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A Quick Look at the Fascinating History of Philippine Literature

History of Philippine Literature
Philippine literature has evolved from fables and prehistoric tales, to profound work on socio-political issues. The transition has been a part of the development of Hispanic writing systems and the integration of various languages in the pursuit of excellence.
Gaynor Borade
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Philippine literature had evolved much before colonization. It is full of legends and tales of colonial legacy. Mexican and Spanish dominance over the land and the people, over varying periods of time, witnessed the incorporation of English, Spanish, Filipino and native languages, to express ideology and opinion. Literature in the Philippines developed much later than in most other countries. Evidence reveals the use of a script called "Baybayin" that flourished in 1521. "Baybayin" was used to write about legends, in Luzon, during Spaniard domination.
Philippine Literature in Filipino
The literature of the Philippines before the advent of the Spaniards was predominantly a reflection of the indigenous culture and traditions of the land. The people of Manila and native groups within the Philippines used to write on bamboo and the arecaceae palm. They used knives for inscribing the ancient Tagalog script. The literature thus preserved was limited to the seventeen basic symbols of the language. With just three vowels and consonantal symbols that had predetermined, inherent sound, the literature handed down was in a 'raw' state and needed to be developed.

The Tagalog language script that was used initially to preserve and hand down literature, was limited to a diacritical mark or "kudlit" that further modified pronunciation and writing. The dot, line or arrow head was either placed above or below the symbol. The literature thus preserved has played a very important role in the public schooling arena and the rise of the educated class.

The colonization by Spain breathed a different kind of life into vernacular and Filipino literature. Spain brought about liberal ideas and a sense of internationalism to the people of Philippines, which was reflected in the popularity of chivalric heroic poems called "awit" and religious poems called '"corridos"'. Religious literature, biography of saints and folktales became the mainstay of vernacular literature during the early period of colonization.
Philippine Literature in Spanish
Philippine literature in Spanish can be broadly categorized into three stages or phases. The first phase was the time period when religious works as instructed by the colonial masters were spread throughout the land. In the early 17th century Tomas Pinpin published a book that attempted to translate Spanish to local Tagalog language. Thus paving the way for Filipinos to learn and understand the ways of the colonialists. This small event marked the beginning of increased learning and use of Spanish by local writers and authors. By the early 1800s many writers began to recognize the Philippines a separate entity from Spain and subsequently expressed their views and ideas through their works. Some prominent works of the time were, "El Paranaso Filipino", "Mare Magnum".

Literature in the Philippines was developed and preserved by native Filipino intellectuals. Isidro Marfori, Enrique Fernandez Lumba, Cecilio Apostol, Fernando Ma. Guerrero, Jesús Balmori, Flavio Zaragoza Cano and Francisco Zaragoza played a major role in the preservation of the stories handed down in time. Writers such as Castrillo, Fernandez, Rivera, Licsi and Estrada also spent a major part of their lives in the documentation of 'by-word-of-mouth' hand-downs. Columns and articles in newspapers such as "El Renacimiento", "La Vanguardia", "El Pueblo de Iloilo", "La Democracia" and "El Tiempo" kept the legacies alive in Spanish. In the later half of the 19th century, strong nationalistic and patriotic ideas began to flow around all of Philippines and an idea of a free Philippines, distinct from Spain was expressed by many writers and publications of that time. It was ironic that nationalism was propagated more through Spanish language instead of the local vernacular tongue. This era (1870 to 1903) saw the rise of national heroes like Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Marcelo H. Del Pilar and Pedro Paterno who contributed to important Spanish literary work in the Philippines by the way of various historical documents, revolutionary propaganda and nationalist articles. Philippine literature in Spanish was preserved well through private publications like '"Plaridel"' and the first Spanish newspaper '"El Boletín de Cebú"' and '"Flora Sentino"', by Orlando Agnes.

At the start of the 20th century the American control introduced English to the islands that brought about a significant change in the use of Spanish in Philippine literature. Further more, Japanese occupation during World War II and Commonwealth membership brought about a slow demise of Spanish and an emergence of English in the country's literature.
Philippine Literature in English
The emergence of Philippine literature in English can be traced back to the early 1900s after the Philippine-American War as English became the medium of teaching in educational institutions across the Philippines. The advent of missionaries and English educators led to the establishing of English newspapers and magazines which were short-lived. But the real impetus to English literature was provided by the founding of the magazines "Philippines Herald" and "Manila Tribune". These publications helped introduce authors like "Loreto Paras", "Jose Garcia Villa", "Casiano Calalang" to the reading public. The first quarter of the twentieth century proved to be the most favorable period for English literature in the Philippines and some of the famous publications of those times were: "A Child's Sorrow", "Many Voices", "The Wound and the Scar", "Literature and Society".

The advent of the Second World War and the subsequent Japanese occupation led most writers and authors to either go underground or write in Tagalog. Writing in English regained its earlier fervor and enthusiasm once the war was over and produced some famous writers like "Carlos Bulosan", "Alejandro Roces", "Francisco Arcellana", "Nick Joaquin". Later on in the 1960s the Philippine government also recognized writers in the form of awards and felicitations which still continue today.

Literary work now available includes articles on Spanish conquest, native cultural heritage, pre-colonial literature and traditional narratives. Another very interesting segment of Philippine literature includes inspiring speeches and songs. This segment has effectively maintained the mystifying characteristic of Philippine epics and folk tales. The narratives and descriptions of various magical characters, mythical objects and supernatural are surreal, distinctly adhering to the ideologies and customs of the natives.

Ethno-epics such as "Biag ni Lam-ang" or the Life of Lam-ang, "Agyu" or "Olahing", "Sandayo of Subanon", "Aliguyon, the Hudhud" and "Labaw Donggon" are great examples of assimilated styles and language variations. Today, Philippine literature reflects national issues through political prose, essay writing and novels. Novels by Jose Rizal, El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere patronize the revival of the rich folk traditions. Philippine literature is a uniting element among its people that encompasses a way of life and values cherished by the locals and will continue to evolve as enriched by modern changes.