Bikol is the language of almost 5 million
people in the provinces of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur,
Catanduanes, Masbate and Sorsogon that constitute the Bikol Region. The
Bikol people have a writing tradition with roots in its ancient folkways.
Still extant are charm verses exploiting the possibilities of words in folk
poems and narratives with mythical content, and bound with early historical
fragments which form part of the people's lives.
Colonization stifled native writing, however. Only
after about two centuries later did the people begin to write poems and
plays adapted from Biblical stories - this time in the Spanish writing
system. These dramatic tropes were street presentations during May
festivals, Christmas, Easter and Lent. In 1890, the first Bikol newspaper
An Parabareta (the Newsman) was published by Mariano Perfecto, who
also established the first printing press. Imprenta de Nuestra Seņora
de Peņafrancia. In the midst of numerous devotionals and religious
poems, there appeared two protest plays - "An Pagguiao kan mga pastores
can pagcamondag ni Jesus duman sa portal sa belen" (The awakening of
the shepherds of Jesus birth) by Mariano Perfecto and "Comedia na dapit
sa Dios o magna cahayagan can pagcamondag ni Jesus" (A play about God
or matters concerning the birth of Jesus). The first play says that the
people accepted the faith but not the Spaniards; the second tries to
localize the character Mary, humanize Herodes and make the coronation of
Mary an occasion of revelry through two comic characters.
Corridos or metrical romances became the main reading fare for many
years. Translation from Spanish to Bikol were eagerly awaited that writers
switched to translating for the money it brought them. In time, Bikol
corridos were written. The most popular was Magamang Pobre
(The Poor Father and Son).
comedia or moro-moro stayed for a long time. Almost every
town boasted of a comedia writer and a theater group. The lavish
and pompus comedia that Juan Alvarez Guerra saw in the 1880s in
Albay has been so well described. Count on the Bikol to write protest
comedias - Comedia ni Hadeng Grimaldo sa Reinong Irlanda by Sabas
Armenta and Drama en Comedia de la Vida Conde Urbano by Juan
Miraflor. The first is a deviation from the Moro as villain theme; the
second advocated democracy and favors electing town leaders.
The Commonwealth Period were
years of poetic and dramatic productivity. The zarzuela did not
escape the Bikol's questioning bent. Asisclo Jimenez's Pagkamoot sa
Banuang Tinoboan (Love for the Native Land) demonstrated that national
change can be affected through armed revolt. Jimenez wrote 25 other
zarzuelas in varying themes, mostly social criticism. Crowds would
attend the presentations.
mid-thirties, shorter plays became the fashion. The new themes were poor vs.
rich, laziness vs. hard work and Rizal and nationalism. Outstanding was
Anti Cristo by Justino Nuyda who wrote of the inevitable conflict
between individual morality and material comfort. This play is still
presented today in schools in the region.
rawitdawit or narrative poem was a vehicle of social and political
criticism. Personal poems were most plentiful. The period also produced
about twenty translations of Jose Rizal's Mi Ultimo Adios to Bikol.
Four poets and their works stand out: Manuel Fuentebella's An Pana
(The Arrow), Clemente Alejandria's Pagaroanggoyong
(Perseverance), Eustaquio Dino's Balosbalos Sana (Retribution) and
Mariano Goyena's Hare...Dali (No...Don't). Great sensitivity and
exquisite images are marks of these poems, reaching up to lyricism.
Post-War Period was unproductive. It was the Cathedral Players of the
Ateneo de Naga that sparked the cultural scene. The students led by Rev.
James Reuter, S.J. translated english plays into Bikol and delighted the
Naga folks with Sunday presentations at the plaza kiosk. In the rural
towns they played in church patios and plazas. If post-war writing was not
as significant, the Bikol milieu was not encouraging either. The stories
and novels written in the fifties were insipid and mere narrations; the
novels fantastic and improbable. Writing in the Rainbow journal were
largely cerebral and critical of politics, church and society. It was the
people's interest in the folk story, Ibalon, that inspired two
musicals the Handyong written and presented by Orfelina Tuy and Fe
Ico, and Ibalon Opereta written by Jose Calleja Reyes.
Contemporary writing has just began to burst with creative energy. The
writers now possess the courage to deal with big themes. It began with
Francisco Penones, Jr. who sounded a clarion call in his poem An Opon sa
Ibalon: Kan mahale an Maskara (The Board in Ibalon When Unmasked).
Society, he declared, is the boar that brought hunger and poverty to the
land. For this poem, Penones received a CCP award. Merlinda C. Bobis in a
masterly poetic drama titled Daragang Magayon (Beautiful Maiden)
overturns the passive maiden in the legend and makes her decisive to do her
part in changing society. In her poems, Bobis subtly presents an idealism
associated with remembering one's childhood, each of them a strong and
evocative protrait only thoughtful, sensitive poet can create. For this,
she merited a Palanca award. Carlos O. Aureus weaves together theology and
philosophy to present Bikol values and a panorama of Bikol scenes. In ten
well-written stories, a novel and a play, he wins the coveted Palanca, CCP,
Free Press and Graphic literary awards. The young literary fictionists,
Marco Lopez, Alvin Yaban, Ulysses P. Aureus and Lorenzo D. Paran III are
searches for self, identity and nation.
seasoned writers include Luis Cabalquinto, Gode Calleja and Ruby Alano. The
young writers are Home Life magazine winners Angelica Gonzales, Honesto
Pesimo, Jazmin Llana, Victor Velasco, Nino Manaog, Xavier Olin and Cynthia
Buiza. Emelina G. Regis has a Palanca Award for her environmental play
Dalawang Mukha ng Kagubatan (Two Faces of the Forest). Barbara Barquez
Ricafrente writes poems and paints with rage. She is the first novel
awardee of the U.P. Creative Writing Center.
The Bikolano can write memorable and significant
pieces. The native literary tradition has been resurrected and kept. How
to make the people aware and how to make them read as well and how to
multiply these writings so they can be disseminated have to be resolved.