Connecting with Our Kapwa through Kuwentuhan

Kuwentuhan” is the Tagalog word for storytelling. However, there is something more about this word that seems to carry culture-specific connotations and a simple Tagalog-to-English translation just doesn’t really do justice to the word.  The ways in which we, Filipinos, share our stories are very much entrenched in our being, our Filipino-ness, our cultural identify.

Storytelling is an act of generosity.  Storytellers are generously sharing their knowledge, wisdom, and time. Listeners are generously sharing their time, their presence, and their openness of mind and heart.  Storytelling facilitates the flow of mutual compassion. In a time of divisiveness and discord, storytelling reconnects us. Storytelling strengthens our bonds. Storytelling heals.

In the Filipino culture, a culture in which social scientists have often described as collectivistic as opposed to individualistic, there is a strong emphasis on social relationships and interdependence rather than on the self and independence. The Filipino’s sense of self lies more on the sociocentric end of the spectrum rather than the egocentric. Filipinos place a higher value on interpersonal cooperation (“bayanihan”), reciprocity (“kasamahan”), and social acceptance (“pakikisama”) rather than the individualistic culture’s constructs of autonomy and uniqueness. They have strong family ties and not only with immediate family members but extended family members as well.  Obedience and respect of parents and elders are highly valued and we owe them a deep sense of gratitude (“utang na loob”) for having paved the way for our journeys.

The ways we share our stories are shaped by our concept of the self, our social relationships, and our values.  In our kuwentuhan, there is a shared togetherness. We share our stories with our “kapwa.” In a simple English translation, “kapwa” means “other person” but according to Virgilio Enriquez, father of Philippine psychology, it really is better understood as “shared togetherness.” When we do our kuwentuhan with our kapwa, our stories are shaped and transmitted by our shared identity, our shared togetherness.

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