The Evolution of Philippine Literature

de Guzman, Julie Kristine A.
CL 150
History of Philippine Literature
1.) Pre-Colonial Period
• The evolution of Philippine literature depended on the influences of colonization and the spirit of the
age. But before the change was done, indigenous Philippine literature was based on the given traditions
and customs of a particular area of the country. Of course, Philippines is an archipelago country,
consisting several islands, (7,107 islands to be exact). And each of those islands has their specifications
of cultures and traditions, bearing different set of native literature.
I find this particular idea exciting. Of course, I would really want to get a glimpse of what they call
“indigenous Philippine literature” during the pre-colonial period. It would really grant my intense
interest to know the many different faces of Philippine literature. What was the literature among the
Bisaya, Waray, Maranaw, to name a few.
• There were two literary forms during the pre-colonial period: written and oral literature. It’s really
awesome how native people thought of having an interactive learning system for children considering
the innocence they have in terms of civilization. Bugtong or riddle, for me, is an effective way to
inculcate the ability of logical thinking of a child. Since its main target is to improve the vision of the
child, of how he observes his surroundings and to make his mind work to find the right answer, I am
pretty sure the native Filipinos were good enough in terms of this. The use of the metaphor as the heart
of the riddle makes it very poetic and good to hear. And if any child at present isn’t even familiar of any
Filipino riddle, he should definitely call himself an alien, for real. It is a must.
The rest of the gang like salawikain or proverbs (they have seriously the sound to make me reflect its
hidden meaning through the good lines, and I like the fact that they provides good values), tanaga
(whose form makes it beautiful), and the epic (I don’t want to cram negativity here but I hate epic, those
involving powers and stuff) were the interesting written literature in the historic time.
• And about the oral literature, I find it very amusing in a way that they chant ambahan, songs about
nature or childhood, even during joking, drinking, and many other random chores. Oh, it will be best to
assume that they really do enjoy the literature they have. And this game whenever they attend funeral
wakes has a very mysterious impression to me. Well, I just hope they do won’t make the dead rise for
enjoying the game while on wake. The bayok is common for me but the balagtasan is what makes it
exciting. I love how “players” over an issue in a very poetic way of utterance.
• The concept of preserving oral literature amazes me so much. So how were they able to transmit it
verbally, I don’t want to know. They really had the memory skill to be able to do that. And as I found out,
they performed oral literature in favor of the illiterate.
• And of course, because of this indigenous literature, Philippines had represented the ethos and
identity of the country. Cool.
2.) The Spanish Colonial Period (1565-1897)
• 16th Century was the start of the deprivation of the indigenous Philippine literature. Spanish colonial
government finally got in the scene. They were able to manipulate literature by monopolizing it under
the religious orders. Literature evolves mainly on the themes of Spanish/ European culture and of
course, the Roman Catholic religion.
• As a proof of the influence of Spanish colonization, the first book ever printed in the Philippines is a
Christian Doctrine or Doctrina Christiana in 1593 by the Dominican press.
• Although they allowed Bienvido’s Lumbera’s “May Bagyo Ma’t May Rilim” be published, its Christian
content was set in the colonial context therefore, depriving the native context of the Filipinos during the
time. Spaniards were also, for me, trying to sugar coat their intention of using the Filipino writers in
Spanish to widen their colony by somewhat giving the Filipinos an indication that they were also
remembered. Taking Memorial de la vida Cristiana en la lengua tagala by Fernando Bagongbanta as an
example, though they writers provided Tagalog translations to the Spanish lines, still the superiority of
the Spanish language was indicated. It is never in the form, it’s always the content.
• I think that one of the literary form, pasyon, although it was also influenced by the Spanish context’s of
Christianity, at least they embodied several Filipino sentiments and values (the feeling of Filipino mother
towards a suffering son).
•I’ve always known that the terms pasyon and sinakulo go hand in hand and so I was kinda relieved
when I read that pasyon was derived from the drama sinakulo. And it’s kinda of amusing how they were
able to perform the pasyon chant in cooking for a special food. Maybe they needed guidance or
reflection while cooking? Pretty cool. Fortunately, I don’t cook.
• However, the once obedient Filipino writers in Spanish became conscious for the search for freedom.
That’s how the story always goes, anyway. The modern pasyon already discussed the themes of protest
and liberation -- the epic poem became interested in the social topic.
•Filipino writers are often deviating from the standards of what the society dictates. Marcelo H. del Pilar
was one. In his Pasyon Dapat Ipag-alab ng Puso, his rebellious writing style was identified. He wanted
Filipinos to ban themselves from the convent and banish Pascual Poblete’s Patnubay sa Binyagan. He
even associated Filipinos’ struggle for independence with Jesus’ life.
• Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo made a very powerful contributions among the
Filipinos the introduction of rejecting Spanish rule. He also influenced the succeeding writers.
