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Pangasinan Anlong: Oral Tradition into the 21st Century
Santiago B. Villafania
SONITO PARA’D MANANGALIN KAMARERUA
No nagnap la’y liwawa’d letakan
Marleng a sinmener so bilunget
Dengel mo so laineng na dagem
Ta agmo la naerel so bekta
Kabuskag na payak na kabuasan
Tan mapalna so asul ya tawen
Nengneng mo ira so ganaganan
Matalag a nanengneng ed kugip
Tan agmo panermenan pinabli
No melagmelagen ka’y karaklan
Wala’y ibilunget na mata ra
Dalanen da so kipapasen ta
No magmaliw lan dabuk so laman
No mangangga la’y agew ed banua
SONNET TO A PILGRIM SOUL
When the sun gilds the sky in the morning
And deep darkness makes a noble retreat
O hear the music in the air fleeting
For you can never recapture the beat
When the morning spreads her warm golden wings
And the sapphire sky is wordlessly deep
Look yonder and feast with your eyes the things
Which you seldom see in your dreamful sleep
Don’t you feel forlorn beloved pilgrim
If the world will mind your lowly a state
A time will come when their eyes will grow dim
And they too will fall on our self-same fate
An empty shell to decay into dust
When our days in the sun come into the past
The first half of the twentieth century is said to have been the Golden Age of Pangasinan Literature, but indubitably without succeeding in establishing Pangasinan as a popular literature. The emergence of umaanlong (poet) in the said period produced excellent poems written in the vernacular but only few were published. There was not even an anthology of poetry published in that period. Anlong was not the principal expression of our writers in that era.
The Pangasinan anlong or poetry was once predominantly oral: tumatagaumen and umaanlong performed poems. Often, it was accompanied by kutibeng (ancient guitar) and/or tulali (a kind of string instrument similar to kudyapi or lyre.) One good example of Pangasinan oral poetry was the Petek, a kind of poetic joust similar to the Tulang Patnigan of the Tagalogs. When the written form of poetry became dominant, oral poetry became unpopular.
I. Literary Influences & the Pillars of Pangasinan Literature
One of the questions writers get asked often is who their literary influences are. I will only talk about three major writers from Pangasinan who contributed into the development of our literature, but not necessarily the writers who influenced my writings.
Pablo de Guzman Mejia (1872-1934)
Mejia was a playwright, poet, painter and composer; the Father of Pangasinan Language, Prince of Pangasinan Poets and Balagtas of the North. Aside from his zarzuelas, Mejia was known for his Bilay tan Kalkalar nen Rizal (Life & Teachings of Rizal) written in verse form. He also translated Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios (Kaonoran kon Patanir) into Pangasinan. He founded the Awiran na Pangasinan (Pangasinan Academy of Letters) and became the editor of the publication Tonung (Uprightness) which lasted for a decade (1924-1934).
Another notable writer was Pedro U. Sison. He was a revolutionist, playwright and a poet known for his long picaresque poem entitled Bilay day Sisira ed Dalem na Danum (Lives of the Fishes Under the Water, 1939), a satire against or about the dirty politics of the political elite during his time.
Maria Prado Magsano (1893-1968) was a writer/novelist, editor of Silew (1936-1948) and Founder of the Pangasinan Courier. Magsano studied at the University of the Philippines as a “special student’. She was the first female teacher from Pangasinan who passed the civil service and taught at the Philippine Normal College (now PNU) for 20 years. In the 1930’s, she was active in the promotion of women’s rights when she became the president of a large women’s federation known as The Women Suffragists. She was a President Awardee for Women’s Rights in 1966. Most of Magsano’s short stories and novels were published in Silew and later in Sandi’y Silew, the vernacular section of the Pangasinan Courier. Her writings are said to have set the direction for old and new writers in Pangasinan. (Balon Silew 2004).
II. Literary Silence (1960s-1990s)
After Magsano, there was a paucity of published works and abrupt change in the literary environment of the province. Pangasinan was dying as a literary language. Though Pangasinenses speak their language with gusto, it did not help in giving it a greater literary standing. While it is true that English and Filipino put a check on the spread of Iluko it did not really help the Pangasinan position.
Dr. Ma. Crisanta Nelmida-Flores in her introduction to my book Balikas na Caboloan (NCCA, 2005) noted that, “In recent times, vernacular writers dwindled in number as more and more Pangasinan writers educated and exposed to foreign literatures and periodicals shifted to English.”
Thirty-five years before, Fr. Fidel of Amurrio wrote that, “Starting since the uprising of Serrat in 1816, Iloko settlers were coming to Pangasinan, especially to the barrios of the boundary towns. This gave origin to the strange phenomenon: many Pangasinanes gave up their language for the language of those who came to make a living among them.” (Pangasinan History and Literature, 258).
The literary silence was only broken after 30 years or so with the publication of the special issue of ANI (a literary publication of the Cultural Center of the Philippines) in 1992.
