They did this in the form of “HIKAYAN”, the local version of “diwata” or ceremony.

Upland farmers living in the hilly slopes of Sugbo, made and cooked “puso” in several designs during harvest season to celebrate a bountiful harvest of farm crops. They did this in the form of “HIKAYAN”, the local version of “diwata” or ceremony.

The “HIKAYAN” (annual banquet) is not exclusively intended for thanksgiving to celebrate a good harvest, but also for exorcism to drive away demons in healing rituals. This ritual is called “YAMYAM” (prayer of intentions) which is performed by a “TAMBALAN”, (village shaman) on a sickly person whose illnesses are caused by supernatural forces like: “duwende”, (dwarfs) “agta”, (black giant), or spirits from the nether world.


What do the six designs imply? Inocian says the early Sugbuanons had shown reverence and respect with the divinity of nature as exemplified in the “binaki” and “manan-aw” designs. Nature is the source of life. They are dependent with it as they worked in the farm for the source of food. It is the same nature that they had to give indisputable indulgence. With such reverence, they commit themselves to their existence with the supernatural being as they performed the annual ritual with pure intentions and love as exemplified with the “kinasing” design. The designs of “binaki”, “manan-aw”, and the “kinasing” represent the spiritual ethos of the early Sugbuanons as regards with their reverence to nature.

Inocian says that aside from this spiritual ethos, the early Sugbuanons also thought of using material objects that would symbolize the significance of the ritual as majestic as they could through the use of the “binosa”, “badbaranay”, and the “tinigib”.

“They have not forgotten to recognize their human potential – a material ethos that recognizes human limitations. The spiritual and the material ethos can divide humans and nature, but the three designs manifest the early Cebuanos’ values for manual, social, and decisive competence as a synergy of both human and spiritual existence in the engagement of the ritual. Every amount of toil is always be equated with spiritual gratification. This combined ethos (spiritual and material) represents harmony of nature’s grand design in order to shun violence and other sorts of nature’s abuses,” Inocian says in his book.

When the Spanish colonizers invaded the Philippines and with the introduction and propagation of Christianity among the natives, this superstitious belief of the early Sugbuanons gradually disappeared, except among few families in the hinterlands of the city and nearby towns, which retained this vanishing tradition.

The craft of making “puso” still exists, but Inocian says it has been transformed into an industry that caters to the economic needs for survival especially of the present poor and middle-income Cebuanos.

The “puso”, which had to be hung from a piece of rope is now placed in a sack or basket in barbecue stands in street corners or carenderias, its cultural meaning has been lost with the young generation not caring about it. 

Inocian says the present “mamumuso” does not anymore make the different designs but rather has fallen back on weaving “kinasing”, “badbaranay”, and the “binaki” representing the small and medium sizes of their products. These designs are easy to weave and fastest time to finish – for mass production and for greater profit.

“The “puso” has now become a solution to the Cebuano’s laziness to cook an ordinary rice dish, as well as a handy substitute for plates for beach picnics and parties and even for longer sea travel. The “puso” has always been a part of the Cebuano identity. However, if nothing will be done about it, then this will finally disappear. There is a need for “puso-making” to be taught in schools and integrated the Arts and Technology and Home Economics curricula as an example of indigenous craftsmanship,” Inocian says./JMO (FREEMAN)

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