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Culture, Literature

Jose Garcia Villa, Carlos Bulosan, Filibusterismo, Nick Joaquin, Florante

The indigenous literature of the Philippines developed primarily in the oral tradition in poetic and narrative forms. Epic poems, legends, proverbs, songs, and riddles were passed from generation to generation through oral recitation and incantation in the various languages and dialects of the islands. The epics were the most complex of these early literary forms. Most of the major tribal groups developed an original epic that was chanted in episodic segments during a variety of social rituals. One common theme of the epics is a hero who is aided by benevolent spirits. The epics that have survived are important records of the ancient customs of tribal society before the arrival of Islam and Christianity.

After the arrival of the Spanish, Catholic missionaries employed indigenous peoples as translators, creating a bilingual class known as ladinos. These individuals, notably poet-translator Gaspar Aquino de Belen, produced devotional poetry written in the Roman script, primarily in the Tagalog language. Later, the Spanish ballad of chivalry, the corridor, provided a model for secular (nonreligious) 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.

Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar, generally considered the first major Filipino poet, wrote poems in Tagalog. His best-known work, Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura), probably written between 1835 and 1842, is an epic poem that subversively criticizes Spanish tyranny. This poem inspired a generation of young Filipino writers of the new educated class, or ilustrados, who used their literary talents to call for political and social reform under the colonial system. These writers, most notably Jose Rizal, produced a small but high-quality body of Philippine literature in Spanish. Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), published in 1886, and its sequel, El Filibusterismo (The Subversive), published in 1891, helped to shape a new, nationalist identity during the last years of the 19th century.

The transfer of the Philippines to United States control in 1898 resulted in a dramatic increase in literacy and, consequently, literary production. A variety of new literary journals began to be published. English-language Filipino novels, short stories, and poems were first published in book form in the 1920s. Many Filipino authors have had distinguished writing careers. Their works typically explore the Filipino cultural identity in the context of social and political issues. Filipino authors often write in more than one literary form and in more than one language. Major English-language works include Winds of April (1940) and The Bamboo Dancers (1959) by N. V. M. Gonzalez; Many Voices (1939) and Have Come, Am Here (1942) by Jose Garcia Villa; You Lovely People (1955) and Scent of Apples and Other Stories (1980) by Bienvenido N. Santos; The Laughter of My Father (1944) and America Is in the Heart (1946) by Carlos Bulosan; Bitter Country and Other Stories (1970) by Rosca Ninotchka; The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1972) and A Question of Heroes (1977) by Nick Joaquin; The God Stealer and Other Stories (1968) and Tree (1978) by Francisco Sionil Jose; A Question of Identity (1973) by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil; and His Native Coast (1979) by Edith L. Tiempo.

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