The dame of Pangasinan love stories and novelletes, Leonarda C. Carrera (Amor Cico) published her Matuan Panangaro as early as 1983 followed by Tongtong 1 & 2; and Short story writer Dr. Linda Andara (now Grubb) published her Gamal: tan arum ni ran antikey ya istorya in 2004. Both Carrera and Andaya also wrote poetry in Pangasinan language.
Eight years later, the Ulupan na Pansiansia’y Salitan Pangasinan (Association for the Preservation of the Pangasinan Language) was founded in Lingayen. The group adapted Magsano’s Silew as the official publication of the Ulupan and named it Balon Silew (New Light). Ulupan just celebrated its 10th year anniversary with the publication of an anthology of Pangasinan poetry and essays, and a children’s book.
III. The Poet Regionnaire
In his Nobel Lecture, Czesław Miłosz pointed out that “Every poet depends upon generations who wrote in his native tongue; he inherits styles and forms elaborated by those who lived before him.” But that is not the case for me who gave myself to this kind of avocation—that is, to writing poems in Pangasinan.
I started writing poetry in my native tongue in 2001, and relied solely on my mastery of the spoken language and instinctive phonetics to come out with my first poetic attempts. It was still patterned, however, after the manner of my contemporaries who wrote in English and Filipino. Although I tried to maintain a certain image of a poet who wants to revive the petrified state of the Pangasinan anlong.
Asphyxiated by the scarcity of outlets to publish my works, I resorted to seeking publications in the web and even created my own personal website Dalityapi to showcase poems in Pangasinan language. Part of Dalityapi is the Makata, intended as a multi-lingual poetry blog but would eventually become an international poetry journal in 2000 when some of my online friends submitted their works for publication.
Since 2001, half of the contributors of the Makata were foreigners. Filipino poets/writers included: Leo Fernandez Almero, Estelito B. Jacob, Alexander Agena, Melchor F. Cichon, Maria Luisa Jalandoni, Rowan Canlas Velonta, Rolando A. Carbonell, Rodrigo V. Dela Peña, Jaime Jesus Borlagdan, Lynette B. Carpio, Zig Carlo M. Dulay, Dennis Espada, Anthony Pabon, Joseph Reylan B. Viray, Ella Wagemakers, Niña Catherine Calleja, Phillip Kimpo Jr., Rey Tamayo Jr., Rachel Chan Suet Kay, Noel Malicdem, Kristina V. Cajipe, Jake F. Ilac, Camilo Villanueva Jr., Frances Angela C. Torrelavega, Roselier Levi G. Azarcon, Junelyn Delarosa, Raul Funilas, Lolito Go, Silvana Zapanta, Manuel Lino G. Faelnar, Kris Alingod, Ravelth Castro-Belicena, Noahlyn Maranan, Erwin S. Fernandez, Hazel Calventas, Mary Ann Cariquez, Florentino B. Lorenzana, Maria Carmina A. Reynaldo, Mark Angeles, Willie R. Bongcaron, Sergio Bumadilla, Jesamyne Diokno, Napoleon Resultay, Nelson Singson Dino, Alegria Imperial, Aliazer S. Abdurajim, Frederick Lim, Jen Macapagal, Wilfredo G. Villanueva, Angelo B. Ancheta, Michael U. Obenieta, Noel Sales Barcelona, Marie Bismonte, Jose Jason Chancoco (Bicol & Filipino editor) and more...
Foreign contributors included: Duane Locke, Christopher Mulrooney, Averil Bones, Monique Nicole Fox, Kevin Eather, David Sutherland, Erin Elizabeth, Judith Gorgone, Linda Dominique Grosvenor, Janet I. Buck, John Bryan, Eoin Dunford, Ashok Bhargava, Aurora Antonovic, Nick Zegarac, Keli Stafford, Srinjay Chakravarti, Bill Mitsuru T. Shimizu, David Zorc, Tyler Joseph Cusick, Ron P. Nhim, Pat Paulk, John G. Hall, John Faucett, C. W. Hawes, Christopher Major, Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal, G. David Schwartz, Robert Wilson, Janet Lynn Davis, Iliana Ilieva, Rositza Pironska, Tammy Ho Lai-ming, Luis Benitez, Stella Jones, Janaj Yanay, Silvia Favaretto, Bishnupada Ray, Christopher Barnes, Guillaume Berne, Eduardo A. Cong, Dawn Bruce, Afrah Al-Kubaisi, Cyril Dabydeen, Walter Ruhlmann, Arti Honrao, Arthur Leung, Yassen Vassilev, Mario Rigli, Munir Mezyed, Vijaya Kandpal, Marius Chelaru, Ryan Chakravarty, Daniel de Cullá, Ute Margaret Saine and more...
I joined the Ulupan in 2002 primarily because I wanted to know more about the older generation who wrote in my native tongue. I was the youngest member then and have already written most of the works that would eventually be ritualized in the pages of the Balon Silew. But I wanted more for Pangasinan poetry. I wanted to bring it out from its provincial root, beyond its borders.
