“Bahala Na” and “Bathala”

Posted on Sep 13, 2009 in A Holistic Approach, bahala na


Baybayin Alive’s purpose is to help you discover the deeper meanings of not only the symbols of baybayin themselves, but also the words that they represent. Bahala and Bathala are just a couple of words significant to not only baybayin enthusiasts in the Philippines, but also Sikolohiyang Pilipino and the Filipino spirituality movement.

Bahala and Bathala are just some words whose baybayin symbols baybayin enthusiasts in the Philippines like to contemplate upon. Bahala Na is a Filipino philosophy and Bathala is “God.” (see The Baybayin for Bahala and Bathala.)

I invite Filipinos who are striving to get back to their roots to learn more about Bahala Na in order that they learn more about the Filipino personality free from Western constructs.

In baybayin symbolism, Bahala and Bathala are the same most of the time, both spelled with the symbols for BA, HA and LA…


Bathala is also spelled with a TA sound in the middle:

(translation courtesy of baybayin.com)

Bahala Na is both a Filipino saying and value construct.

Bahala Na is part of the value structure of Filipino personhood determined by Sikolohiyang Pilipino. It is “determination in the face of uncertainty.”

Here are excerpts from Kapwa, the Self in the Other: Worldviews and Lifestyles of Filipino Culture Bearers by Katrin De Guia.

p31

The root word bahala as a noun refers to responsibility, care, management, as well as apprehension. An older version of the term refers to God and the aptitude of augury. In Enriquez’s value structure bahala na is defined as “determination in the face of uncertainty.”28

This Filipino coping mechanism deserves a closer look. Bahala na was long misinterpretated as as passivity whereas it challenges people to act in their best capacity regarding problematic situations. This value inspires confidence via gathering experience through the effective mastering of all kinds of challenges. Thus spurring the growth of an individual’s experience potential, this concept stimulates resourcefulness and the creativity to improve, master and survive.

Like a double-bladed sword, bahala na involves both taking a risk in the face of possible failure and accepting the nature of things, including one’s limitations. It operates in uncertain and uncharted situations. Faced with an obstacle, a person is impelled not to run away but to utter “Bahala na” and brave the confrontation. Due to the improvisational character of this value, it correlates with fields of chaos and complexities rather than with linear prediction and control.

Examples of bahala na-propelled behaviors are: buying a one-way ticket to a previously unknown destination as many overseas contract workers do; checking into a hospital without sufficient funds; or taking an exam despite a lack of preparation. Such situations require guts and confidence in one’s ability to cope with the difficulties as they arise.

28Lagmay, A.V. “Bahala Na” in Ulat Ng Ikalawa na Pambansang Kumperesiya sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino. Quezon City: PSSP, 1976.

p85

The meaning of bahala na, as Filipino confrontative value, was given as determination in the face of uncertainty with the root word bahala, referring to care and being responsible. The confrontative nature of this value does not grow from the black sort of hatred. Rather it thrives on a tacit confidence in the creative potential of human beings, a kind of confidence that only grows with mastering tribulations.

The oldest known form of bahala na, the alibata[baybayin] version of the term, renders its root word as “God.” … and bahala is made up of the three letters B, H, L, spelled BA-HA-LA. The syllable BA stands for woman (babae), LA for man (lalake), the central HA for “breath” [hinga or ginhawa] or “wind“[hangin] (both of which signify God [or Spirit]).3 These three glyphs BA-HA-LA represent an ancient Filipino trinity where woman and man stand side by side on the base of a triangle and God unites them in the elevated midpoint. Bahala na then is a unique Filipino expression which could loosely be translated into “Leave the final outcome up to God!” [also see The Baybayin for Bahala and Bathala]…

 3Odal, G. “On the Word Bathala”. Unpublished position paper. Quezon City: University Philippines, 1996.

…This proclaimed submission to a force larger than humankind was thoroughly misinterpreted by American social scientists who mistook bahala na as fatalism. 

