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The Filipino Writer as a Translator

By Kristian Sendon Cordero

Ateneo de Naga University

THE coming of the new millennium, which initially feared by everyone as what could be the end of the world, signaled a new springtime for us— and there are many factors that we can cite as attributes for this cultural renaissance in the region. One of the main strengths is our translation program participated in by the Ateneo de Naga University and the Ina nin Bikol Foundation, Inc.

For today’s discussion, allow me to highlight the work of translation, as an integral part in writing our literary histories—for it is very seldom that we consider translation or a trans-creation or an adaptation as part of what we may call as the “literary canon”. Devoid of a sense of nationality, or an ethno-linguistic origin, the translated work remains the “ampon” in our literary canon. It is both an insider and an outsider. This low regard to works of translation or this ignorance about the practice of translation should be put to stop— and this where our task as writers, teachers and literary scholars must begin. This is a very strange phenomenon considering that even the Bible we read and used in our prayers, be it in Bikol, Ilokano, Kapampangan, or even in the “highly sophisticated language” of French or English, these are all works of translation. Further, let us take for example the case of Jose Rizal who is by far the most widely read and translated Filipino author. He wrote his two novels in Spanish, which are taught under Filipino classes in high school, but seldom we hear teachers clarify or even tell their students that what we are now dealing are works in translation.

Imagine if instead of allowing us to take all those codified moral lessons and those tedious quizzes about the vocabulary lesson Rizal himself did not write, we instead focus on the fact that these novels were originally written in Spanish—imagine the possibility and interactions we can deliver in our classrooms particularly in Bikol whose vocabularies have been heavily influenced by the Spanish language. Imagine what we can draw from the literary texts be it the Bible or the novels of Rizal, if we start being conscious about it as a translated text. Rizal’s novels have been translated into several foreign and local languages including Bikol in 1923 and in 1961 respectively. Regrettably, the 1961 translations of Rizal did not in a way popularized and elevated our understanding neither about the Bikol language nor about Jose Rizal. A translation therefore is not something that we do for the sake of either the source language or the target language. A translated work after all must reach its target audience/readers as well. And this is what we bear in mind in doing the contemporary translations of the Little Prince, The Prophet, Borges, Rilke, Capek, to mention a few.

In this new genealogy of Bikol writings, we consider the works of translation as integral part in the history of thought and writings of our region. In fact, if there is what we can claim as the first siglo de oro in Bikol Literature one will have to locate it during the incumbency of the Spanish Dominican Bishop, Francisco Gainza (1862-1879). As bishop, he was responsible for reinstituting the diocesan seminary to a seminario-colegio and the founding of the first normal school for women in the Philippines, the Universidad de Santa Isabel. His zeal to educate the native population can be gleaned in his reforms in the formation of the clergy and the advancement of education catering to the rising middle class of this period. He was also responsible for building new roads, a leprosarium and establishing a town that now bears his name, and he also even thought of building a river canal that will link the seaport in the town of Pasacao up to the river of Nueva Caceres. More than these physical structures however

, his crowning glory as a significant personality in the Bikol annals would be his support to translation and subsequent publication and distribution of these works. Up to these days, the Pasyon Bikol a translation by Traquilino Hernandez, a layman from the town of Polangui remains a popular reading among Catholic Bikolanos. Aside from the Pasyon, Gainza commissioned the republication of the Marcos de Lisboa’s Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol and a four volume of homilies written in 19th century Bikol language. Alongside with the Pasyon, the sermones, and the vocabulario, he commissioned the Bikol translation of Modesto de Castro’s Urbana at Feliza, a modified version of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and a Bikol translation of the History and the Novena of Our Lady of Penafrancia.

