Philippine Literature Part I – The Historical Background of Philippine Literature Chapter 1 Introduction to the Study of Literature Definition of Literature

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Philippine Literature

Part I – The Historical Background of Philippine Literature

Chapter 1 Introduction to the Study of Literature

Definition of Literature:

The word literature is derived from the Latin term litera which means letter . It has been defined differently by various writers.

Some loosely interpret literature as any printed matter written within a book, a magazine or a pamphlet. Others define literature as a faithful reproduction of man’s manifold experiences blended into one harmonious expression.

Because literature deals with ideas, thoughts and emotions of man, literature can be said to be the story of man. Man’s loves, griefs, thoughts, dreams and aspirations coached in beautiful language is literature.

In order to know the history of a nation’s spirit, one must read its literature. Hence it is, that to understand the real spirit of a nation, one must “trace the little rills as they course along down the ages, broadening and deepening into the great ocean of thought which men of the present source are presently exploring.”

Brother Azurin, said that “literature expresses the feelings of people to society, to the government, to his surroundings, to his fellowmen and to his Divine Creator.” The expression of one’s feelings, according to him, may be through love, sorrow, happiness, hatred, anger, pity, contempt, or revenge.

For Webster, literature is anything that is printed, as long as it is related to the ideas and feelings of people, whether it is true, or just a product of one’s imagination.

In PANITIKING PILIPINO written by Atienza, Ramos, Salazar and Nazal, it says that “true literature is a piece of written work which is undying. It expresses the feelings and emotions of people in response to his everyday efforts to live, to be happy n his environment and, after struggles, to reach his Creator.”

Why We Need to Study Philippine Literature

We can enumerate many reasons for studying literature.

Here are but a few:

We study literature so that we can better appreciate our literary heritage. We cannot appreciate something that we do not understand. Through a study of our literature, we can trace the rich heritage of ideas handed down to us from our forefathers. Then we can understand ourselves better and take pride in being a Filipino.

Like other races of the world, we need to understand that we have a great and noble tradition which can serve as the means to assimilate other cultures.

Through such a study, we will realize our literary limitations conditioned by certain historical factors and we can take steps to overcome them.

Above all, as Filipinos, who truly love and take pride in our own culture, we have to manifest our deep concern for our own literature and this we can do by studying the literature of our country.

Of Philippine Literature in English and Time Frames

It can be said that Philippine literature in English has achieved a stature that is, in a way, phenomenal since the inception of English in our culture.

Our written literature, which is about four hundred years old, is one of slow and evolutionary growth. Our writers strove to express their sentiments while struggling with a foreign medium. The great mass of literature in English that we have today is, indeed, a tribute to what our writers have achieved in the short span of time. What they have written can compare with some of the best works in the world.

Much is still to be achieved. Our writers have yet to write their OPUS MAGNUMS. Meanwhile, history and literature are slowly unfolding before us and we are as witnesses in the assembly lines to an evolving literary life.

Time frames may not be necessary in a study of literature, but since literature and history are inescapably related it has become facilitative to map up a system which will aid us in delineating certain time boundaries.

These time boundaries are not exactly well-defined; very often, time frames blend into another in a seeming continuum. For a systematic discussion of the traditions, customs, and feelings of our people that can be traced in our literature, we shall adopt certain delimitations.

These time frames are:

Time Frames of Philippine Literature in English

Different opinions prevail regarding the stages that mark the development of Philippine literature in English. Let us take the following time frames for purpose of discussion:

1. The Period of Re-orientation: 1898-1910

2. Period of Imitation: 1910-1925

3. Period of Self-Discovery: 1925-1941

4. Japanese Period: 1941-1945

5. The Rebirth of Freedom: 1946-1970

6. Period of Activism: 1970-1972

7. Period of the New Society: 1972-1981

8. Period of the Third Republic: 1981-1985 9. Contemporary Period: 1986

Literature and History

Literature and history are closely interrelated. In discovering the history of a race, the feelings, aspirations, customs and traditions of a people are sure to be included . . . and these feelings, aspirations, customs and traditions that are written is literature . History can also be written and this too, is literature. Events that can be written down are part of true literature. Literature, therefore, is part of history.

Literature and history, however, also have differences. Literature may be figments of the imagination or events devoid of truth that have been written down, while history is made up of events that really happened.

