The diversity and richness of Philippine
literature evolved side by side with the country's history. This can best be
appreciated in the context of the country's pre-colonial cultural traditions
and the socio-political histories of its colonial and contemporary
The average Filipino's unfamiliarity with his
indigenous literature was largely due to what has been impressed upon him:
that his country was "discovered" and, hence, Philippine "history" started
only in 1521.
So successful were the efforts of colonialists to
blot out the memory of the country's largely oral past that present-day
Filipino writers, artists and journalists are trying to correct this
inequity by recognizing the country's wealth of ethnic traditions and
disseminating them in schools and in the mass media.
The rousings of nationalistic pride in the 1960s and 1970s also
helped bring about this change of attitude among a new breed of Filipinos
concerned about the "Filipino identity."
Owing to the works of our own archaeologists,
ethnologists and anthropologists, we are able to know more and better judge
information about our pre-colonial times set against a bulk of material
about early Filipinos as recorded by Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and other
chroniclers of the past.
Pre-colonial inhabitants of our islands showcase a
rich past through their folk speeches, folk songs, folk narratives and
indigenous rituals and mimetic dances that affirm our ties with our
Southeast Asian neighbors.
The most seminal of these folk speeches is the riddle which is
tigmo in Cebuano, bugtong in Tagalog, paktakon in
Ilongo and patototdon in Bicol. Central to the riddle is the
talinghaga or metaphor because it "reveals subtle resemblances between
two unlike objects" and one's power of observation and wit are put to the
test. While some riddles are ingenious, others verge on the obscene or are
Gongonan nu usin y amam If you pull your daddy's penis
Maggirawa pay sila y inam. Your mommy's vagina, too,
(Campana) screams. (Bell)
The proverbs or aphorisms express norms or codes
of behavior, community beliefs or they instill values by offering nuggets of
wisdom in short, rhyming verse.
The extended form, tanaga, a mono-riming
heptasyllabic quatrain expressing insights and lessons on life is "more
emotionally charged than the terse proverb and thus has affinities with the
folk lyric." Some examples are the basahanon or extended didactic
sayings from Bukidnon and the daraida and daragilon from
The folk song, a form of folk lyric which
expresses the hopes and aspirations, the people's lifestyles as well as
their loves. These are often repetitive and sonorous, didactic and naive as
in the children's songs or Ida-ida (Maguindanao), tulang
pambata (Tagalog) or cansiones para abbing (Ibanag).
A few examples are the lullabyes or Ili-ili
(Ilongo); love songs like the panawagon and balitao (Ilongo);
harana or serenade (Cebuano); the bayok (Maranao); the
seven-syllable per line poem, ambahan of the Mangyans that are
about human relationships, social entertainment and also serve as a tool for
teaching the young; work songs that depict the livelihood of the people
often sung to go with the movement of workers such as the kalusan (Ivatan),
soliranin (Tagalog rowing song) or the mambayu, a Kalinga
rice-pounding song; the verbal jousts/games like the duplo popular
Other folk songs are the drinking songs sung
during carousals like the tagay (Cebuano and Waray); dirges and lamentations
extolling the deeds of the dead like the kanogon (Cebuano) or the
A type of narrative song or kissa among
the Tausug of Mindanao, the parang sabil, uses for its subject
matter the exploits of historical and legendary heroes. It tells of a Muslim
hero who seeks death at the hands of non-Muslims.
The folk narratives, i.e. epics and folk tales are
varied, exotic and magical. They explain how the world was created, how
certain animals possess certain characteristics, why some places have
waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains, flora or fauna and, in the case of
legends, an explanation of the origins of things. Fables are about animals
and these teach moral lessons.
Our country's epics are considered ethno-epics
because unlike, say, Germany's Niebelunginlied, our epics are not national
for they are "histories" of varied groups that consider themselves
The epics come in various names: Guman (Subanon);
Darangen (Maranao); Hudhud (Ifugao); and Ulahingan (Manobo).
These epics revolve around supernatural events or heroic deeds and they
embody or validate the beliefs and customs and ideals of a community. These
are sung or chanted to the accompaniment of indigenous musical instruments
and dancing performed during harvests, weddings or funerals by chanters. The
chanters who were taught by their ancestors are considered "treasures"
and/or repositories of wisdom in their communities.
Examples of these epics are the Lam-ang (Ilocano);
Hinilawod (Sulod); Kudaman (Palawan); Darangen (Maranao);
Ulahingan (Livunganen-Arumanen Manobo); Mangovayt Buhong na
Langit (The Maiden of the Buhong Sky from Tuwaang--Manobo); Ag
Tobig neg Keboklagan (Subanon); and Tudbulol (T'boli).