What previous Bikol scholars have achieved is to collect/select, edit and publish these materials for the benefit of their own students who ironically did not pay much attention to their local histories and cultures until these pioneering teachers and scholars came into the picture. Though it should be noted that as early at the beginning of the 20th century, a group called Sanghiran Bikol and Akademyang Bikol have been organized by prominent individuals in Naga, Iriga and Legazpi to discuss and debate on the necessary issues affecting Bikol orthography and the importance of a regional lingua franca. Prof. Maria Lilia Realubit, one of the pioneering post-war scholars in the region started collecting and “curating” these Bikoliana materials and published it in 1983. Similar undertakings and archiving can be found in the works of Mariano Goyena del Prado’s Ibalon originally written in Spanish and translated into English by Professor Realubit; The Historical and Cultural Heritage of the Bikol People edited by the Jesuit James O’Brien which contained voluminous accounts of folktales, songs, historical vignettes, excerpts from previous Bikoliana materials and other relevant studies. Culled and collected from the students themselves who were tasked to do interviews and surveys, the first edition of this O’Brien project which was used as a textbook material for Ateneo High School students came out in 1966 and subsequently edited and revised until 1993 by the same Jesuit priest.

Other interesting materials used for instruction are Readings in Bikol Culture (edited by Luis General Jr. et al) and Istorya nin Kabikolan, a bilingual edition (English/Bikol-Sentral) of every Bikol’s town history and culture, edited by Jaime Malanyaon, a former public school official. Like O’Brien who tasked his students to collect Bikol materials, Malanyaon instructed his teachers to gather available historical and cultural materials about their respective town and cities. The said Malanyaon book was distributed to public schools teachers. Another equally important work is Dr. Paz Verdades Santos’s Hagkus, an anthology of women-writers’ literary works. This anthology, the first of its kind in the region, focused on the writings of women in various times of our region’s history—while this anthology is another work of cataloguing, Santos included short biographical sketches about the lives of these women writers and provided her own contextual evaluations on their respective works. Santos also provided trans

lations to the works written in Spanish, Bikol and Filipino. With Santos’ Hagkus, a need for a critical history of Bikol writings that would encompass both men and women, oral and written, becomes a necessary task. Santos’ Hagkus, provides a new clearing in the path that was initially illumined by the works of Goyena del Prado, Realubit and O’Brien.

The Ateneo de Naga University Press has initiated a new series called Bikoliana Klasika—our aim is to republish these archival materials in order to bring this to a new readership among our people. Our first in the series include the history and the novena to Our Lady, the Spiritual Exercises and we are now preparing for the republication of Urbana at Feliza. With all these republications and annotations, we hope to generate a wider interest among Bikolanos and fellow Filipinos. These translations are certainly part of our literary histories. We cannot just content ourselves with the usual set-up that particularly locates regional literatures as part and parcel of the national literature. Here, we are determined to change our course to look for a new genealogy where the idea of the nation is not imposed upon us, but is borne out of the texts produced or translated in the works of those from the region(s). When did the Bikolanos start imagining as part of the Philippines? Have we always thought we are different from the Tagalogs and that we are closely associated with the Bisayas? For a literary historian that is only interested in “periodization”, or cataloguing literary works according to the time of its production/publication, our case in Bikol presents a curious and strange case.

In 2012, we initiated a region-wide research and surveys and focused group discussions and evaluations on Bikol orthography and we came out with most acceptable results. These archival materials initially translated in Bikol of the 19th century and are republished today using a revised orthography of Bikol. In other words, these works of translation assumes a reinvigorated life in this new orthography and new edition. If before, we only accord regional literatures as part and parcel of what could be the national literature, we do not think it is the right path to thread. Regional literatures like Bikol must chart its own literary histories and locate both the images of the nation and the world in our stories and writings.

