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Philippines: Pearl of the Orient Seas

Philippine literature before 1940 can be divided into three periods: the Legendary and Epic Age
(Pre-Spanish), the Period of the Spanish Occupation, and the Period of the American Occupation.

The Legendary and Epic Age (Pre-Spanish)

The legendary age produced oral literature handed down from the elders. Very little of this early
literature remains, but from what is left, we can conclude that the literature of this period consisted of
magical incantations, myths, legends, and folktales. Evidently, our early ancestors believed in sun and
moon worship, believed in environmental spirits, good or bad. The mountain groups and even some of
our barrio folk still believe in these spirits.

The myths and legends explained the origin of the universe, the origin of the human races, of first
man and woman, and of land regions.

The epic age produced a wealth of literature. Scholars estimate that we have no fewer than
twenty-four epics. These are distributed in different Filipino languages. The ones that are better known
all over the islands are the following:

1. Biag ni Lam-ang (Ilocos) Hudhud and Alim (Ifugao)

2. Maragtas (Panay) Bantugan (Maranaw)
3. Bidasari (Muslims of Sulu) Indarapatra and Sulayman (Maranaw)

The Spanish Occupation

The Spaniards introduced Christianity to the Philippines. Consequently, much of the literature
produced during this period was religious in nature. Among the early books to be written was the Pasyon,
a story the life of Christ beginning with the Anunciation and ending with the Crucifixion.

The moro-moro was a type of drama that became extremely popular. Its subject matter was
always a conflict between the Christianity triumphing at the end.

The corrido and awit were very popular forms of poetry during the latter part of the Spanish rule
and the American regime. The corridor was a long narrative in verse telling of the deeds of a legendary
hero. Although the setting was foreign and some of the incidents absurd and fantastic, still, the corridor
provided reading material for the masses. The priest favored it because of its religious nature. It always
began with a religious invocation.

The Filipino poets patterned some of their works on the corridor, the most notable of which is
Florante at Laura by Franciso Baltazar, now considered a classic in Filipino literature. Other works
include the Life of Don Juan Tenoso, Siete Infantes de Lara sa Kaharian ng Espanya, the Awit, and Doce
Pares ng Pransya. The awit also dealt with the adventures of knights but in a light romantic tone.

Early in the nineteenth century with the opening of the Suez Canal and a change in government
administration, many young Filipinos found themselves going to Europe. The contact with the outside
world made these Filipinos move for reforms. Filipinos wrote impassioned nationalistic poetry in Spanish,
imitative of European models. Prose was much used as a medium for reform. Antonio Luna founded the
newspaper La Independencia and Jose Rizal wrote his masterpieces, the Noli Me Tangere and its
sequel, El Filibusterismo. The two novels were banned because they aimed to reveal the abuses of the
church and the state in the Philippines during the Spanish time. On the whole, the literature of the period
fell under propaganda with many of the leaders of the movement against Spain.
The American Occupation

The coming of the Americans introduced the English language that the Filipinos began using as a
literary medium. Thus began Philippine literature written in English.

English as a literary vehicle for Filipino writers is a choice forced by history. With the coming of
the Americans, a new system of education was begun, and English was made the medium of instruction
in schools. The Filipino writers started to write and produce unimaginative verse patterned after
American and European models, but soon progressed to produce a body of literature for the world to

In Asian literature, Filipinos excel in literature. Leon Comber, the former British publisher of the
Heinemann Writing in Asia Series and the head judge for the Asiaweek Short Story competition,
commended the Filipino writers in his introduction to the book “Prize Winning Asian Fiction,” published in
1991 by Times Book International. He wrote, “Many of the best short stories came from the Philippines
because Filipino writers felt at ease using English as a medium of expression. In fact, their country is the
third-largest English speaking nation in the world and they take to writing in the language as a form of
artistic expression and show just as much zest and natural talent for it as they do for painting, music, and
the other arts.”

Comprehension Response

1. What are the three general divisions of Philippine literature?

2. What kind of literature was produced during each period?
3. Why do you think we have so many epics when most countries have only one?
4. Why is the literature of propaganda not the best form of literature?
5. What are some beliefs of our elders about the nuno sa punso? Tianak? Kapre?

Values Life Connection

1. Describe Philippine literature at present. How does it differ or similar from the past?
2. Predict the future of Philippine literature in English.

Vocabulary Building

1. Differentiate an epic, a legend, and a myth.

2. What do you call the people who worship the trees, sun, and other natural objects?
3. What is the difference between bulging eyes and swelling eyes?
4. What is another words for cut down a tree?
5. What animal gives us venison?