Differences between the Chavacano de Ermita and the Chabacano de Zamboanga

The Chavacano de Ermita is said to have been spoken once in the Ermita district in Manila and thus its name, Ermitaño. Sadly, it has disappeared after the Second World War. It is so unfortunate that there aren’t that many studies done on this once thriving Chavacano.

For months now, I have been trying to get some samples of the Chavacano in Ermita without any luck. Yesterday, however, I stumbled on a page in the Skyscraper City Forum which talked about Manila. One of the forum members there gave me a glimpse of what the Chavacano of Ermita would sound like.

Ta sumi el sol na fondo del mar, y el mar, callao el boca. Ta juga con su mana marejadas com un muchacha nerviosa con su mana pulseras. El viento no mas el que ta alborota, el viento y el pecho de Felisa que ta lleno de sampaguitas na fuera y lleno de suspiros na dentro.

This excerpt was taken from a book called Pidgins and Creoles" by John Holm. The sample though was provided by a linguist named Whinnom in 1956.

If we are going to study the text above, it doesn’t have much difference from the Chabacano of Zamboanga. The only difference I can notice is the usage of no mas instead of lang. There are words though in this excerpt that do not exist in the Chabacano of Zamboanga but I know from Spanish like the word alborota (from Spanish alborotar). In Chabacano, only the noun alboroto exists.

I will attempt to translate the above excerpt into English.

The sun is setting to the bottom of the sea, and the sea is quiet. A nervous girl is playing on the seashore with her bracelets. Only the wind is making noises… the wind, and Felisa’s chest which is adorned with Sampaguitas outside but full of fears inside.

Now let me just give a disclaimer. I admit that I totally didn’t understand the excerpt above which sounds like a poem. Yes, I can understand it word for word but I can’t seem to grasp its meaning. For example, the part which says el mar, callao el boca means literally that the mouth of the sea is quiet but it obviously means that the sea is quiet or tranquil. My point is that it looks like the excerpt is a poem and poems are not exactly straight to the point. In the translation above, I tried to translate the ideas in the excerpt, not the words. Another thing that Chabacano de Zamboanga speakers would notice is the usage of mana. Mana is an archaic word in the Chabacano de Zamboanga which has the same meaning as maga and the Tagalog mga. Today, people don’t really say mana or maga anymore. One will hear maga only in Chabacano news programs on the TV and radio. Mana, however is rarely used even in formal settings. What one would hear nowadays in the streets of Zamboanga city is the Tagalog mga.

My grandmother who died nine years ago when I was in high school grew up in Ermita and may have spoken the Chavacano of Ermita. My grandmother was a nurse who worked for the Red Cross. During the 1940s? (maybe right before, during, or right after WW2), my grandmother was sent to Zamboanga city. According to my aunt, she was sent to Zamboanga city precisely because she could speak Chabacano. However, when she got to Zamboanga, she found that she couldn’t communicate with the locals with her Chabacano. According to my aunt, the Chabacano that my grandmother spoke was closer to Spanish than the Chabacano de Zamboanga.

It is unfortunate that I never got to ask my grandmother about Ermitaño. My grandmother did have a sister who used to live in Las Piñas and my aunt told me that this person spoke the Chavacano in Ermita. Anyway, the opportunity to ask that person about Chavacano is gone because she passed away a few years ago. When I initially wrote this article, this person was already over ninety years old so I wouldn’t know if she would have still remembered anything about this language. According to her grandson, they speak Spanish not Chavacano. But this person also spoke Spanish and even taught that language in one of the universities in Manila so it would make sense that she would teach her children Spanish.

I also found a sample dialogue from a blog called El Neptuno Azul which the blogger took from a book written by a historian named Jose Montero (1876). Here is the dialogue:

-Cosa quiere suya conmigo?
-Mia quiele platicalo.
-Y para cosa?
-Por que vos mangandan dalaga.
-Aba! Esta enamorando conmigo este chino!
-Oh, oh! icao mariquit.
-Kansia (thanks in Chinese).
-Mia quiele mucho con suya y tiene cualtas para puede compla saya y candonga.
- Bien. Sigue suya conmigo, para habla buenobueno con aquel mi tia.

Here is an English translation of the above dialogue according to my own understanding of the dialogue.

-What do you want from me?
-I want to speak with you.
-And what for?
-Because you are a beautiful lass.
-Oh! This Chinese guy likes me!
-You’re pretty.
-I like you so much and I have money to buy you dresses and jewelry.
-Ok. Come with me so that you can get to know my aunt.

