Bahala na is one of the most widely used phrases in the Philippines. This phrase is so abused that it sometimes serves as a default answer. What does it exactly mean and how is it used?
Filipinos usually say “Bahala na” when they are unable to decide their next course of action or when they have no idea what will happen next. They say this phrase as if all they want is to go with the flow, not minding what the outcome might be.
You won’t find any direct translation of this phrase in English. Probably, the expression that can be considered as closest in meaning based on its common use stated above is the Spanish phrase que sera sera, which means “whatever will be, will be.”
Etymology of Bahala na
The word bahala is actually a derivative of the word Bathala, which refers to the ancient Supreme Being worshiped by Filipinos during the pre-Spanish Period. It can be said that the proper use of this phrase should be in the context of leaving things in the hands of the Divine Being. Simply put, “Bahala na” can be the equivalent of the Islamic term Inshallah, which means “God willing” or “if Allah wills.”
What does it say about Filipinos?
The use of the phrase “Bahala na” in the second context somewhat manifests the tendency of Filipinos to humbly submit everything to the Higher Being during tough times. People who frequently use this phrase don’t see anything wrong with it. They even see it as a positive thing because it acknowledges that the Supreme Being has a greater power than man, which is why they are entrusting their lives to Him.
However, some scholars see it in a negative light and consider it as a fatalistic submission or a form of avoidance of responsibility. Some scholars see it as just an excuse of lazy people for getting away from their personal responsibility.
Bahala Na as Lack of Internal Locus of Control
Scholars also theorize that saying “Bahala na” is like admitting that people lack a sense of internal locus of control, which means that they don’t believe they have the power to effect change in their lives.
There are other scholars, though, who interpret “Bahala na” in a more positive manner. Instead of seeing it as an act of laziness or a fatalistic approach to problems, they say that it is actually a demonstration of determination and willingness to take risks.
Bahala Na as a Positive Affirmation
Some scholars interpret “Bahala na” not as a form of passivity, but rather, as a kind of mantra, a positive affirmation that helps them become stronger. When people say “Bahala na” they are encouraging and telling themselves that they are ready to deal with tough situations or life-changing moments that may come into their lives. Saying this phrase is the same as declaring their confidence that they can come up with solutions when those events finally arrive.
One thing is for sure; there is no right or wrong interpretation with regards to the meaning of “Bahala na.” In the end, it all boils down to the fact that meanings can be subjective. It all depends on the context in which the phrase is used.
In English perhaps the phrase “Let Go and Let God” comes closest, perhaps?
This is a good article tbh and its good to knife that the word bahala really has an origin. I guess its true that using that phrase is really subjective. Great work! I am a Filipino psychology student keep it up 🙂
Joshua Partogi says
Thank you so much. This was useful to understand more about the Filipino culture.
Josmearia Cordero says
This was a good read and i hope to get a hold of the sources you used. Thank you and God bless!
Hi, here’s one:
As for the other sources, I’d need to look for my paper, and I don’t have the opportunity to do that now. Found these other sources though:
Your etymology is rather simplistic or reductionist. Try the following possibilities:
-bahala na could be a contraction of “ako na ang bahala”–a self-determined acceptance of responsibility of what is going to happen next;
-it could also mean bahala na kung anong mangyari which could include in the phrase what is not verbalized: bahala na kung anong mangyari sa aking gagawin or sa aking desisyon; this shows perhaps anxiety in connection with the uncertainty about results or consequences
-bahala na ang Diyos is just another possibility–putting faith forward;
-bahala na could mean bahala na kung magkamali–which, again, indicates embrace of responsibility
-a more resigned attitude in “bahala na kung anong mangyari, kahit na madisgrasya…”
Thank you, Karla.
Your views certainly make sense. However, when looking at the (religious/spiritual) context of the origin of the phrase “Bahala na,” which, as the author explained, is “Bathala,” it makes also makes sense that the phrase has religious or spiritual or faith component, which is also one of the views you mentioned, “Bahala na ang Diyos.” I think a lot of times this phrase is taken out of its original (religious/spiritual) context, sadly.
Barry Severo says
my I have your e mail address please. I am writing an assignment for my foundation class.
According to Alfredo Lagmay in his research “Bahala na!”, this term is used by the Filipinos not as a mean of fatalism and just merely surrendering it to the higher being but rather doing your best yet you don’t know what the outcome will be so Filipinos often say “bahala na,” which means “no matter what happen I did what I can do.” Not many are aware of it that’s why many people thought it was a negative trait.