The LIT HANDOUT

THE LITERARY FORMS IN PHILIPPINE LITERATURE

by: Christine F. Godinez-Ortega

The diversity and richness of Philippine literature evolved side by side with the country’s history. This can best be appreciated in the context of the country’s pre-colonial cultural traditions and the socio-political histories of its colonial and contemporary traditions.

The average Filipino’s unfamiliarity with his indigenous literature was largely due to what has been impressed upon him: that his country was “discovered” and, hence, Philippine “history” started only in 1521.

So successful were the efforts of colonialists 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 and in the mass media.

The rousings 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.”

 

Pre-Colonial Times

Owing to the works of our own archaeologists, ethnologists and anthropologists, we are able to know more and better judge information about our 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 a rich past through their folk speeches, folk songs, folk narratives and indigenous rituals and mimetic dances that affirm our ties with our Southeast Asian neighbors.

The most seminal of these folk speeches is the riddle which is tigmo in Cebuano, bugtong in Tagalog, paktakon in Ilongo and patototdon in Bicol. Central to the riddle is the talinghaga or metaphor because it “reveals subtle resemblances between two unlike objects” and one’s power of observation and wit are put to the test. While some riddles are ingenious, others verge on the obscene or are sex-related:

Gaddang:

Gongonan nu usin y amam If you pull your daddy’s penis

Maggirawa pay sila y inam. Your mommy’s vagina, too,

(Campana) screams. (Bell)

The proverbs or aphorisms express norms or codes of behavior, community beliefs or they instill values by offering nuggets of wisdom in short, rhyming verse.

The extended form, tanaga, a mono-riming heptasyllabic quatrain expressing insights and lessons on life is “more emotionally charged than the terse proverb and thus has affinities with the folk lyric.” Some examples are the basahanon or extended didactic sayings from Bukidnon and the daraida and daragilon from Panay.

The folk song, 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 (Ilongo); love songs like the panawagon and balitao (Ilongo); 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 a tool 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) or the mambayu, a Kalinga rice-pounding song; the verbal jousts/games like the duplo popular during wakes.

Other folk songs are the drinking songs sung during carousals like the tagay (Cebuano and Waray); dirges and lamentations extolling the deeds of the dead like the kanogon (Cebuano) or the Annako (Bontoc).

A type of narrative song or kissa among the Tausug of Mindanao, the parang sabil, uses for its subject matter the exploits of historical and legendary heroes. It tells of a Muslim hero who seeks death at the hands of non-Muslims.

The folk narratives, i.e. epics and folk tales are varied, exotic and magical. 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, an explanation of the origins of things. Fables are about animals and these teach moral lessons.

Our country’s epics are considered ethno-epics because unlike, say, Germany’s Niebelunginlied, our epics are not national for they are “histories” of varied groups that consider themselves “nations.”

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. These are sung or chanted to the accompaniment of indigenous musical instruments and dancing performed during harvests, weddings or funerals by chanters. The chanters who were taught by their ancestors are considered “treasures” and/or repositories of wisdom in their communities.

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).

 

The Spanish Colonial Tradition

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. Spain also brought to the country, though at a much later time, liberal ideas and an internationalism that influenced our own Filipino intellectuals and writers for them to understand the meanings of “liberty and freedom.”

Literature in 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. Fernando Bagonbanta’s “Salamat nang walang hanga/gracias de sin sempiternas” (Unending thanks) is a fine example that is found in the Memorial de la vida cristiana en lengua tagala (Guidelines for the Christian life in the Tagalog language) published in 1605.

Another form of religious lyrics are the meditative verses like the dalit appended to novenas and catechisms. It has no fixed meter nor rime scheme although a number are written in octosyllabic quatrains and have a solemn tone and spiritual subject matter.

But among the religious poetry of the day, it is the pasyon in octosyllabic quintillas that became entrenched in the Filipino’s commemoration of Christ’s agony and resurrection at Calvary. Gaspar Aquino de Belen’s “Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon natin na tola” (Holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Verse) put out in 1704 is the country’s earliest known pasyon.

