Monday, February 27, 2006

Preserving the Ilocano Identity

Preserving the Ilocano Identity
By Clesencio B. Rambaud

Every serious writer dreams of writing not only for his people but also for the whole world. He dreams of transcending the language barrier and holding the attention of the world if only for a moment. To do so, however, he must first write for his own people and consider them his whole world. Indeed, no one can speak for and about his own people except himself. This he has to do for his own literature to survive. This, I may say, is true for me as an Iluko writer, and perhaps for every writer who writes in his native tongue.

Iluko is the language of the Ilokanos, the third largest ethnic group in the Philippines, next only to the Tagalogs and the Cebuanos. Iluko belongs to the Indonesian division of the Astronesian family of languages and it is the lingua franca of the whole of Northern Luzon, parts of Central Luzon, the island of Mindoro, Agusan del Sur, Cotabato, Davao, and other provinces in the island of Mindanao (Foronda,1976).

The Iluko writer -- to distinguish him from the Ilokano writer who writes in a language other than Iluko -- has no one to blame but himself if his literature dies a natural, perhaps even a premature, death. It will be a tragedy for them as a people.

The Iluko writer, and other regional writers, should learn from history. If they fail to develop their own literature, they would be no different from their ancestors who failed to develop their indigenous traditions and practices and found themselves compelled to assimilate the culture of their colonizers, not necessarily as equals but as subordinates.

Had it not been mutilated, the indigenous culture of the Filipinos should have been the fountainhead of the identity and dignity of our ancestors. Conquests mutilated the pristine culture and produced what social critic and historian Renato Constantino describes as “a people lacking in racial pride” (Constantino,1974).

This lack of racial pride, in the words of Constantino, “produced an inferiority complex towards their conqueror whose every way they tried to ape while they adopted a condescending attitude towards their (Asian) neighbors who had not become Christians nor westernized and who had retained their native culture and identity” (ibid.)”. Whether or not this lack of racial pride is still within us as a nation, the question should be addressed among ourselves as individual Filipinos.

The Iluko writer knows that his own epic Biag ti Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang), which was supposed to have been created before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, was “vandalized” and “Christianized” by the Spanish friars to serve as a vehicle in propagating the Christian faith among the predominantly pagan inhabitants of Northern Philippines, the home of the Ilokanos (Duque,1985). Biag ti Lam-ang thus symbolizes the “mutilation” of indigenous Ilokano culture.

If it is true that this “lack of racial pride” still dilutes the Ilokano blood and psyche, it may be worthy to note that the Iluko writer is strenuously doing his self-assigned and thankless task of neutralizing this “bitter legacy.” Or if the Ilokano who is known to be very proud of his race almost to the point of idolizing himself, does not accept that his identity was soiled by his colonizers, then would it not be an honest distinction for the Iluko writer to help preserve the Ilokano identity?
That an Ilokano needs to develop his regional identity should not be construed as parochialism or regionalism, as being divisive to the Filipino nation. It is even perceived that the inability of a government to support the development of the indigenous culture of its people may lead to widespread dissatisfaction and dissension.

The attainment of a national identity can only be possible if the individual tribes forming a nation are able to assert their own distinctive identities. The Ilokano should first be an Ilokano before he can consider himself a Filipino and, in turn, before his country can be accepted in the growing family of nations (Pascual, 1987).

As the first step to being a Filipino, the Ilokano must read the history, the literature, or the great thoughts of his own people written in their own language. This will reaffirm his identity as an Ilokano, for everything written in Iluko projects the true vision and spirit of the Ilokanos (Sibayan, 1987).

Happily for the Ilokano people, Iluko literature is very much alive to prove the Ilokano’s worth. In fact, Iluko writers remain among the most active regional writers in the Philippines. Despite almost insuperable odds, they have produced the second largest number of published works in the country, the first being those of Tagalogs.

Several reasons may account for the development and enrichment of Iluko literature. Bannawag (Dawn), a magazine in Iluko; the Gunglo dagiti Mannurat nga Ilokano iti Filipinas (GUMIL, Filipinas), a national organization of Iluko writers; and well-off Ilokanos who sponsor contests in the production of Iluko literature have contributed much to enable Iluko literature to survive.
Bannawag, a weekly founded in 1934, paradoxically by a non-Ilokano, and still being published by the Liwayway Publishing, Inc., remains the only periodical where Iluko writers can hope to have most of their works published. But it is a limited outlet, considering that there are roughly 2,000 active Iluko writers today.

To augment this lack of venue for expression, the writers resort to their native tagnawa; each writer helps shoulder the printing cost of their book so that, from time to time, they come up with an anthology of poems or short stories. A few are obliged to finance the publication of their books while a thoughtful Ilokano philanthropist or two may providentially help. It must be noted, however, that most anthologized stories or poems, and even novels published in book form, first appear in the pages of Bannawag. It is the general feeling among Iluko writers that their works published in Bannawag are their best. To be considered a full-fledged Iluko writer, one must have his work published in Bannawag and thereby be assured that his writing has merit.

For the Bannawag to have survived for half a century is in itself a phenomenon, considering the influx of other media, notably radio and television, and considering that Ilokanos are known for being rather parsimonious. Living in an inhospitable place, indeed one of the harshest regions in the country, the Ilokano learns to spend his every centavo in the most gainful and meaningful way. it is for this reason that Bannawag did not nearly come into existence at all. The original owner of Liwayway Publishing, Inc., Don Ramon Roces, at first refused to publish a magazine for the Ilokanos, apprehensive that they would not buy such a magazine (Bragado,1972).

