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(Translation of a paper in Cebuano read at the Philippine PEN Annual Conference, Dumaguete City, November 30-December 1, 2001. Panel Theme: "Writing as Liberative Art.")

T he most important lesson I've learned from Lumad poetics is that there is no gap between the storyteller or poet and the audience. Not only because both storyteller/poet and audience are meeting face-to-face, but also because, more importantly, they use the same language, their own language, which contains the entire body of their culture, beliefs, traditions, myths and legends, and history as a community, as a people.

For the Lumad storyteller or poet is interested in being understood, not in being difficult.

Therefore they understand each other perfectly. Both the storyteller or poet and audience share a common worldview. They are one community. And the purpose of literary arts is clear: it is to serve the community. All myths, epics, legends, songs, tales and other artistic creations help establish the community and unify the community.

The storyteller or poet uses symbols, images and allusions that are all familiar to the community. What is strange she makes familiar, indigenizing and vernacularizing the foreign. For the Lumad storyteller or poet is interested in being understood, not in being difficult. I call this communitization or familiarization. In metaphor-making the poet compares one thing to another thing that is also familiar to the community. Thus something new is created but is nonetheless familiar to the community.

But this is not unique to Lumad poetics or to so-called primitive poetics. This is actually true to all dominant, powerful, majority, and modern poetics.

Of course, there are modern writers and poets who could not probably be understood by their own communities. At one time it became fashionable for some writers or poets to write with their fellow writers in mind. And they tried to show they were smart by sprinkling their writings not only with unfamiliar allusions, but outright foreign words and phrases. The result is that they are not understood by the majority members of their community. But I think these writers remain the exception rather than the rule. Most writers, even if they do a lot of experimentation, want to be easily understood rather than to be difficult. They want to communicate with their community and serve the community.

Central to the issue is the use of language. When a Lumad tells her story, she talks in a Lumad language. When an Englishwoman tells her story, she talks in English. So does the French, so does the Japanese. They are very clear about their respective communities. And that is what has struck me. The so-called backward Lumad and the very sophisticated French have one thing in common: they use their own languages.

Who is your community? This is a very important question because I think that if you are sure about your answer you will know the direction of your literary life.

But for most of us Filipinos, language remains a thorny, divisive issue.

Who is your community? This is a very important question because I think that if you are sure about your answer you will know the direction of your literary life.

Who is my community? Who among you understand me as I am talking now? You are my community.

The fragmented nature of our gathering merely reflects what I call the vertical social splits in our society. These are geosocial faults defined along ethnokinship lines and specific homelands. We are a country with many communities. Big communities, small communities. The Ilocano. The Tagalog. The Manobo. For as long as we do not understand each other, then we belong to different communities.

It so happened the Spaniards stumbled upon these islands and forged us into one administrative colonial unit without regard for the big and petty jealousies and rivalries among the various communities. When the Americans took over, they strengthened the colonial structure under which we today live as one country. The Americans are physically gone, but can we say we are completely decolonized?

Because we are not one people—we cannot understand each other—our political and cultural leaders have been forcing the colonial languages on us supposedly to unify us. Ultimately English predominated because it was made the medium of instruction in the colonial educational system, a colonial policy that continues to be followed today and remains unchallenged, or if challenged, has not been overthrown.

...the continuous use of English has produced negative results, the most tragic of which is the creation of another community divorced from any other native community.

I suggest the continuous use of English has produced negative results, the most tragic of which is the creation of another community divorced from any other native community. I call this the horizontal split in our society, worsening the fragmentation of our society.

The intention of our leaders was to transform all of us into a community of English speakers thoroughly versed in Western modes of thinking. We adopted a foreign worldview wholesale, delighting in the use of alien symbols and images. We effaced our own identity, we even punished ourselves for speaking our own language, violently separating homelife and schoollife. Made to be ashamed of our own language, we became ashamed of our own selves, of our worldview. Many of us want to be Americans, British, even Japanese. Not Cebuanos, not Ilocanos, not Manobos. Not even Filipinos.

After 100 years that a foreign worldview and language have predominated in our country, we find that not all of us have been so thoroughly transformed. The community imagined by our leaders has turned out to be an anomaly. Only a tiny fraction of the population has been transformed, constituting a new community of English-speaking, English-writing elite.

It is a new community totally divorced from the original communities.

I call this the horizontal social split in our society because the educated English-speaking and English-writing elite cannot communicate anymore with their own respective communities.

The educated elite are dominant and influential but are nonetheless fragile because they are few. They have no base. They have no body. The have no mass. And because they come from different original communities they cannot unite, or if they can unite, the unity is weak, riven as they are by unresolved ethnokinship jealousies and rivalries, big and small.

In the meantime, the original communities that they have left behind are lost in limbo too. They have the worldview, they have the culture, they have body and mass, they have the wisdom of the race—but there are no leaders to tap into their wisdom and propel them forward.

We have a head with no body. And we have a body with no head.

That is why we are preyed upon by more powerful alien ethnokinship groups who impose their own language and worldview on us.

Who control us. Who exploit us.

That is why we are a weak country governed by a weak state.

...returning to community is the first liberative act that the literary elite in the country must do.

Within this context, the challenge for the educated elite, and particularly for the literary elite, is to return to community. To their respective communities. I suggest that returning to community is the first liberative act that the literary elite in the country must do. Liberate themselves, ourselves, from foreign worldview and language and return to community wordview and language.

This is difficult to do. Specially as we are so used to English. Chinua Achebe who also problematized the use of language has been forced to use English. His justication is "the unassailable logic of its convenience."

But if we continue to be seduced by this convenience, what will happen to our own communities? To our country? Will it not perpetuate the situation of the elite having a head but no body, and our masa, having the body but no head?

It is high time we wrote stories, poems, novels, dramas directed to our own communities. It is high time we wrote in our own respective languages. The audiences in our communities are in the millions. Let us reach them. Let us link up with them because they are our roots.

Only then can writing be a truly liberative art shared and understood by the entire community.

Let us join the head and the body of our community. Let us reimagine a new community by restoring community. Let us first solve the horizontal split. After this let us solve the vertical splits based on respect for and celebration of our different Philippine worldviews and languages.

Let us learn from the Lumads and the powerful modern storytellers and poets who use their own worldviews and languages.

© Macario D. Tiu

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