Literary Compositions that Have Influenced the World. Among them are:

1. The Bible or the Sacred Writings

2. Koran

3. The Iliad and the Odyssey

4. The Mahab-harata

5. Canterbury Tales

6. Uncle Tom’s Cabin

7. The Divine Comedy

8. El Cid Compeador

9. The Song of Roland

10. The Book of the Dead

11. The Book of the Days

12. One Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights

General Types of Literature

Literature can generally be divided into two types; prose and poetry. Prose consists of those written within the common flow of conversation in sentences and paragraphs, while poetry refers to those expressions in verse, with measure and rhyme, line and stanza and has a more melodious tone.


There are many types of prose. These include the following:

a. Novels. A long narrative divided into chapters and events are taken from true-to-life stories. Example: WITHOUT SEEING THE DAWN by Stevan Javellana

b. Short story. This is a narrative involving one or more characters, one plot and one single impression. Example: THE LAUGHTER OF MY FATHER by Carlos Bulosan

c. Plays. This is presented on a stage, is divided into acts and each act has many scenes. Example: THIRTEEN PLAYS by Wilfredo M. Guerrero

d. Legends. These are fictitious narratives, usually about origins. Example: THE BIKOL LEGEND by Pio Duran

e. Fables. These are also fictitious and they deal with animals and inanimate things who speak and act like people and their purpose is to enlighten the minds of children to events that can mold their ways and attitudes. Example: THE MONKEY AND THE TURTLE

f. Anecdotes. These are merely products of the writer’s imagination and the main aim is to bring out lessons to the reader. Example: THE MOTH AND THE LAMP

g. Essay. This expresses the viewpoint or opinion of the writer about a particular problem or event. The best example of this is the Editorial page of a newspaper.

h. Biography. This deals with the life of a person which may be about himself, his autobiography or that of others. Example: CAYETANO ARELLANO by Socorro O. Albert

i. News. This is a report of everyday events in society, government, science and industry, and accidents, happening nationally or not.

j. Oration. This is a formal treatment of a subject and is intended to be spoken in public. It appeals to the intellect, to the will or to the emotions of the audience.


There are three types of poetry and these are the following:

A. Narrative Poetry. This form describes important events in life either real or imaginary. The different varieties are:

1. Epic. This is an extended narrative about heroic exploits often under supernatural control. Example: THE HARVEST SONG OF ALIGUYON translated in English by Amador T. Daguio

2. Metrical Tale. This is a narrative which is written in verse and can be classified either as a ballad or a metrical romance. Examples: BAYANI NG BUKID by Al Perez HERO OF THE FIELDS by Al Perez

3. Ballads. Of the narrative poems, this is considered the shortest and simplest. It has a simple structure and tells of a single incident. There are also variations of these: love ballads, war ballads, and sea ballads, humorous, moral, and historical or mythical ballads. In the early time, this referred to a song accompanying a dance.

B. Lyric Poetry. Originalaly, this refers to that kind of poetry meant to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre, but now, this applies to any type of poetry that expresses emotions and feelings of the poet. They are usually short, simple and easy to understand.

1. Folksongs (Awiting Bayan). These are short poems intended to be sung. The common theme is love, despair, grief, doubt, joy, hope and sorrow. Example: CHIT-CHIRIT-CHIT

2. Sonnets. This is a lyric poem of 14 lines dealing with an emotion, a feeling, or an idea. These are two types: the Italian and the Shakespearean. Example: SANTANG BUDS by Alfonso P. Santos

3. Elegy. This is a lyric poem which expresses feelings of grief and melancholy, and whose theme is death. Example: THE LOVER’S DEATH by Ricaredo Demetillo

4. Ode. This is a poem of a noble feeling, expressed with dignity, with no definite number of syllables or definite number of lines in a stanza.

5. Psalms (Dalit). This is a song praising God or the Virgin Mary and containing a philosophy of life.

6. Awit (Song). These have measures of twelve syllables (dodecasyllabic) and slowly sung to the accompaniment of a guitar or banduria. Example: FLORANTE AT LAURA by Franciso Balagtas

7. Corridos (Kuridos). These have measures of eight syllables (octosyllabic) and recited to a martial beat. Example: IBONG ADARNA

C. Dramatic Poetry

1. Comedy. The word comedy comes from the Greek term “komos” meaning festivity or revelry. This form usually is light and written with the purpose of amusing, and usually has a happy ending.

2. Melodrama. This is usually used in musical plays with the opera. Today, this is related to tragedy just as the farce is to comedy. It arouses immediate and intense emotion and is usually sad but there is a happy ending for the principal character.