• The narrative poems awit and corridor talked about world of royals, warriors and lovers (the basic
concept in Florante at Laura). They were once oral literature but later were printed in novena-sized
booklets. It was also the basis of the drama, komedya. Francisco Baltazar’s Florante at Laura embodied
the concept of colonization and oppression which gave voice to their revolutionary action towards
• Because of the Spanish colonization, it can be said that it gave way to the idea of opening the
nationalistic nature of the Filipinos through literature under the Spaniards (e.g. forced labor and the
execution of GOMBURZA priests).
3.) The American Colonial Period
• Philippine literature in Spanish was starting to lose its track on the first decade. And the Filipino
writers’ eyes were all focused to the American colonizers. It may sound cliché but I always agree that
“pen is mightier than sword.” Call me a person who needs life but it’s a noble thing. Protesting against
deprivation or oppression using literature is always awesome. And those anti-American plays written
by Filipino writers were wise actions. Truly, using one of the most influential aspect in the society,
media, is an easy way to start a revolution.
• The poems of Fernando Ma. Guerrero (Crisalidas), Balmori’s Se deshojo la flor novel , and many others
discussed revolution and sentiments for patriotism and reform prove that Philippine literature was
used to claim freedom from the colonizers.
• And although Filipinos revolted against English colonizer still, we shall be thankful that their American
insular government provided system so that Filipino learners might grasped a wide knowledge about
the English language. Through the languages, the secondary learner writers were able to relate their
experiences through writing. Philippine literature in English was more universal.
• Even if Philippine literature was in English, the preservation of the content for Filipino experiences
were achieved. Making it a “Filipino” still.
• Short story writers in English like Manuel Arguilla in his “A Son is Born,” was one of the foundations of
the Philippine literature, not in Tagalog or in Spanish, but during this time, in English. Poetry in English
were also founded. Sarsuwela was overpowered by English drama.
• However, deprivation of the usage of native languages in Philippine literature wasn’t the case, which
is a fortunate thing. Thanks to the people like Amado Yuzon in Pampanga [Buri Ku King Abalu Mu]
One’s mother tongue is always greater than any other second language learned.
Complementary Notes
Guide Questions:
1.) What are the earliest historical accounts of literary forms in the Philippines?
2.) Are there literary forms extant to this day? Where can we find them? Do Filipinos still produce these literary forms?
3.) How did writing in English develop? How did this affect Philippine literary production in other languages?
4.) What influences from British and American literatures are evident in Philippine writing in English?
5.) How can Philippine writing in English be considered “Filipino”?
[from Fernandez’s Panitikan: An Essay on Philippine Literature [1989].
•The evolution of Literature in the Philippines was affected by the country’s history.
Pre-colonial Period
(riddles and chant)
Spanish Colonial Period
(singing of pasyon)
Spanish Revolution
(novels and poems)
literature was used for
religious purposes
literature was used
to revolt against Spaniards
At Present
(usage of native languages and
in English in verses and prose)
FIGURE 1.0 Overview of the highlighted
literary form in specific period and their themes.
• Philippine literature today is mainly purposed for the “confirmation of shared ethos and national identity.”
The Evolution of Philippine Literature
1.) Pre-Colonial Period
•Indigenous Philippine literature was born in the ethnic community from people’s needs and customs.
Literary Forms
*Written Literary Forms
a.) bugtong (riddle)
- an affectionate game used for entertainment and for learning process
- the heart of the riddle is a metaphor, or talinghaga
- sharpens children’s observation about the surrounding world and its imaginative relationship giving
them a vision, a way of seeing
b.)proverb (salawikain)
- nugget of wisdom in rhyming verse
•Other forms brought fold verses of riddle and proverb to the level of poetry.
•Written riddle and proverb were written for several purposes:
a.) written around an idea or insight
b.) to teach a lesson
c.) to express a value or a view of the world
c.) tanaga – from Tagalog
- often in monoryhming heptasyllabic lines
- speaks of values, of strength in pain
d.) epic – linked tribal man and his gods
*Oral Literary Form
a.) ambahan – still chanted by the Mangyans
- songs about nature, childhood, human relationships, hospitality
- songs were inscribed on bamboo tubes
•Songs were active literature, giving rhythm to the activities of daily life:
- fishing or working in the field
- buying and selling food
- putting children to sleep
- joking and drinking
- celebrating marriage
- victory in the battle
mourning the dead
b.) duplo – verbal jousts/gmaes
- played at funeral wakes
c.) bayok – spoke of love
d.) balagtasan – debated in verse and in prose
- on stage, radio, or television
• Oral forms of Philippine literature
- spontaneous expression of a people, encasing their feelings and vision in words crafted by poets and
storytellers of the community
- transmitted and preserved orally
- product of tradition and folk
- represent the ethos of the people before it was tampered by colonization
Pre-colonial literature shows the Filipino as being rooted in the Southeast Asian cultural tradition.
