the other side


* Pre – Colonial Times

Even before the coming of the Spanish to colonize our country, there had been evidences to support the hearsays that the early Filipinos already had what is called “Literature.”

Since there were no printing presses yet during this time, there were no written accounts of literary pieces. But there were oral lore or native tales sung or chanted, and they were memorized then were passed from generation to another. This may sound hard, because it really is!

I remembered an SSP1 film viewing session I had during my first year. It tackled about the Binukot or the Secluded Tribe Princesses. They were princesses of their tribe and were like imprisoned for the rest of their lives. They were not allowed to go outside, to mingle with other people, and to live a normal life. They weren’t even allowed to be seen by her people except for her close slaves. One of the responsibilities of these princesses is to memorize their tribe’s oral lore (each one takes months to finish reciting) and to relay them to the next generations of their tribe. In this way, they thought they could preserve their culture. But fewer and fewer female members of the tribes were not willing to be Binukots anymore since being one may mean imprisonment. But still, for me, formulating an idea of a secluded princess meant an attempt for preservation of their own culture.

Archeology had been a great help in determining the culture of early Filipinos. An example of this is the discovery of the “Tabon Man” in Palawan in 1962. This discovery had open doors for us to know more about the culture our ancestors had during the time when printing presses were not yet invented and there were no written artifacts and documents that were recovered about their early lives. The archeologists discovered or had dug up different shaped metals, porcelains, pots (shells of shattered pots), and many such things that would make us believe that indeed Pre-Colonial Filipinos were rich in terms of culture.

Going back to the literature of the early Filipinos (which still had something to do with their rich culture), they had their own myths, epics, tales, songs, riddles, and proverbs, too. All of which were recited, chanted or sung. Without these, we are a bit at a lost as to what our ancestors had been doing in the past literarily. Also, these were a great aid in reconstructing a period in our literary history which had somehow been shadowed over by the literary influences of the Westerners, of which I would discuss later.

Mostly the literary works focused on the lives of the common people, the happenings in the community as their subject matter. Their stories, songs, etc. circled around the events in their own tribes. In this sense, the audience(the tribes people themselves) were already familiar and could relate to these literary pieces being recited to them. “The language of oral literature…was the language of [their] daily life”. Having this saying, therefore, any member of the tribe was a potential singer, given that he is familiar with the “language”

Also, oral literary forms had, what we call, Conventions. These were the “formulaic repetitions, stereotyping of characters, regular rhythmic and musical devices…” Conventions were basically talking about the sound and the rhythm in a certain piece of an oral lore. These conventions were aids for the tribe’s people to easily recall the pieces, and to facilitate the transfer or passing of the oral literary pieces to the next generation. In terms of ownership to the pieces, however, everyone in the community owns it. It was a community property.

But during the colonization of the Spaniards and the Americans, the early Filipinos’ culture and traditions, even their literary compositions were put to a threat since the Spaniards and the Americans were trying to impose their respective purpose and interest in the Philippines. Still, the “uniqueness of indigenous culture” had overcome colonization by the two ways that the early Filipinos made.


Two ways by which the indigenous culture survived despite the colonization:
    Resistance to colonial rule. There were certain tribes that really resisted to the colonial rule. Some of these tribes were Taosugs of Mindanao, Igorots, Ifugaos, and Bontocs. We could observe, perhaps until now, that the way these tribes were living is still natively. In other words, they never got much influence from the foreigners even with the way they dress and the food they eat, how much more their cultures and traditions? Up until now, the traditions that Bontocs and Ifugaos were used to years and years ago, before the Spaniards came, still are visible at some areas in the country.
2. Virtue of isolation from center of colonial power. Certain tribes isolated themselves from the center of colonial power. They might have lived up the mountains or anywhere else where the colonizers couldn’t rule over them. They have lived separate lives and instilled the traditions they had from their ancestors. The isolation of these tribes is a great help of us when we look for sample of oral lore that could possibly reflect pre-colonial literature since they still had it and were not influenced much (if they were ever influenced) by the colonizers in terms of literature.

