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Philippine Poetry

Philippine Poetry

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Published by: Darren Lance Catanes on Nov 21, 2010
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Centuries before the Spaniards came, the Filipinos already had their own cultural traditions, folklore, mythologies and epics. There were substantial writings by early natives that Jesuit historian Fr. Pedro Chirino noted: "All of the islanders are much given to reading and writing. And there is hardly a man, much less a woman who did not read and write." (Relacion de las isles Filipinas-1604) Stories of epics, done in poetry displayed tremendous vitality, color and imagination. Tales of love and adventures about native heroes, endowed with powers from the gods, battle monsters, and triumphs over formidable armies, rode the wind, traveled in flying shields and protect the earliest communities of the islands. Established epic poems of notable quality and length blossomed. And early historians like Padre Colin, Joaquin Martinez de Zuniga and Antonio Pigafetta have all attested to the existence of these epics. There were even reports of a dramatic play given by natives at the arrival of Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565. Epic poems and songs about the exploits of enchanted folk heroes were performed during festivities and proper occasions. Most often, these epic poems (folk epics or ethno-epics) were titled after the names of the hero involved, except for some which carry traditional titles like the Kalinga Ullalim; the Sulod Hinilawod; the Maranao Darangan; or the Bicol Ibalon. Stories about folk heroes of long ago were described as "Old Time History" because; they can be used to study the lifestyle and beliefs of the people who produced them. They were also referred to as "Lost", because they were soon forgotten by natives influenced heavily by Spanish and "western" colonization. The famed orientalist, Chauncey Starkweather, stressed that : "These epic romances are charming poem in the Malayan literature." But there are those who perpetuated myths that in the early days of Spanish intrusion, priests in their zealous rage against paganism destroyed all existing records, as well as all forms of writing and art works, regarding ancient Philippine folk heroes. But this is not true. The colorful and fascinating literature of pre-Hispanic Filipinos are still here. Giving the new generation an over view of a heritage that is an unusual and invaluable source of joy and information. Regarding the life style, love and aspirations of early Filipinos. It is from these, wonderful epics, where a Filipino can find his or her national identity. The history of Philippine poetry can be described in four major literary periods: precolonial (before 1521), Spanish colonial (1521±1898), U.S. colonial (1898±1946), and contemporary (1946±present). A strong indigenous oral tradition is interwoven with the Spanish and U.S. colonial influences of culture and language. Poetry has been written in Tagalog (the national language) and in the eighty-seven regional dialects, as

well as in the Castilian Spanish of Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega and the American English of Walt Whitman and Mark Twain.

Precolonial Poetry
An indigenous oral tradition of bugtong (riddles) and sawikain (proverbs) played a central part of community life in villages of precolonial Philippines. Short four-line poems called tanaga evolved from this oral tradition. Each line contained seven or eight syllables, and at the heart of the poem was a cryptic metaphor called a talinghaga. Popular folk musical verse was divided into several categories: the diona, talindao, and auit (songs sung at home); indolanin and dolayanin (street songs); hila, soliranin, and manigpasin (rowing songs); holohorlo and oyayi (cradle songs); ombayi (songs of sadness); omiguing (songs of tenderness); tagumpay (triumphant songs); dopayanin (boat songs); hiliriao (drinking songs); and diona (wedding songs). Through these verses the local history, politics, and culture were passed from generation to generation. The most skilled poets would memorize epic cycles that took two to four days to recite during all-night dramatic performances. Two examples of precolonial epics that survive today are Biag ni Lam-ang (Legend of Lamang) in Ilocano (a northern Luzon dialect) and Ibalon in Bicol (a southern Luzon dialect).

