A simple gesture – or so it seems

Sunday Mass was over and the kids took turns making “mano” to the young Adorno priest who had just celebrated Mass, Fr. Liam. The somewhat odd and seemingly insignificant gesture was over in a blink of an eye, belying its deep-rooted meaning and history.

photo (14)-3 - CopyPR

An age-old Filipino custom without equivalent elsewhere, mano or pagmamano is at once a gesture of respect for elders and a way of receiving their blessing. Most Filipinos probably view it as a mere sign of respect, akin to the more familiar Asian (primarily East Asian) custom of bowing. But it is much much more than that.

The “mano” is a gesture – first and foremost – of humility, of accepting an elder as superior to oneself, not so much in age, but in experience and wisdom. As in most Asian cultures, the respect for elders is inherent in Filipino culture.

Traditionally, the person showing respect says “Mano po” (literally, “your hand please”) while asking for the elder’s hand.The term “po” is uniquely Filipino as well, and used, in most parts of the Philippines, when speaking with an elder. Its omission in conversation implies one is a peer, and shows disrespect to an elder. Archaic, even hierarchical, as these customs may sound, they seem to “paradoxically” foster stronger bonds between the young and old, and a practical sense of responsibility for the elders’ care to the end of their days, no matter how “useless”, disabled or demented they may be.

The person showing respect takes the elder’s offered hand with his right hand andphoto (14)-cropPR - Copy touches it to his forehead in a bowing gesture, once again acknowledging, with this subservient pose, the elder as above one’s peers. This gesture was most likely borne of a combination of the custom of kissing of a bishop’s ring (the Philippines was colonized by Spain in 1521) and the Asian customs of bowing and respect for elders.

Yet unlike the Asian custom of bowing, the “mano” is a two-way gesture. For, the moment the hand touches the forehead in respect, a blessing is also received. The elder responds with “God bless you” or, as my maternal grandmother used to always say with her gentle betel-stained smile “Kaawaan ka ng Diyos” (“May the Lord have mercy on you.” ) One always felt truly blessed whenever she uttered those words.

Such meaning and history infused into a gesture lasting mere seconds!

Sadly, this beautiful custom seems to be going by the wayside, replaced by a mere hug or kiss on the cheek – neither of which is exclusive to one’s elders, both of which are ubiquitous in most cultures. Some elders may be embarrassed by this custom, perhaps emphasizing their age rather than the privilege of giving blessings to the young. Or perhaps it speaks too clearly of one’s Filipino roots.

Whatever the reason, my parents and siblings have decided to continue this custom of “pagmamano“. Not one grandchild enters or leaves the house without first making “mano” to all his or her grandparents, uncles, aunts, and yes, even parents – often followed by hugs or kisses or both. So many blessings in one day!

I must admit I’m a bit jealous for our children, missing out on all these daily family blessings half the world away. For now, Fr. Liam will have to do. He makes no secret of his age anyway and loves to give blessings. I’m sure he won’t mind. 😉

God bless!



12 thoughts on “A simple gesture – or so it seems

  1. Our parish priest, Fr. Peter, is just a bit older than my oldest kid, but I always make ‘mano’ when I see him, for his blessing….Ems, another light, easy reading, very insightful and brilliant piece!


  2. Hi Emy, this is a beautiful tradition. I hope that it is revived! The world needs pagmamano! Yes, so much depth, love, and dignity shown in such a simple gesture. Beautiful.


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