Let us take the case of Ibalon, one of Bikol’s valued literary artifacts should no longer just be studied as folklore or whether it is an epic or just a long narrative poem in Spanish. We must also see the “performative aspect” of the said poem and how the narrative has incarnated into an annual street festival in Legazpi City and today the municipality of Libmanan has also claimed its right over the said “epic”, claiming that they are the rightful owner of the said epic. On the other hand, contemporary poets and novelists continue to write from and about the narrative of Handyong. Abdon Balde’s novel Awit ni Kadunung, Alvin Yapan’s film Debosyon and one of Frank Penones Jr’s early poem entitled An Opon Kan Ibalon Pagkahali kan Maskara are examples of the works inspired by the narrative. The text is a favorite representative text of Bikol literature. But no one talks among teachers about the historical background and the translations of the said piece to English and Bikol. There should be some interesting insights that we can learn in the process of translating this from Spanish to English and Bikol. When we catalogue this text, where shall we categorize it—under the Spanish period? Is Ibalon a Bikol literature when a Spanish Friar writes it in Spanish? What about the Bikol and the English versions? I wonder how many translations in Sebwano or in Hiligaynon of Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios? In Bikol, there are about 23 translations of the said poem and there is even one in Bikol-Buhinon engraved in the town’s plaza.

While we hear teachers complaining the students’ lack of interest to read Western classics, we are quite excited to release under the Bikoliana Klasika series the Bikol works of Antonio Salazar, Luis Dato and Rosaulio Imperial, Sr. all published by Cecilio Press in Naga City. Of these three, only Dato gained a “national prominence” because of some of his poems in English anthologized in Manila publications. But Dato was also a prolific writer in Bikol newspapers, writing short essays in Bikol discussing local politics and cultures. Of the post-war Bikol writers, I am concentrating my research on Rosaulio Imperial, Sr. Like Dato who served as a municipal mayor in Baao, Camarines Sur, Imperial Sr. was elected mayor of Naga on January 1941 until the arrival of the Japanese Army. He refused to render his service to the Japanese and eventually went into hiding. To extract information for his whereabouts, the Japanese tortured and killed his son, Rosaulio Jr. After the liberation, he became mayor of Naga from 1945

to 1947. Some of his works are translations of some of the best-known writings in Western literary canon. To mention a few, Imperial translated/transformed novels like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into the popular form of corridos. He also had corrido versions of Shakespeare’s Othello, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. These works locate Bikol writings in connection with the rest of the world literature.

This Imperial collection offers an interesting facet of our own receptions to literature during the post-war period. The corrido versions of Tolstoy, Flaubert and Shakespeare are unpublished materials. The Ateneo de Naga University Press hopes to release these works in the coming years alongside with other unpublished manuscripts turned over to the university by the heirs of Gaudencio Cecilio who owns the still existing small printing press in Naga City called Cecilio Press. This small press is our progenitor.

As a regional/university press, we commit to publish these Bikol materials, update and annotate these texts for the contemporary readers and integrated them in the academic and public life. In recent months, we have been conducting our own book and film caravans that brings our books and films to select public and privaye schools in Bikol. One of the books that usually draw the students and teachers attentions is our the Bikol translation of the Little Prince and the anthology of tweets on love and revolution by Rolando Tolentino that carries a translation in Sebwano, Hiligaynon, Chavacano, Masbatenyo, Buhinon, Rinconada, Bikol-Naga and Kinaray-a. While it is true that we commit to become the center of Bikol Studies, we are also aware of the great need in this country to support other regions in their publications. For the last three years, we have published the following books: Our Memory of Water: Words After Haiyan, edited by Merlie Alunan, with the KATIG Writers Group, the Leyte Normal University and the

University of the Philippines in the Visayas. This anthology contains works both in Waray with English translations. Sa Gihapon, Palangga, Ang Uran/Always, Beloved, the Rain by Genevieve Asenjo, translated into English by Ma. Milagros Geremia-Lachica. The collection is in Kinaray-a. Sanga Sa Angkla, Hangin Sa Samin/ Branch of the Mirror, Air in the Mirror, a bilingual edition of Michael Obenieta’s poetry in Sebwano and English. Waray Hiunong Sa Gugma/Walang Tungkol sa Pag-ibig, a bilingual edition of Jerry Gracio’s poetry in Waray and Filipino.