Other known pasyons chanted during the Lenten season are in Ilocano, Pangasinan, Ibanag, Cebuano, Bicol, Ilongo and Waray.

Aside from religious poetry, there were various kinds of prose narratives written to prescribe proper decorum. Like the pasyon, these prose narratives were also used for proselitization. Some forms are: dialogo (dialogue), Manual de Urbanidad (conduct book); ejemplo (exemplum) and tratado (tratado). The most well-known are Modesto de Castro’s “Pagsusulatan ng Dalawang Binibini na si Urbana at si Feliza” (Correspondence between the Two Maidens Urbana and Feliza) in 1864 and Joaquin Tuason’s “Ang Bagong Robinson” (The New Robinson) in 1879, an adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s novel.

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 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. These are colorful tales of chivalry from European sources made for singing and chanting such as Gonzalo de Cordoba (Gonzalo of Cordoba) and Ibong Adarna (Adarna Bird). There are numerous metrical romances in Tagalog, Bicol, Ilongo, Pampango, Ilocano and in Pangasinan. The awit as a popular poetic genre reached new heights in Balagtas’ “Florante at Laura” (ca. 1838-1861), the most famous of the country’s metrical romances.

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 gathered 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 if Rizal’s novels are political, the novel Ninay (1885) by Pedro Paterno is 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, this 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.

But the introduction of English as medium of instruction in the Philippines hastened the demise of Spanish so that by the 1930s, English writing had overtaken Spanish writing. During the language’s death throes, however, writing in the romantic tradition, from the awit and korido, would continue in the novels of Magdalena Jalandoni. But patriotic writing continued under the new colonialists. These appeared in the vernacular poems and modern adaptations of works during the Spanish period and which further maintained the Spanish tradition.

 

The American Colonial Period

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.

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. Despite the threat of censorship by the new dispensation, more writers turned up “seditious works” and popular writing in the native languages bloomed through the weekly outlets like Liwayway and Bisaya.

The Balagtas tradition persisted until the poet Alejandro G. Abadilla advocated modernism in poetry. Abadilla later influenced young poets who wrote modern verses 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 as 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 skills with 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).

The romantic tradition was fused with American pop culture or European influences in the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan by F. P. Boquecosa who also penned Ang Palad ni Pepe after Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield even as the realist tradition was kept alive in the novels by Lope K. Santos and Faustino Aguilar, among others.

It should be noted that if there was a dearth of the Filipino novel in English, the novel in the vernaculars continued to be written and serialized in weekly magazines like Liwayway, Bisaya, Hiligaynon and Bannawag.

The essay in English became a potent medium from the 1920’s to the present. Some leading essayists were journalists like Carlos P. Romulo, Jorge Bocobo, Pura Santillan Castrence, etc. who wrote formal to humorous to informal essays for the delectation by Filipinos.

Among those who wrote criticism developed during the American period were Ignacio Manlapaz, Leopoldo Yabes and I.V. Mallari. But it was Salvador P. Lopez’s criticism that grabbed attention when he won the Commonwealth Literay Award for the essay in 1940 with his “Literature and Society.” This essay posited that art must have substance and that Villa’s adherence to “Art for Art’s Sake” is decadent.

The last throes of American colonialism saw the flourishing of Philippine literature in English at the same time, with the introduction of the New Critical aesthetics, made writers pay close attention to craft and “indirectly engendered a disparaging attitude” towards vernacular writings — a tension that would recur in the contemporary period.

 

The Contemporary Period

The flowering of Philippine literature in the various languages continue especially with the appearance of new publications after the Martial Law years and the resurgence of committed literature in the 1960s and the 1970s.

Filipino writers continue to write poetry, short stories, novellas, novels and essays whether these are socially committed, gender/ethnic related or are personal in intention or not.

