When you say sitio anywhere in the Philippines, it readily means a locality within the smallest local government unit, the Barangay. Elsewhere, if you google the word, in Spanish-speaking countries, it means site in the internet sense.
Our sitio may range in size from a fairly densely populated small village to just a tiny chapel organization composed of even just a family. A sitio (literally meaning site) does not have fixed official boundaries and thus is very loose as to its territory.
By necessity of organization and governance, a barangay leader would need so-called ward leaders in the barangay. But that sitio “leader” is not elected by his constituents, and has no defined set of responsibilities and certainly no set of authorities under the local government code. Of course, since the barangay is really the lowest level local government unit.
Once merely termed lugar (place) as place of residence in the old parish records, old settlements and localities towards the 1850s began, in the church records, to get the tag of barrio, although about a decade later the books reverted to calling them again as lugar.
Anyway, a number of our present-day sitios were already old localities of the town before contiguous localities were then merged to form the administrative Barrio (again) late in the 1800s. But these original localities had old archaic native names that we today would be hard-pressed if asked what those names meant.
Although this generic term has been entirely appropriated in the Philippines for governmental use, the Philippine sitio does not really enjoy official status. Unlike the barangay the creation (and division and abolition) of which follows established procedures in the Local Government Code, in the case of the sitio, it not being a local government unit (it’s existence is not even acknowledged by mere mention in the same Code), the naming of sitios does not follow formal procedure and is not really covered by an official act. Thus, its naming, up to the present simply follows the time-honored informal route by which localities were named, which has always been so since time immemorial when the people themselves, or even just a single individual, calls or refers to a place by a name, other people take him up on it, and the name of the place takes root.
And the practice still obtains today. For example, a person lives a little farther from the others in a sitio named, say, Saging. The place presumably got its name from its most obvious character which was, ka bright gyud…the presence of plenty of platanos, the variety of bananas we call saging. It does not matter anymore, except for the record, that the place was once given the name by someone because of the presence of saging, which as since then all but cut down to make way for houses. Anyway, since he’s built his hut on a hilly portion a little off the main neighborhood, the individualistic man writes down his residence as Upper Saging. As time goes by and he gets new neighbors, they’ll all be writing their addresses as Upper Saging and — voilà — a new sitio is born. Come election time, the barangay captain will be taking a census of voters of Upper Saging for, shall we say, political purposes.
Moreover, in the above example, Saging has now de-facto ceded some area just by the arbitrary “founding” of a new sitio within its old territorial limits.
Not just its boundaries but since the sitio is not an official entity, the spelling of its name is just as unofficial. And this can lead to Lamacan being also Lamakan, Moag also as Muag or Mowag (the old Visayan spelling was Mulag), or even evolve and perpetuate, as with our surnames, a wrong spelling: Relis from Riles from the Spanish rieles.
Now, all the places (the equivalent of today’s sitios and of some barangays) that appear in the old parish books are obviously Cebuano. A rare exception is Canal, which is Spanish. But what strikes you the most about these old Cebuano place names are their being, anyway most of them, almost archaic, sometimes their construction are combinations of words.
Take Cangkabayo, for instance. Kabayò is our own pronunciation of the Spanish word for horse, caballo. The inclusion of kabayo indicates that the place name appeared only after the Spanish had arrived. But as to the Cebuano part of the word, Cang-. What does it signifiy? Ordinarily Cang- signifies ownership and refers to an owner. Thus, cang-Aleonar would be a possession of Aleonar’s. In that sense of Cang-, cangkabayo does not make sense unless that long ago, horses owned property, or if kabayo was a person nicknamed thus for, we can imagine, all sorts of naughty equine properties, themselves. The new sitio name, Mangkabayo (to go horseback) is infinitely more understandable. But probably because mang-kabayo is the contemporary usage and we simply no longer know what cang-kabayo actually meant.
The place name Catadman has really taken the wind off me. It is very near the word Catarman and Catagman. The latter is a syncope of katagaman, meaning a source of regret. Why would a place be a source of regret?
Anyway, old Cebuano place names would make up a fitting dictionary of sorts and it would certainly add to our understanding of the evolution of our native tongue. Here’s wishing the Ludabi will sit down with local historians and compile a really authoritative dictionary.