3. Tragedy. This involves the hero struggling mightily against dynamic forces; he meets death or ruin without success and satisfaction obtained by the protagonist in a comedy.

4. Farce. This is an exaggerated comedy. It seeks to arouse mirth by laughable lines; situations are too ridiculous to be true; the characters seem to be caricatures and the motives undignified and absurd.

5. Social Poems. This form is either purely comic or tragic and it pictures the life of today. It may aim to bring about changes in the social conditions.


1. Deals with ideas, thoughts, and emotions of man. It is said to be the story of man. 2. Literature as a faithful reproduction of man’s manifold _______ blended into one harmonious expression. 3-5. Three reasons why do we need to study Philippine Literature. 6. Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe of the US. This depicted the sad fate of slaves; this became the basis of democracy later on. 7. This was written by Confucius of China. This became the basis of Roman Calendar. 8. This deals with the life of a person which may be about himself, his autobiography or that of others. 9.These have been the source of myths and legends of Greece. They were written by Homer. 10.This is a lyric poem of 14 lines dealing with an emotions, a feeling, or idea.

Chapter 2 The Pre-Spanish Period

Historical Background Long before the Spaniard and other foreigners landed on Philippine shores, our forefathers already had their own literature stamped in the history of our race.

Our ancient literature shows our customs and traditions in everyday life as trace in our folk stories, old plays and short stories.

Our ancestors also had their own alphabet which was different from that brought by the Spaniards. The first alphabet used by our ancestors was similar to that of the Malayo-Polynesian alphabet.

Whatever record our ancestors left were either burned by the Spanish friars in the belief that they were works of the devil or were written on materials that easily perished, like the barks of trees, dried leaves and bamboo cylinders which could not have remained undestroyed even if efforts were made to preserve them.

Other records that remained showed folk songs that proved existence of a native culture truly our own. Some of these were passed on by word of mouth till they reached the hands of some publishers or printers who took interest in printing the manuscripts of the ancient Filipinos.

The Spaniards who came to the Philippines tried to prove that our ancestors were really fond of poetry, songs, stories, riddles and proverbs which we still enjoy today and which serve to show to generations the true culture of our people.

Pre-Spanish Literature is characterized by:

A. LEGENDS. Legends are a form of prose the common theme of which is about the origin of a thing, place, location or name. The events are imaginary, devoid of truth and unbelievable. Old Filipino customs are reflected in these legends. Its aim is to entertain. Here is an example of a legend is THE LEGEND OF THE TAGALOGS.

B. FOLK TALES. Folk tales are made up of stories about life, adventure, love, horror and humor where one can derive lessons about life. These are useful to us because they help us appreciate our environment, evaluate our personalities and improve our perspectives in life. An example of this is THE MOON AND THE SUN.

C. THE EPIC AGE. Epics are long narrative poems in which a series of heroic achievements or events, usually of a hero, are dealt with at length. Nobody can determine which epics are the oldest because in their translations from other languages, even in English and Spanish. We can only determine their origins from the time mentioned in the said epics.

Aside from the aforementioned epics, there are still other epics that can be read and studied like the following epics.

a. Bidasari-Moro epic

b. Biag ni Lam-ang-Ilokano epic

c. Maragtas-Visayan epic

d. Haraya-Visayan epic

e. Lagda-Visayan epic

f. Hari sa Bukid-Visayan epic

g. Kumintang-Tagalog epic h. Parang Sabir-Moro epic

i. “Dagoy” at “Sudsod”-Tagbanua epic

j. Tatuaang-Bagobo epic

k. Indarapatra at Sulayman

l. Bantugan

m. Daramoke-A-Babay – Moro epic in “Darangan”
D. FOLK SONGS. Folk songs are one of the oldest forms of Philippine literature that emerged in the pre-Spanish period. These songs mirrored the early forms of culture. Many of these have 12 syllables. Here are the examples:
a. Kundiman

b. Kumintang o Tagumpay

c. Ang Dalit o Imno

d. Ang Oyayi o Hele

e. Diana

f. Soliraning

g. Talindaw

E. Epigrams, Riddles, Chants, Maxims, Proverbs or Sayings

1. Epigrams (Salawikain). These have been customarily used and served as laws or rules on good behavior by our ancestors. To others, these are like allegories or parables that impart lessons for the young.

2. Riddles (Bugtong) or Palaisipan. These are made up of one or more measured lines with rhyme and may consist of four to 12 syllables.