Of course the Filipino writer has become more conscious of his art with the proliferation of writers workshops here and abroad and the bulk of literature available to him via the mass media including the internet. The various literary awards such as the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, Home Life and Panorama literary awards encourage him to compete with his peers and hope that his creative efforts will be rewarded in the long run.

With the new requirement by the Commission on Higher Education of teaching of Philippine Literature in all tertiary schools in the country emphasizing the teaching of the vernacular literature or literatures of the regions, the audience for Filipino writers is virtually assured. And, perhaps, a national literature finding its niche among the literatures of the world will not be far behind.

SOURCE: Godinez, Christine O. The Literary Forms in Philippine Literature. downloaded on June 13, 2012 from the website http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Literature/literary_forms_in_philippine_lit.htm

 

THE LITERARY GLOSSARY

setting the time and place of the action in a story, poem, or play.

(authorial time is distinct from plot time and reader time, authorial time denotes the influence that the time in which the author was writing had upon the conception and style of the text.)
in medias res “in the midst of things”; refers to opening a story in the middle of the action, necessitating filling in past details by exposition or flashback.

flashback a plot-structuring device whereby a scene from the fictional past is inserted into the fictional present or dramatized out of order.

PLOT

plot/plot structure the arrangement of the action.

plot summary a description of the arrangement of the action in the order in which it actually appears in a story. The term is popularly used to mean the description of the history, or chronological order, of the action as it would have appeared in reality. It is important to indicate exactly in which sense you are using the term.

plot time the temporal setting in which the action takes place in a story or play.

PLOT STRUCTURE

exposition that part of the structure that sets the scene, introduces and identifies characters, and establishes the situation at the beginning of a story or play. Additional exposition is often scattered throughout the work.

rising action the second of the five parts of plot structure, in which events complicate the situation that existed at the beginning of a work, intensifying the conflict or introducing new conflict.

falling action the fourth part of plot structure, in which the complications of the rising action are untangled.

turning point the third part of plot structure, the point at which the action stops rising and begins falling or reversing. Also called climax.

conclusion the fifth part of plot structure, the point at which the situation that was destabilized at the beginning of the story becomes stable once more.

CHARACTER

character
(1) a fictional personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a work;
(2) a combination of a person’s qualities, especially moral qualities, so that such terms as “good” and “bad,” “strong” and “weak,” often apply.

major (main) characters those characters whom we see and learn about the most.

minor characters those figures who fill out the story but who do not figure prominently in it.

hero/heroine the leading male/female character, usually larger than life, sometimes almost godlike.

protagonist the main character in a work, who may be male or female, heroic or not heroic. protagonist is the most neutral term.

antagonist a neutral term for a character who opposes the leading male or female character. also the villain.

CHARACTERIZATION

characterization the fictional or artistic presentation of a fictional personage. A term like “a good character” can, then, be ambig-uous—it may mean that the personage is virtuous or that he or she is well presented regardless of his or her characteristics or moral qualities.

flat character a fictional character, often but not always a minor character, who is relatively simple; who is presented as having few, though sometimes dominant, traits; and who thus does not change much in the course of a story.

round characters complex characters, often major characters, who can grow and change and “surprise convincingly”—that is, act in a way that you did not expect from what had gone before but now accept as possible, even probable, and “realistic.”

stereotype a characterization based on conscious or unconscious assumptions that some one aspect—such as gender, age, ethnic or national identity, religion, occupation, marital status, and so on—is predictably accompanied by certain character traits, actions, even values.
persona and personality

persona the voice or figure of the author who tells and structures the story and who may or may not share the values of the actual author.

personality that which distinguishes or individualizes a person; its qualities are judged not so much in terms of their moral value, as in “character,” but as to whether they are “pleasing” or “unpleasing.”

narrator

narrator the character who “tells” the story.

first-person narrator a character, “I,” who tells the story and necessarily has a limited point of view; may also be an unreliable narrator.

second-person narrator a character, “you,” who tells the story and necessarily has a limited point of view; may be seen as an extension of the reader, an external figure acting out a story, or an auditor; may also be an unreliable narrator.

third-person narrator a character, “he” or “she,” who “tells” the story; may have either a limited point of view or an omniscient point of view; may also be an unreliable narrator.

