Maroon and green
If I mention red and green many of you will think of Christmas colors, and indeed they are.
Then, too, they were, at least in English, the colors of the University of the Philippines, as reflected in these lines from “UP Naming Mahal,” the school hymn: “Luntian at pula, sagisag magpakailanman” or “Red and blue, our symbols forever.” (The original song was in English, with these lines: “Echo the watchword, red and green forever.”)
But wait, our sports fans know that our great varsity athletes are known as the Fighting Maroons, so is it red or maroon?
Colors are serious matters, especially now with all the talk about corporate identity and branding. Colors are powerful symbols, which is why the colors of flags are taken seriously, at least most of the time. I’ve been at two government functions where the Philippine flag was marched in ever so solemnly by men in uniform, with the red field on top and the blue field at the bottom. I had to get word to the hosts that we display our flag in that way only in times of war. This happened before the Duterte era, but even today’s war on drugs does not mean we can display our flag with the red field on top.
The meanings of colors are affected by culture and historical circumstances. We pride ourselves in yellow as the color of change because, to welcome Ninoy Aquino home from exile in 1983, we tied yellow ribbons around posts and elsewhere (we don’t have oak trees in the Philippines). He was assassinated and yellow became our rallying color up to the 1986 Edsa revolt.
In many other countries, yellow, brilliant yellow, is the color of the aristocracy, of the high and mighty. But it can also mean cowardice, and, for labor unions, treachery and betrayal (“yellow unions” being those that are controlled by management).
Our obsession with yellow is so intense that the color is designated as an official color, which is why you will find, in UP Diliman, one bright yellow building: the post office. It’s not a very good shade of yellow—something like washed-out mustard—and in meetings with the Bureau of Fire Safety about building a fire station on campus, I did ask if it was required to be a mustard, este, yellow station. No, they said, much to my relief. I hope they stick to red.
Or maroon. Which we’re actually trying to define right now, through an official committee on UP branding appointed by the UP president.
The committee presented its report to UP’s chancellors the other day, on the seal, on how the Oblation should be depicted (a silhouette). My thoughts strayed during the presentation, remembering an earlier UP guide with detailed instructions on how the Oblation should appear in illustrations and photographs. The guide was explicit: no rear views. (I reminded my fellow chancellors about the rule, which sounds so much more solemn in Filipino. LOL.) Should we remind spectators not to take rearview photographs with the next Oblation Run in December?
The part of the committee report that generated the most discussion was UP’s colors, now officially forest green, maroon and gold.
The committee members, professors from our College of Fine Arts, were quite technical, presenting Pantone numbers to precisely identify the shade and tone of the colors.
Pantone is an American company that has raked in a fortune with its Pantone Matching System (PMS), which sets standards for the hundreds of colors that modern societies have to deal with, from paint colors for buildings to interior design and clothing. Pantone colors are defined by percentages of red, green and blue, plus hue, saturation and luminosity.
Remember when we were growing up and how social status was determined, among children, by the number of Crayola colors you had? Eight was basic, but there were snooty kids displaying boxes of 24 and, horrors, 64.
As adults, we still have to deal with colors when painting a room, the gate, or the house. I can see why standardized colors are important. I recently had our house gate painted by someone from the UP urban poor community, just to help him out. Ay caramba, it was a never-ending battle between his perceptions and mine. When I suggested we stick to a hardware mix, he nodded, and then went on to paint another shade.
I regretted not having Pantone shades to show, but it will interest readers to know that, by coincidence, a new app, Pantone Studio, available in IOS and Android versions, was launched on Nov. 16. Like the Crayola of our childhood, you get what you pay for. There’s a free version with fewer colors than a $4.99 one.
But you can just google maroon (and many other colors) and you’ll find a listing of different maroon colors: bright, rich, mystic, Aztec, royal and, I was thrilled to see, UP maroon. The matrix lists the mixes of red, green and blue, and I learned that UP maroon, contrary to our reputation of being revolutionary, has less red than the other maroon colors. Our maroon is tempered with green and blue.
For UP, the standards for the colors are important because we want to be sure we get the right color for our publications, stationery, seals, flags, even PowerPoint templates. The colors are not that straightforward, appearing differently in bright light than in the shade. In publications they come out differently, depending, for example on whether the paper is coated or not.
Our discussions on UP maroon stretched on, until someone asked: What’s maroon in Filipino? “Marun,” someone spelled out. Actually, maroon comes from marron, French for chestnut, but we don’t have chestnuts in the Philippines.
One official suggested bagoong, which we quickly discarded. I thought of Dr. Ting Tiongco’s essay in his book, “Surgeons Do Not Cry,” where he described his pathology professor using the term “currant jelly stool” for infants suffering from intestinal intussusception (a folding in of the intestines). But he and his classmates could not relate, never having seen currants. Later, when Ting finally saw what the stool looked like, it struck him that the color was that of guinamos, Cebuano for bagoong.
But, no, UP maroon isn’t bagoong or guinamos. I thought to myself: It isn’t Oblation Run maroon either. I’ve never actually seen the Oblation Run, but from my own sampling, I do not know if it is statistically significant: The colors vary (rear or front view) from pink to—now what’s moreno in English? But not maroon.
Can we hear from readers what we might call maroon in Philippine languages?
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