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A Brief History of Philippine Literature in English

I. Pre-Colonial Period

- Consisted of early Filipino literature passed down orally; oral pieces have a communal
authorship – it was difficult to trace the original author of the piece since oral literature did not focus
on ownership or copyright, rather on the act of storytelling itself;

- Many oral pieces became lost in the wave of the new literary influence brought about by the
Spanish colonization; however, according to the Philippine Literature: A History & Anthology, English
Edition (Lumbera, B. & Lumbera C.), the pre-colonial period of Philippine literature is considered the
longest in the country‟s history;

- Literature in this period is based on tradition, reflecting daily life activities such as housework,
farming, fishing, hunting, and taking care of the children as well;

- Oral pieces told stories which explained heroes and their adventures; they attempted to
explain certain natural phenomena, and, at the same time, served as entertainment purposes;

- Pre-colonial literature showed certain elements that linked the Filipino culture to other
Southeast Asian countries (e.g. oral pieces which were performed through a tribal dance have certain
similarities to the Malay dance);

- This period in Philippine literature history represented the ethos of the people before the arrival
of a huge cultural influence – literature as a cultural tradition, than a form of art that had a particular
set of decorum.

· Early Forms of Philippine Literature:

o Bugtong (riddles; a bugtong contains a metaphor called, Talinghaga), Salawikain (proverb);
o Pre-colonial poetry – Tanaga (expresses a view or a value of the world), Ambahan (songs about
childhood, human relationships, hospitality; sung by the Mangyan), Duplo (verbal jousts/games),
Bayok (thoughts about love), Balagtasan (performed on stage);
o Epic poetry – romantic heroes and heroines that are a reflection of the world as perceived by the
early Filipinos.

· Notable Works of the Pre-colonial Period:
o Tuwaang, Lam-ang, Hinilawod, Bantugan

II. Spanish Colonial Period (Mid-16th – late 19th century)

- The Spanish culture, as reflected in the works of this literature period, showed a clash with the
pre-colonial Filipino literature in the beginning. However, due to the length of stay of the colonizers,
the Spanish culture was eventually imbued in the Filipino literature of the period;

- Religion became an important theme that had influenced the early Filipino writings which had
the presence of paganism – “Christian Folk-Tale”;

- In addition, the influence of religion, besides on the daily life of the natives, was lead by the
friar/missionary/parish priest who were appointed by the Spanish government;

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