THE SOSYUDAD OF VIRAC CATANDUANES: REPRODUCING AND TRANSFORMING A TRADITIONAL PRACTICE OF COOPERATION IN INSULAR BIKOL
RAMON FELIPE A. SARMIENTO
Ph.D Anthropology (May 2009)
Department of Anthropology
The Sosyudad is a traditional form of voluntary association that remains in wide currency in Virac, Catanduanes. Typically composed of a small circle of friends, it is seen by the locals as a form of pag-iliba and harampangan, two ways of denoting “group” with the former suggesting a company in a journey while the latter an intimate encounter. As both pag-iliba and harampangan, the sosyudad is devoted to the enactment of egalitarian camaraderie and extending mutual assistance among members. The first to be done on this phenomenon, this study aims to 1) describe the synchronic dimension of the practice, namely its socio-cultural aspects, and 2) take account of its production, reproduction and transformation.
In making sense of the sosyudad, this inquiry deploys the practice theory. Here, culture is not some overarching entity out there that determines behavior. It is rather contingent; something produced and reproduced by human agents acting upon conditions that present to them as they deal with the challenges of everyday life. Sosyudad is a by-product of such process. Specifically, it is a cultural form that people mobilize to engage in meaningful collective endeavors, a practice of cooperation that is. It took shape in the past but generation after generation in Virac continued to access it up to the present. In the process of reproduction however, the sosyudad sustained transformation as new historical forces entered into the interplay of factors. In general then, this inquiry on the sosyudad becomes an illustrative case of the contingency of culture. In particular it is a demonstration of the way cooperation is socially and historically constructed, and how cultural resource from the past is reproduced and transformed to serve contemporary exigencies.
As ethnography of the sosyudad, this study makes use of a combination of the quantitative and qualitative techniques, namely survey, participant observation, interviews and use of documents. Done between May 2006 and December 2007, the survey established the extent of proliferation of the practice in the town of Virac and described its varieties while the more qualitative techniques created an intimate picture of its workings.
According to informants, the sosyudad had long been in existence, since as early as the Spanish period, as indeed the term itself is of Hispanic origin. Through its history and into the present, the most enduring aspect of the sosyudad is its being a mechanism by which participants can regularly partake egalitarian fellowship and engage in mutual care, a break and indeed a form of resistance to the broad social order that is based on discrepant power arrangement.
But even as sosyudad is professed to the attainment of camaraderie among equals, social layering among members along class, age and gender lines expresses in the nitty-gritty of interaction as a group goes about its various undertakings. On the other hand, the care for others remains confined to members and fails to extend outside of the in-group. In these regards, sosyudad becomes a bundle of contradictions between its ideology and practice.
Organizationally, certain design features of sosyudad practice while creating that egalitarian character also facilitate its reproduction. Its smallness, flexibility of structure and simplicity of goals make it easy to constitute and disband. Its marginality and autonomy vis-à-vis hegemonic institutions allow it much room for maneuver. As a whole then, sosyudad practice becomes particularly conducive to creative improvisations by agents making it easy to adapt to changing external conditions. To a large extent, it owes its continual reproduction to the ease by which it can assume transformations.
At the broadest, transformation of the sosyudad is evident in the two distinct generations of groups that manifested through history. The first consisted of those that prevailed before the Second World War and the second after it. While both generations revolved around the partaking of liquor and food as a means to enact fellowship, their mutual aid components were largely shaped by the socio-economic systems of the period. For the first generation, it mainly consisted of labor exchange arrangements occasioned by pre-capitalist agricultural mode of production. For its part, the second generation was hallmarked by the saving and loaning enterprise, a result of the increasing cash orientation of the economy.
The second generation remains to dominate contemporary practice. But even as it appears to stabilize around the drinking of liquor and the loaning/saving scheme, changes continue to take inroads. Some of the more remarkable of these are the liberalization of the norms of drinking, the adoption of civic causes and the taking in of more formal structures, all of which are concessions to current developments in the larger milieu.
In sum, sosyudad’s trajectory of production, reproduction and transformation illustrates how cooperation as meaningful relationship is continually constructed and reconstructed by practitioners, making use of their creative agency, to suit obtaining conditions. While sosyudad remained professed to the same values of egalitarian camaraderie and mutual care, the ways these are pursued are constantly revised. Thereby, the world of meanings of sosyudad practice becomes arena for contentious interpretation.