Many years ago, in less politically correct times, we used to sing a song called ‘The Family of Man’, which had a chorus that began: ‘The family of man, keeps growing…’
That is certainly true of the Philippines, where the population is growing at a rate faster than any other South East Asian country, aided in part by the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to making artificial birth control more widely accessible. It is also true of our Filipino family, the Meneses, which also keep on growing.
Last Sunday we were present at the third reunion of the Jeremias and Sotera Meneses family. Jeremias Meneses is Mary Ann’s grandfather, so it was basically a get together of Mary Ann’s maternal uncles and aunts, her first cousins and their various spouses and offspring.
Jeremias Meneses had 14 children, including Mary Ann’s mother. Between them these 14 have 50 surviving children – in other words Mary Ann has 49 first cousins. (We had to work the figure out on the back of an envelope.) Many of these cousins have now gone on to have children themselves, of course. Let me put it this way: there were 157 people at the reunion, including spouses. The attendance was very good but not 100% as there are a number of family members overseas who were unable to make it to the reunion.
This is an overwhelming mass of cousins, but to make it easier, everyone was colour coded. Each of the 14 branches of the family was assigned a colour (we were red) and this year, for the first time, a special T-shirt design was produced. (Unfortunately I had to wear a plain short as the shirt printed for me wasn’t quite large enough. Perhaps Filipino XL is smaller than UK XL, or so I like to think.) This made it much easier when it came to photograph-taking.
For the great day we had hired the clubhouse of a local housing development, which also had a pool for the younger children to enjoy. Each family was assigned a particular responsibility, for example drinks, prizes and so forth. We began with a worship service cum welcome event, at which I was asked to deliver the sermon (or as the programme encouragingly stated, ‘inspirational message’.) We remembered those who had died (of Mary Ann’s mother’s brothers and sisters, only five are still alive) and greeted new members of the family, either by marriage or birth. Dan, to his embarrassment, was singled out as a ‘special guest’ from England.
Then there was fun and games and each branch of the family delivered a performance such as a song or dance routine, interspersed with more photo-taking, inpromptu speeches and greetings and, of course, food. We concluded about 4pm after recognising those who would co-chair the organising committee for the next reunion, in 3 years time. How many of us will there be then?
That might have been the end of the organised event, but it wasn’t the end of the reunion, with most people decanting to the ‘old house’ in San Simon for more food (goat caldereta, mmm…) and, of course, karaoke.
Family is central to Filipino life in a way that seems strange to someone brought up in a much more individualistic culture such as the UK, where family may be just one of a number of networks to which a person belongs, and not necessarily an important one. This is also true in the United Methodist Church here. Ask how many members a church has and you are as likely to be told the number of families as the number of individuals. I was reminded of this a few days back, when we attended one of the evening ‘simbang gabi‘ services at Covenant UMC as part of the run up to Christmas. Responsibility for the service was assigned to the Basilio Meneses family and I volunteered to preach the sermon. Basilio Meneses was the father of Jeremias Meneses (therefore Mary Ann’s great-grandfather), and one of the founders of the Methodist Church in San Simon. In practice this means that all of the Methodist Meneses, of which there are many, are Mary Ann’s first or second cousins. How many exactly? Nobody knows. But a get together of all the descendants of Basilio Meneses – that would be a family reunion on an epic scale.