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.
-Thanks.
-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: