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Bicol literature is about Bicol

By Juan Escandor Jr.
Bicol Mail

Short of a distinctive definition of Bicol literature, writers attending the fourth quadrennial Bicol writers’ conference “Pagsurat Bikol”, held recently at the Ateneo de Naga University, took comfort with the fact that Bicol is in their hearts and minds when they weave pieces of literary work.

“Bicol literature is poetry, novel or fiction written about Bicol. Not necessarily in the Bicol language, not necessarily published in Bicol, and not necessarily by a Bicolano, but it’s about Bicol. Meaning, if it’s a short story the setting is in Bicol or its character is a Bicolano. It’s about Bicol,” according to Marne Kilates.

Kilates is a native of Daraga, Albay with three books of poetry in his name, translator of the works of National Artists Rio Alma and Bienvenido Lumbera, a Palanca awardee and later, its judge, and a recipient of Southeast Asian Writers Award handed down by the Thai Monarchy.

Indie filmmaker and novelist Alvin Yapan, who hails from Pili, Camarines Sur, agrees that Bicol literature is any literary work pertaining to Bicol and added that it must also be an instrument in cultivating the culture of the region.

Tito G. Valiente draws from historical perspective what defines Bicol literature.

Valiente is a member of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), scholar of Japanese films, Business Mirror columnist and the director of the Institute of Bikol Culture and History of Ateneo de Naga University.

“The definition of Bicol literature has evolved, through time and space, histories. It is always a literature of displacement,” Valiente said.

He said that Filipinos are displaced because they have been colonized and uprooted from the original culture in a way that it created a “loss” which is “magical”.

Children’s books author Christine Bellen, who grew up in Bacacay, Albay, sees Bicol sensibility in Bicol literature, including the affinity to it.

“The assertion of identity is language and culture. Even in feminism, in its first wave, the identity of the women was asserted by themselves. They have to talk about their body, thought, consciousness and all of the experience they have.”

In Bellen’s view, Bicol literature must be asserted like the way feminists asserted their identity to gain emancipation.

But Bicol literature is also in the crossroad of standardizing spelling or its orthography.

Jose Obias, journalist, author of a book about the Our Lady of Peñafrancia and educated in the seminary, suggested the selective adoption of Spanish spelling.

But Paz Verdades Santos, PhD, who taught literature in De La Salle University and author of several books, disagrees.

“What is obvious is that it should no longer be the old Spanish orthography, with qui for k (aqui/aki (child)) and the Spanish g+ñ for ng (gnonian/ngonian) even if some of the older writers prefer that (Spanish spelling),” Santos asserts.

She explains that in general, she goes for the simpler syllabic orthography based on pronunciation, like Filipino. “In fact, I would rather not use diacritical marks unless there could be some confusion in meaning.”

A diacritical mark is a mark placed on a letter to indicate it has different pronunciation than it would otherwise, or to indicate that the word has a different meaning than it would otherwise, according to Gerald Erichsen, About.com.Spanish Language.

“For example, there is no need to add a diacritical mark to salog (river) when a sentence context shows it is obviously about the floor (salóg) rather than the river,” Santos said.

Even the spelling of “Bicol” has evolved and indigenized to “Bikol, which most Bicol writers use in their published work, according to Kristian Cordero, award-winning poet and fictionist.

Santos said the usual answer on the question of two spellings is “Bicol” is the region and “Bikol” is the language. “I prefer to use Bikol consistently though, whether it is the region, the language, the people, and whether writing in English, Filipino or Bikol.”

She said that based on her monitoring of literary books by Bicolano authors that includes chapbooks, children’s books, self-published books, translations and second editions in various languages published from 2008 to 2012 have reached more than 60 works.