Philippine Literature is a diverse and rich group of works that has evolved side-by-side with the country’s history. Literature had started with fables and legends made by the ancient Filipinos long before the arrival of Spanish influence. The main themes of Philippine literature focus on the country’s pre-colonial cultural traditions and the socio-political histories of its colonial and contemporary traditions.
It is not a secret that many Filipinos are unfamiliar with much of the country's literary heritage, especially those that were written long before the Spaniards arrived in our country. This is due to the fact that the stories of ancient time were not written, but rather passed on from generation to generation through word of mouth. Only during 1521 did the early Filipinos became acquainted with literature due to the influence of the Spaniards on us. But the literature that the Filipinos became acquainted with are not Philippine-made, rather, they were works of Spanish authors.
So successful were the efforts of colonists to blot out the memory of the country's largely oral past that present-day Filipino writers, artists and journalists are trying to correct this inequity by recognizing the country's wealth of ethnic traditions and disseminating them in schools through mass media.
The rise of nationalistic pride in the 1960s and 1970s also helped bring about this change of attitude among a new breed of Filipinos concerned about the "Filipino identity."
Archaic Writing System
Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines has very few artifacts that show evidence of writing, like the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. It is known that the Filipinos transferred information by word of mouth so it is not a surprise to know that literacy only became widespread in 1571 when the Spaniards came to the Philippines. But the early script used by the Filipinos called Baybayin (often mistaken by most Filipinos as "Alibata", although this was deprived from Arabic, which had no influence on the Philippine language whatsoever.) became widespread in Luzon.
The Spaniards recorded that people in Manila and other places wrote on bamboo or on specially prepared palm leaves, using knives and styli. They used the ancient Tagalog script which had 17 basic symbols, three of which were the vowels a/e, i, and o/u. Each basic consonantal symbol had the inherent a sound: ka, ga, nga, ta, da, na, pa, ba, ma, ya, la, wa, sa, and ha.
A diacritical mark, called kudlit, modified the sound of the symbol into different vowel sounds. The kudlit could be a dot, a short line, or even an arrowhead. When placed above the symbol, it changed the inherent sound of the symbol from a/e to i; placed below, the sound became o/u. Thus a ba/be with a kudlit placed above became a bi; if the kudlit was placed below, the symbol became a bo/bu.
Owing to the works of our own archaeologists, ethnologists and anthropologists, we are able to know more and better judge information about Philippine pre-colonial times set against a bulk of material about early Filipinos as recorded by Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and other chroniclers of the past. Pre-colonial inhabitants of our islands showcase the Philippines' rich past through their folk sayings, folk songs, folk narratives and indigenous rituals and mimetic dances.
The most seminal of these folk sayings is the riddle which is tigmo in Cebuano, bugtong in Tagalog, paktakon in Ilonggo and patototdon in Bicol. There are also proverbs or aphorisms that express norms or codes of behavior, community beliefs or values by offering nuggets of wisdom in short, rhyming verse.
The folk song, is a form of folk lyric which expresses the hopes and aspirations, the people's lifestyles as well as their loves. These are often repetitive and sonorous, didactic and naive as in the children's songs or Ida-ida (Maguindanao), tulang pambata (Tagalog) or cansiones para abbing (Ibanag).
A few examples are the lullabyes or Ili-ili (Ilonggo); love songs like the panawagon and balitao (Ilonggo); harana or serenade (Cebuano); the bayok (Maranao); the seven-syllable per line poem, ambahan of the Mangyans that are about human relationships, social entertainment and also serve as tools for teaching the young; work songs that depict the livelihood of the people often sung to go with the movement of workers such as the kalusan (Ivatan), soliranin (Tagalog rowing song), the mambayu, a Kalinga rice-pounding song, and the verbal jousts/games like the duplo popular during wakes.
The folk narratives, such as epics and folk tales are varied, exotic and magical. They were created to explain the phenomena of the world long before science came to be known. They explain how the world was created, how certain animals possess certain characteristics, why some places have waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains, flora or fauna and, in the case of legends, the origins of things. Fables are about animals and these teach moral lessons.
The epics come in various names: Guman (Subanon); Darangen (Maranao); Hudhud (Ifugao); and Ulahingan (Manobo). These epics revolve around supernatural events or heroic deeds and they embody or validate the beliefs and customs and ideals of a community. They are performed during feasts and special occasions such as harvests, weddings or funerals by chanters.
Examples of these epics are the Lam-ang (Ilocano); Hinilawod (Sulod); Kudaman (Palawan); Darangen (Maranao); Ulahingan (Livunganen-Arumanen Manobo); Mangovayt Buhong na Langit (The Maiden of the Buhong Sky from Tuwaang--Manobo); Ag Tobig neg Keboklagan (Subanon); and Tudbulol (T'boli).
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.
While it is true that Spain subjugated the Philippines for more mundane reasons, this former European power contributed much in the shaping and recording of our literature. Religion and institutions that represented European civilization enriched the languages in the lowlands, introduced theater which we would come to know as komedya, the sinakulo, the sarswela, the playlets and the drama.
The natives, called indio, 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.
Literature from this period may be classified as religious prose and poetry and secular prose and poetry.
