The existing literature of the Philippine ethnic groups at the time of conquest and conversion into Christianity was mainly oral, consisting of epics, legends, songs, riddles, and proverbs. The conquistador, especially its ecclesiastical arm, destroyed whatever written literature he could find, and hence rendered the system of writing inoperable. Among the only native systems of writing that have survived are the syllabaries of the Mindoro Mangyans and the Tagbanua of Palawan. The Spanish colonial strategy was to undermine the native oral tradition by substituting for it the story of the Passion of Christ.
Although Christ was by no means war-like or sexually attractive as many of the heroes of the oral epic tradition, the appeal of the Jesus myth inhered in the protagonist’s superior magic: by promising eternal life for everyone, he democratized the power to rise above death. It is to be emphasized, however, that the native tradition survived and even flourished in areas inaccessible to the colonial power.
Moreover, the tardiness and the lack of assiduity of the colonial administration in making a public educational system work meant the survival of oral tradition, or what was left of it, among the conquered tribes.
The church authorities adopted a policy of spreading the Church doctrines by communicating to the native (pejoratively called Indio) in his own language. Doctrina Christiana (1593), the first book to be printed in the Philippines, was a prayerbook written in Spanish with an accompanying Tagalog translation. It was, however, for the exclusive use of the missionaries who invariably read them aloud to the unlettered Indio catechumens (Medina), who were to rely mainly on their memory.
But the task of translating religious instructional materials obliged the Spanish missionaries to take a most practical step, that of employing native speakers as translators. Eventually, the native translator learned to read and write both in Spanish and his native language. (Forms of Literature)This development marked the beginning of Indio literacy and thus spurred the creation of the first written literary native text by the native. These writers, called ladinos because of their fluency in both Spanish and Tagalog, published their work, mainly devotional poetry, in the first decade of the 17th century. Among the earliest writers of note were Francisco de San Jose and Francisco Bagongbata (Medina).
But by far the most gifted of these native poet-translators was Gaspar Aquino de Belen (Lumbera, p.14). Mahal Na Pasion ni Jesu Christo, a Tagalog poem based on Christ’s passion, was published in 1704. This long poem, original and folksy in its rendition of a humanized, indeed, a nativized Jesus, is a milestone in the history of Philippine letters. Ironically — and perhaps just because of its profound influence on the popular imagination — as artifact it marks the beginning of the end of the old mythological culture and a conversion to the new paradigm introduced by the colonial power. Until the 19th century, the printing presses were owned and managed by the religious orders. Thus, religious themes dominated the culture of the Christianized majority. But the native oral literature, whether secular or mythico-religious continued. Even among the Christianized ethnic groups, the oral tradition persisted in such forms as legends, sayings, wedding songs such as the balayan and parlor theater such as the duplo.
In the 18th century, secular literature from Spain in the form of medieval ballads inspired the native poetic-drama form called the komedya, later to be called moro-moro because these often dealt with the theme of Christians triumphing over Moslems. (Peronality) Jose de la Cruz (1746 – 1829) was the foremost exponent of the komedya during his time. A poet of prodigious output and urbane style, de la Cruz marks a turning point in that his elevated diction distinguishes his work from folk idiom (as for instance, that of Gaspar Aquino de Belen). Yet his appeal to the non-literate was universal. The popularity of the dramatic form, of which he was a master, was due to it being experienced as performance both by the lettered minority and the illiterate but genuinely appreciative majority. Francisco Baltazar (1788 – 1862), popularly called Balagtas, is the acknowledged master of traditional Tagalog poetry. Of peasant origins, he left his hometown in Bigaa, Bulacan for Manila, with a strong determination to improve his lot through education. To support his studies, he worked as a domestic servant in Tondo.
He steeped himself in classical studies in schools of prestige in the capital. Great social and political changes in the world worked together to make Balagtas’ career as poet possible. The industrial revolution had caused a great movement of commerce in the globe, creating wealth and the opportunity for material improvement in the life of the working classes. With these great material changes, social values were transformed, allowing greater social mobility. In short, he was a child of the global bourgeois revolution. Liberal ideas, in time, broke class — and, in the Philippines — even racial barriers (Medina). The word Filipino, which used to refer to a restricted group (i.e., Spaniards born in the Philippines) expanded to include not only the acculturated wealthy Chinese mestizo but also the acculturated Indio (Medina). Balagtas was one of the first Indios to become a Filipino. But the crucial element in Balagtas’ unique genius is that, being caught between two cultures (the native and the colonial/classical), he could switch codes (or was perceived by his compatriot audience to be switching codes), provide insight and information to his oppressed compatriots in the very style and guise of a tradition provided him by a foreign (and oppressive) culture.