3. Chant (Bulong). Used in witchcraft or enchantment.

4. Maxims. Some are rhyming couplets with verses of 5, 6 or 8 syllables, each line having the same number of syllables.

5. Sayings (Kasabihan). Often used in teasing or to comment on a person’s actuations.

6. Sawikain (Sayings with no hidden meanings)


1. The first alphabet used by our ancestors was similar to that of the ______.

2. What does Maria shouted to Ilog so that he would cut the snake?

3. In certain wide region of Luzon, there was a village frequented by young men. This town was full of trees, beautiful flowers and a river where clear waters flowed. What attracted the young men more than the scenery?

4. The writer of BIAG-Ni Lam-Ang

5. Also known as Lullaby

6. These have been customarily used and served as laws or rules on good behavior by our ancestors

7. Sayings with no hidden Meanings

8. Some are rhyming couplets with verses of 5,6, or 8 syllables, each lines having the same number of syllables.

9. Used in witchcraft or enchantment. 10. These are med up of one or more measured lines with rhyme and may consist of four to twelve syllables.

Chapter 3 The Spanish Period (1565-1898)

Historical Background

It is an accepted belief that the Spanish colonization of the Philippines started in 1565 during the time of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Spanish governor-general in the Philippines. Literature started to flourish during his time. This spurt continued unabated until the Cavite Revolt in 1872. The Spaniards colonized the Philippines for more than three centuries.

During these times, many changes occurred in the lives of Filipinos. They embraced the Catholic religion, changed their names, and were baptized.

Their lifestyles changed too. They built houses mad of stones and bricks, used beautiful furniture like the piano and used kitchen utensils. Carriages, trains and boats were used as means of travel. They held fiestas to honor the saints, the pope and the governors. They had cockfights, horse races and the theater as means of recreation.

This gave rise to the formation of the different classes of society like the rich and the landlords. Some Filipinos finished courses like medicine, law, agriculture and teaching. Many Filipinos finished their schooling already had been established.


Due to the long period of colonization of the Philippines by the Spaniards, they have exerted a strong influence on our literature.

1. The first Filipino alphabet called ALIBATA was replaced by the Roman alphabet.

2. The teaching of the Christian Doctrine became the basis of religious practices.

3. The Spanish language which became the literary language during this time lent many of its words to our language.

4. European legends and traditions brought here became assimilated in our songs, corridos, and moro-moros.

5. Ancient literature was collected and translated to Tagalog and other dialects.

6. Many grammar books were printed in Filipino, like Tagalog, Ilocano and Visayan

7. Our periodicals during these times gained a religious tone.


1. ANG DOCTRINA CRISTIANA (THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE). This was the first book printed in the Philippines in 1593 in xylography. It was written by Fr. Juan de Placencia and Fr. Domingo Nieva, in Tagalog and Spanish. It contained the Pater Noster (Out Father), Ave Maria (Hail Mary), Regina Coeli (Hail Holy Queen), the Ten Commandments of God, the Commandments of the Catholic Church, the Seven Mortal Sins, How to Confess, and the Cathecism. Three old original copies of this book can still be found at the Vatican, at the Madrid Musem and at the US Congress. It contains only 87 pages but costs $5,000.0.

2. Nuestra Señora del Rosario. The second book printed in the Philippines was written by Fr. Blancas de San Jose in 1602, and printed at the UST Printing Press with the help of Juan de Vera, a Chinese mestizo. It contains the biographies of saints, novenas, and questions and answers on religion.

3. Libro de los Cuatro Postprimeras de Hombre (in Spanish and Tagalog). This is the first book printed in typography.

4. Ang Barlaan at Josephat. This is a Biblical story printed in the Philippines and translated to Tagalog from Greek by Fr. Antonio de Borja. It is believed to be the first Tagalog novel published in the Philippines even if it is only a translation. The printed translation has only 556 pages. The Ilocano translation in poetry was done by Fr. Agustin Mejia.

5. The Pasion. This is the book about the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ. It is read only during Lent. There were 4 versions of this in Tagalog and each version is according to the name of the writer. These are the Pilapil version (by Mariano Pilapil of Bulacan, 1814), the de Belen version (by Gaspar Aquino de Belen of Bat. in 1704), the de la Merced (by Aniceto de la Merced of Norzagaray, Bulacan in 1856) and the de Guia version (by Luis de Guia in 1750). Critics are not agreed whether it is the Pilapil or the de la Merced version which is the most popular.

