Mano Po combines the Spanish word “mano” (hand) and the Tagalog word “po” ( to mean respect). Joining both words means “your hand, please.” It is a Filipino social decorum associated with good manners and founded in the ethical norm. Filipinos use Mano Po to greet someone with respect, especially when talking or meeting an older person, someone in authority, or somebody occupying a respectable position in society. When visiting a Filipino family for the first time, a simple Mano Po can make a difference. It changes the household’s perception of a guest. It signals a gesture of politeness and bridges filial affinity with the family.
The Mano Po tradition predates the colonial era. The neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia use the term salam or salim to greet or show respect to someone. Japan expresses salutation and respect through Ojigi or bowing one’s head. In the Philippines, Mano Po is a simple rite that combines the bowing of one’s head, the utterance of mano po, and taking the elder’s hand and placing it gently on the forehead. It is not just to mean greeting and respect, but also to seek a blessing from a respected figure in the family, household, or community. Mano Po is a rite of passage toward social acceptance, cloaked in admiration toward a young or younger person as being polite and respectful.
Back in the days, I grew up in a place where Mano Po was part of life’s rhythm and a religious ritual. The clanging of the church bells at six o’clock in the evening signalled everyone to pause, bow their heads, or come together, to recite the Angelus prayer or oracion. After the oracion, children were to take the hands of their parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, or elders in the family, who will then say their blessings “kaawa-an ka ng Dios” (God bless you). It is also a tradition for children and grandchildren to give presents or seek blessings from grandparents or elders in the household at Christmas time. Parents urge their little ones to take the hands of grandparents or godparents and say, Mano Po.
Does Mano Po remain a widely practiced tradition? It almost begs to ask the question, knowing that it is a Filipino tradition. Nonetheless, I conducted a quick survey with my Filipino network in the Philippines and Canada using social media to benefit any doubt. The survey had only two questions. First, it asked if Mano Po remains widely practiced in households. Of the 110 responses, 94% claimed that it remains a tradition. Only 6% suggested otherwise. Second, the survey asked participants regarding the frequency of practice of Mano Po in the homes. Responses varied significantly. About 38% claimed that families observed it daily, while 22% do it sometimes. Forty percent of participants suggested that they still observed Mano Po in the homes but would instead do it as needed. The data suggests that the tradition is needed in some situations but are not necessarily observed widely in households.
Of the 110 responses, 52 came from Filipino residents of Canada. While most agreed that Filipino-Canadians still practice the tradition, about 87% claimed that it has evolved into similar gestures that still demonstrate love and respect for parents or the elderly in the family. Some examples cited were kissing the forehead, beso-beso (cheek-to-cheek kiss), hugging, or simple greetings like magandang gabi po (good evening). About 15% were more cautious about continuing the tradition amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that demands social distancing.
The small survey sample does not represent all Filipino residents in Canada or Canadians of Filipino descent. However, whether Filipino-Canadians widely practice the Mano Po is a study of interest to understand how it sustains the Filipino version of filial piety. Moreover, the findings open up possible research interests around the living up of Filipino traditions overseas.
Why would Mano Po matter? Mano Po is grounded in the Philosophy of Filial Piety. Filipinos have tremendous respect for their elders, anchored in love for parents. The term filial piety or honouring the elders in the family has its roots in the familial philosophy that dates back to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. It melded well with the Filipino value of close family ties. Later, however, it came to be “institutionalized.” It became part of the Christian moral teaching, “honouring your mother and father” upon the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines.
A study on The Experience of Sponsored Filipino Seniors in Providing Support to Immigrant Families in Canada cited that Filipino parents tend to provide lifetime support to their children (Alama, 2009). In return, the children are to exercise filial piety, especially when their parents grow older. It is both a moral expectation of Filipino parents and a moral obligation of children or family members to respect, care for, and provide unconditional support to the elders in the family.
Filial piety is so entrenched in the Filipino identity. It extends to others outside the home. Unsurprisingly, Filipinos working overseas as caregivers or frontline health workers have been admired for their compassion and quality of service for the vulnerable, particularly seniors in care. Caring for the elderly is in the psyche of and endowed to Filipinos.
Culture and values define our identity. Mano Po is one of the identity characterizations of our race. It remains a uniquely Filipino identity over several generations that elevates elders’ roles in the family. It is a pedagogy that teaches children to honour and value parents and elders in the community. It anchors in love and respect for the elders – one among the positive values of our lahi (race). While its form may evolve as it constantly dialogues with the host culture or the complementing values in the new home, its essence will always remain in the hearts of Filipinos living overseas.
The continued observance of the Mano Po in the household offers the opportunity to teach children compassion and respect for parents and elders beyond the “borders” of Filipino households and communities.
Alama, E. Z. (2009). The Experience of Sponsored Filipino Seniors in Providing Support to Immigrant Families in Canada: A Grounded Theory Inquiry. University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. doi:10.11575/PRISM/22140