Pre-Colonial Literature: Observations

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Rhea Jane D. Germia 29 January 2013

Even before the Spaniards came to colonize our country, the natives in our land already had a civilization of their own. This is in contrast to what some early Spanish colonizers claim that the Philippines, before they came here, did not have a culture of its own and was barbaric. Even during the modern times, some people claim that natives of the early Philippines had a culture which is inferior to theirs. But although our histories were full of depreciations from other cultures, the way of life even before the coming of colonizers was already flourishing. That is enough reason to defend the fact that our culture is never inferior to anyone’s. Pre-colonial Filipinos, for instance, had a system of writing before the coming of the Spaniards called Baybayin. This goes to show that even before the time of Christ our ancient people were abreast with the style of the world’s writing. Although the natives did not have the knowledge of the Roman alphabet, which was what the first colonizers used, it did not make them illiterate as some may think. With the existence of written language also comes literature as a natural consequence. Pre-colonial literature abounds in the form of sabi (maxims), bugtong (riddles), epics, and myths. The early Filipinos also had a form of government called Barangay, headed by a Datu or Sultan (among the Moros). Social classes exist but social mobility was possible. Also, the early Filipinos followed and obeyed rules, as evident in the ancient body of laws: Code of Kalantiao and Code of Maragtas, which is also called Code of Sumakwel. Therefore, even before colonizers came, our ancient people already had an organized community or settlement. Our country has known godliness since time immemorial. Our ancestors turned to religion for hope and encouragement, proving religion was the backbone and outstanding power of the world and brought change to the human conduct in moral, social and business life. It is said that the apprehension or conviction of the existence of a Supreme Being or a supernatural power or influence controls a person’s humanity. The pre-Spanish Filipinos believed in a Supreme Being they called Bathala and worshipped minor deities whose functions were closely related to the daily life of the people. Based on the way of life of our ancestors, one can make several observations. 1. Our ancestors already had concepts or ideas which are not far from those of other countries. Early Filipinos had concepts of people, places, statuses, or events similar with that of other culture although some of these countries did not colonize us. The natives of the Philippines were considered by the Spaniards as indigenous people possessing epic poems in the style of Iliad and the Grecian Ode, which sang glories of its people and the memorable deeds of their heroes. These epics include, but are not limited to, Biag ni Lam-ang of the Ilocanos, Tuwaang of the Manuvus in Central Mindanao, Hinilawod of the Sulod of Panay, Hudhud and Alim of the Ifugaos, Handiong of the Bikolanos and the Bantugan of the Maranaws. The Alim tells the story of gods who resembled the Indian gods in the epic of Ramayana. Our ancestors also had a concept of hierarchy as seen in their myths. The story of The Great Flood by the Tinggians mentioned guards and palace. The concept of beauty of our ancestors is also evident in their literary works. An example is the description of the Maiden of Monawon in the epic Tuwaang: But she was much fairer

Than the eye of the rising sun
For it can be darkened
And hence be dimmed
For it can be covered
Even by a little cloud
Over the horizon.

Generally, those women who were considered beautiful by our ancestors had black hair which reached down to the waist, had fair skin and had shapely legs. However, our ancestors did not only look at the physical aspect as they also considered beautiful those who are skilled in crafts. A Story of the...
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