His narrative poem Florante at Laura written in sublime Tagalog, is about tyranny in Albanya, but it is also perceived to be about tyranny in his Filipino homeland (Lumbera). Despite the foreign influence, however, he remained true to his native traditions. His verse plays were performed to the motley crowd. His poems were sung by the literate for the benefit of the unlettered. The metrical regularity and rhyme performed their age-old mnemonic function, despite and because of the introduction of printing. Printing overtook tradition. The printed page, by itself, became the mnemonic device, the stage set for the development of prose. The first Filipino novel was Ninay, written in Spanish by Pedro Paterno, a Philippine-bornilustrado (Medina p. 93). Following the sentimental style of his first book Sampaguitas (a collection of poems in Spanish), the novel endeavored to highlight the endearingly unique qualities of Filipinos. National Hero Jose Rizal (1861 – 1896) chose the realistic novel as his medium. Choosing Spanish over Tagalog meant challenging the oppressors on the latter’s own turf.
By writing in prose, Rizal also cut his ties with the Balagtas tradition of the figurative indirection which veiled the supposed subversiveness of many writings at that time. Rizal’s two novels, the Noli Me Tangere and its sequel El Filibusterismo, chronicle the life and ultimate death of Ibarra, a Filipino educated abroad, who attempts to reform his country through education. At the conclusion of the Noli, his efforts end in near-death and exile from his country. In the Filibusterismo, he returns after reinventing himself as Simoun, the wealthy jeweler, and hastens social decay by further corrupting the social fabric till the oppressed react violently to overthrow the system. But the insurrection is foiled and Simoun suffers a violent death. In a sense, Rizal’s novels and patriotic poems were the inevitable conclusion to the campaign for liberal reforms known as the Propaganda Movement, waged by Graciano Lopez Jaena, and M.H. del Pilar.
The two novels so vividly portrayed corruption and oppression that despite the lack of any clear advocacy, they served to instill the conviction that there could be no solution to the social ills but a violent one. Following closely on the failed reformist movement, and on Rizal’s novels, was the Philippine revolution headed by Andres Bonifacio (1863 – 1897). His closest aide, the college-bred Emilio Jacinto (1875 – 1899), was the revolutionary organization’s ideologue. Both were admirers of Rizal, and like Rizal, both were writers and social critics profoundly influenced by the liberal ideas of the French enlightenment, about human dignity. Bonifacio’s most important work are his poems, the most well-known being Pag-Ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa.
Jacinto wrote political essays expressed in the language of the folk. Significantly, although either writer could have written in Spanish (Bonifacio, for instance, wrote a Tagalog translation of Rizal’s Ultimo Adios), both chose to communicate to their fellowmen in their own native language. The figure of Rizal dominates Philippine literature until the present day. Liberalism led to education of the native and the ascendancy of Spanish. But Spanish was undermined by the very ideas of liberation that it helped spread, and its decline led to nativism and a renaissance of literature in the native languages. The turn of the century witnessed not only the Philippine revolution but a quieter though no less significant outbreak. The educated women of the period produced significant poetry. Gregoria de Jesus, wife of Andres Bonifacio, wrote notable Tagalog poetry. Meanwhile, in Vigan of the Ilocano North, Leona Florentino, by her poetry, became the foremost Ilocano writer of her time.
Philippine literary production during the American Period in the Philippines was spurred by two significant developments in education and culture. One is the introduction of free public instruction for all children of school age and two, the use of English as medium of instruction in all levels of education in public schools. Free public education made knowledge and information accessible to a greater number of Filipinos. Those who availed of this education through college were able to improve their social status and joined a good number of educated masses who became part of the country’s middle class.
