Friday, January 27, 2017

Unexplored Regions (Essay on Literature from Philippine Regions)

by Beverly W. Siy and Ronald V. Verzo II

And you think you know your country very well. Like the contour of your body, as you stand naked in front of a mirror, you think you know its every line and shape, its very feel. But there are still things you’ve got to explore.

Travel they say brings you to experience the country and its people. But, seriously, not everything is experienced by just being there physically. Reading reaches minds of people you have yet to meet.

That’s why I want more books from the regions. Books that will speak to me of what is happening in that part of the country. There’s a big difference when locals write from their own points of view; we get to view things from their own lenses, we hear their stories straight from their own lips, their own minds.

The Philippine government leads the way to help the regions produce books. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) or the Commission on the Filipino Language launched the Books of the Nation program which has released publications such as:
Bayung Sunis (Bagong Tinig) Poesias nang Zoilo Hilario (2015), a book of poetry and a short play by the Kapampangan writer Hilario, with translations into Filipino and edited by Dr. Lucena Samson, it tackles romantic love and love for the country;

An Satuyang Kakanon sa Aroaldaw: Mga RawitDawit sa Manlainlain na Bikol at Salin sa Filipino (2015), a poetry book in Bicol with Filipino translations by Kristian Sendon Cordero;

Dandaniw Ilokano 1621-2014 (2015), a poetry book by writers from the Northern Philippines, edited by Dr. Junley Lazaga;

and, Pagdakep sa Ilahas (2015), a collection of new works in Kinaray-a, a Visayan language, edited by John Iremil Teodoro.

Released solely by the NCCA in 2014 is Pinatubo at Iba pang Tula, a poetry book in Bicol and Filipino by Loreta Tariman, which adds to Bicol’s healthy production of literature.

Publications from the regions also serve as solution to a problem. My friend Lourdes Zorilla-Hinampas, who happens to be the Officer-in-Charge of the Sangay ng Literatura at Araling Kultural of the KWF shared that, “It was very challenging for teachers under Mother Tongue-Based-Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) to teach language and literature from their own regions. There was a lack of source materials.” Lourdes said it also didn’t help that most teachers did not know their own region’s literature very well because literary books mainly came from the National Capital Region (NCR) and were written in Filipino and English. To address these problems, KWF organized seminars to educate teachers and help them appreciate literary works from their own region and other regions, as well.

NCCA aims to produce publications through its project Kuwentong Supling. The seminar component of Kuwentong Supling was held in August 13-14, 2016 in various venues all over the country. The seminars emphasized increased inclusion of local heritage in lesson content in subject areas that are deemed appropriate and taught the development of lesson and localized materials for MTB-MLE subjects in seven major languages: Iloko, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Bikol, Waray, Tagalog and Ilonggo.

In the last quarter of 2016, the Cultural Center of the Philippines released the 39th issue of its literary journal Ani. It boasted of works written in Ilokano, Akeanon, Bikol, Bikol-Naga, Chavacano, and Kinaray-a with translations in either Filipino or in English.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) organized Workshop on the Formulation of Sama-Bajau Story Books in Antipolo City last May 2016. The participants were Sama-Bajau youth and parents from Cabanatuan, Manila, Taguig and Paranaque. They were joined by social workers, community organizers and day care/activity center workers from the said cities. With Balangay Productions, a Manila-based multi-media production company, the participants were able to produce 39 manuscripts of storybooks designed for Sama-Bajau children.

One of the best outputs from the workshop tackles the story of three pearl divers who, upon realizing the damage caused by environmental problems in the production of pearls, planted mussah (mollusks) on the seabed with the hope that they’ll be able to breed more pearls. The story highlights the diving skills of Sama-Bajau children who, even at the tender age of three, can already dive to a depth of ten feet.

Another remarkable story is about a batong buhay, a white stone that has long been believed to possess life. A Sama-Bajau woman brought a stone from the beaches of Zamboanga to her new found home in the streets of another town. The stone brings her memories of a home faraway. But she finds serenity to see the stone as a decoration in the small flower garden that borders her home. The story mirrors the feelings of the Sama-Bajaus on migration and their displacement from the seascape of Zamboanga which they long so dear.

According to Elma Solis-Salamat of DSWD’s Social Technology Bureau, there are plans to publish at least four of the storybooks through DSWD as part of Sama-Bajau Localized Intervention and Learning Approach for Holistic Improvement (SALINLAHI). It is a community-based project that shall pilot-test Culture-based approach Early Childhood Care and Development as a social welfare and development model of intervention for implementation in Sama-Bajau Activity Centers located at Region III and the NCR.

There are also non-government efforts responsive to the need to publish printed and digital books from the regions.

Ateneo de Manila University Press released Susumaton Oral Narratives of Leyte (2016) edited by Visayan writer Merlie M. Alunan. It features stories about mystery and magical places, strange and magical people like aswang, higante, engkanto, and mysterious and magical events such as a perilous wood-gathering adventure, and a mother's strange horrifying death. Highlighted are legends, war memories, gossip and cautionary tales, and scatological tales such as a parrot who pretended to be Christ.

In 2014, the University of the Philippines (UP) Press launched the first book of the series, “Tikum Kadlum” (Enchanted Hunting Dog) in Iloilo City. The oral literature of indigenous peoples also known as Panay Bukidnon from the mountains of the four Provinces of Panay—Antique, Aklan, Capiz, and Iloilo—were recorded by anthropologist Dr. Alicia T. Magos. Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee for Epic Literature in 2000 Mr. Federico Caballero is one of the primary sources. In its foreword, Magos emphasized that the book that took 20 years to make “is a work of legacy which shows that the wisdom and gifting of God is distributed equally to all men in all places regardless of race and status in life.”

New Day Publisher launched Dr. Ma. Cecilia Locsin-Nava’s English translation of Shri-Bishaya (2015), a historical novel by Ramon Muzones. He used the novel to comment on the state of the nation during Marcos regime. The book is also available at, the digital bookstore of Vibal Group of Companies.

Museo Sang Bata sa Negros launched a series of bookmaking workshops for teachers in Bacolod City, Sagay City and the municipality of Manapla. It has produced mock ups of more than a hundred storybooks for the children of Negros Occidental.

Since 2013, Almayrah Tiburon, a professor and creative writer from Mindanao State University Marawi Campus, has been independently releasing her works about Meranaw people and culture. Her books, Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, are compilation of horror stories available in print and digital forms. According to Miss Tiburon, Meranaw writers like her are very eager to respond to the needs of MTB-MLE. She digs from her own pocket for the printing expenses. It is her way of introducing her works and increasing her chances to be included in various textbooks. She prays that her works reflect the value Meranaw people give to their arts and culture.

Imagine an active book production from local communities in different regions of the country. Look at that naked body you think you know so well, your country, now you realize there are more ways to explore those curves, through ways you haven’t touched before. Imagine those minds you have yet to read.

KWF is the official regulating body of the Filipino language and the official government institution tasked with developing, preserving, and promoting various local Philippine languages.

NCCA is the overall policy making body, coordinating, and grants giving agency for the preservation, development and promotion of Philippine arts and culture.

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