6. Urbana at Felisa. A book by Modesto de Castro, the so called Father of Classic Prose in Tagalog. These are letters between two sisters Urbana at Felisa and have influenced greatly the behavior of people in society because the letters dealt with good behavior.

7. Ang Mga Dalit kay Maria (Psalms for Mary). A collection of songs praising the Virgin Mary. Fr. Mariano Sevilla, a Filipino priest, wrote this in 1865 and it was popular especially during the Maytime “Flores de Mayo” festival.


1. Arte y Reglas de la Lengua Tagala (Art and rules of the Tagalog language). Written by Fr. Blancas de San Jose and translated to Tagalog by Tomas Pinpin in 1610.

2. Compendio de la Lengua Tagala (Understanding the Tagalog language). Written by Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin in 1703.

3. Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala (Tagalog vocabulary). The first Tagalog dictionary written by Fr. Pedro de San Buenaventura in 1613.

4. Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga (Pampanga vocabulary). The first book in Pampanga written by Fr. Diego in 1732.

5. Vocabulario de la Lengua Bisaya (Bisayan vocabulary). The best language book in Visayan by Mateo Sanchez in 1711.

6. Arte de la Lengua Ilokana (The Art of the Ilocano language). The first Ilocano grammar book by Francisco Lopez.

7. Arte de la Lengua Bicolana (The Art of the Bicol language). The first book in the Bicol language and written by Fr. Marcos Lisbon in 1754.

D. FOLK SONGS. Folk songs became widespread in the Philippines. Each region had its national song from the lowlands to the mountains of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Folk songs truly manifest the artistic feelings of the Filipinos. They show the Filipinos’ innate appreciation for and love of beauty. The examples are Leron-Leron Sinta, Pamulinawen, Dandansoy, Sarong Banggi and Atin Cu Pung Singsing.


There are many recreational plays performed by Filipinos during the Spanish times. Almost all of them were in poetic form. Here are examples:

1. Tibag – the word tibag means to excavate. This ritual was brought here by the Spaniard to remind the people about the search of St. Helena for the Cross on which Jesus died.

2. Lagaylay – this is a special occasion for the Pilareños of Sorsogon during Maytime to get together. As early as April, the participating ladies are chosen and sometimes, mothers volunteer their girls in order to fulfill a vow made during an illness or for a favor received. In some parts of Bicol, a different presentation is made but the objective is the same – praise, respect and offering of love to the Blessed Cross by St. Helen on the mound she had dug in.

3. The Cenaculo – this is a dramatic performance to commemorate the passion and death of Jesus Christ. There are two kinds: the Cantada and Hablada . In the Hablada the lines are spoken in a more deliberate manner showing the rhythmic measure of each verse and the rhyming in each stanza and is more dignified in theme; the Cantada is chanted like the Pasion.

The Cenaculo is written in octosyllabic verse, with 8 verses to the stanza. The full length versions take about 3 nights of staging. Performers come in costumes with wigs and performers are carefully chosen for their virtuous life. One performs the role of Jesus Christ and another the role of the Virgin Mary. Many famous Cenaculo players come from the Tagalog regions although there are also those from Ilocos, Pampanga, Bicol and both Sibulanon and Hiligaynon.

4. Panunuluyan – this is presented before 12:00 on Christmas Eve. This is a presentation of the search of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph for an inn wherein to deliver the baby Jesus.

5. The Salubong (or Panubong) - The Salubong is an Easter play that dramatizes the meeting of the Risen Christ and his Mother. It is still presented in many Philippine towns.

6. Carillo (Shadow Play) – this is a form of dramatic entertainment performed on a moonless night during a town fiesta or on dark nights after a harvest. This shadow play is made by projecting cardboard figures before a lamp against a white sheet. The figures are moved like marionettes whose dialogues are produced by some experts. The dialogues are drawn from a Corrido or Awit or some religious play interspersed with songs. These are called by various names in different places:

Carillo in Manila, Rizal and Batangas and Laguan; TITRES in Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Bataa, Capiz and Negros; TITIRI in Zambales; GAGALO or KIKIMUT in Pampanga and Tarlac; and ALIALA in La Union.

7. The Zarzuela – considered the father of the drama; it is a musical comedy or melodrama three acts which dealt with man’s passions and emotions like love, hate, revenge, cruelty, avarice or some social or political proble.

8. The Sainete – this was a short musical comedy popular during the 18 th century. They were exaggerated comedies shown between acts of long plays and were mostly performed by characters from the lower classes. Themes were taken from everyday life scenarios.

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