The Spanish Colonial Tradition
While it is true that Spain subjugated the
Philippines for more mundane reasons, this former European power contributed
much in the shaping and recording of our literature. Religion and
institutions that represented European civilization enriched the languages
in the lowlands, introduced theater which we would come to know as
komedya, the sinakulo, the sarswela, the playlets and
the drama. Spain also brought to the country, though at a much later time,
liberal ideas and an internationalism that influenced our own Filipino
intellectuals and writers for them to understand the meanings of "liberty
Literature in this period may be classified as
religious prose and poetry and secular prose and poetry.
Religious lyrics written by ladino poets or those
versed in both Spanish and Tagalog were included in early catechism and were
used to teach Filipinos the Spanish language. Fernando Bagonbanta's "Salamat
nang walang hanga/gracias de sin sempiternas" (Unending thanks) is a
fine example that is found in the Memorial de la vida cristiana en
lengua tagala (Guidelines for the Christian life in the Tagalog
language) published in 1605.
Another form of religious lyrics are the
meditative verses like the dalit appended to novenas and
catechisms. It has no fixed meter nor rime scheme although a number are
written in octosyllabic quatrains and have a solemn tone and spiritual
But among the religious poetry of the day, it is
the pasyon in octosyllabic quintillas that became entrenched in the
Filipino's commemoration of Christ's agony and resurrection at Calvary.
Gaspar Aquino de Belen's "Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong
Panginoon natin na tola" (Holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in
Verse) put out in 1704 is the country's earliest known pasyon.
Other known pasyons chanted during the
Lenten season are in Ilocano, Pangasinan, Ibanag, Cebuano, Bicol, Ilongo and
Aside from religious poetry, there were various
kinds of prose narratives written to prescribe proper decorum. Like the
pasyon, these prose narratives were also used for proselitization. Some
forms are: dialogo (dialogue), Manual de Urbanidad
(conduct book); ejemplo (exemplum) and tratado (tratado).
The most well-known are Modesto de Castro's "Pagsusulatan ng Dalawang
Binibini na si Urbana at si Feliza" (Correspondence between the Two
Maidens Urbana and Feliza) in 1864 and Joaquin Tuason's "Ang Bagong
Robinson" (The New Robinson) in 1879, an adaptation of Daniel Defoe's
Secular works appeared alongside historical and
economic changes, the emergence of an opulent class and the middle class who
could avail of a European education. This Filipino elite could now read
printed works that used to be the exclusive domain of the missionaries.
The most notable of the secular lyrics followed
the conventions of a romantic tradition: the languishing but loyal lover,
the elusive, often heartless beloved, the rival. The leading poets were Jose
Corazon de Jesus (Huseng Sisiw) and Francisco Balagtas. Some
secular poets who wrote in this same tradition were Leona Florentino,
Jacinto Kawili, Isabelo de los Reyes and Rafael Gandioco.
Another popular secular poetry is the metrical
romance, the awit and korido in Tagalog. The awit is set
in dodecasyllabic quatrains while the korido is in octosyllabic
quatrains. These are colorful tales of chivalry from European sources made
for singing and chanting such as Gonzalo de Cordoba (Gonzalo of Cordoba) and
Ibong Adarna (Adarna Bird). There are numerous metrical romances in
Tagalog, Bicol, Ilongo, Pampango, Ilocano and in Pangasinan. The awit
as a popular poetic genre reached new heights in Balagtas' "Florante at
Laura" (ca. 1838-1861), the most famous of the country's metrical romances.
Again, the winds of change began to blow in 19th
century Philippines. Filipino intellectuals educated in Europe called
ilustrados began to write about the downside of colonization. This,
coupled with the simmering calls for reforms by the masses gathered a
formidable force of writers like Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Mariano
Ponce, Emilio Jacinto and Andres Bonifacio.
This led to the formation of the Propaganda
Movement where prose works such as the political essays and Rizal's two
political novels, Noli Me Tangere and the El filibusterismo
helped usher in the Philippine revolution resulting in the downfall of the
Spanish regime, and, at the same time planted the seeds of a national
consciousness among Filipinos.
But if Rizal's novels are political, the novel
Ninay (1885) by Pedro Paterno is largely cultural and is considered the
first Filipino novel. Although Paterno's Ninay gave impetus to
other novelists like Jesus Balmori and Antonio M. Abad to continue writing
in Spanish, this did not flourish.
Other Filipino writers published the essay and
short fiction in Spanish in La Vanguardia, El Debate,
Renacimiento Filipino, and Nueva Era. The more notable
essayists and fictionists were Claro M. Recto, Teodoro M. Kalaw, Epifanio de
los Reyes, Vicente Sotto, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Rafael Palma, Enrique
Laygo (Caretas or Masks, 1925) and Balmori who mastered the prosa
romantica or romantic prose.