Other works of translation include translations of selected poetry of Rilke and Borges and an anthology of selected stories by the Czech writer Karel Capek, edited by Cordero, Paz Verdades Santos and Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa, Jr. Victor Dennis Nierva whose award-winning first book Antisipasyon contains some translations of Pablo Neruda and Gerard Manley Hopkins. He also translated the works of John Donne to Bikol. This project won for him the National Book Awards for Translations. Another important publication is the translation of Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung or the Metamorphosis in Bikol, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Carlo Collodi’s The Adventure of Pinocchio. The last three books are published by the Ina nin Bikol Foundation with funding assistance from the VC Igarta Foundation in New York. Further, Virgilio Almario’s Muli Sa Kandungan ng Lupa takes a new breathe in the English translation of Marne Kilates, Heartland. Poets Gerry Rubio and Arnold Valledor have translated into Bikol-Katanduanon Allan Popa’s first book of Filipino poetry whose subject and theme revolves around the island of Catanduanes.

In the coming years, we wish to continue and intensify these cross-regional relations that we hope will eventually lead to more books and artistic collaborations among the regions. For a country that has 160 languages available for more than one hundred million population, the task may indeed be daunting. But we must proceed nonetheless; we must take the risk of reinventing the wheel by doing cross-regional translations. This is our next step as a university press. We must strengthen our regional connections instead of acting as beneficiaries/ competitors of the “imagined” national funds. As writers and translators, we have to locate the intersections or build intersections in our literary histories. Take for example the case of Mariano Perfecto, both recognized by Hiligaynon writers and the Bikol writers as the “Father.” There is even a dispute whether he became a priest like me or he was only in Iloilo in 1890’s to search for his brother priest who joined the revolutionary forces. Perfecto the writer and

the printer is an enigmatic figure that we now must search. But historians are in agreement that he established his printing presses in Naga and Iloilo at the beginning of the 20th century producing religious works in Hiligaynon that were subsequently translated in Bikol, vice-versa. Perfecto, a writer and a proprietor could serve as our model in this undertaking. For we dream to see one day that a poet from Bikol is translated into Sebwano, Hiligaynon, Ilokano or a novelist in Chavacano is translated into Kapampangan or Kinaray-a. With Perfecto in mind, we may continue to build these literary highways that will allow our works to be translated and read in the regions. We must do this by ensuring that we become interested with each other. University presses in the regions should be established and funded.

To conclude, let me share with you what I did in my translation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. We know that Kafka’s most famous work has undergone several metamorphoses itself—In Hebrew translation the title becomes The Incarnation. In Bikol, I used An Pagkagimata ni Gregor Samsa/ or The Awakening of Gregor Samsa. It is important to highlight here what the translators can offer when they translate works like that of Kafka for example. Here the translator is not just someone who does things for exactitude and perfection. Here, the translator is also a creator, a writer of his own text. In the Bikol translation of Kafka, a strong spiritual connection is reflected in the word pagkagimata, this is the moment when one wakes up from sleeping like Gregor Samsa, but this can also be the great moment of epiphany, a revelation which Samsa must probably realized towards the last moment of his life when by that window he saw the world around him as grayish, cold and distant. In the same work, I made use of two Bikol languages. The main text is written in Bikol-Naga. But in that point when Gregor started speaking in a gibberish language, which no one in his family could decipher, I made him speak, Bikol-Rinconada, my mother tongue. Unlike Bikol-Naga, Rinconada (from the Spanish word Rincon, which means at the corner) remains a largely oral language. It is not the preferred language used in the local media, in the academe and even in the Church. The Bible has not yet been completely translated into this language. With this example, we hope that we draw the points that with translation we can continue to stretch the limits of our languages, challenge our flights of imagination and perhaps with a renewed vigor and understanding of our literary histories and its intersections we may have a new and far more encompassing view, what the German philosopher Gadamer called the Horizontverschmelzung or the fusion of horizons.

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