The function of these oral cultures “…was to explain natural phenomena, past events and contemporary beliefs in order to make the environment less fearsome by making it more comprehensible and, in more instances, to make idle hours less tedious by filling them with humor and fantasy.” 
Some of the few examples of oral literature during the pre-colonial period:
1.      Folk epics – as described by Arsenio Manuel, folk epics are (a) narratives of a sustained length (b) based on oral tradition (c) revolving around supernatural events of heroic deeds; (d) in the form of verse; (e) which is either chanted or sung, (f) with a certain seriousness of purpose, embodying or validating the beliefs, customs, ideals of life-values of the people. Some of the famous folk epics in the Philippines were Lam-ang, Tuwaang, and Hinilawod. All of which shares the same characteristics a folk epic could have as said by Arsenio Manuel.
2.      Riddles and proverbs – they were the simplest forms of oral literature. Here is where the analogue, the metaphor or figure could be first seen. It was called talinghaga.
3.      Drama – this, however, did not yet existed as an oral literature before. Philippine theater before were just mere mimetic dances imitating the cycles and works of nature or anything they see around them. The Ch’along of the Ifugaos could be considered a full-fledged drama if this was combined with a plot.
Also, before the Spaniards came in the country, the early Filipinos already had a culture that seemed to be like the cultures of the Malays of Southeast Asia, Arabic, and possibly Chinese influences. The early Filipinos gave them a native Asian perspective which separates them away from the Western culture that the colonizers brought over from Europe. Meaning, the Philippines already had tradition and cultures similar to the neighboring countries even before the colonizers came.
*Literature under Spanish Colonialism
When the Spaniards came here in the Philippines, they instilled in the early Filipinos’ minds the importance of religion. The literature during the early years of the colonization of the Spanish was created under the Spanish power’s supervision.
Before the 19th century, there was already monopoly of printing presses by religious orders. Early written literature were mostly (if not all) those with religious content. The first book ever published by the Dominican’s printing press was Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine 1593). A few more years, the Franciscans, Jesuits, and Augustinians also put up their respective presses and printed catechism and confession manuals.
In the poem “May Bagyo Ma’t May Rilim”, we could see the pre-colonial influence in the poem as well as the Christian influence by the Spaniards. The anonymous author used the seven-syllable line, the monorime, and the talinghaga all of which could be found in the pre-colonial literary pieces. However, the theme itself is from the influence of the Spaniards. It uses turbulent nature imagery to affirm Christian heroism.
Spaniards made it a point to somehow give the oral literature a spray of Christianity, perhaps to please the early Filipinos but only a few of it were printed.
Spanish colonizers made more attention to catechism. And catechetical school was the highest form of education a common Filipino could have.  Also, there were Christian narrative poems that were made like Ang Mahal na Passion basically to replace the epic poems of the pagan past. Gradually, the Spaniards were changing the cultures, traditions, and the literary pieces that the early Filipinos had grown into and were already used to. They were starting to implement their own beliefs in the Philippines, starting with these Christian narrative poems.
Then different literary genre evolved. Then came the Pasyon, a permanent tribute to the Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon Natin (The Sacred Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord, 1704) Then Senakulo came. Senakulo is a stage play about the passion and death of Christ. Both the pasyon and the senakulo were tools for the colonizers to persuade the people to see Christ as a model of humility and submissiveness to religious and secular authority, and to look at him with respect. Komedya on the other hand, is a theatre genre which drew its plot from medieval Spanish ballads about highborn warriors and their colorful adventures for love and fame. Komedya’s function is to have Filipino viewers a glimpse of an idealized European society.
Francisco Baltazar, also known as Balagtas, became famous for his Florante at Laura, which I somehow found boring and hard to understand back in second year high school, perhaps because of the talinghaga used which is no more appealing to the 21st century readers. Perhaps during Balagtas’ time, it was a great hit and everyone loved it, but since it was in a versed form, I never really finished reading the whole book.
Anyway, Balagtas was highly praised because of this story, a story which is an example of a komedya. Most komedya was traditionally about Christians and Moors, they tackle basically the difference of the two religions and the war between them. However, Balagtas went over the plain religious war between Christians and Moors. His main concern in the story was the “…clash of human motives when men and their women are caught up in the turmoil of social disorder”
Growth of a Nationalist Consciousness
It never took that long when the Nationalist Consciousness grew. Middle class were provided with a complete educational system. From these middle class is where the great writers came from. One of these is Jose Rizal who wrote for a changing concept of “Filipino.” As we go over the different eras of literature in the Philippines, we realize that Filipinos write with a gradually changing purpose – purposes which were getting deeper and more sensible.
In Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, Rizal focused much on the characterization of his characters, perhaps to show and to relay effectively what he had wanted to say to his fellow Filipinos. Ibarra, I believe was a character a bit close to the personality of Jose Rizal since the former studied in a foreign country and came back in the Philippines, and wanted reformation, and that was close to the attitude of Jose Rizal. Rizal also focused much on the characters in the story than in the plot which could also be a good thing. Although the plot of the story was great, still there were chapters wherein it suggests a great focus or emphasize given to the characters.
However, in his second book entitled, El Filibusterismo, it had more political insight, which is a good window to the mind of Rizal. What does the author really think about the government?
Importance of Vernacular Language in Revolution
When the language used by the nationalist movement shifted from Spanish to Tagalog, it meant that the revolution had begun. Tagalog Even the Katipunan used the vernacular in Manila in that sense Filipinos would know how to put the things in action. Tagalog became a symbol of nationalism then, of unity.
Women in Philippine Literature
Women already existed as literary artists even before the 19th century. Women during those times gave a big contribution in the literary society by inventing riddles, proverbs, songs and tales but when the printing press came with the Spaniards, not a single poem or essay was printed under the credentials and the name of a woman.
Unlike male writers, they never talked about the national revolution in their literary pieces. Instead they tackled about their opinions and about married life. They tackled about their individual revolution within them. All these pieces, each in its own way, dramatize the constricted role of women in a society dominated by male.  
*Literature under U.S Colonialism
In spite of war threats, literature of protest continued during the early years of the American colonial regime. Anti- American plays were also made by some certain writers in the drama.
Time went by and the establishment of the American colonizers of the public educational system affected Philippine literature. English had been the medium of instruction, English had been used anywhere in the country, and even Filipino writers attempted to write using English language. Certain poets already used English as the medium for the poems and other literary pieces. The Spanish language was already decreasing value gradually.
The realistic mode that had begun in Rizal’s novels continued in stories, novels, and poems. They were critical about society and analytical over Filipino customs and manners. Later, it developed into confronting the problems of society and of the masses.
Other writers focused on the theme of love, and still other on the real self and even experimented on the free verse, as to how Alejandro G. Abadilla did it. These were learned from the romantic writers like T.S. Eliot. There had been several writers who sprung out during the U.S. Colonialism.

But still, only in the Philippine literature will one hear strongly protests against poverty and injustice, strains of current reality, and some more depression that sometimes lead to government issues.