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FIELDNOTES: We Don’t Need Another Epic (Part 1)

Tito Genova Valiente Muses of Helicon, let us begin our song with them… -from Hesiod’s Theogony Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide… -from Homer’s Odyssey Tell us Kadugnung The history of Handiong With the Silver lyre Sing the sweet song of Aslóng - From “Ibalon”as “re-translated by Jose Calleja Reyes IN 1968, Jose Reyes Calleja published his paper on the epic “Ibalon,” in the Philippine Studies. So far, that paper remains the most focused of the many interests and obsessions about this piece of literature. In that paper, Reyes cited Fr. Frank Lynch, SJ, the Jesuit anthropologist who would found the Institute of Philippine Culture, the bastion of socio-anthropological research in the 70s and well into the 90s. Reyes mentioned how he, with the Jesuit social scientist, used the latter’s orthography: “The present writer acknowledges with appreciation Father Frank Lynch’s suggestions and help in the final preparation of the Bikol retranslation of Fr. Castaño’s fragment. The orthography used by the writer in this retranslation follows the Bikol orthography devised and used by Father Lynch in his solid contribution to Philippine cultural research, “Social Class in a Bicol Town”, 1959, pp. 141-42.” In the Lynch-Reyes orthography, Cadugnung, for example, became Kadunung; Yling was turned into Iling. “Fr. Castaño” referred to “Jose Castaño,” a Franciscan friar who was in the Philippines and in Bikol. Reyes in his opening paragraph thus mentioned: In the year 1896, there appeared in the Archivo del Bibliofilo del Filipino, Volume I, by Wenceslao E. Retana, an account of the ancient Bicolanos, their origin, superstitions, and beliefs. The account was entitled Breve Noticia acerca del origin, religion,creencias y supersticiones de los antiguos Indios del Bicol.’ It was expressly written for the “Archivo” by fray Jose Castaño, a Franciscan, then Rector of the Colegio de Misioneros de Almagro in Spain.” The friar, according to the documents, was assigned in Camalig for a year in 1871 and, after a year, was appointed to be in Lupi, where he stayed till 188o, a full nine years of residence in that place. For the student of archives – Spanish archives – the presence of the friar in those two locations speak not only about evangelization but also of the significance of the outpost. Remember that all these geographical demarcations we have at present were not yet in place in the 1800s. The importance of sites in those years could speak of a different perspective. One can nitpick and, indeed, we are all allowed to do that now, but the paper of Jose Calleja Reyes, to use a recently rediscovered theoretical underpinning, can be “Deleuzian” in perspective. In other words, one can enter and exit the world of Jose Calleja Reyes and his discussion of “Ibalon” in much the same way that one can have multiple meanings of those incursions and excursions. One can go into the documents about the epic and come out of the documents apprehending the same, with one’s interpretations having equal viability and import. First of all, Reyes’s account of the epic is not the first time that work was aired out in the open. Reyes does not deny this; in fact, he underscores it in his footnotes. In one citation, Reyes talks of a survey of Philippine literature in 1947, where the names of writers Jose Villa Panganiban, Consuelo Panganiban, Otley Beyer and de Veyra were invoked. Jose Villa Panganiban was writer and researcher, a lexicographer and poet. He completed dictionaries with his wife, Consuelo. Jose de Veyra was a lawyer and prominent p0litician in pre-war Philippines; he was from 1937-1944 the Director of the Institute of National Language. De Veyra would become a researcher in the National Library. Otley Beyer, of course, is the legendary American anthropologist who is considered the “Father of Philippine Anthropology.” Beyer is also the originator of the Wave Migration Theory – the Aeta, the Malay and the Indonesia – impacting the Philippines. That theory is being debunked by present-day social scientists even as the contribution of Beyer to the study of Philippine histories and cultures cannot be underestimated. There are older citations mentioning the epic and the point of this column is that this work is indeed an artefact worth noting after all these years. One interesting point is the title, “Ibalon.” It was only when the fragments were translated by Panganiban that the name “Ibalon” surfaced. The title was given because “Ibalon” was supposedly the name given by the Spanish colonizers to the region, or to the area. “Bikol” and “Kabikolan” are fairly new constructs. And for this, we have to look to other data, other documents, other books. In the “Archivo,” Reyes would tell us the “fragment” did not bear any title. The epic came to us as a fragment, which means that in its extant form, it is brief with sixty stanzas in quatrains. There are many accounts already about how this fragment was really a part of a work written by another friar. In other accounts, there is the romantic, very Greek and Euro-centric tale of a blind bard – a Hesiod and a Homer – walking around, chanting the lore. Thus, at the end of what is not the end, Kadunung tells Iling, he will pause at this point and continue again the next day: Aqui suspendido Cadugnung/su primera narracion./dejando para otro dia/de continuarla occasion. Like the epic, I will stop here and continue till my next column, next week.

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