But Bannawag is still around, apparently a solvent enterprise to the present owner. It has even outlived other national magazines in the Philippines and has already become an Ilokano institution in itself. Bannawag is synonymous to Iluko literature. Others even consider Bannawag a “barometer” of Iluko literature.
Bannawag has survived because the Iluko writer endeavors to understand his people. He seeks to make them see themselves through his writings.

The Iluko writer is able to do this because he is not totally alienated from his people. He lives with his people. He speaks their own language whether they be in Manila or in Honolulu. He eats saluyot, pinakbet, pinapaitan, and pinulpogan with gusto. He drinks their own sugar cane wine, basi, and tapay, their rice wine, and smacks his lips over these beverages which, one of the earliest Iluko writers metaphorically called asin ti biag -- the salt of life.

To the Iluko writer, his readers are not a cold mass noun. His readers are people very much alive. He knows them intimately as Manong Baro (Big Brother) who was not able to continue his schooling because of the long igaaw (drought) that destroyed their rice crops; as Ama Lakay (Grand Old Man) who mediates the return of eloping lovers to the girl’s parents; or as Ading Balasang (Young Woman) who works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong without compromising her morals; or as Tata Ubing (Young Uncle) who migrated to hawaii after he was “ordered” or brought there by his Hawayana fiancee (an Ilokana who, for convenience, has become an American citizen and is living in Hawaii.)

It is for this reason that the great body of Iluko literature consists of stories of the trials, aspirations or achievements of rice and tobacco farmers, of fishermen and market vendors, of the young in love, of laborers and lowly clerks, of teachers, and of the family.

How can there be a great Iluko literature if the majority of its readers are simple farmers and plain housewives? It is, in fact, a challenge to the Iluko writer to write for the less educated and those who cannot speak for themselves and at the same time, to create a literature worthy of its name. An Iluko saying runs thus: Adda adalna, ngem awan sursurona, ( a person has gone to school, but he lacks good breeding). Thus, a low education is no hindrance for an Ilokano to enjoy life and Iluko literature.

It need not be emphasized that literature is not literature unless it is communicated. A writer writes because he desires to be understood; that to write in a simple way does not necessarily mean conveying merely simple thoughts. A “heavy” story” does not necessarily mean a great story. Great themes like love and death, justice and truth, are not a monopoly of “heavy” stories, as any human drama is not a monopoly of the famous and the rich.

To the Iluko writer, it is enough that he writes about and for the lowly and the oppressed, that he helps them see the truth, that he comforts them in their times of sorrow, that he laughs with them; these are the essence of great literature.
Just how “great” the Iluko writer thinks of his works, only time will tell. Presently, the Iluko writer is restless. He questions himself whether or not he has truly served his purpose of being a spokesman of his people.

Now, he desires the entry of a legitimate critic who can see the purity as well as the flaws of his works, who can feel the assonance or dissonance of his creation; one who truly represents his readers by being perceptive. The Iluko writer recognizes the need for a “tripod” that will make his literature bloom to its fullest -- himself; his readers; and the critic.

Reynaldo A. Duque, one of the better writers Iluko literature has produced says: “For the Iluko writer to develop fully,he must be like the sarguelas tree. To bear fruit, it must be “hurt -- its trunk must be cut to let some of its sap ooze out.” But how to provide the environment from which a critic of Iluko literature may emerge is another matter. Would-be critics know that the Iluko writer is over-sensitive. They know that the Iluko writer views his works as an extension of his own self. To criticize his works, therefore, is a virtual personal affront. thus, in order not to gain enemies, would-be critics usually keep their criticisms to themselves or among themselves. Even though the Iluko writer assures them that he will gladly listen to criticism, would-be critics will always be discreet and aloof.

It is my hope that misgivings between writers and critics will dissipate soon. After all, they uphold the same worthy cause: the development and flowering of Iluko literature. Too, I hope that like the sarguelas tree, the Iluko writer would be more productive from the bolo wounds of his would-be critics. Moreover, I hope that the Iluko writer will still be there to write and write when his legitimate critics emerge from their cocoons. I say these because many Iluko writers, sadly enough, are mere “transitory contributors” to Iluko arts and letters. Only while they are young do they act assiduously as the guardians of Iluko literature.

An eminent Iluko bibliographer and historian observes aptly: “...the Ilokano writer will devote only his adolescent and youthful years to writing in his native tongue, and eventually shift to more lucrative occupations. it is thus that by and large, Ilokano writing will mainly be an effort of the young, although there will always be some mature writers who will continue writing in Iluko for the sheer love of it” (Foronda, 1976). This explains how Iluko literature lost many of its better writers. I think this is also true of other regional writers in the Philippines.
What a waste of talent indeed! A poet dies young in his country because he has to live.

In the meantime, the Iluko writer, impelled by an indefinable, irresistible urge, has to write. He has to for his literature to survive.

(The author was a delegate to the Fourth Solidarity Asian Writers’ Conference where his article was presented as part of the proceedings. It was originally published in the Manila-based Solidarity, edited and published by F. Sionil Jose.)


1 comment :

Anonymous said...