Religious lyrics written by ladino poets or those versed in both Spanish and Tagalog were included in early catechism and were used to teach Filipinos the Spanish language. Another type of religious lyrics is the meditative verse like the dalit appended to novenas and catechisms. It has no fixed meter nor rhyme scheme although a number are written in octo-syllabic quatrains and have a solemn tone and spiritual subject matter.
Secular works appeared alongside historical and economic changes, the emergence of an opulent class and the middle class who could avail of a European education. This Filipino elite could now read printed works that used to be the exclusive domain of the missionaries.
The most notable of the secular lyrics followed the conventions of a romantic tradition: the languishing but loyal lover, the elusive, often heartless beloved, the rival. The leading poets were Jose Corazon de Jesus (Huseng Sisiw) and Francisco Balagtas. Some secular poets who wrote in this same tradition were Leona Florentino, Jacinto Kawili, Isabelo de los Reyes and Rafael Gandioco.
Another popular type of secular poetry is the metrical romance, the awit and korido in Tagalog. The awit is set in dodecasyllabic quatrains while the korido is in octosyllabic quatrains. An example of this is the Ibong Adarna (Adarna Bird). There are numerous metrical romances in Tagalog, Bicol, Ilonggo, Pampango, Ilocano and in Pangasinan. The awit as a popular poetic genre reached new heights in Balagtas's Florante at Laura (ca. 1838-1861), the most famous of the country's metrical romances.
Classical Literature (XIX Century)
Again, the winds of change began to blow in 19th century Philippines. Filipino intellectuals educated in Europe called ilustrados began to write about the downside of colonization. This, coupled with the simmering calls for reforms by the masses inspired a formidable force of writers like Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Mariano Ponce, Emilio Jacinto and Andres Bonifacio. This led to the formation of the Propaganda Movement where prose works such as the political essays and Rizal's two political novels, Noli Me Tangere and the El filibusterismo helped usher in the Philippine revolution resulting in the downfall of the Spanish regime, and, at the same time planted the seeds of a national consciousness among Filipinos.
But before Rizal's political novels came, the novel Ninay (1885) by Pedro Paterno, which was largely cultural and is considered the first Filipino novel. Although Paterno's Ninay gave impetus to other novelists like Jesus Balmori and Antonio M. Abad to continue writing in Spanish, their efforts did not flourish.
Other Filipino writers published the essay and short fiction in Spanish in La Vanguardia, El Debate, Renacimiento Filipino, and Nueva Era. The more notable essayists and fictionists were Claro M. Recto, Teodoro M. Kalaw, Epifanio de los Reyes,Vicente Sotto, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Rafael Palma, Enrique Laygo (Caretas or Masks, 1925) and Balmori who mastered the prosa romantica or romantic prose.
Modern Literature (XX Century)
A new set of colonizers brought about new changes in Philippine literature. New literary forms such as free verse [in poetry], the modern short story and the critical essay were introduced. American influence was deeply entrenched with the firm establishment of English as the medium of instruction in all schools and with literary modernism that highlighted the writer's individuality and cultivated consciousness of craft, sometimes at the expense of social consciousness.
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.
Among the newspapers published in Spanish were El Renacimiento, La Democracia, La Vanguardia, El Pueblo de Iloilo, El Tiempo and others. Three magazines, The Independent, Philippine Free Press and Philippine Review were published in English and Spanish.
The poet, and later, National Artist for Literature, Jose Garcia Villa used free verse and espoused the dictum, "Art for art's sake" to the chagrin of other writers more concerned with the utilitarian aspect of literature. Another maverick in poetry who used free verse and talked about illicit love in her poetry was Angela Manalang-Gloria, a woman poet described as ahead of her time.
The Balagtas tradition persisted until the poet Alejandro G. Abadilla advocated modernism in poetry. Abadilla later influenced young poets to write modern verse in the 1960s such as Virgilio S. Almario, Pedro I. Ricarte and Rolando S. Tinio.
While the early Filipino poets grappled with the verities of the new language, Filipinos seemed to have taken easily to the modern short story like those published in the Philippines Free Press, the College Folio and Philippines Herald. Paz Marquez Benitez's "Dead Stars," published in 1925, was the first successful short story in English written by a Filipino. Later on, Arturo B. Rotor and Manuel E. Arguilla showed exceptional skill in the short story.
Alongside this development, writers in the vernaculars continued to write in the provinces. Others like Lope K. Santos, Valeriano Hernandez Peña and Patricio Mariano were writing minimal narratives similar to the early Tagalog short fiction called dali or pasingaw (sketch).
Literature by languages
- Cebuano literature
- Hiligaynon literature
- Ilokano literature
- Tagalog literature
- Waray literature
- Philippine Poetry
- Philippine Literature in English
- Philippine Literature in Filipino
- Philippine Literature in Spanish
- Jose Rizal
- Marcelo H. Del Pilar
- Carlos P. Romulo
- Francisco Balagtas
- Amado V. Hernandez
- Carlos Bulosan
- Teodoro M. Locsin
- Claro M. Recto
- Noli Me Tangere
- El Filibusterismo
- Biag ni Lam-ang
- Ibong Adarna
- Florante at Laura
- Doctrina Christiana
- Godinez-Ortega, Christie F. “The Literary Forms in Philippine Literature.” Seasite. http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Literature/literary_forms_in_philippine_lit.htm (accessed on October 29, 2007)