The unreliable narrator
unreliable narrator a speaker or voice whose vision or version of the details of a story are consciously or unconsciously deceiving; such a narrator’s version is usually subtly undermined by details in the story or the reader’s general knowledge of facts outside the story. If, for example, the narrator were to tell you that Magellan was Spanish and that he discovered Manila in the fourteenth century when his ship Victoria landed on the coast of Boracay near present-day Palawan, you might not trust other things he tells you.

implied author the guiding personality or value system behind a text; the implied author is not necessarily synonymous with the actual author

voice the acknowledged or unacknowledged source of a story’s words; the speaker; the “person” telling the story.

Focus and point of view

focus the point from which people, events, and other details in a story are viewed. This term is sometimes used to include both focus and voice.

point of view also called focus; the point from which people, events, and other details in a story are viewed.
omniscient point of view also called unlimited point of view; a perspective that can be seen from one character’s view, then another’s, then another’s, or can be moved in or out of any character’s mind at any time. Organization in which the reader has access to the perceptions and thoughts of all the characters in the story.

limited point of view or limited focus a perspective pinned to a single character, whether a first-person-or a third-person-centered consciousness, so that we cannot know for sure what is going on in the minds of other characters; thus, when the focal character leaves the room in a story we must go, too, and cannot know what is going on while our “eyes” or “camera” is gone. A variation on this, which generally has no name and is often lumped with the omniscient point of view, is the point of view that can wander like a camera from one character to another and close in or move back but cannot (or at least does not) get inside anyone’s head and does not present from the inside any character’s thoughts.

unlimited point of view also called omniscient point of view; a perspective that can be seen from one character’s view, then another’s, then another’s, or can be moved in or out of any character’s mind at any time. Organization in which the reader has access to the perceptions and thoughts of all the characters in the story.

centered (central) consciousness a limited third-person point of view, one tied to a single character throughout the story; this character often reveals his or her inner thoughts but is unable to read the thoughts of others.

theme
(1) a generalized, abstract paraphrase of the inferred central or dominant idea or concern of a work;
(2) the statement a poem makes about its subject.

subject
(1) the concrete and literal description of what a story is about;
(2) the general or specific area of concern of a poem—also called topic; (3) also used in fiction commentary to denote a character whose inner thoughts and feelings are recounted
genre the largest category for classifying literature—fiction, poetry, drama.

motif a recurrent device, formula, or situation that deliberately connects a poem with common patterns of existing thought.

canon when applied to an individual author, canon (like oeuvre) means the sum total of works written by that author. When used generally, it means the range of works that a consensus of scholars, teachers, and readers of a particular time and culture consider “great” or “major.” This second sense of the word is a matter of debate since the literary canon in Europe and America has long been dominated by the works of white men. During the last several decades, the canon in the United States has expanded considerably to include more works by women and writers from various ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Tragedy a drama in which a character (usually a good and noble person of high rank) is brought to a disastrous end in his or her confrontation with a superior force (fortune, the gods, social forces, universal values), but also comes to understand the meaning of his or her deeds and to accept an appropriate punishment. Often the protagonist’s downfall is a direct result of a fatal flaw in his or her character.

high (verbal) comedy humor that employs subtlety, wit, or the representation of refined life.

low (physical) comedy humor that employs burlesque, horseplay, or the representation of unrefined life.

memory devices also called mnemonic devices; these devices—including rhyme, repetitive phrasing, and meter—when part of the structure of a longer work, make that work easier to memorize.

imagery broadly defined, any sensory detail or evocation in a work; more narrowly, the use of figurative language to evoke a feeling, to call to mind an idea, or to describe an object.

irony a situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant. See cosmic irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony.

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