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READING AND PILIPINO LITERATURE



By Rene Calalang
Scarborough-Canada
March 13, 2017

 
 


MY other interest besides writing is reading. Reading and writing, in my opinion, supplement each other. I believe that to be a good writer, you should be an avid reader. To be a good writer, you need a lot of knowledge, and there is no better way to obtain knowledge than through reading.

Here in the Greater Toronto Area (and perhaps in many other cities in North America and to a lesser extent in Europe), there is no excuse for not be able to read the subject of your interest, as through public libraries, there is an abundance of available material like books, magazine and other periodicals in all kinds of subjects in different languages, including Pilipino, which are available in many, but not in all libraries.

And of course, there is the Internet that will provide you with an unending supply of many compressed information on any subject you are interested with.

But my preference for reading has changed, and I call it catching up or looking back. I will say that I am different from many Filipino-Canadians especially when I compared myself to those who had been here a long time, as after living in Canada the last forty five years, I decided to learn more about Pilipino Literature, and this means reading novels, collection of short stories, poems, essays…etc, written by Filipino authors both in English and Pilipino languages.

But why? You may ask. Because literature is the soul of any nation and knowing the Pilipino Literature is understanding the soul of the Filipino people.

I had read many literary works about Pilipino Literature, but a lot more needed to be read. Along the way, I took notes on some of my favourites, and promised myself, through this article, to share them with others.

HERE are some of my recommended readings:

Reading the books authored by Rizal like his famous two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are, in my opinion, excellent choices as these books will give us a glimpse of the life of the oppressed and exploited Filipinos during the Spanish time, as well as how religion was used by the friars for the exploitation of the Filipinos.

These two books were so representative of the actual situation during that time, that the Spanish colonial government tagged them as radical and were banned from publication, as well as entry into the Philippines.

Reading these books, will, in my view, give us an idea why we have some of the problems we have now, and an understanding that some of the roots of these problems were planted during the Spanish colonial era.

If you like these two books, and if you want to read more of Rizal’s writings whether it be essays, short stories, prose, poetry, poems, political writings and his correspondence to members of his family and friends, well, they are compiled and published as books and pamphlets for the public to read, and hopefully to learn from them.

Where can you get them, you may ask? Well, I bought my copies during my visits to Rizal’s museum in Fort Santiago and from Rizal’s ancestral home in Calamba, Laguna.

To get you started about Rizal’s other writings, and perhaps to arouse your interest even more, I recommend that you start with some of my favourites:

“In Honor of two Filipino Painters” – a speech in Madrid, Spain on June 25, 1884 in a banquet honoring great Filipino painters, Juan Luna and Felix Ressurection Hidalgo for their paintings that won gold and silver medal in 1884 at Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts – “Spoliarium” for Juan Luna and “Christians Virgins Exposed to the Populace” by Felix Ressurection Hidalgo. Note that Spoliarium and many other Juan Luna paintings are displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts (The old Philippine Congress); while since 2015, on a five-year loan, a copy (the original was destroyed in a fire at the University of Valladolid) of “Christians Virgins Exposed to the Populace” is on display at National Gallery Singapore as part of Southeast Asian Art Galleries.

Try reading also “Letter to the Women of Malolos” – a letter requested by Rizal’s compatriot, Marcelo H. del Pilar, praising the Twenty Women of Malolos for their courage in asking the governor general to allow them to build a school in Malolos so that they would be able to learn Spanish. Yes Virginia, this was how we were kept in the dark – by not letting the Filipinos to have knowledge of the official language where government business was conducted.

In poetry, you can start with these three famous poems: “My Last Farewell,” a poem written the night before his execution and given to his sister, Narcisa, by hiding it on a kerosene lamp; “To the Philippine Youth,” his prize winning entry in the Literary Contest sponsored by Liceo Artistico Literario de Manila in 1879, in which he encouraged the Filipino youth to pursue their artistic talents; and “Our Mother Tongue,” where one could sense, how at a very tender age of eight, how much Rizal loved his country.

For me, the writings I recommended are just introductions, call it appetizers if you will, for it won’t be difficult to get hooked into the work of a genius. 
For me, and most likely to others too, reading Rizal’s writings would be such an experience of admiration, for one could sense the feeling of a man dedicated to the welfare of his country and his people, that he was willing to make the supreme sacrifice for his cause.

IN POETRY, Florante at Laura, written by a great Bulakeno, Francisco Baltazar Balagtas, will be, in my opinion, an excellent reading, as this is an epic, a masterpiece written by a genius seldom seen in the history of a nation, and does not always come in every generation.

This song (awit), but I call it novel in poetry, is an epic written when he was in prison and dedicated to his sweetheart, “Maria Azuncion Rivera,” through the dedication “Kay Selya” in the beginning of the book.

It is a masterpiece comprising of three hundred ninety five (395) grammatically correct stanzas, where each stanza is composed of four lines, with each line consisting of twelve rhyming syllables.

For the setting, while the Kingdom of Albania during the time of the early Greek empire was used, it could very well apply to any time in the history of mankind, as the theme was about some of the negative human traits: deceit, rivalry, jealousy, cruelty; and some good ones too: love, patriotism, bravery, friendship, and at the end, as usual, like any other romantic story, a happy ending for the lead characters.

Some of the lessons being communicated in this book are so true and applies to the human race regardless of time, generation, colour, religion and ethnic origin.
To quote a few:
“O pagsintang labis ng kapangyarihan
  Sampung mag-aama’y iyong nasasaklaw
  Pag ika’s pumasok sa puso ninuman
  Hahamaking lahat masunod ka lamang”

“Tulad ng halamang lumaki sa tubig
  Daho’y nalalanta, munting di madilig
   ang sandaling init
  Gayundin ang pusong sa tuwa’y maniig.”

“Ang laki sa layaw karaniwa’y hubad
  Sa bait at muni’t sa hatol ay salat
  Masaklap na bunga ng maling paglingap
  Habag ng magulang sa irog na anak.”

“Kung maliligo ka’y sa tubig aagap
  Nang hindi abutin ng tabsing sa dagat”

“Kung ano ang taas ng pagkadakila
  Siya ring lagapak naman kung madapa”

These are only a few meaningful poetic lines. Reading the song (awit), the reader will find a lot more.

In the history of Pilipino Literature, Florante at Laura, in its form, remains unchallenged, as no other work had come close.
*****

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