But the introduction of English as medium of
instruction in the Philippines hastened the demise of Spanish so that by the
1930s, English writing had overtaken Spanish writing. During the language's
death throes, however, writing in the romantic tradition, from the awit and
korido, would continue in the novels of Magdalena Jalandoni. But patriotic
writing continued under the new colonialists. These appeared in the
vernacular poems and modern adaptations of works during the Spanish period
and which further maintained the Spanish tradition.
The American Colonial Period
A new set of colonizers brought about new changes
in Philippine literature. New literary forms such as free verse [in poetry],
the modern short story and the critical essay were introduced. American
influence was deeply entrenched with the firm establishment of English as
the medium of instruction in all schools and with literary modernism that
highlighted the writer's individuality and cultivated consciousness of
craft, sometimes at the expense of social consciousness.
The poet, and later, National Artist for
Literature, Jose Garcia Villa used free verse and espoused the dictum, "Art
for art's sake" to the chagrin of other writers more concerned with the
utilitarian aspect of literature. Another maverick in poetry who used free
verse and talked about illicit love in her poetry was Angela Manalang
Gloria, a woman poet described as ahead of her time. Despite the threat of
censorship by the new dispensation, more writers turned up "seditious works"
and popular writing in the native languages bloomed through the weekly
outlets like Liwayway and Bisaya.
The Balagtas tradition persisted until the poet
Alejandro G. Abadilla advocated modernism in poetry. Abadilla later
influenced young poets who wrote modern verses in the 1960s such as Virgilio
S. Almario, Pedro I. Ricarte and Rolando S. Tinio.
While the early Filipino poets grappled with the
verities of the new language, Filipinos seemed to have taken easily to the
modern short story as published in the Philippines Free Press, the
College Folio and Philippines Herald. Paz Marquez
Benitez's "Dead Stars" published in 1925 was the first successful short
story in English written by a Filipino. Later on, Arturo B. Rotor and Manuel
E. Arguilla showed exceptional skills with the short story.
Alongside this development, writers in the
vernaculars continued to write in the provinces. Others like Lope K. Santos,
Valeriano Hernandez Peņa and Patricio Mariano were writing minimal
narratives similar to the early Tagalog short fiction called dali
or pasingaw (sketch).
The romantic tradition was fused with American pop
culture or European influences in the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs'
Tarzan by F. P. Boquecosa who also penned Ang Palad ni Pepe
after Charles Dicken's David Copperfield even as the realist
tradition was kept alive in the novels by Lope K. Santos and Faustino
Aguilar, among others.
It should be noted that if there was a dearth of
the Filipino novel in English, the novel in the vernaculars continued to be
written and serialized in weekly magazines like Liwayway, Bisaya,
Hiligaynon and Bannawag.
The essay in English became a potent medium from
the 1920's to the present. Some leading essayists were journalists like
Carlos P. Romulo, Jorge Bocobo, Pura Santillan Castrence, etc. who wrote
formal to humorous to informal essays for the delectation by Filipinos.
Among those who wrote criticism developed during
the American period were Ignacio Manlapaz, Leopoldo Yabes and I.V. Mallari.
But it was Salvador P. Lopez's criticism that grabbed attention when he won
the Commonwealth Literay Award for the essay in 1940 with his "Literature
and Society." This essay posited that art must have substance and that
Villa's adherence to "Art for Art's Sake" is decadent.
The last throes of American colonialism saw the
flourishing of Philippine literature in English at the same time, with the
introduction of the New Critical aesthetics, made writers pay close
attention to craft and "indirectly engendered a disparaging attitude"
towards vernacular writings -- a tension that would recur in the
The flowering of Philippine literature in the
various languages continue especially with the appearance of new
publications after the Martial Law years and the resurgence of committed
literature in the 1960s and the 1970s.
Filipino writers continue to write poetry, short
stories, novellas, novels and essays whether these are socially committed,
gender/ethnic related or are personal in intention or not.
Of course the Filipino writer has become more
conscious of his art with the proliferation of writers workshops here and
abroad and the bulk of literature available to him via the mass media
including the internet. The various literary awards such as the Don Carlos
Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Philippines Free Press,
Philippine Graphic, Home Life and Panorama literary awards encourage him to
compete with his peers and hope that his creative efforts will be rewarded
in the long run.
With the new requirement by the Commission on
Higher Education of teaching of Philippine Literature in all tertiary
schools in the country emphasizing the teaching of the vernacular literature
or literatures of the regions, the audience for Filipino writers is
virtually assured. And, perhaps, a national literature finding its niche
among the literatures of the world will not be far behind.