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The Bikolanos According to Angela Manalang-Gloria

Angela Manalang, later, Gloria, was always considered a Bikolana writer, and one of the major literary figures in Philippine literature. She was however born in Guagua, Pampanga. They relocated to Bicol, settling in Tabaco, Albay. She would attend St. Agnes Academy, this woman writer who would develop a notoriety in the 40s when she submitted as an entry to the Philippine Commonwealth Literary Awards the poem “Revolt from Hymen.” Imagine the reaction of the all-male jury confronting a word like “hymen.” If the title was not revolting enough for many, there was also the last word, which was “whore.” There are accounts stating how the jury tried to persuade her to change “whore” to “bore.” But, to borrow a favored English expression then - No can do!

Behold her poetry sophisticated beyond the parochial taste of the men who tried to judge her and managed to deny her the win for tha contest: To be free at last, to sleep at last/ As infants sleep within the womb of rest!/To stir and stirring find no blackness vast/ With passion weighted down upon the breast,/To turn the face this way and that and feel/ No kisses festering on it like sores,/To be alone at last, broken the seal/That marks the flesh no better than a whore’s!

The subject, marital rape, was way ahead of her times and Angela would, with her disease of tuberculosis, would but disappear from the literary scene. And yet in the class of H. Otley Beyer, that acerbic personality of Angela would appear, as she discusses her paper, labeled Bikol Paper No. 63 (note Beyer’s use of the letter “K,” which decades later would be adopted by Fr. James O’Brien, SJ, and would influence generations of Bikolano and Ateneo writers and scholars). The title of the paper: The Domestic Relations and Morality of the Bicolanos, submitted in 1928.

She introduces her topic by defining what compose Bikol - Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon. She does not include Catanduanes and Masbate. Was it because at certain points in history Masbate was politically annexed to Sorsogon in 1907, and given its own representation only in 1922? Was the case of Catanduanes similar - being made a sub-province of Ambos Camarines in 1900 and later a sub-province of Albay?

Observing the location of Albay, in particular, Tabaco, Angela notes of how the entrance of the foreign elements through the ports, has “a deteriorating influence” not only on this town but on other places as well.

What did she write about Bikolanos?

Under Domestic Relations of the Bicolanos, she writes: “In no part of the world are there happier homes than in the Bicol region.” She becomes more specific: “The Bicolano is cool-tempered, timid, docile…and family lover.”

Now comes the romanticization common then and even now: “He may live in poverty but his happiness more than compensate for lack of wealth.” She articulates this further by attempting to come up with causes of poverty: “The Bicolanos home is not on the whole poor, but this is due to (sic) great part to climate [is she referring to typhoons?] and to (sic)easy mode of life here.”

Then comes Angela’s insight on what constitutes a Bicolano: “The abhorrence of great hardships that make a man struggle keenly for life gives the Bicolano no ambition, no desire at all to go beyond his dirty unkept (sic) horizon and explore the regions beyond.” Interestingly, this insular notion about the Bicolanos finds its way in another Bikolista, Norman Owen. In his book, The Bikol Blend, Owen notes in Chapter 1 this observation: “But if geography decreed the relative isolation of the Bikolnon, she compensated by giving them a fertile setting in which to enjoy that isolation.”

But what does Angela say in her paper of the Bikolano men, against whom she seemed to be fighting against her whole literary life, the most famous of which was her rivalry with Jose Garcia Villa?

In her characteristic trenchant manner of commentary, she states: “When love is concerned, the Bicolano makes a good husband.” There is a caveat though: “However, he prefers to work only about three days and spend the remaining time of the week loafing around and gambling away what he has earned by hard labor.”

In the city of Tabaco stands a massive house. Formerly the Smith, Bell and Company House, it is now known as the ancestral house of Angela Manalang Gloria. One of the recent typhoons has caused major devastation in the structure. We hope the city finds a fund to restore the home of one of the most important writers of her generation.

Her reputation was always that of a rival of Jose Garcia Villa when she began her college education in the University of the Philippines. Both Angela and Jose (Garcia Villa) fought to be literary editor of the Philippine Collegian, with the former holding the position for two years.


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