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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Spanish Colonial Philippines Part 7: the Barong Mahaba

Barong mahaba, or long barongs, have quite a history in the Philippines. The Boxer Codex, circa 1590, shows a Pintado (tattooed indigenous Cebuano or Waray) man (see 1st pic below) and a Visayan kadatuan (royal) man (see 2nd pic below) both wearing the barong mahaba.

 

A Pintado (“painted” in Spanish) couple of timawa or tumao marital-feudal class from the Boxer Codex (1590)

A Pintado (“painted” in Spanish) couple of timawa or tumao marital-feudal class from the Boxer Codex (1590)

 

a Visayan kadatuan (royal) couple from the Boxer Codex (1590)

a Visayan kadatuan (royal) couple from the Boxer Codex (1590)

 

In 1738, Juan Francisco de San Antonio, a Franciscan friar, published chronicles of his experiences in the Philippines and around Asia. In one account in the Philippines, he describes a barong mahaba from that period that was “loose to the wind, with wide sleeves and without cuffs”.

In The Barong Tagalog: the Philippines’ National Wear (1986) by Visitacion R. de la Torre, the author declares that chiefs wore black barong mahaba to church functions and other official ceremonies over their clothes. This barong reached down “to their feet with sleeves fitted to the wrists.” She describes it as “a very modest and proper” garment to be worn loose.

Where did this garment come from? Most likely from the Muslim traders that brought Islam to the Philippines in the 13th century from the Persian Gulf, Southern India and other parts of the Malay Archipelago. They were likely wearing thawbs when they arrived. A thawb (Arabic for “garment”) is an ankle length garment similar to robes, kaftans or tunics, that are worn over other clothes. (See 3rd pic below.) Although names and styles of this garment vary, like in the 4th pic below, they usually have long sleeves, and they are widely worn by women and men in Muslim countries.

 

a present day man wearing a thawb

a present day man wearing a thawb

 

a present day Moroccan version of the thawb called a gandora

a present day Moroccan version of the thawb called a gandora

 

The thawb also inspired the kameez (5th pic below) and kurta (6th pic below), which are similar garments worn by women and men in many regions of South Asia, including India, a country that contributed greatly to Philippine culture. The parallel evolutions of the kameez, kurta and the Barong Tagalog have many commonalities, and none of this is by accident or coincidence.

 

a present day woman wearing a kameez (top)

a present day woman wearing a kameez (top)

 

a present day woman in a kurta (top)
a present day woman in a kurta (top)