The use of English as medium of instruction introduced Filipinos to Anglo-American modes of thought, culture and life ways that would be embedded not only in the literature produced but also in the psyche of the country’s educated class. It was this educated class that would be the wellspring of a vibrant Philippine Literature in English. Philippine literature in English, as a direct result of American colonization of the country, could not escape being imitative of American models of writing especially during its period of apprenticeship. The poetry written by early poets manifested studied attempts at versification as in the following poem which is proof of the poet’s rather elementary exercise in the English language: Vacation days at last are here,
And we have time for fun so dear,
All boys and girls do gladly cheer,
This welcomed season of the year.
In early June in school we’ll meet;
A harder task shall we complete
And if we fail we must repeat
That self same task without retreat.
We simply rest to come again
To school where boys and girls obtain
The Creator’s gift to men
Whose sanguine hopes in us remain.
Vacation means a time for play
For young and old in night and day
My wish for all is to be gay,
And evil none lead you astray
– Juan F. Salazar Philippines Free Press, May 9, 1909
The poem was anthologized in the first collection of poetry in English, Filipino Poetry, edited by Rodolfo Dato (1909 – 1924). Among the poets featured in this anthology were Proceso Sebastian Maximo Kalaw, Fernando Maramag, Leopoldo Uichanco, Jose Ledesma, Vicente Callao, Santiago Sevilla, Bernardo Garcia, Francisco Africa, Pablo Anzures, Carlos P. Romulo, Francisco Tonogbanua, Juan Pastrana, Maria Agoncillo, Paz Marquez Benitez, Luis Dato and many others. Another anthology, The English German Anthology of Poets edited by Pablo Laslo was published and covered poets published from 1924-1934 among whom were Teofilo D. Agcaoili, Aurelio Alvero, Horacio de la Costa, Amador T. Daguio, Salvador P. Lopez, Angela Manalang Gloria, Trinidad Tarrosa, Abelardo Subido and Jose Garcia Villa, among others. A third pre-war collection of poetry was edited by Carlos Bulosan, Chorus for America: Six Philippine Poets. The six poets in this collection were Jose Garcia Villa, Rafael Zulueta da Costa, Rodrigo T. Feria, C.B. Rigor, Cecilio Baroga and Carlos Bulosan.
In fiction, the period of apprenticeship in literary writing in English is marked by imitation of the style of storytelling and strict adherence to the craft of the short story as practiced by popular American fictionists. Early short story writers in English were often dubbed as the Andersons or Saroyans or the Hemingways of Philippine letters. Leopoldo Yabes in his study of the Philippine short story in English from 1925 to 1955 points to these models of American fiction exerting profound influence on the early writings of story writers like Francisco Arcellana, A.E. Litiatco, Paz Latorena. . When the University of the Philippines was founded in 1908, an elite group of writers in English began to exert influence among the culturati. The U.P. Writers Club founded in 1926, had stated that one of its aims was to enhance and propagate the “language of Shakespeare.” In 1925, Paz Marquez Benitez short story, “Dead Stars” was published and was made the landmark of the maturity of the Filipino writer in English. Soon after Benitez, short story writers began publishing stories no longer imitative of American models.
Thus, story writers like Icasiano Calalang, A.E. Litiatco, Arturo Rotor, Lydia Villanueva, Paz Latorena , Manuel Arguilla began publishing stories manifesting both skilled use of the language and a keen Filipino sensibility. This combination of writing in a borrowed tongue while dwelling on Filipino customs and traditions earmarked the literary output of major Filipino fictionists in English during the American period. Thus, the major novels of the period, such as the Filipino Rebel, by Maximo Kalaw, and His Native Soil by Juan C. Laya, are discourses on cultural identity, nationhood and being Filipino done in the English language. Stories such as “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” by Manuel Arguilla scanned the scenery as well as the folkways of Ilocandia while N.V. M. Gonzales’s novels and stories such as “Children of the Ash Covered Loam,” present the panorama of Mindoro, in all its customs and traditions while configuring its characters in the human dilemma of nostalgia and poverty.
