How Jeepneys Became a Symbol of Philippine Culture

Jeepneys

In the busy streets, archaic public vehicles rush their way through private cars, taxicabs, and motorcycles. Most of the time, they come with barkers who slickly call for passengers. They’re brightly painted, usually with images of famous celebs, and decorated with tacky accessories. They’re the Philippine jeepneys—a post-war relic, a national trademark, and the real “Kings of the Road.”

Kings of the Road: Origin and Evolution of Philippines’ Jeepneys

Over the decades, jeepneys have become a common sight in the street since they are the cheapest means of transportation in the country. Each one can accommodate up to 25 people in one go, making it a more convenient option compared to other pub rides.

They’re also everywhere, that’s why jeepneys come labeled with designated routes, typically painted on the sides or displayed on the windscreens, so commuters can easily spot the right transits. Plus, these vehicles have open windows for natural ventilation and open backdoor for easy on- and off-loading of passengers.

Once, Sarao-manufactured jeepneys even made it to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, exhibited as a cultural symbol for the Philippines. There, the origin and development of the creative reinvention became known to world.

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Kings of the Road

Etymology

The jeepney, or simply jeep, is actually a portmanteau. It’s a combination of old popular lingos: jeep, an American taxicab, and jitney, a type of military vehicle. Other scholarly sources also favor the combination of jeep and knee since commuters sit close to each other.

Origin

At the end of World War II, the American soldiers decided to dispose their military surplus, including hundreds of unused jeeps. Some were sold, while other jeeps were given to the locals.

Later on, Filipinos reconfigured the military jeeps. They replaced the back seats with two long parallel benches and added metal roofs for shade. They also repainted the exteriors with vibrant colors. In 1950s, they began to fill the streets and replaced the old-fashioned kalesa, a horse-drawn carriage used in the Philippines.

The ingenious innovation instantly became a popular and inexpensive public utility vehicle. Consequently, the size and length of jeeps gradually stretched to accommodate the increasing number of commuters.

Car manufactures emerged at this time too, one of them was Sarao Motors. In 1953, they rapidly peaked the production ranks as they manufactured high-quality jeeps. They also contributed in making the vehicles a cultural symbol.

Jeepneys as a National Trademark

The jeepneys as public transportation vehicles are distinct to the Philippines and proudly made by Pinoys. Considering their history, jeeps have also become a representation of the Filipinos’ grit—resilient, ingenious, and hopeful.

National Trademark

Besides that, the jeep is also often considered a symbol of Philippine culture, a tag promoted mainly by Sarao Motors. In 1964, the company took the vehicle to the New York World’s Fair and presented it as such. That year, Sarao produced a fleet of jeepney, transported them abroad, and exhibited them as a Philippine icon at the event. In 1971, Sarao sent a jeepney to travel from Manila to London and all around Europe as part of a roadshow aimed at promoting local tourism and industry to European countries.

At present, the jeepneys are not just another transit system in the Philippines, they also fill the shelves of souvenir stores as miniature figures.

Modern Jeepneys

The modern jeepneys take various forms and names. In Iloilo, for example, they’re known as passad and resemble sedans and pickup trucks. Davao City, on one hand, calls them uso-uso. The uso-uso flaunts a more contemporary design.

Jeepneys have endured several attempts of the government to phase them out. In hopes of modernizing the transport system in the country, officials have long planned to ditch the jeep and go for buses and trains. But after several decades, the jeepney is still here dominating the road.

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