The barong tagalog hung on a desk lamp.

Origin of Barong Tagalog
(Source: Wikipedia)

Long time before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippine archipelago, the Tagalog people on the northern island of Luzon, already wore a dress that can be seen as the origin of the Barong Tagalog. The dress reached slightly below the waist, was colourless and had an opening in the front.

A legend persists that the Spaniards made Filipinos wear barongs untucked to distinguish them from the ruling class, its translucent fabric helping the Spaniards to see that the wearer was not bearing any weapon under the garment.

Connoisseurs of historical details say that during the Spanish era, the rulers required that the baro of the indio be made of flimsy material so that he could not conceal weapons on his person. Supposedly, the indio was also prohibited from tucking in his shirt, to designate his low rank and to tell him apart from the mestizaje and insulares.

Sociologists have argued against this theory, however, pointing out that untucked wear was very common in pre-colonial south-east- and south-Asian countries, and that the use of thin, translucent fabric developed naturally given the heat and humidity of the Philippines. Historians, likewise, have noted the absence of a citation to the specific law where the Spaniards supposedly prohibited the natives from tucking in their shirts. They also note that natives during the Spanish era wore their shirts tucked at times. A common example cited in support of this argument is José Rizal and his contemporaries, who were photographed in western clothing with their shirts tucked—although the era of the barong predated Rizal’s time.

Another disputed theory is whether the barong was a local adaptation or a precursor to the guayabera, a shirt popular in the Latin-American communities. According to those who claim that the barong is the precursor of the guayabera (pronounced “gwa-ya-ber-ra” with an almost silent “G”), the guayabera shirt was originally called “Filipina” during the era of Manila galleon trade-ships when it was brought to Mexico from the Philippines.


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