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Words are effective navigators. They get me to all virtual points provided I set the parameters. For instance, google is currently searching 4,285,199,774 web pages. If I construct my search string as "Philippine literature", my database retrieves 5,360 materials. To narrow it down, I will have to deconstruct my topic into its main concepts, and concepts into synonyms. Thus, propositional tautology and interface programs bring me "Early Philippine Literature" (published by the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts, an institution created by Republic Act 7356, implicitly telling me the source is highly credible). In the article, Dr. Lilia Quindoza-Santiago discusses, among others, the kundiman of the Tagalogs, the dallot of the Ilocanos, and the laji of the Ivatans.[1] Having been musically influenced by my maternal grandparents, I am naturally acquainted with Nicanor Abelardo's Nasaan Ka Irog?, Francisco Santiago's Anak Dalita, and Francisco Buencamino's Mayon. The laji, however, is newfound knowledge for me. These ancient lyrical songs of the Ivatans of Batanes, relying heavily on symbolic imagery to convey native ethics, are sung by carriers averaging 70 years old.[2]

Going further north, I found out that the Yami tribe migrated from the Batanes islands to Irala, 45 nautical miles off the southeastern coast of Taiwan, 1,000-1,500 years ago. The languages spoken in the Batanes and on Irala are Bashiic, belonging to the Hesperonesian subgroup. Comparison of their folk narratives indicates common origin. Dr. Dezso Benedek hypothesizes that the enlarged-lung capacity of the Yami caused by regular diving resulted in their rhythmically recited oral heritage being transformed into chants called rawod and anohod. "In Ivatan, where diving slowly disappeared, the rahod chants also disappeared, and a new, more melodious oral form, the laji, took its place."[3]

From the laji, I am introduced to the ambahan of the Hanunoo Mangyans. These are "rhythmic poetic expressions with a meter of seven syllable lines and having rhythmic end-syllables. (They are) most often presented as a chant without a determined musical pitch or accompaniment by musical instruments. (Their) purpose is to express in an allegorical way, liberally using poetic language, certain situations or certain characteristics referred to by the one reciting the poem."[4] "Hanunoo" which means "truly, real, genuine", is a Meso-Philippine dialect with some 10,000 to 12,000 native speakers.[5] Its syllabaric use, dating back to at least the 10th century AD, has been retained through the ambahan. The neighboring Buhid Mangyans, also possessing a pre-Hispanic, Indic-derived script, have an urukay, another kind of Mangyan verse preferably chanted to the accompaniment of a homemade guitar, registered with the UNESCO Memory of the World Reading Room:

Kahoy-kahoy kot malago/ Kabuyong-buyong sing ulo/ Kaduyan-duyan sing damgu/ Dalikaw sa pagromedyu/ Singhanmu kag sa balay barku/ Anay umabut ka nimu.

Like a tree overgrown with branches/ My mind is full of turmoil/ Though loaded with pain and grief/ My dreams continually seek for an end,/ Let it be known that I am on my way/ Perchance you'll catch up with me.[6]

According to Dr. Macario D. Tiu, "Literature serves the entire community. The myths, epics, legends, and other artistic creations are community acts of imagining and appropriating. Literature proceeds from a worldview that unifies the community and reinforces community identity and loyalty. All artistic expressions are rooted in ... and are therefore familiar to and are easily understood by the entire community. The aim of literature is to unify, perpetuate, and advance the community ...

(Correspondingly), the balyan, a master poet skilled in using figurative devices rooted in her surroundings, ... clarifies what is strange or mysterious. She is the simplifier ... She familiarizes ... and communitizes things. That is the role of the poet."[7]

Thus, the balyan intones:

Papagimungonon mo/ Papagiyusonon mo/ Papagimukuon mo/ Papagilunggason mo Mosugawn gallo ng giuyuwall / L'ung naan, amangay nan sabitan. Mosugawn maguwall/ Amangay maynasang.

Harmonize it/ Play it as best as you can/ Be precise in your music-making/ Till you strum the final note/ May your music be like the giyuwall (basket design) / Your every attempt like the link in a chain/ Correct!/Exact.[8]

Tiu further surmises that "the difference between the language of literature and the language of ordinary speech arose from the need to memorize the myths, epics, and legends. These materials contain the community's history and religion that needed to be passed on, and which could only be done orally in preliterate societies".[9] Rev. Leonardo N. Mercado, on the other hand, points to the use of poetic language as a conflict-management tool among tribal and lowland Filipinos. The Subanens of Mindanao, for instance, use versed debate to settle issues: "Songs and verses are composed on the spot to carry on discussions in an operetta-like setting. Even unsettled litigation may be continued in this matter, the basis for decision being shifted from cogent argument to verbal artistry ... (This illustrates the Filipino inductive and geometric thought. Thus,) through the concrete and the poetic, the mind equally reaches the truth".[10]

As Filipinos, our ethics and thought patterns dictate the way we use words. We tend to shroud meanings in metaphors and allegories, mostly because we need to be heard without being offensive. This is why Filipinos can love, hurt, pray, and moralize 172 different ways (three of the listed Philippine languages are already extinct, though). Each language has a literary tradition nuanced with the passions and shared history of a community. I used to know only mine. From the virtual South, I am navigated back to port. My next task would be to verify details through the author. Not a very easy thing since author's contact details are not always matrix-visible. So I go the long route, and contact institutions which published the document. They, in turn, put me in touch with the author. This signals the beginning of the maieutic process. I can now write about home.


[1] Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, Early Philippine Literature [Online] (Manila: NCCA, 2002, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.ncca.gov.ph/culture&arts/cularts/arts/literary/literary-early.htm.

[2] From a study by Florentino H. Hornedo cited in Benedek, The Songs of the Ancestors [Online] (Taiwan: Southern Materials Center Inc., 1991, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.uga.edu/~asian-lp/jpn_html/yami/chapt2.html.

[3] Dezso Benedek, The Songs of the Ancestors: A Comparative Study of Bashiic Folklore [Online] (Taiwan: Southern Materials Center Inc., 1991, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.uga.edu/~asian-lp/jpn_html/yami/content.html.

[4] Antoon Postma, Treasure of a Minority: The Ambahan: a poetic expression of the Mangyans of Southern Mindoro, Philippines (Manila: Arnoldus Press, 1972); Introduction to Ambahan [Online] (Mindoro: Mangyan Heritage Center, 1981, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.mangyan.org/index.html.

[5] Ethnologue Report [Online] (Dallas: SIL, 2003, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=Philippines.

[6] Violeta B. Lopez, The Mangyans of Mindoro: An Ethnohistory (Quezon City: UP Press, 1976); Memory of the World Register [Online] (Paris: UNESCO, 1999, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.unesco.org/webworld/mdm/1999/eng/philippines/reading.html.

[7] Macario D. Tiu, The Ethnokinship Theory of Literature [Online] (Davao City: Mindanews, 2003, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.mindanews.com/culture/literature/papers/ethnokinship.shtml.

[8] Mga Awit at tugtuging Mandaya (audiotape), DEMS, 1989 cited in Tiu, The Ethnokinship Theory of Literature.

[9] Tiu, The Ethnokinship Theory of Literature.

[10] Leonardo N. Mercado, The Filipino Mind [Online] (Washington D.C.: CRVP, 1994, accessed 18 January 2004); available from http://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-8/contents.htm.

© Aileen Ibardaloza

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