CALENDAR AND CLOCK are culture and history for artist Nick Joaquin. Several greatest events in Philippine history formed Filipino identity beginning in the 16th century, he wrote inCulture and History; he counted as one of them the introduction of calendar and clock.
This event earned the honor of being part of Joaquin’s list because, as he wrote further, it developed in us a sense of history. I agree, with some observations of my own.

 You organize units of time (days, weeks, months, years) into a calendar and reckon time in advance for specific social and practical purposes. Based on your calendar you record and calculate dates over a certain period; you plan and maintain cycles of civil and religious events; and you get to appreciate and control time. Where cooperation among members of society is critical for survival or achieving a goal, calendar and clock come in handy for effecting coordinated action, good timing, and down-board thinking. The idea of community time underlies the cooperative undertaking, similar to agreeing to adopt a common map for group travel.

Calendar and clock were as indispensable as pen and paper, gun and bolo in the Filipino struggle for freedom and independence. The 1896 revolution was the 1896 revolution because of calendar and clock.

Despite discrepancies, in digital format or not, the calendar has remained as our reminder that the cosmos, in all its vastness and infinitude, is where the home is. That cosmological link has a deep past that can throw us far, far back in time.

Time was when there was no time. Until one chilly day a cool hunter who never missed gazing at the sky at night, allured and astonished by the waxing and waning of the pale silvery orb, was struck by the thought of keeping a tally of the nights between the phases of the moon. He did just that by carving a notch into a piece of eagle bone for each day that passed until the notches formed a linear series. He carefully marked a set of seven notches with a distinct symbol, yielding four sets altogether, which served to indicate a phase as the moon moved from new through quarter, full, and quarter, to new again. Of course, we are now told that the moon orbits the earth and goes through all those phases in 29.5 days, but our man of the moon didn’t know that — not from where he lived, a place now known as France, some 13,000 years ago. The notched bone is a real artifact, along with other bones and stones bearing marks of the same or similar patterns as archaeologists have gathered them over the years from several other places. If it is true that these notches or gouges are calendars, they mark the beginning of time for humans. Speakers of Old English would use the word “monath” to denote the idea, which morphed into “month” — “an ancient and universal unit of time measured by the moon.”

Over several millennia, progress saw time getting divided into years, months, weeks, days — where months remain the moon’s movement; the year is the sun’s course; the weeks are man’s invention; the days become the sun’s movement. Meanwhile, de-synchronization between calendar date and astronomical day was threatening to cause ecclesiastical embarrassment. The calendar year was stretching by 11 minutes longer than the actual solar year, or an accumulated error of one day every 125 years. That drift would see the faithful observing the Holy Week trudging through snow, as it was “shifting March to the dead of winter.” Thus, on his 10th year in the Vatican, Pope Gregory XIII published a bull in 1582 seeking to reform the calendar, which Spain adopted in the same year.

Time becomes social (public, global) this way — if not by convention, by social contract, then by bull or fiat. Hence, its imperfections: “This discrepancy is a result of the convoluted, highly complex amalgam of motives that led to the formation of our calendar. Implicit in it are not only nature’s rhythms but also religion, politics, and human intrigue.”

The division of the day into discrete units measured by clock would take the same route and become standardized. Given a common measure, comparison becomes possible: local to global; local to local vis-a-vis global. The universe conspired and gave the world “Filipino time,” as a synonym for habitual tardiness, as opposed to “American time,” as a benchmark of punctuality. The bashing may begin.

Anthropologists say culture is key. Writes one: “When a culture relies heavily on clocks, time dictates the start of events, meetings, and the like. It is in these cultures that watches, clocks, and timepieces are generally kept in unison. In event time, the focus is less on time and more on the event itself, meaning that people living by event time will see an event through before carrying on to the next.”

Like the alternating events of ebb tide:

First the tide rushes in,

plants a kiss on the shore

Then rolls out to sea

and the sea is very still once more

Mario M. Galang is a senior fellow of Action for Economic Reforms and a development and governance specialist.

This article was first posted on Business World last January 11, 2015.