Before the Enhanced Community Quarantine – a stand-in for strict lockdown – imposed by the government and health authorities in mid- March, we used to join tables of people from Metro Manila and the different regions who are deep in their respective literature.
Even in the academe, in whose university corridors we used to walk, some people would talk about the state of Philippine literature.
There were unnerving times we heard them discuss what they described as Philippine literature, its roots right in the national capital region and the surrounding provinces.
That, at worst, was a pathetic commentary on not just the state of Philippine literature but on the orientation many have had for years and the focus of what really is literature that we can say truly and rightly reflects the soul of this Southeast Asian archipelago of 110 million people.
Someone in one group asked: What really is Philippine Literature?
Given the multi-racial, multi-ethnic society the Philippines has, is there really one brand that may truly be called Philippine literature to the unjust exclusion of the others similarly strong in foundation and appreciated not the least by many scholars as well as students of history and culture?
Since there are various regions – more than a dozen political or otherwise – in this country, discovered in 1521 for Europe by Portuguese navigator Fernando Magallanes, then sailing under the flag of Spain, it would be proper, if appropriate, that there must be a serious look at both the oral and written, if any, literature of the different regions beyond the audible echoes of the Manila Cathedral chimes.
Aside from a sympathetic understanding of the geographical divisions, we must as well note that the Philippines, heretofore called Las Islas Filipinas, had been under different political rulers.
And, in certain cases, the politics then included the educational and the spiritual dimensions, not necessarily taken together.
One discussant, although the grouping was very informal, suggested there was need for more scholars. With this given, we can immediately see the need for more scholars and chroniclers as well as quality translators to compile and translate the native tunes and lyrics indigenous to each or to more than one region.
This is where any private effort should be matched at once by the government, which has the logistics and will to let one body, or committee, to work on and for the translation and dissemination of the various regional literatures.
A government, after all, should be the guardian of the culture of a country – in this case, the Philippine government – of the culture of this multi-lingual nation whose sense of pride has been strengthened by the various eras imposed on them by colonial masters and conquerors in separate eras.
Nearly 60 years ago – not exactly a long time by any cultural crawl – high school, and even elementary, students up north were being pounded by Francisco Balagtas’ Florante at Laura by teachers in Pilipino.
The same academic scenario was also being unreeled in the other regions outside of the Tagalog-speaking capital and nearby provinces.
We do not suggest that Florante at Laura had no merits for discussion in classrooms, even if in some cases that situation then is today pathetically repeated in some colleges and universities.
But there are others deserving attention. These include, but not necessarily limited to, the Aliguyon or the Hudhud of the Ifugaos of the Cordilleras which narrates the exploits of Aliguyon as he waves hefty muscles and courage against his arch enemy, Pambukhayon, across the rice fields and terraces.
He excites and encourages his people to be strong and committed to the wisdom of warfare and of crafting peace during the harvest climes.
Then there is the Agyu or Olahing, a three-part epic that rolls on with the pahmara or invocation, then the kepu’unpuun, or the narration of the past, and the sengedurog, or the episode which in itself is complete.
The parts narrate the exploits of the hero as he leads his people who have been unnecessarily driven out of their land to Nalandangan, a land of utopia, where there are no land grabbers nor oppressors.
There is also Biag ni Lam-ang, or Life of Lam-ang, which narrates the adventures of the astonishing epic hero who displays extremely spectacular powers at a very young age.
At nine months, Lam-ang is able to go to war to look for his father’s killers. While looking for his woman of worth, Ines Kannoyan, Lam-ang is swallowed by a big fish although his rooster and his friends return him to life.
Yet another epic is Labaw Donggon, which is about the romantic adventures of the son of a goddess, Alunsina, by a mortal, Datu Pauban.
The polygamous hero goes up against the big monster Manaluntad for the love of Abyang Ginbitinan. Then he fights Sikay Padalogdog, the giant with a hundred arms, to win Abyang Doronoon before he confronts the master of darkness, Saragnayan, to win over Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata.
Yet another in the group, and we agreed with him, other epics were worth visiting which needed appreciation.
They include Sandayo; Alim of the Ifugaos; Bantugan of the Maranaos; Darangan, a Muslim epic; Hinilawod of Panay; Ibalon of Bikol; Tuwaang of the Manobo; and Kundaman of Palawan.
The misplaced conviction that Tagalog literature is Philippine literature is pathetically similar to and no less different from the imposition scores back of Tagalog as the basis for the projected national language of this multi-lingual republic, imposition that had not been tempered by the sitting Tagalog-speaking President at the time.
He ordered a committee he created to agree on what language should be the basis of a national language.
Today, that basis for the national language has become the national language, identified by those with blinders as Filipino.