[and many of us Filipinos believed them! Time for us to disbelieve them…]

Filipino social scientists never quite agreed with the colonial interpretation of bahala na. As early as the 1940s, they suggested that the term combined both fatalism and determinism, like when the anthropologist Camilo Osias noted: “It is an expression of courage and fortitude, a willingness to face difficulty and a willingness to accept the consequences.”

The colonial construct bahala na misinformed another generation of young Filpinos about their indigenous values until it was redeemed as “determination in the face of uncertainty” by the Harvard-trained Filipino psychologist Alfredo Lagmay. Bahala na, in his interpretations, is indicative of the improvisational personality of the Filipino people which allows them to cope and thrive even in unstructured, indefinite, unpredictable and stressful situations. As an improvisatory skill, bahala na! provides a person with the ability to face life’s challenges in a creative way. As an existentialist, down-to-earth orientation, bahala na facilitates coping by allowing one to accept things. The Filipino value in itself is subversive, as it challenges “the intolerance of ambiguity in psychology,” said Lagmay.

Risk taking in the face of possible failure is what bahala na is all about. but there is more to it. Lagmay saw in this Filipino concept and “anti-thesis for surrender.”4 Attributing to bahala na such qualities as courage and determination. Lagmay traced the roots of this value to a social structure that challenges people to use their inherent abilities to cope with constant challenge. This flexibility, he believed, developed as a response to living along the earth’s firebelt which is where the Philippines is located. Erupting volcanoes, tidal waves and tropical storms—this restless environment has taught its inhabitants to be resourceful and creative in order to survive: “Bahala na is a mirror of Filipino people in their process of dealing with nature, opposed to the Western ways which are more like a conquest. (Bahala na) is a kind of accepting the very nature of things,” Lagmay said.

4Lagmay, A.V. “Bahala Na” in Ulat Ng Ikalawa na Pambansang Kumperesiya sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino. Quezon City: PSSP, 1976.

Improvisation is the ability to switch in an instant to a search for cures in the surroundings that would expand what is already known about a certain situation, the scholar continued. Such a mindset has accepted that no future can ever be completely ascertained. It acknowledges the primacy of natural happenings. However, it also assumes that in the folds of unforeseeable events hide infinite opportunities. It recognizes that such situations can teach one to adapt and eventually turn unfortunate events into advantages, making defect into effect.

Filipino city dwellers are increasingly shifting away from being-in-the-here-and-now to a lfiestyle based on long-term planning. The latter outlook is at the source of the Western education.

…not just Filipino city dwellers who are becoming more and more westernized in their thinking, but also Filipinos living in their colonizers’ lands. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but if we Filipinos look down upon what is Filipino-ness or if we trivialize it than that is a form of soul fragmentation or colonial mentality. 


We must therefore simply be aware of what is Filipino-ness and what is Western. We must have a care to not diminish Filipino values and beliefs from a Western egocentric standpoint. When Filipinos do that it comes from our colonized history. When westerners do that, it comes from their patriarchal history.

De Guia goes on in her book to Kapwa talk about Filipino culture bearers’ bahala na as a lifestyle, existentialist orientation, legacy and artistic expression. In addition to these she talks about other value constructs of Filipino personhood—kapwa, pakikiramdam… and more. It is an eye-opening book on many levels. Filipinos, who have been on a search for their pagka-pilipino may find this book quite deep and helpful.

 Also see 

For your own copy of Kapwa, The Self in the Other. Worldviews and Lifestyles of Filipino Culture Bearers, by Katrin De Guia, PhD. try a local bookstore in the Philippines, or from one of these bookstores in the United States:

• Philippine Expressions Books(Tel (310) 514-9139)
Arkipelago Books

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Other Baybayin Alive Posts On Bahala Below:

Other Baybayin Alive Posts On Writing Symbols with Deeper, Hidden Meaning:

Other online articles about Male and Female Principle

2 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting post! Though if I may point out, the interpretation that the middle letter HA or TA. In bathala means a unison between man and woman before god is, as I have mentioned, just one interpretation. Another way of interpreting it is the UNISON OF THE SEXES into one being, or a being which is neither nor and either or man and woman, which is consistent with the concept of a

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