Poetry in the Spanish Colonial Period
With the arrival of the Spanish colonizers Ferdinand Magellan (1521) and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (1571) came priests and their tradition of European Catholicism. Satanas (Satan) first appeared in Tagalog poetry, and the Christian themes of sin, guilt, and retribution became central concerns of the native population. In 1610, Tomas Pinpin, a Filipino poet working for the Dominican printing press in Bataan (a town outside Manila), wrote a book entitled Librong Pagaaralan nang manga Tagalog nang Uicang Castila (A Book in Which Tagalogs May Study the Spanish Language). In this book Pinpin inserted six auit that had alternating Spanish and Tagalog lines. This type of bilingual poetry was written by a group called the Ladino Poets. Metrical romances called awit or korido were also popular with the literary crowds. The most influential Tagalog romance of the period was the politically cryptic Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura; 1838), written by Francisco Baltazar, also known as Balagtas (1788±1862). The first book of poetry written in Spanish by a Filipino was Sampaguitas y Poesias Varias (Sampaguitas and Other Poems; 1880) by Pedro Paterno (1858±1911), which was printed in Spain. Paterno, Marcelo H. Del Pilar (1850± 1896), Jose Rizal (1861±1896), and Isabelo De Los Reyes (1864±1918) were literary and political figures called Ilustrados (enlightened ones) who were living in Madrid and working to attain political freedom for the natives back in the Philippines. The first Filipino female poet to attain outside recognition was Leona Florentino (1849±1884), whose poems were exhibited in the Exposition Filipina in 1887 in Madrid and in the 1889 Exposition Internationale in Paris.

Poetry in the U.S. Colonial Period
In 1898, the U.S. president William McKinley (1843±1901) announced that it was the United States' moral duty to take possession of the Philippine Islands because the Filipinos had to be civilized, educated, and Christianized. After U.S. soldiers "pacified" the native population during the Philippine-American War (1899±1902), thousands of U.S. teachers were sent throughout the archipelago to teach the Filipinos the English language. In just a few years, English became the privileged form of expression for poets, prose writers, and dramatists. The earliest Filipino poems written in English were published in 1905 in Berkeley, California, in The Filipino Students' Magazine, which was edited by pensionados (Philippine-American government scholars). The first book of poetry written in English, Azucena (1925) by Marcelo De Gracia Concepcion (1895±1954), was published in the United States by G. P. Putnam's Sons. The most influential Filipino poet, Jose Garcia Villa (1908±1997), lived most of his adult life in New York City. His books are Have Come, Am Here (Viking Press, 1942), Volume Two (New Directions, 1949), and Selected Poems and New (McDowell, Obolensky, 1958). Another early immigrant Filipino poet was Carlos Bulosan (1911±1956), who published political poems in American magazines like The New Yorker, Poetry (edited by Harriet Monroe) and Saturday Evening Post. In Manila in 1940, the Commonwealth Literary Prize in English poetry was given to Rafael Zulueta Da Costa (1915±1990) for Like the Molave and Other Poems. Native themes were well represented by such local poets as Fernando Ma Guerrero (1873±1929), Lope K. Santos (1879±1965), Jose Corazon De Jesus (1896±1932), Amado V. Hernandez (1903±1970), Alejandro G. Abadilla (1904±1969), Angela Manalang Gloria (1907±1999), and Trinidad Tarrosa Subido (1912±1993).

Contemporary Poetry
The declaration of formal independence from the United States on 4 July 1946 brought a sense of a new beginning to the people and poets of the Philippines. A generation of poets who studied at the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa in the 1950s²Bienvenido N. Santos (1911±1996), Ricaredo Demetillo (1920±1998), Dominador I. Ilio (b. 1913), and Edith Tiempo (b. 1919)²came back to the Philippines with the literary ideals of the American New Criticism. The 1970s and 1980s proved to be a politically aware era for Filipino poets, who were writing under the censorship of the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1965±1986). As a reaction to the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr., a leading anti-Marcos politician, several poets formed a literary organization called PLAC (Philippine Literary Arts Council) to protest the abuses of the government. One of its leading founders was Alfred A. Yuson (b. 1945), whose neorealist books of poems are Dream of Knives (1986) and Trading in Mermaids (1993). Current trends in Filipino poetry are best exemplified by the pyrotechnic imagination of Eileen R. Tabios (b. 1960), whose book of poetry Beyond Life Sentences (1998) won the National Book Award given by the Manila Book Critics Circle. Her poems incorporate the American precision of Marianne Moore, the experimental joie de vivre of Paul Valery, and the imagistic intensity of Pablo Neruda.