The historian claims that this is the Chavacano Ermitaño however if you ask me, the above dialogue is not Chavacano Ermitaño. I believe that it was the pidgin Spanish that the Sangleys or the Chinese would speak during the Spanish period. At least it sounds like it. It is also possible that it was an earlier form of Ermitaño but then again, who knows.

I posted this article at the Zamboanga de Antes Facebook group and these are the comments which it received: 


  1. Hi Jerome, I'm Earvin, a Linguistics major student and I'm currently trying to study the Ermitanyo Chabacano and you seem to know a lot about it :) If possible I would like to ask you some more questions about it :) thanks! Hope to get a reply soon

  2. My late mother was a Chabacano speaker from Cavite City, her father's family emigrated there from Zamboanga in the early 1920's. In fact she was raised by her Zamboangueña grandmother. In those days everyone spoke Chabacano in Cavite City, in fact my grandfather did not even speak Tagalog. My mother also complained about the decline of Caviteño Chabacano after WWII, when all the Tagalogs moved there.

    I think the old (pre-WWII) Caviteño Chabacano was very close to Ermitaño Chabacano in grammar and construction, this was also stated by Paul Whinnom, whom you mentioned above. Pronunciation differed slightly with Caviteño changing final -o and -e into -u and -i, a result of Tagalog "contamination" (Whinnom's word, not mine, he said the difference was more in pronunciation). Another Tagalog influence is the preference of doubling an adjective instead of using muy (although this would certainly be understood), i.e. buenung-bueno, calienteng-caliente, llenung-lleno, etc.

    BTW, in your 3rd paragraph ("Ta sumí el sol na fondo del mar..."), this was a literary work titled "Na Maldito Arena" published in 1917 by Jesús Balmori, who mainly wrote in Spanish but also knew Ermitaño. It continues:

    "Y ele tan guapa, que ta compará todo el gente con el Vilgen Santísima de Guía, que ta llená de plores y candelas na iglesia; ele tan peliz que ta jablá el mana soltera, su mana compañera, como pájaro, no hay mas vida sino volá y cantá, ta llorá agora, ta suspirá agora y ta clavá bueno el vista na olas y na cielos..."

  3. Hi. Thanks for all your information. I will write about that poem someday again.

  4. This is so interesting! I'm from Iloilo and in our language, hiligaynon, there are a lot of spanish loanwords and phrases though the younger generation know less and doesn't quite speak them anymore. When I read something in spanish I can understand some words. I even went to the house of my father's friend and I hear that friend's mother speak in spanish!

  5. Hi.

    The Chabacano de Ermita did have Chinese flavor because Ermita is close to Binondo. In fact, I suspect this dialect actually started [as a pidgin] with the sangley merchants who had to trade with the spaniards. Evidently, it is very close to the Caviteño dialect because of the Tagalog substrate. Jose Rizal, who came from a Chinese merchant family, spoke this Chabacabo dialect while attending school at the Ateneo and UST. Do a research and you will find out.

  6. Quite interesting, Being familiar with Manila when I was a student at Taft. I hardly heard of any Manileneo speak of Chabacano and its was an interesting find from the net that the Chabacano language did exist there before World War 2. Sadly, the Ermita area now is filled with establishment and government offices that back in the days there's a lot of houses in that area.

    It would seem to be legit that those residence before World War 2 knows how to speak Chabacano like an every day language. But funny to say due to modernization and the real residence of Ermita doesn't stay there any more. Its like looking for a fossil but I'm gonna try my best to ask some Old Batang Maynila about Chavacano. Gonna update you soon and Kudos to this intetesting ariticle.

  7. Sadly, it is said that this language is already extinct. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Hi Jerome:
    El fragmento citado procede de "Na maldito arena", un cuento de Jesús Balmori, publicado originalmente en 1917, en la Revista Filipina, Vol. 11, nº 4, pp. 71-73.
    La revista está disponible online en www.archive.org
    ¡Feliz año 2014!
    Mauro Fernández

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Jerome:

    Proba tu hace el en búsqueda na Youtube este "Pasacalle de Aray!" que ya intérprete si Guillermo Gómez Rivera porque ese cancion es escribiendo na Dialecto Ermitense.

  11. Hi, I'm ramones1986 from AlternateHistory.com

    I wish I could learn Chavacano (both Zamboanga and Ermita variants) because I'm currently writing "Filipinas: La Gloriosa y Más Allá", where Chavacano is now regarded as Philippine lingua franca.

    Nevertheless, the few songs and poems that you've posted here actually gave me a little hint about Chavacano de Ermita.

    Gracias a usted y seguí trabajanda pa'la lengua Chavacana. Un abrazo.

    1. Is the book available? I'm fluent in Spanish and and I have a working knowledge of tagalog.