2.) The Spanish Colonial Period (1565-1897)
•16th Century – the establishment of the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines
- brought to bear upon literature the influences of Spanish/European culture and the Roman Catholic
• prior to 19th Century – printing presses are being monopolized by religious orders
- early written literature was predominantly religious in content and/or in purpose:
- novenas, book of prayers, books of conduct, grammars and dictionaries for the use of friar
teaching religion to the natives
•Doctrina Christiana – Christian Doctrine, 1593
- first book in the Philippines
- printed by the Dominican press
• “May Bagyo Ma’t May Rilim” by Bienvenido Lumbera
- first printed literary work in Tagalog
-appeared in the book Memorial de la vida Cristiana en la lengua tagala (Guidelines of Christian Life
in Tagalog Language)
- the monoryhming heptasyllabic line [tanaga] and the homespun talinghaga a controlling boat-metaphor, link
the poem to oral pre-colonial poetry
- Christian content sets in the colonial context
• Memorial de la vida Cristiana en la lengua tagala
- also contains poems by San Jose and by the bilingual (ladino) poet Fernando Bagongbanta
- the ladino poems interwove lines in Spanish and the vernacular showing the confluence of the native and
colonizing cultures
sa lahat na bayan natin
detoda esta nuestra tierra
tagalong lines were simply translation
showed the ascendancy of the colonial language
*Written**Oral* Literature
a.) pasyon (narrative of Christ’s life and suffering)
- has been called a Christian folk epic; although its narrative comes from the Bible and Christian tradition,
the folk interpretation has imbued it with Filipino sentiments and values
- was traditionally sung and chanted in homes and chapels
- at present, only done in Holy Week (Good Friday) or cooking of special food or in teams as visitas
* Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong P. natin na Tola
(The Sacred Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord in Verse)
- first long work of “conscious design and careful composition”
- 1704, by Gaspar Aquino de Belen
- followed by pasyon in Tagalog and the major languages
* Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat
Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa
(An Account of the Sacred Passion of Jesus Christ Our Lord
which Should Inflame the Heart Anyone Who Reads It)
- most popular Tagalog pasyon
- also called Pasyong Pilapil (The Passion of Pilapil)
- also called Pasyong Hensis (Genesis Passion)
[because it started from the Creation of Adam and Eve
* sinakulo - derived from pasyon
- religious drama performed throughout Holy Week
modern pasyon – replaced the epic poem and became social epic
- protests and liberation themes
- the pasyon has obviously gone beyond its religious meaning
*Pasyon Dapat Ipag-alab ng Puso
(Passion that Should Inflame the Heart)
- Marcelo H. del Pilar
- 1887, warns the Filipino to avoid the convent and banish the friar Pascual Poblete’s
Patnubay ng Binyagan (Guide for the Baptized), 1935,
was written for the Aglipayan Church
- relates the life of Jesus to the Filipino struggle for Independence from America
* Pasiong Pilipino: Ang Buhay at Hirap ng Dakilang Martir na si Dr. Jose Mercado Rizal (Filipino
Passion: The Life and Suffering of the Great Martyr Dr. Jose Mercado Rizal)
- 1968, is a poem in pasyon form that shows Rizal as Christ reincarnated and as the
savior of the Malay race
*Si Kristo ay Rebelde (Christ is a Rebel)
- during the Marcos era, sees Christ as not meek and submissive, but a rebel for justice
b.) awit and corrido – are narrative poems that were sung and chanted while tending a carabao, or taking
vegetables to market, or putting a child to sleep.
- circulated as oral literature then later in small printed novena-sized booklets
- bases of the popular drama, komedya
- sang of a medieval European world of royals, warriors and lovers
* Florante at Laura
- written by Francisco Baltazar
- bore marks of aphorisms
- protest against colonization and oppression
- root of a tradition of Filipino nationalist literature
•Prose works in narrative mode directly dedicated to colonizing strategies and colonial ideals.
•In spite of the literature of colonization, national consciousness grew. (forced labor, eviction from lands, execution of
GOMBURZA priests)
•Royal Decree of 1863 – provided for complete educational system that led to produced writers who could and did use
Spanish for literary purposes rather than for religious purposes.
* Pedro Paterno’s collection of poems, Sampaguita, 1880, and his novel Ninay, 1885
- were insistently “Filipino”
-taking detours through native customs and traditions
* Ninay – the first Filipino novel ever written
* Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo
- have an impact on the consciousness of Filipinos beginning to reject Spanish rule and
influenced the succeeding writers
* Marcelo H. del Pilar’s essays in Spanish and articles in La Solidaridad
- significant contributions to the literary reform
- protests against colonial and friar rule
- “Plaridel”
• Late 19th century – Reformism was abandoned; th Revolution began.
• Literature of Revolution includes such works:
- “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” at “Ang Dapata Mabatid ng mga Tagalog” by Andres Bonifacio
- La Revolucion Filipina by Apolinario Mabini
- Liwanag sa Dilim by Emilio Jacinto
From Spanish colonial influences, the Philippine literature reached to its national and nationalistic purposes.
3.) The American Colonial Period
• Continuance of the literature of protest
• Several writers were arrested on charges of anti-American plays such as Tomas Remigio.
• In the first decade during the American colony, decline of Philippine literature in Spanish happened.
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