Samples of Philippine epic poetry Igorot epic poetry
Don¶t trust in hudhud, after a long journey without feeling tired. Aliguyon had never been beaten in any fight or battle. He could catch and face any weapon from the air, and he could defeat his avenging foes. This poetry its always true. In the beginning, Aliguyon only wanted to kill the enemies of his father. But after learning that his father didn't have enemies, Aliguyon was advised by his father to just use his strength and power to win a female rightful to become his wife and companion in life. One extraordinary event in Aliguyon's life was his duel against Pumbakhayon, a warrior who had the same fighting strength and skills as Aliguyon. Pumbakhayon was from a nearby tribe called Daligdigan. Aliguyon and Pumbakhayon had a duel that lasted a year and a half. After a brief intermission, the two resumed their fight which lasted for another year and a half. Eventually, both men realized that they will not be able to beat each other. Therefore, they made a simple arrangement. Aliguyon agreed to marry Bugan, a sister of Pumbakhayon. While Pumbakhayon married Aginaya, a sister of Aliguyon. The arrangement unified the tribes of Gohandan and Daligdigan. Here ended the story of the Hud-Hud epic.

Bicol epic poetry
From the Bicol province comes the Ibalon. The Ibalon relates the mystical origins of the first man and the first woman of Aslon and Ibalon, which are current provinces of Camarines, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate. Hiandong, one of the heroes of Ibalon (The others are Baltog and Bantong) was a great leader of warriors. He fought against a giant Cyclops for ten months, defeated the winged Tiburon and the fierce Sarimao and won over the seductive serpent Oriol before starting a village. His Village prospered and soon, others invented the plough, harrow and other farming implements. Events in this epic also had a flood story similar to that of the Biblical Genesis. LIFE OF LAM-ANG By:Pedro Bucaneg Barely 9 months old, Lam-Ang fought against the headhunters who killed his father. He was also eaten by a sea monster, but was reborn from his retrieved bones. He also journeyed to get the beautiful Ines Kannoyan accompanied by his pets; a rooster and a dog. (This reminds us of an old Japanese tale titled Momotaro the Peach boy.) Ines

Kannoyan's place was filled with suitors, Lam-Ang's rooster flap its wings and the long house toppled. This amazed everybody, especially Ines. Then, Lam-Ang's dog barks and the long house rose to its former. Lam-Ang gave Ines two golden ships filled with treasures, and then he married her from noah.

Mindanao epic poetry
The people of Mindanao had rich literatures that exist only in their minds and memories. Only recently that these epic poetries were put in writing, so these can be studied by the public. Locally called "Darangan", these epic poetries were similar to those of that Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The Darangan tells of the sentimental and romantic adventures of noble warriors, one of them, is about a warrior-prince called Bantugan.. Prince Bantugan was the brother of the chieftain of a village called Bumbaran. Bantugan owned a magic shield, was protected by divine spirits called "Tonongs" and was capable of rising from the dead. Once his enemies attacked Bembaran, thinking he was dead. In the nick of time, Bantugan's soul was recovered and he saved the village. There is also an episode, where Prince Bantugan was on a quest and fought his enemies with his magic Kampilan (Native sword). Soon, he got tired and fell on to the water. A crocodile delivered him to his enemies, but he regained his strength, escaped his captors, and commands an oar less ship and won the battle. There were also "Darangan epic poetries that relates stories of wars about abducted princesses. Just like the chronicles of the Trojan War. The Darangan is one of the oldest and longest Philippine Epic poetries. Several nights were needed to recite the twenty five beautiful chapters. The Darangan, sung in its original, possessed a sustained beauty and dignity, it might be studied for its esthetic values alone.