Apart from Arguilla and Gonzales, noted fictionists during the period included Francisco Arcellana, whom Jose Garcia Villa lauded as a “genius” storyteller, Consorcio Borje, Aida Rivera, Conrado Pedroche, Amador Daguio, Sinai Hamada, Hernando Ocampo, Fernando Maria Guerrero. Jose Garcia Villa himself wrote several short stories but devoted most of his time to poetry. In 1936, when the Philippine Writers League was organized, Filipino writers in English began discussing the value of literature in society. Initiated and led by Salvador P. Lopez, whose essays on Literature and Society provoked debates, the discussion centered on proletarian literature, i.e., engaged or committed literature versus the art for art’s sake literary orientation. But this discussion curiously left out the issue of colonialism and colonial literature and the whole place of literary writing in English under a colonial set-up that was the Philippines then. With Salvador P. Lopez, the essay in English gained the upper hand in day to day discourse on politics and governance.
Polemicists who used to write in Spanish like Claro M. Recto, slowly started using English in the discussion of current events even as newspaper dailies moved away from Spanish reporting into English. Among the essayists, Federico Mangahas had an easy facility with the language and the essay as genre. Other noted essayists during the period were Fernando Maramag, Carlos P. Romulo , Conrado Ramirez. On the other hand, the flowering of a vibrant literary tradition due to historical events did not altogether hamper literary production in the native or indigenous languages. In fact, the early period of the 20th century was remarkable for the significant literary output of all major languages in the various literary genre. (Forms Of lit) It was during the early American period that seditious plays, using the form of the zarsuwela, were mounted. Zarsuwelistas Juan Abad, Aurelio Tolentino ,Juan Matapang Cruz. Juan Crisostomo Sotto mounted the classics like Tanikalang Ginto, Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas and Hindi Ako Patay, all directed against the American imperialists.
Patricio Mariano’s Anak ng Dagat and Severino Reyes’s Walang Sugat are equally remarkable zarsuwelas staged during the period. On the eve of World War II, Wilfredo Maria Guerrero would gain dominance in theatre through his one-act plays which he toured through his “mobile theatre”. Thus, Wanted a Chaperone and The Forsaken House became very popular in campuses throughout the archipelago. The novel in Tagalog, Iloko, Hiligaynon and Sugbuanon also developed during the period aided largely by the steady publication of weekly magazines like the Liwayway, Bannawag and Bisaya which serialized the novels. Among the early Tagalog novelists of the 20th century were Ishmael Amado, Valeriano Hernandez Peña, Faustino Aguilar, Lope K. Santos and Lazaro Francisco. Ishmael Amado’s Bulalakaw ng Pag-asa published in 1909 was one of the earliest novels that dealt with the theme of American imperialism in the Philippines.
The novel, however, was not released from the printing press until 1916, at which time, the author, by his own admission and after having been sent as a pensionado to the U.S., had other ideas apart from those he wrote in the novel. Valeriano Hernandez Peña’s Nena at Neneng narrates the story of two women who happened to be best of friends as they cope with their relationships with the men in their lives. Nena succeeds in her married life while Neneng suffers from a stormy marriage because of her jealous husband. Faustino Aguilar published Pinaglahuan, a love triangle set in the early years of the century when the worker’s movement was being formed. The novel’s hero, Luis Gatbuhay, is a worker in a printery who isimprisoned for a false accusation and loses his love, Danding, to his rival Rojalde, son of a wealthy capitalist. Lope K. Santos, Banaag at Sikat has almost the same theme and motif as the hero of the novel, Delfin, also falls in love with a rich woman, daughter of a wealthy landlord. The love story of course is set also within the background of development of the worker’s trade union movement and throughout the novel, Santos engages the readers in lengthy treatises and discourses on socialism and capitalism.
Many other Tagalog novelists wrote on variations of the same theme, i.e., the interplay of fate, love and social justice. Among these writers are Inigo Ed Regalado, Roman Reyes, Fausto J. Galauran, Susana de Guzman, Rosario de Guzman-Lingat, Lazaro Francisco, Hilaria Labog, Rosalia Aguinaldo, Amado V. Hernandez. Many of these writers were able to produce three or more novels as Soledad Reyes would bear out in her book which is the result of her dissertation, Ang Nobelang Tagalog (1979). Among the Iloko writers, noted novelists were Leon Pichay, who was also the region’s poet laureate then, Hermogenes Belen, and Mena Pecson Crisologo whose Mining wenno Ayat ti Kararwa is considered to be the Iloko version of a Noli me Tangere. In the Visayas, Magdalena Jalandoni and Ramon Muzones would lead most writers in writing the novels that dwelt on the themes of love, courtship, life in the farmlands, and other social upheavals of the period. Marcel Navarra wrote stories and novels in Sugbuhanon. Poetry in all languages continued to flourish in all regions of the country during the American period. The Tagalogs, hailing Francisco F. Balagtas as the nation’s foremost poet invented the balagtasan in his honor.
