I salute the light
Preparing for the dark
A ray amidst doubt
In my dreams
May these beams
I saved prevail and shine
In my hard labor
Against the painful dark
Note : This article was published in the first edition of LAWIG. On March 2021, LAWIG was re-launched underlining photography and design talents from the provinces of the Philippines.
In the maiden issue of LAWIG, I journeyed with you into the world of Rawitdawit and discovered how it reflects the beautiful and colorful culture of Bicol. In this piece, I shall trace the history of Rawitdawit and unveil the mystery behind the unique Bicol poetry known as Tigsik.
I have been doing research on the history of Rawitdawit but I could not find any book that thoroughly discusses its origin and development. Thus, I am delighted to have a conversation with the renowned Bikolano writer Abdon Balde. Abdon is Commissioner of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino, a Poet Laureate of Albay and a multi-awarded Bikolano novelist.
Please tell us how and when did you start writing Rawitdawit and Tigsik?
The writing of Rawitdawit and Tigsik came late to me. I started writing stories since I was in elementary school at age 10 or 11. I was already around 17 when I started local poems with rhyme and measure. I was uncomfortable with measured lines at first and I found the written Bikol language unmanageable. But I was very much interested in how the double meanings of the lingua franca or oral Bikol could be used in storytelling. I first heard Rawitdawit and Tigsik recited by an old man, Albino Rareza, who was known in our village as Uno because he had only one good eye. He was the town crier, the keeper of memories and a natural storyteller. He was one of my childhood idols.
What is the difference between Rawitdawit and Tigsik? Is Tigsik a kind of Rawitdawit?
Rawitdawit is the Bikol poem in general and Tigsik is a form of Rawitdawit. Tigsik is a short Bikol poem paying tribute or criticizing people, animals, things or ways of life. I believe the traditional Tigsik was a dalit: four lines of eight syllables per stanza and one rhyme per stanza. It could not be found in any other region of the country.
Please narrate to us the history of Rawitdawit?
Nobody is really sure how it began. The earliest account about people being fond of reciting rhymed lines was written by Fray Jose Castano in the essay, “Breve noticia acerca del origen, religion, creencias y supersticiones del antiguos indios del Bicol,” in 1870. Embedded in this essay are 60 paragraphs of poetry written in Spanish in 1840 by Fray Bernardo Melendreras, who claimed that it is a transcription of a long epic poem recited by a travelling bard in Albay. This long poem narrates the exploits of the ancient heroes of Bikol, named Baltog, Handyong and Bantong, who rid the land of monsters. These epic excerpts would later be known as Ibalong.
How did Tigsik as a form of Rawitdawit develop?
According to written accounts by many writers, Tigsik is an oral form of poetry in Bikol recited on certain occasions such as weddings, fiestas, baptisms, or even during courtship. At a wedding reception for instance, the men would usually gather around a table to drink tuba using only one wooden mug or coconut shell as a drinking vessel. The first man who holds the mug would recite a Tigsik before drinking a mug full tuba. He then passes it on to the next person, who will have to deliver another Tigsik followed by a swig of tuba. The most popular Tigsik goes: “Tinigsik ko ining baso/ igwang laman na kalayo/ bumilang ka sagkod tulo/ an laog iinumon ko.” (I praise this glass that now I raise/ which holds some liquid fire/ pray, I ask you, count up to three/ in one gulp I’ll drink what’s inside)
What should aspiring young Bikolano poets consider before writing a Tigsik?
Nowadays, I am dismayed by young aspiring poets who write Tigsik without knowing its standard or traditional form. They write Tigsik as if it’s prose chopped into lines that rhyme in the end. Rhyme and measure are important aspects of the traditional poetic form of our Bicol ancestors and must be adhered to if the product is to be called Tigsik. Metaphors and other figures of speech are important parts of poetry and these must be featured in their works, otherwise the pieces might just as well be an expression of one’s angst in prose.
How does being an Albayano influence your Tigsik?
It is a source of pride for me to be known as a popularizer of the traditional form of Tigsik and other literary forms. The former Albay Governor Joey Sarte Salceda encouraged me to upload at least one Tigsik on Facebook every morning, which I’ve been doing for over 6 years now.
I salute the sky
When it’s with ought the moon,
The bluest space
So full of stars!
When love is gone
And life is darkest
Look up and around,
There might be stars!
I salute the path
On its way to the sun
Among church ruins
Between the trees.
There are such paths:
Away from the dark
And before them
The blinding sun!
Do you think that Tigsik can be an effective tool in addressing some pressing and important issues of our society today?
Tigsik in ancient times was already used in expressing all human emotions. It was used in courtship, addressing political and social issues, and airing grievances. Its popularity waned because of lack of support from local writers and practitioners. Sadly, Tigsik faded in the same way as the other Bicol literary traditions such as Ariwaga (proverbs), Paukod (riddles), Kagsing (poetry jousting), and Osipon (folktales).
Do you believe that writing Rawitdawit and Tigsik as part of Bikol culture and literature must be formally taught in schools?
Rawitdawit and Tigsik are mentioned in passing in literature subjects in schools, but there are no textbooks and proper guidebooks for these traditional literary forms. So, these topics become optional and only those who are truly interested in them continue to practice the art. Sad.
What advice can you give to young Bicolano writers?
Many of the collective memories of our ancestors are in the literary forms unique to Bicol. These are written on fading pages of old publications. Some remain in the precarious memory of our elders who would soon die. We must act now and be vigilant in recovering and preserving the stories, songs, and emotions contained in these written and oral literature.
My journey of discovering the history and beautiful world of Rawitdawit, under the guidance of Abdon, has not only been extraordinary but also inspiring. Through Tigsik I can articulate my experiences, philosophies, beliefs and stance on social issues in a creative way. As a Bikolano and writer, I am more determined to develop all forms of Bikol art so I can be part of the development of our culture.
Artworks by Earl Concepcion, Words by Owen del Castillo
Tigsik by Abdon Balde, Calligraphy by Keisha Mae Concepcion, English Translation of Tigsik by Marne Kilates
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