Philippine Literature in Spanish

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Colonial Literature (16th-18th Century)

The arrival of the Spaniards in 1565 brought Spanish culture and language. The Spanish conquerors, governing from Mexico for the crown of Spain, established a strict class system that was based on race and soon imposed Roman Catholicism on the native population. Augustinian and Franciscan missionaries, accompanied by Spanish soldiers soon spread Christianity from island to island. Their mission was made easier by the forced relocation of indigenous peoples during this time, as the uprooted natives turned to the foreign, structured religion as the new center of their lives. The priests and friars preached in local languages and employed indigenous peoples as translators, creating a bilingual class known as ladinos.

The natives, called "indios", generally were not taught Spanish, but the bilingual individuals, notably poet-translator Gaspar Aquino de Belen, produced devotional poetry written in the Roman script in the Tagalog language. Pasyon, begun by Aquino de Belen, is a narrative of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which has circulated in many versions. Later, the Mexican ballads of chivalry, the corrido, provided a model for secular literature. Verse narratives, or komedya, were performed in the regional languages for the illiterate majority. They were also written in the Roman alphabet in the principal languages and widely circulated.

In the early seventeenth century a Tagalog printer, Tomas Pinpin, set out to write a book in romanized phonetic script, which would teach Tagalogs the principles of learning Castilian. His book, published by the Dominican press where he worked, appeared in 1610. Unlike the missionary's grammar (which Pinpin had set in type), the Tagalog native's book dealt with the language of the dominant rather than the subordinate other. Pinpin's book was the first such work ever written and published by a Philippine native. As such, it is richly instructive for what it tells us about the interests that animated Tagalog translation and, by implication, Tagalog conversion in the early colonial period. Pinpin construed translation in ways that tended less to oppose than to elude the totalizing claims of Spanish signifying conventions.

Classical Literature (XIX Century)

Classical literature (José Rizal, Pedro Paterno, Jesús Balmori, Huerta, Farolán, Licsi, Lumba, Castillo, etc.) and historical documents (the national anthem, Constitución Política de Malolos, etc.) were written in Spanish, which is no longer an official language. Nationalism was first propagated in the Spanish language, especially in the writings of Marcelo H. Del Pilar or "Plaridel" in the La Solidaridad publications. In Cebu, the first Spanish newspaper, El Boletin de Cebu, was published in 1886.


Modern Literature (XX Century)

Ironically, the greatest portion of Spanish literature by native Filipinos was written during the American commonwealth period, because the Spanish language was still predominant among the Filipino intellectuals. One of the country's major writers, Claro Mayo Recto, continued writing in Spanish until 1946. Other well-known Spanish-language writers, especially during the American period were Isidro Marfori, Cecilio Apostol (Pentelicas, 1941), Fernando Ma. Guerrero (Crisalidas, 1914), Gaspar Aquino de Belén, Flavio Zaragoza Cano (Cantos a España and De Mactan a Tirad) and others.

Among the newspapers published in Spanish were El Renacimiento, La Democracia, La Vanguardia, El Pueblo de Iloílo, El Tiempo and others. Three magazines, The Independent, Philippine Free Press and Philippine Review were published in English and Spanish.

In 1915, the local newspapers began publishing sections in English. Cebu had its share of writers in Spanish, most of whom flourished during the early decades of the century. Although their output would diminish in later years, José del Mar won a Zobel Prize (Premio Zobel) for his work Perfiles in 1965.

Notable writers in Spanish

Notable Spanish Works