Sharing the kamayan experience beyond the dinner table

The Tagalog term kamayan refers to eating a meal with one’s hands. Free of forks, spoons, and the “proper” utensils, Filipino kamayan demonstrates an intimacy with what we consume and that, perhaps, things taste better eaten off bare fingertips. The gesture may seem unhygienic and primitive for those accustomed to Western table etiquette, but kamayan to Filipinos represents a way that has survived many generations despite the pressures of modernity and adaptation in immigrant situations. Kamayan is a way of valuing, a way of handling, a way of loving the fried fish and rice combo best eaten with cupped fingers and the push of the thumb. Eating with one’s hands has its place in Indian, African, and Middle Eastern traditions, and it becoming a curious dining experience with the rise of Filipino restaurants celebrating kamayan style eating.

In a broader sense, the tradition of kamayan expresses Filipino respect and humility toward the things they use. Whether it’s the friction that rediscovers the quality of balikbayan hand-me-downs at the wash or the healing hands (hilot) over the body, kamayan signifies the value of texture, detail, and how touch can both protect and bless.

In this Tumblr series, CA+T explores the multiple interpretations of kamayan and brings to light how a gesture connects Filipinos across the globe with a common belief: one should value what is earned through the work of one’s hands. This series will also highlights the various responses to Filipino dining etiquette—or lack there of—challenged by Western norms and ideals. Each post will feature online sources (videos, photographs, creative writing, news articles) that convey how Filipinos share the kamayan experience beyond the dinner table. We invite our Tumblr audience to reblog and comment on our annotated posts to extend the conversation on the appropriateness of table manners and kamayan, which will hopefully educate and raise questions on the ways we consume. 

So, hugasan ang inyong mga kamay [wash your hands], prop up one leg, and let’s kamayan. 

Shannon Pulusan
CA+T Intern