Magtanim Ay ‘Di Biro or ‘Planting is not a joke’ is an old children’s song from the Philippines, often sung as a nursery school rhyme. While it is considered by many (including my own family growing up) as a traditional song, the origins of the rhyme are much more recent, as I found out after being inspired by another accession card discussing Surinamese children's rhymes.
Created by classical music composer Felipe Padilla de Leon sometime during the Commonwealth period (1930s), de Leon and the song were influenced by the ‘Filipinism’ cultural movement, meant to promote Filipino nationalism in response to assimilation. During this time (and the preceding Spanish period), the majority of agricultural workers in plantations were Filipino, with very little owning land. Despite attempts to give land to the peasantry, it was largely considered a failure by the American colonial government.
Lyrics from the song, such as Maghapong nakayuko or ‘Di man lang makatayo would talk about the difficulties of planting and farming rice, and was intended by de Leon to remind the people of the struggles they endured, and to give those who perform it the proper respect. In the years since however, some have criticized the song for being too negative and depressing, and have tried to rewrite the song in a more positive manner to mixed results.
The idea of the Filipino identity was largely developed during the Spanish and American periods, as a way to unite the people against a colonial power. On one hand, should the identity of the Philippines continue to stay rooted to its colonial heritage, or do songs like these need to change to suit the identity of the Filipino today, especially if many do not know the origins of the song? It is a difficult question to answer (and one meant for a discussion longer than this), but songs like these show that even something innocuous as a nursery rhyme has a history and story all of its own, and tells as much about the people who wrote it as the people it was written for.
Credits / copyrights
Video is from the Robie317 YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NLwmATSHbo)
From Small Farms to Progressive Plantations: The Trajectory of Land Reform in the American Colonial Philippines, 1900–1916 by Theresa Ventura, 2006 (https://doi.org/10.3098/ah.2016.090.4.459)
"Zeitgeist through the Eyes of Felipe P. De Leon (1912-1992): Musical Nationalism and the Cultural Environment of the 1930s" by Renato Lucas, 2019 (https://unitasust.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/UNITAS-92-2-Renato-Lucas-Zeitgeist-Through-The-Eyes.pdf)
Magtanim Ay ‘Di Biro means Planting (or farming) is not a joke
Maghapong nakayuko means Crouched down all day
‘Di man lang makatayo means Can’t even sit