Thebalagtasan is a debate in verse, a poetical joust done almost spontaneously between protagonists who debate over the pros and cons of an issue. The first balagtasan was held in March 1924 at the Instituto de Mujeres, with Jose Corazon de Jesus and Florentino Collantes as rivals, bubuyog (bee) and paru-paro (butterfly) aiming for the love of kampupot (jasmine). It was during this balagtasan that Jose Corazon de Jesus, known as Huseng Batute, emerged triumphant to become the first king of the Balagtasan. Jose Corazon de Jesus was the finest master of the genre. He was later followed by balagtasistas, Emilio Mar Antonio and Crescenciano Marquez, who also became King of the Balagtasan in their own time. As Huseng Batute, de Jesus also produced the finest poems and lyrics during the period. His debates with Amado V. Hernandez on the political issue of independence from America and nationhood were mostly done in verse and are testament to the vitality of Tagalog poetry during the era.
Lope K. Santos, epic poem, Ang Panggingera is also proof of how poets of the period have come to master the language to be able to translate it into effective poetry. The balagtasan would be echoed as a poetical fiesta and would be duplicated in the Ilocos as thebukanegan, in honor of Pedro Bukaneg, the supposed transcriber of the epic, Biag ni Lam-ang; and theCrissottan, in Pampanga, in honor of the esteemed poet of the Pampango, Juan Crisostomo Sotto. In 1932, Alejandro G. Abadilla , armed with new criticism and an orientation on modernist poetry would taunt traditional Tagalog poetics with the publication of his poem, “Ako ang Daigdig.” Abadilla’s poetry began the era of modernism in Tagalog poetry, a departure from the traditional rhymed, measured and orally recited poems. Modernist poetry which utilized free or blank verses was intended more for silent reading than oral delivery. Noted poets in Tagalog during the American period were Julian Cruz Balmaceda, Florentino Collantes, Pedro Gatmaitan, Jose Corazon de Jesus, Benigno Ramos, Inigo Ed. Regalado, Ildefonso Santos, Lope K. Santos, Aniceto Silvestre, Emilio Mar. Antonio , Alejandro Abadilla and Teodoro Agoncillo.
Like the writers in English who formed themselves into organizations, Tagalog writers also formed the Ilaw at Panitik, and held discussions and workshops on the value of literature in society. Benigno Ramos, was one of the most politicized poets of the period as he aligned himself with the peasants of the Sakdal Movement. Fiction in Tagalog as well as in the other languages of the regions developed alongside the novel. Most fictionists are also novelists. Brigido Batungbakal , Macario Pineda and other writers chose to dwell on the vicissitudes of life in a changing rural landscape. Deogracias Del Rosario on the other hand, chose the city and the emerging social elite as subjects of his stories.
He is considered the father of the modern short story in Tagalog Among the more popular fictionists who emerged during the period are two women writers, Liwayway Arceo and Genoveva Edroza Matute, considered forerunners in the use of “light” fiction, a kind of story telling that uses language through poignant rendition. Genoveva Edroza Matute’s “Ako’y Isang Tinig” and Liwayway Arceo’s “Uhaw ang Tigang na Lupa” have been used as models of fine writing in Filipino by teachers of composition throughout the school system.
Teodoro Agoncillo’s anthology 25 Pinakamahusay na Maiikling Kuwento (1945) included the foremost writers of fiction in the pre-war era. The separate, yet parallel developments of Philippine literature in English and those in Tagalog and other languages of the archipelago during the American period only prove that literature and writing in whatever language and in whatever climate are able to survive mainly through the active imagination of writers. Apparently, what was lacking during the period was for the writers in the various languages to come together, share experiences and come to a conclusion on the elements that constitute good writing in the Philippines.