Tag Archives: Philippine Literature

#323 Writings of Nick Joaquin

Publicity poster for a theatrical version of Nick Joaquin's May Day Eve

The literary works of National Artist Nick Joaquin (1917-2004) are considered to be the best in the canon of Philippine literature in English. A journalist and historian, Joaquin was known for his plays, short stories, essays and novels, although he also wrote poetry, practiced journalism and served in a number of cultural posts as reviewer, art critic and consultant.

Among his most widely published works are the The Summer Solstice (short story), May Day Eve (short story), The Woman With Two Navels (historical novel), A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (play) and Cave & Shadows (metaphysical thriller), to name a few. Joaquin’s works are translated in many languages and he was one of the few Filipino writers published by major publishing houses in the US and Europe.

Joaquin also wrote using the pen name Quijano de Manila. Known for his vitriolic humor and acidic criticism, Joaquin was nevertheless loved by both the Philippine literati and artistic circles for his prolific pen, masterful language and writings that illuminate or examine the Filipino psyche and experience if not the human condition.

Long live Philippine literature!

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#268 Balagtasan

A Balagtasan performance

The balagtasan is a Filipino poetic form and was invented and performed during the American occupation of the Philippines. The balagtasan honored Francisco Baltazar (also known as Balagtas), giving his name to this form of versifying. Balagtas is the 19th century Filipino author of the Filipino epic narrative poem Florante at Laura.

As a literary form, the balagtasan was based on a traditional Filipino form of debate in verse that was popular at that time. This popularity partly accounts for its success as entertainment until after World War II.

However, the balagtasan was also the product of a nationalist and anti-colonial impulse in Filipino vernacular literature during the early 20th century. The balagtasan was used by Filipino writers and poets to express the most progressive and current political ideas then and to comment on contemporary social issues.  Although performances or the staging of balagtasan debates faded in contemporary literary practice, the versifying is undergoing a revival of sorts these days with young poets writing in Filipino.

Long live Philippine literature and literary forms!

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#156 Ibong Adarna

Ibong Adarna (Adarna Bird), or the “Romance of the Life of the three Brothers Prince, Sons of King Fernando and Queen Valeriana of the Kingdom of Berbania“, is a popular Filipino korido or metrical romance (Spanish-inspired romantic narrative set in verse) written in quatrains.

The Ibong Adarna korido contains 1,722 stanzas and is divided into five main parts: the search for the Ibong Adarna or Adarna bird, the descent into a well, the rescue of two captive princesses, the hero’s betrayal at the hands his brothers and his search for a fabled kingdom, and, finally, the hero’s restitution to his rightful place in the kingdom of Berbanya/Berbania (from WikiPilipinas).

As a literary text, the Ibong Adarna epic is a hodgepodge of  near-kitschy elements culled from European, Asian and even African sources. It tells of adventures and magical powers,  romance and love, the courage and piety and the treachery and betrayal of highborn characters.

But despite this ‘low-brow’ brew of romance and adventure, the Ibong Adarna is a well-loved tale and has seen countless versions and performances in Filipino comics, movies, radio series and theatrical plays.

In some schools, the tale used to be required reading for elementary and junior high schools, but with the korido no longer performed or recited the tale is now known or produced only in its modern versions.

Long live Philippine literature!

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#81 Florante at Laura

Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura) is one of the enduring Philippine tales written by the prolific 19th century Filipino writer Francisco Baltazar, popularly known by his pen name Francisco Balagtas.

This mythological-based tale used to be required reading in primary and secondary schools throughout the country although the myth’s characters, setting and narrative seem to be drawn or inspired by Arabian Nights-like stories.  

The tale is known as one of the early masterpieces in Tagalog  literature and was composed in a sonnet-like (awit) format. Balagtas wrote the epic during his imprisonment in the 19th century. The work itself is dedicated to Maria Asuncion Rivera, his sweetheart, whom he nicknamed “M. A. R.” and is referenced to as “Selya” in the dedication “Kay Selya” (“For Celia”). Maria Asuncion Rivera later married Balagtas’ rival, Mariano Capule, who made false charges against Balagtas (Wikipedia).

The story is about the struggle and love of the Duke Florante and Princess Laura of Albania during the warring period between the Christian Albanians and the Moros (Muslim people). From a political and historical perspective, Balagtas tale also referenced the conflict between Christians and Moslems particularly in Mindanao, southern Philippines, albeit in a romanticized manner.

Filipino schoolchildren in previous generations have their first taste of European-like mythological epics in tales such as Florante at Laura, complete with castles, knights and vengeful kings which are all foreign as snow and winter in tropical Philippines.

Long live Philippine literature!

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#12 Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere (Latin for ‘touch me not) is the iconic 19th-century novel written by the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal. 

The novel may not win literary awards, but as a social manifesto against Spanish rule in the Philippines, Rizal’s novel touched a  raw chord in both Spanish and Filipino readers.  A required reading in all Philippine schools (and in all levels) Noli’s melodramatic  plot exposes the corruption and hypocrisy of the Philippine Roman Catholic Church and the ruling Spanish elite.

Considered as the most influential political novel authored by a Filipino, Rizal completed Noli Me Tangere in Spanish in 1887 while he was studying in Europe. Banned in the Philippines by the Spanish religious and political authorities, Rizal continued to write and completed a second and follow-up novel, El Filibusterismo, to the Noli, and in the process incurred the wrath of the Spanish rulers. Charged with sedition and heresy (by the Catholic Church), Rizal was later executed by firing squad in 1896 at Bagumbayan (now called the Rizal Park) in Manila.

Long live Philippine literature!

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