poetry and other works

Merlie M. Alunan worked for her Masters Degree in English at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, majoring in Creative Writing and studying under Edilberto K. Tiempo. She was a writing fellow of the Silliman University National Summer Writers Workshop and the UP Creative Writing Center. Most of the poems collected in this blogsite are from her first book collection, Hearthstone, Sacred Tree. The other works have also been published in local newspapers and other publications.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Writing the National Literature (Why Warays Must Continue Writing in Waray)

More than a hundred years after Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and Francisco Baltazar’s Florante at Laura, how goes Philippine Literature? Racked as ever by schisms and controversies, and infected, no doubt, by the sociopolitical and economic ills plaguing the country.

Writers continue to grapple with certain pervading issues. To write in English or Filipino? Or to write in any of the 100 or so languages spoken across the islands, some of them by populations so small, they could only be found in an island one could cover on foot in, say, half a day, or in small remote towns of a few hundred houses.

The Myth of Isang Bansa, Isang Wika

Imaginably, we might have been overwhelmed a hundred years ago by our poly-lingual situation. Only Filipino and English, we ruled, to hasten national unity. Thus the anomaly of Isang bansa, isang diwa, isang bansa, isang wika became the catchword of the last fifty years. Cebuano, Warays, Ilonggos, Ilocanos, Pangasinenses, Pampangos, have not taken kindly to this rule. But resistance, by and large, have been weak. We have not had language wars, and so far, Filipino has over-run the airwaves north to south, east to west via radio, television and print without protest.

The dominance of English and Filipino has already been systematized in academe and in government. All the languages of the country have already been reduced to minority status—it remains for media to complete the rout. One might well ask, however, But aren’t all our other languages alive and well despite the dominance of English and Tagalog (or Filipino, if one is so minded to call it). Cebuanos continue to speak Cebuano, the Warays have not stopped using Waray, and occasionally Ilocano and Hiligaynon make it to some national ad on TV? You go to the places where these languages are spoken, to the market places, especially, and you will find these languages being used in the thick of the commerce. Doesn’t this prove that our languages are alive. Oh yes, but barely.

All that’s left of most of our languages are in these lively market scenes. Most of the songs and stories told in these languages are forgotten, or vaguely remembered or spoken about glibly or in tones of reverence though no one knows much about them anymore. Or if they are remembered at all, not much thought is being given to them. They have lost their value in the face of more immediate and popular attractions. After all, no self-respecting fan of River Maya or Parokya ni Edgar or Eminem or Sting would be caught dead singing Ahay, Kalisod except for a joke. Or for sentimentalism, in memory of a piece of anachronism for which one can no longer find any use in the contemporary lifestyle.

Economics of Scale

The economics of scale govern publications in general, whether of books or newspapers. It’s the argument very often used to boost English and Filipino—these are the national lingua franca, read and understood by majority in the countryside and used in academe, from the elementary level to graduate school. English and Filipino threaten to engulf all other literary productions in the country, north to south, east to west, as scholars, book writers and publishers undertake sporadic retrieval and translation of extant literature in the Philippine languages.

Language is one of the most sensitive issues in Philippine Literature today. What does Philippine Literature consist of? After almost a hundred years of concentration on English and Filipino, we are now saying what we should have said at the very start of our nationhood—Philippine Literature consists of all that have ever been thought and written by all Filipinos, no matter what language he/she uses.

The bodies of literature from the languages of our country comprise the entire body of our national literary heritage. Literature embodies our national memory. That explains the reverence we pay to the novels of Jose Rizal. These novels distil the memory of our people at that point in our history. In the process of devaluing the languages spoken in our countryside we are also devaluing the memories captured in these languages.

Writing the National Literature

In what language should the national literature be written? And who is to write it? Any language spoken by the people, anywhere in this country should be part of the national literature. Any Filipino, no matter what language he uses, may write the national literature. One among us, using the language closest to our soul, will write the piece that will reflect the spirit of our race.

If the work happens to be in English or Filipino, well and good. If the work happens to be written in Ilocano or Cebuano, or Hiligaynon, it is no less for being so. We are obliged as Filipinos to know as much of our country as possible, including learning as many of the languages spoken from end to end of our archipelago, without prejudice. That is part of the “rich cultural heritage” we are so proud to talk about.

Language displays the rhythms, the tones, the attitudes of our people. In the variations of our languages are refracted the diversity of our nature as a people. This diversity is part of who we are and what we are, and we cannot be unified until we embrace it as a distinct part of our nationhood. We can only fully appreciate the genius of our race if we begin sharing the collective memory of our people with understanding and pride. Jose Rizal wrote the sad annals of our awakening to national consciousness. So far his two books, the Noli and the Fili form the foundation of our collective memory.

But there are many more pages to discover, in the many tongues spoken across our seven thousand islands. To discover the national soul which is our common birthright, we have to read beyond Rizal. More than that, we have to continue collecting that memory, writing in the languages by which we live our day to day experiences. That is why Warays must continue writing in Waray, in the tradition began by their ancestors, continued by such lovers of the language as Iluminado Lucente, Eduardo Macabenta Sr., Pablo Rebadulla, Francisco Aurillo, Casiano Tinchera, Vicente de Veyra, and many others.

To continue writing in Waray is to contribute to the growth of the National Literature.

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