In our columns past, we talked about the state of Philippine literature, adding paragraphs to the literature of some of our regions which have in their treasure trove a wealth of literary jewels hardly appreciated by many in the metropolis.
This time, we open the pages and Western Visayas literature.On the western seaboard of the Visayas are found the provinces of Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Aklan, Negros Occidental and Guimaras. The Western Visayas has Hiligaynon for its lingua franca. One must recognize that this language is also spoken in South Cotabato where many West Visayans have migrated.
The northern towns of Negros Occidental speak Cebuano or Sugbuanon, the previously known lingua franca of Central Visayas — until present writers of Kinaray-a and Aklanon stormed into the literary stage and suggested, strongly, that Sugbuanon is not necessarily the lingua franca of the area.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, West Visayan literature was purely oral and was in Kinaray-a, suggesting, in the view of scholars, that this must have been the language of the region in folk literature of the 10 Bornean datus.
We have a range of folk literature, which ranges from brief riddles, proverbs, ditties, ritual chants to expansive love songs, tales and extensive epics. It also had poetry called binalaybay and the tale is the asoy or sugilanon. The asoy may be a legend or a tale about a folk hero or a local happening. Among the Panay epics are the Labaw Donggon and the Hinilawod. Ritual chants are delivered by the babaylan or healer to please the diwata or supernatural beings or spirits in exchange for good health and luck in the home and the fields during planting and harvest climes.
The arrival of the Spaniards and the eventual conversion of the inhabitants to Christianity produced new forms of folk literature and saw the beginning of written literature, initially with translation of Spanish texts of prayers and lives of the Catholic saints. With the arrival of the Americans before the turn of the 19th century came the locally described Golden Age of Hiligaynon literature. But the orientation was still heavily Spanish — didactic and Roman Catholic despite strong nationalistic orientation.
Back here in the national capital region and nearby provinces, we have the Tagalog literature, nurtured and nourished in the provinces of Southern Luzon, parts of Central Luzon and Metro Manila. Some scholars, obviously with those rooted in the region, have considered this place as the birthplace of a rich tradition of Filipino culture in language, politics, economy and literature.
Other scholars, while not openly disagreeing with such commentary, argue that other regions can lay as much claim to such a rich tradition. And they have their marbles to underline their argument. Particularly outstanding in the literary tradition in the Tagalog-speaking provinces in the field of oral literature are the bugtong (riddle), proverbs, and native songs. This discipline is always in poetic forms, usually seven-syllabic rhymes which, according to some scholars, is truly Asian in form and perspective.
Poet and fictionist Domingo Landicho of Batangas, commenting on the history and tradition of Tagalog literature, observes that the tradition of Tagalog literature “has been bequeathed upon the national consciousness of the Filipinos all over the Philippines.” He notes the existence of a rich and invigorating cultural matrix in the Tagalog region, which produced historic men in politics, culture and literature. Again, without glossing over the contributions of these men and women in the Tagalog-speaking provinces, we urge a wider eye range for those outside of the Tagalog region who had and have, in their distinct demeanor and as committed a mood, a thick compendium of literary magnum opus.
Considering the undeniable literary affluence in the other regions, and the urgent need to compile all and translate the same for the appreciation of other Filipinos, the government, which has the logistics at its disposal, should help private and individual agencies in gathering all such materials that point to the culture of this Malay race. This does not suggest that nothing has been done and is being done. For the government has done much in fact in compiling such cultural stones in the various regions.
What we are suggesting is those efforts should be underlined by more vigorous and determined resoluteness, not only for one or two particular regions but for all. Compiling these cultural stones in their various genres would be a good step in the right direction, a step that would include not just writing down the oral tradition but keeping the tradition on tape and supporting visuals.
The search for good translators, scholars and teachers in this discipline must not be ignored in this worthy endeavor to catch for posterity a rich culture that should never be blown away before much too long. At the same time, the government, through the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education, should look at the curriculum once more and put urgent revisions in the literature and culture discipline.
We note, with a rather injuring letdown, that, for instance, graders in the north — we assume this is true for graders in the south — in the K-12 curriculum are still taught Bahay Kubo and Leron, Leron Sinta when they should be learning songs that make their culture. Would it be perhaps all right if the graders in Metro Manila were taught how to sing Dakami nga Agdamdamili and other songs?
We have faith in the direction the government has taken to gather into one mighty compendium a fertile and luxuriant culture in the different regions for the recognition and appreciation of every region which breathes the culture of the Filipino.Such efforts cannot be completed overnight. But, like a melody that must be unbroken and eventually consummated, the initial bars have been played. And played well.
Everyone who has a stake in the rich cultural tradition of this multi-lingual, multi-ethnic society must participate in gathering and translating for younger generations of Filipinos a fruitful legacy which helps identify the Filipino in the community of nations. That legacy protects the Filipino’s roots. The roots embrace his strength. His strength carries him through the years and into the future. ◆
Featured photo: Hinilawod c. 1983, by Art Geroche, as displayed at the lobby of the Cultural Center of West Visayas University University, La Paz, Iloilo City, Philippines. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use.