Philippine epic poetry
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Centuries before the Spaniards came, the Filipinos already had their own cultural traditions, folklore, mythologies and epics. They are the folk epics, transferred from one generation to the next through oral tradition, with the use of singers or chanters. These singers or chanters were often high priests or priestesses in their tribes. These epics were a great source of entertainment and inspiration especially to the youth. In Mindanao, they would call the epic singer, "Onor." Some of the epics, because of their length, would take the singer or chanter seven nights of singing or chanting to finish. The singer or chanter, may either be a male or a female, would sing for minimum of two hours to six hours every night. These events were often festal and recreational occasions like wedding ceremonies, wakes, prestige rites, peace pact agreements, when an ancestor's bones are dug out to be blessed, harvest seasons, when a wild boar is caught, or to welcome a guest, coupled with feasts for the community, supported by either the head of the tribe or a rich and prominent family within the community. The epics were later on transcribed and preserved by rich families as family heirloom.
When Islamic missionaries came to Mindanao and converted the Moros to become Muslims, some changes were adapted for the Mindanaoan epics to conform to this change of faith, thus, there are more epics from mostly Visayas and Mindanao that did survive. In the epic of Maranao, Darangen, for instance, they have made Muslim prophet Muhammad as the forefather of the hero, Bantugen. Today, there are twenty-one epics that survived from Visayas and Mindanao.
Some of the epics however, especially in Luzon, perceived to center on pagan beliefs and rituals, were burned and destroyed by Spanish friars during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines islands in the 16th century. There are only two folk epics that survived from Luzon.
Truly, there were substantial writings by early natives that Jesuit historian Fr. Pedro Chirino noted: "All of the islanders are much given to reading and writing. And there is hardly a man, much less a woman who did not read and write." (Relacion de las isles Filipinas-1604).
Stories of epics in verse displayed tremendous vitality, color and imagination. Tales of love and adventures about native heroes, endowed with powers from the gods, battle monsters, and triumphs over formidable armies, rode the wind, vanguard shields and protect the earliest communities of the islands.
Established epic poems of notable quality and length blossomed. And early historians like Padre Colin, Joaquín Martínez de Zúñiga and Antonio Pigafetta have all attested to the existence of these epics. There were even reports of a dramatic play given by natives at the arrival of Don Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565.
Epic poems and songs about the exploits of enchanted folk heroes were performed during festivities and proper occasions. Most often, these epic poems (folk epics or ethno-epics) were titled after the names of the hero involved, except for some which carry traditional titles like the Kalinga Ullalim; the Sulod Hinilawod; the Maranao Darangan; or the Bicol Ibalon.
Stories about folk heroes of long ago were described as "Old Time History" because; they can be used to study the lifestyle and beliefs of the people who produced them. They were also referred to as "Lost", because they were soon forgotten by natives influenced heavily by Spanish and "western" colonization.
The famed orientalist, Chauncey Starkweather, stressed that : "These epic romances are charming poems in the Malayan literature."
Some scholars however dispute the claim that in the early days of Spanish intrusion, priests in their zealous rage against paganism destroyed all existing records, as well as all forms of writing and art works, regarding ancient Philippine folk heroes. These scholars, mostly schooled in Catholic schools and Catholics themselves, hold that the colorful and fascinating literature of pre-Hispanic Filipinos are still here, giving the new generation an overview of a heritage that is unique and deemed as invaluable source of joy and information with regards to the lifestyle, love and aspirations of early Filipinos.
Indeed, it is through these wonderful surviving epics every Filipino may mirror his or her national identity.
It is through these folk epics that every Filipino can feel heroic, truly pulsating with splendor of a magnificent and authentic cultural force.
Philippine epic poems
There are two epic poems coming from among Christian Filipinos in Luzon. They are Biag ni Lam-ang or The Life of Lam-ang and the Ibalon, from the Bicol region. The epics coming from the non-Christian Filipinos in Luzon meanwhile are The Hudhud and the Alim of the Ifugaos, The Ulalim of the Kalingas and The Epic of Lumalindaw of the Gaddangs. The epics from the Visayas are The Hinilawod of the Sulod people of Central Panay Island and The Kudaman of Palawan, while the epics from Mindanao are The Maiden of the Buhong Sky, the Tuwaang Attends A Wedding, Agyu, The Tulelangan of the Ilianon Manoboc, The Darangen of the Maranaos, Guman of Dumalinao, Ag Tubig Nog Keboklagan (The Kingdom of Keboklagan), Keg Sumba Neg Sandayo (The Tale of Sandayo) and The Tudbulul of the T'boli of South Cotabato.
From the Bicol province comes the Ibalon. The Ibalon relates the mystical origins of the first man and the first woman of Aslon and Ibalon, which are current provinces of Camarines, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate. Handiong, one of the heroes of Ibalon (The others are Baltog and Bantong wawfa) was a great leader of warriors. He won over the seductive serpent Oriol before starting a village. His Village prospered and soon, other friends of Handiong went to help him in leading the village.The system of writing was introduced by Surat. Dinahong Pandak taught them how to make jars, utensils in cooking, plough, harrow and other farming implements. Weaving cloth was known with the help of Hablon. Lastly, Ginantong taught them to make boats, blades, knives and things used in a house. Events in this epic also had a flood story similar to that of the Biblical Genesis. This epic has the story in how the Mayon Volcano was made.
Some of the Philippine epics are comparable to Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey in length and grandeur. The Darangen tells of the sentimental and romantic adventures of noble warriors, one of them, is about a warrior-prince called Bantugan.. Prince Bantugen was the brother of the chieftain of a village called Bumbaran. Bantugen owned a magic shield, was protected by divine spirits called "Tonongs" and was capable of rising from the dead. Once his enemies attacked Bumbaran, thinking he was dead. In the nick of time, Bantugan's soul was recovered and he saved the village.
There is also an episode, where Prince Bantugen was on a quest and fought his enemies with his magic Kampilan(Native sword). Soon, he got tired and fell onto the water. A crocodile delivered him to his enemies, but he regained his strength, escaped his captors, and commands an oar less ship and won the battle.
There were also "Darangen epic poetries that relates stories of wars about abducted princesses. Just like the chronicles of the Trojan War.
The Darangen is one of the oldest and longest Philippine epic poetries. Several nights were needed to recite the twenty five beautiful chapters. The Darangen, sung in its original, possessed a sustained beauty and dignity, it might be studied for its esthetic values alone.
There were Philippine epic poems written and published much later. The Ibong Adarna, whose author is unknown, was written in Tagalog and published in the 18th century, while Florante at Laura, also in Tagalog, authored by Francisco Balagtas, was published in the 19th century. In 1961, Ricaredo Demetillo published Barter in Panay, claimed to be the first literary epic of the Philippines. It was written in English. Other contemporary epics were authored by Dr. Cirilo Bautista, whose epic was written in three decades and placed at 9,872 lines in length, The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus, comprises The Archipelago (1970), The Telex Moon (1975) and Sunlight On Broken Stones (1999) and Edwin Cordevilla's Ten Thousand Lines Project For World Peace (2013), which as the tile suggests, is 10,000 lines long. Both epics were written in English.
- Eugenio, Damiana (2004). Philippine Folk Literature: The Epics. University of the Philippines Press. ISBN 971-542-294-2.