Visayan epic poetry
The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay is a history of rulers of the island from the time of the Ten Malay Datus (rulers) that settled from Borneo. The "Legend of the Ten Datus (chieftains)" narrates about the forefathers of the Filipinos and the story of ten Bornean chieftains who escaped the cruel regime of Sultan Makatunaw. Datu Puti along with other nine chieftains plans to leave Borneo. Riding their native boats, they ventured into the night and across the wide ocean. At first, the ten rulers and their families were afraid that they might perish in the middle of the sea. Soon, they have reached the islands of Panay and befriended with the natives called Aetas. The Aetas are quite friendly and decides to sell a piece of their land to the ten chieftains. The chieftains gave the Aetas leader, Marikudo a golden Salakot (Native head piece) After this; the chieftains and Aetas lived in peace and harmony. The Haraya is another epic poem

from Panay. It is a collection of rules of conduct told in the form of heroic tales. The "Hari sa Bukid" of Negros is a mythical epic of Kanlaon (Kan comes from a Persian word "Khan" meaning "King" and "Laon" from a Malay word meaning "Ancient.") and "Hinilawod" an epic poem made by the early inhabitants of Iloilo, Aklan and Antique also from Panay. The hero of Hinilawod, "Humadapnon" was of divine ancestry. He had super natural powers and guardian spirits to protect him. His most exciting adventure was his search for Malitong Yawa Sinamagling Diwata: A beautiful maiden whom he saw in his dream. He boarded his golden boat, sailed amidst dangerous seas, and was captured by an enchantress/engkantada. Finally, he found and won the love of Malitong Yawa Sinamagling Diwata.

Other epics
Dr. Jose Pangaea, in his book on Philippine literature mentioned that "Old Folks" in the Batangas area which anciently covered part of the Rizal province up to Morons, all of Laguna, Cavite, Quezon, Marinduque and the Mindoro Province, mentioned an epic that their elders used to chant but can¶t remember. These are not definite stories. Only war songs and war dances accompanied with music on the "kalatong". The "kalatong", it should be noted, is a native "Tom-Tom" consists of a bamboo reed with "strings" raised up from its own fibers. Josue Soncuya mentions the epic that Dr. Jose Panganiban calls "Kumintang", in Chapter XIX of the Boletin dela Sociedad HistoricoGeografica de Filipinas. There was a tale around the 14th Century: King Soledan sent his sons Bagtas, Manduquit and Likyaw of the house of Madjapahit to Mai and Lusong which were then, part of the kingdom of Lontok. The conquest of the northern territories through singing and dancing of warriors form the integral part of the "Kumintang." Other epic poems being written and chanted are: The Sud-ansud of the Tagbanuas from Palawan The Dagoy, also from Palawan The Parang Sabil of the Sulo Muslims The Ulagingen and Selch of the Manobos The Panglima Munggona and Jikiri of the Tausog The kalinga Banna Bidian of the Ibaloys The Sulod Labaw Donggon «and, Bagyu of Bukidnon. Eulogio B. Rodriguez, former director of the Philippine National Library said that "Anonymous vernacular writers of past ages had no thought of bringing glory to their own, but labored with the central idea of transmitting to prosperity in a concrete and permanent form, the great mass of Philippine legends which was only preserved by word of mouth«With their work as corner stone, later writers have been gradually adding block by block to the literary edifice to approximate something similar to a national literature of our own." When the late American Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner visited the Philippines, he was impressed by our epic poems. He stated that: " The Filipinos have their own traditions of poetry in their folklore, in their language and dialects. This must be recorded and that's the job of the writers. In doing that, he gives a pattern of hope and aspirations for the people to advance not merely as a nation of people but as a member of a family of nations, the human family."

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