Sosyudad (Philippines)

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Location: the Philippines
Philippines map.png
Author: Ramon Felipe A. Sarmiento
Affiliation: Catanduanes State University, Philippines

Original Text: Ramon Felipe A. Sarmiento, Catanduanes State University, Philippines

The sosyudad refers to an entire class of voluntary associations practiced in Virac, the capital town of the province of Catanduanes in the Philippines. Sosyudad is a local term for the Spanish sociedad, which denotes either a society or a sodality (Catholic association). As a practice of association, the sosyudad was first extensively described in an ethnographic study conducted between 2007 and 2008[1]. Two types of sosyudad were identified, a secular type and a devotional type; the basic difference being that the latter takes on a religious observance while the former does not. But there are other aspects of distinction. Firstly, the secular associations are much more numerous. The author’s study found that around 300 secular groups were active, distributed around the 63 villages of the town, compared with only 20 groups of the devotional kind. However, the study found that the secular group membership of sosyudads is small, usually restricted to an average of eleven members, whereas the devotional association groups often have a membership of more than a hundred each. The difference in size matters- the secular groups typically meet weekly, while the devotional groups tend to meet on a monthly basis or more infrequently. Membership is open to both sexes, although the study found male membership to be slightly higher. Typically, practitioners are middle aged and married, but groups also exist with younger members. Groups are formed according to various bases of affinities such as age, occupation, kinship, school affiliation or neighbourhoods. The practice has been observed to cut across the social classes.

For the people of Virac, mention of the sosyudad invokes two things: the weekly gatherings to partake of food and alcoholic drinks, and the depositing of money in a savings-and- lending enterprise. While there are exceptions, the typical sosyudad and the secular type in particular, revolves around these two activities. In most cases the majority of practitioners assert that eating and drinking takes precedence over saving and lending activities. The weekly meetings are the core of the sosyudad and the economic element lends a long-term and more utilitarian purpose since it operates in a one-year cycle. In addition to drinking and saving, many sosyudad groups find time to engage in other activities such as one off economic enterprises, various forms of mutual aid, and a few are involved with civic projects.

The eating and drinking however is not an end in itself, but merely the means to the enactment of egalitarian camaraderie, which appears to be the essence of the sosyudad. Accordingly, the intoxicated participation involves an elaborate set of norms that allows gratification of expressive fellowship among equals. For example, participants take equal number of shots from the same glass that goes around in a circular sequence, to symbolise equality. Conversational exchanges take place without anybody assuming leadership, and few topics are taboo, although discussions do not get serious and easily stray from the point. Language can become graphically profane, and participants joke and mock or insult each other just for the fun of it. The more expressive groups might even spontaneously break into playful and silly antics.

With such basic purpose pursued through its brand of interactive practices, the sosyudad is essentially a form of what Victor Turner called communitas[2]. For Turner, the communitas is an experience of egalitarian liberty that is a stark contrast to the asymmetrically contoured mainstream social arrangement. In the sosyudad, communitas is generated through the reversal of the norms of status quo, which allows practitioners a respite from hegemonic social structures. Thus, to be able to sustain active participation in the sosyudad, a member must cultivate the practical competency involved in conjuring up the communitas-like state during sessions. But in spite of being a practice of reversal and resistance, the sosyudad does not pose a challenge to the prevailing order; instead it supports it. It plays a homeostatic function where practitioners, having recharged from the weekend experience of communitas in the sosyudad are afforded a new lease of endurance for the struggle and strains of everyday life throughout the rest of the week.

The anti-structure character of the sosyudad is further manifested in the ways it shuns the more formal aspects of society: it operates with the barest minimum of organisational structuring, having no set of hierarchical roles and positions. It requires only a secretary-cum- treasurer who keeps a record of transactions relating to the savings/lending scheme. Nonetheless, the sosyudad avoids any dealings with formal institutions, be they government or non- government organisations. Attempts by some development workers to convert sosyudad into proper cooperatives failed. It thrives, in what Turner termed as the ‘interstices of social structure’. In fact, practitioners see their sosyudad enterprise as karawat-kawator ‘a game played out’, albeit by adults, and therefore not worthy of preoccupation by the legitimating schemes of formal institutions.

Sosyudad as a form of sociality is akin to many similar types of informal aggrupation observed elsewhere in the Philippines and typically associated with the agricultural economy[3][4][5]. Early sosyudad groups were really labour- exchange circles of farmers called cumbinyu (from the Spanish convenio meaning ‘conference’) that had decided to extend their regular congregations beyond the working seasons in the fields through weekly drinking sessions. Labour-exchange arrangements were popular in agricultural Philippines until recently, specifically in small-scale cultivation, and practiced along various aspects of farming such as clearing of land, planting, irrigation, and harvesting. They were known by different names such as alayon, kompang, bataris, kabisilyahan, amuyong, pakyawen, sangheras, palusong, payuhwan, loyohan and hunglos (for various cooperative forms in rural Philippines see; Landa-Jocano 1982[6]; Lewis 1981[7]; Mangahas 2008[8]; Ortiz 1915[9]; Ricafort 1980[10]; and Zialcita 1981[11]). Other informal cooperative systems were also popular all over Philippine rural society, some of them still being practiced today. For example, the atag in Catanduanes is a mobilisation of voluntary labour for community purposes such as church-building or clean-up campaigns. Neighbours in Virac may be summoned for a duksoy, a day of free labour to assist with the start of the building of a house[1]. Groups may also form for specific purposes such as mutual assistance on occasions such the minagsoon (literally ‘adoptive siblings’) as seen in the Visayas region. When death occurs in the family of a member, the minagsoon mobilises its resources to provide assistance to the family in the form of cash and kind, labor, and emotional support[12]. There are also various savings schemes collectively known as ‘rotating credit associations’ such as the paluwagan, which is used for general purposes and is popular all over the Philippines[13], and the komboy in Mindanao, where year-round savings are collected to be used for fiestas or village feasts[14].

Informal mutual aid and common-interest voluntary groups have been reported all over the world and are held to thrive in so-called developing societies. In early studies of people experiencing transition from traditional to modern, common interest groups are seen as adaptive mechanisms[15][16]. More recently, the notion of civil society and social capital has been applied, seeing these groups juxtaposed against the coerced organisational scaffolding of the state and attributing to them an essential role in sustaining democracy[17]. Purportedly, they are virtual training grounds for participation in the larger polity; the greater such civil society translates into more vibrant democratic governance. Can this be said of the sosyudad? The impact of the sosyudad on the broad scheme of Catandunganon society, even as a form of reversal and resistance, is at best ambivalent. It represents the limited small-scale sort of civil society, that while being a practice of egalitarian relations, hardly makes a democratising dent on the largely patronage character of local and national politics.

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