I self-published my first book entitled Pinabli tan arum ni’ran Anlong (Beloved and Other Poems) in 2003 with just 1000 copies and also upon the encouragement of Jaime P. Lucas, the founding father of the Ulupan. Some of the poems included in Pinabli were sent to the NCCA for its UBOD New Authors Series which came out in 2005. I continued to write in both English and Pangasinan, joined poetry groups like Km64, Pinoypoets and online literary groups. It was during these times that some of my poems have appeared in local and international print and web publications: Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, ANI, Philippine Panorama, Sunday Times Magazine (Manila Times), Magnapoets, The Heron’s Nest, HaikuHut’s Short Stuff, Ygdrasil (Canada), Crimson Feet (India), In Our Own Words 1 & 2 (US), Picolata Review, MindFire, Crowns and Oranges: Works by Young Philippine Poets, Literary Apprentice, Ipu-ipo sa Piging, etc.
In 2007, with the help of the maverick Chief Commissioner of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), Dr. Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco and the president of Emilio Aguinaldo College, Dr. Jose Paulo E. Campos, I was able to secure a publishing grant for my second book Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villenelles. It is quite ironic that a work in Pangasinan was funded by non-Pangasinenses.
Malagilion was hailed by Cirilo F. Bautista as “a boost to Pangasinan literature”. He even encouraged me to send copies of the book to the National Book Development Board and Manila Critics Circle. That same year, it was selected as finalist for Best Book of Poetry in the 27th National Book Awards. My first and first so far for Pangasinan as there has never been a literary work submitted or nominated in the said award body.
In his Breaking Signs column in the Panorama, Bautista wrote, “This second book by Pangasinan’s leading poet today is impressive in both form and substance. Villafania has created 300 sonnets and 50 villanelles in his own language that attempt to reflect the primacy of native culture and return the poet to the central stage of social life.” And from that day on, I have always considered Cirilo F. Bautista as my surrogate father.
In 2009, a fellow Pangasinense and an indie filmmaker, Christopher Gozum produced and directed the first full-length film in Pangasinan entitled Anacbanua (or Child of the Sun). Gozum used selected poems from my two books as voice over narration providing concrete ideas and emotions to the cinematic images presented. Again, I wanted more for Pangasinan poetry. I wanted to bring it out from its provincial root, beyond its borders but Christopher Gozum has elevated the Pangasinan anlong into visual poetry so to speak. Anacbanua had its World Premiere in the 11th Cinemanila International Film Festival and won the Lino Grand Prize and Best Director Award for the Digital Lokal category.
Pangasinan poets in the 21st century will not emerge from the fossilized remains of their literary past, because they or we do not have one to look back into. Rather, the Pangasinan poets are a paradox, distinct and unique like the rare kind of epiphytic plants that have been pushed on the verge of evolution and virtually disappeared. Like these epiphytic plants, they will thrive in a different time and place bound by a collective instinct and determination to survive until they will evolve to produce a seedpod for poets who will write Pangasinan poetry as easily as speaking the language.
And to end my short talk, let me share to you F. Sionil Jose’s email to me, “I am sure that in the future, Pangasinan, Zambal, Pampango will die and will be taken over by Tagalog and Ilokano which, in a sense, are stonger because they have more people speaking them. This is a fate that is inevitable and this makes you more important, with a challenge which you must face. There must be a record of Pangasinan literature; if it can be avoided, it must not die or that if it should--the dying should be long, arduous, and not until a body of literature is left behind to be perpetuated in translation. There is something very sad about a language dying because it means a soul, a culture is being snuffed out, and with it--all that is good and memorable. Latin is dead, and so is Sanskrit--but the literature in these languages survive because there were believers in these languages who left behind indelible markers that time cannot erase. This is where people like you come in. Carry this difficult burden because you are an artist, because you are Pangasinan and because you are Filipino.”
And a quotation from The Aristos by John Fowles, “If we think poetry of least concern among our arts, we are like generals who disband their best fighting troops. Cherish the poet; there seemed many great auks till the last one died.”
Salaya and Masantos ya kabuasan ed sikayon amin. That to say, “A Blessed Morning to All of You.”
From the author’s paper read at the Philippine PEN conference in Cebu last December 2010. Published in Manila Times / Sunday Magazine, March 13/20, 2011
Far Eastern University English & Literature Journal
Issue 8, July 2011 (Canada)
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Santiago B. Villafania, a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, is the author of poetry collections Bonsaic Verses (2012), Pinabli and Other Poems (2012), Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles (2007), and Balikas na Caboloan (Voices from Caboloan, 2005) published by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) under its UBOD New Authors Series. He has been published in several countries and translated into several languages. Villafania is one of the 11 Outstanding Pangasinan conferred with the 2010 ASNA Award for the Arts and Culture (literature) during the first Agew na Pangasinan and also the 430th Foundation Day of the province on April 2010. He is a member of Philippine PEN writes a regular weekly column for the Sunday Punch.