The Philippine Jeepney: Heraldry Spaces and Functions

The Philippine jeepney is the most colorful transportation in metro Manila (Alliance Francaise postcards here, more flamboyant pictures at the Stuart Exchange here).  One reason for this is that they were made by Filipinos who gives the choice of painting to the owners (in the same way as they serve noodles separate from the seasonings).  So when the jeepney is bought, its bare silvery metal sheets makes it look like a medieval European knight in full plate armor.

In medieval warfare, knights distinguish each other using heraldry, which are pictures emblazoned in their shields.   Knights who cover their heraldry are called dark knights (c.f. batman), for no one knows who they are and where they came from.  When the gunpowder made the armor obsolete, the art of heraldry remained in the form of coat of arms.

The coat of arms is essentially a shield with two supporters (humans or beasts) on its left and right side.  On top of the shield is a helmet with a crest.  The motto may be seen above the crest or below the shield.  The shield is divided into several parts using a vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines.  Each part of the shield is a space for charge (a picture).  For example, the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI shows a chalice-like shield with a tripartite division: a moor’s head on the dexter corner (right side of the bearer), a bear on the sinister corner (left side), and a scallop shell at the bottom.  Instead of a helmet is a bishop’s mitre; instead of supports, crossed keys.  A pallium hangs below the shield.  There is no papal motto written, but in his episcopal coat of arms it is ”Cooperatores Veritatis.”

The Philippine jeepney also uses a form of heraldry.  But because jeepney looks different from a medieval knight, we shall propose different ways of describing the jeepney’s heraldric devices.

The heraldry of the Philippine jeepney is divided into three divisions: front, side, and back.

The front consists of a dashboard on top of the window, a space below the window, and everything else on the jeepney’s front.  The dashboard, which doubles as a sun shield, describes the name of the jeepney.  It can be “Messenger,” “Rebel,” or “James and Jun.”  The space below the window is the tag line: “Gift of God” or “Mario loves Jane.”  On top of the engine cover is a statuette of a horse, an eagle, a trumpet–or even a real dear’s horn.  On the two sides near the front lights are posts for the crests that look like tails of horses; sometimes they are just bare posts grouped together to form whiskers like that of a cat.  Flash lamps of yellow are arrayed above the dashboard or on its sides.  The overall effect is gallantry–bold and sylish.

The side part of the jeepney consists of the driver’s door, the space between front and rear wheels, and the space above the rear wheel.  The driver’s door is the most intimate space.  Here is painted the driver himself, or his beautiful wife, or his children; sometimes you’ll see Mary or Christ, too.  The space between the wheels is flat space measuring about 1.5 feet by 3 feet.   This is the space for main heraldric charge for it dictates the mood of the overall jeepney.  The charge may be pictures of Aragorn, Britney Spears, or Our Lady of Manaoag; it may be also be a sports car, a fairie with unicorn, or a Zodiac sign (most common).  The space above the rear wheel is not ideal for portraits because of the bulging metals.  So this space is usually reserved for the title of the main portrait.

The back part of the jeepney consists of two top corners and one long board as mud shield.  The top corners measure 1 foot by 1 foot.  The pictures drawn here are usually similar or facing each other.  These pictures act like seals or post stamps.  The mudshield board is for the farewell speech like “God bless our trip” or a warning like “Distancia amigo” (Put some distance, my friend).  It can also be just another name like “Baluarte” (Bulwark) or “Tubong Tondo” (native of Tondo).

So the next time you ride a jeepney, look at its front, side, and back and study its heraldry.  Try to guess what sort of driver you are riding with and have some fun.

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

One Response to The Philippine Jeepney: Heraldry Spaces and Functions

  1. alvin says:

    http://onehundredjeepneysounds.com/

    pag nakasakay ka na ng jeep, makaka-relate ka dito sa mga busina nila! lol!

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