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Volume IV,  Number 16              May 23 - 29, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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Book Review

Hearing the Music of Filipino Culture
A review of Bienvenido Lumbera's  Sa Sariling Bayan
Apat na Dulang May Musika. 

Manila: De la Salle University Press, 2004.

Without a doubt, Lumbera, along with the late Rolando Tinio, stands among the contemporary giants responsible for the continued relevance of drama in a place where cultural philistinism is god. This new addition to the canon of the Filipino drama, perhaps the most neglected of the literary arts today, is sure to renew its hitherto desolate existence.

By Charlie Samuya Veric
Ateneo de Manila University
Posted by Bulatlat.com

Reading a play is an odd thing. We are often told that its proper place is in the theater where it rises and falls with the curtain. One may say, however, that a play is not merely for the senses but for the mind as well, for the power of its understanding and dream. Reading a play, then, can become more eloquent than seeing it performed because the mind is free to imagine. This, perhaps, is how we should read Bienvenido Lumbera’s new work on the Filipino drama, Sa Sariling Bayan: Apat na Dulang May Musika. Perhaps we should read the play as if it is written not only to be seen, but also read and imagined, taken to heart where it must stay.

This notable publication from the De la Salle University Press collects Lumbera’s four plays with music, spanning more than two decades of work. The book includes Nasa Puso ang Amerika, Bayani, Noli me Tangere The Musical, and Hibik at Himagsik Nina Victoria Laktaw. Noli me Tangere The Musical and Bayani are revisionary interpretations of Jose Rizal’s life and work. Nasa Puso ang America is an adaptation of Carlos Bulosan’s novel America is in the Heart, a canon in Asian-American studies in US universities, while Hibik at Himagsik Nina Victoria Laktaw chronicles the struggle of women during the Filipino-American war.

Without a doubt, Lumbera, along with the late Rolando Tinio, stands among the contemporary giants responsible for the continued relevance of drama in a place where cultural philistinism is god. This new addition to the canon of the Filipino drama, perhaps the most neglected of the literary arts today, is sure to renew its hitherto desolate existence. Lumbera readily laments that plays in this country are usually limited to connoisseurs, contained in universities as well as cultural centers. A play is born, seen. Shortly after it dies like yesterday’s news.

Lumbera refuses to accept the sad fate of the Filipino drama. For him, plays must extend beyond the theater and move into the minds of the people. Thus, Lumbera declares that his collection is essentially for the Filipino reader, now and yet to come. The publication may be taken, therefore, as a sign of the author’s own attempt to expand the readership of drama. And its production is necessarily a gesture toward the achievement of this important readership.

Formation of a tradition

For Lumbera, the creation of a readership is, at the same time, the formation of a tradition. The contemporary state of the Filipino drama seems, however, to work against the continuing enrichment of its tradition. For example, it is common to see Western pieces performed than original works by Filipino dramatists. This is the same reason why Lumbera proposes that more and more original Filipino plays should be shown and published so that the Filipino dramatist himself will begin to understand the needs of his work and audience. This appreciation, needless to say, ends with nothing short of the dramatic tradition’s refinement and, logically, endurance.

Lumbera’s search for an audience becomes deeply interesting if it is connected to the recurring desire that resides in all of the plays: The search for country. The pursuit of readers, then, is truly the pursuit of country. It is Lumbera’s profession, for example, that his plays are inspired by his love of country. The product of which, the book, he returns as proof of his love. Such that reading the plays is, essentially, reading the life story of the writer’s Inangbayan. The plays are therefore the other biography of the nation. They are about the nation in as much as they are emblems of the nation itself. Perhaps this is the underlying reason why the plays may be seen as, in themselves, acts of memory. This is because the collection draws on the nation’s own historical memory. The Propaganda Movement and the Marcos dictatorship, for example, are combined to form the core of Bayani. The Filipino-American war serves as the background for Hibik at Himagsik Nina Victoria Laktaw. Nasa Puso ang Amerika recounts the diaspora to the US of Filipino peasants searching for a better fortune.

Artifacts of history

It is not safe nor wise to assume, however, that Lumbera’s plays are artifacts of history. They are not strictly history in the sense that history is a record of an inalterable past. For the past that we see in the plays is not the past as it happened—but rather, the past as it should have been, as it must be. The historians of old, for instance, are certain to scoff at Bayani where we find Rizal meeting Andres Bonifacio in Dapitan. No historical proof can verify this event which, outside the play’s context, is easily a joke. Indeed, the past in Lumbera’s mind is captive to the wishes of the dramatist who looks back at times past, full of hope and regret. What he finds are the ruins of history that he must, as a dramatist, bring together into a new form of wholeness. What we read in Lumbera’s volume is, therefore, not history really, but longing. Thus, the only way a dramatist can save the history that haunts him, one which he did not make but to which he serves as an heir, is by offering it to the judgment of imagination and necessity.

This necessity is what the present demands, and the plays themselves may be taken as the labor of the author’s imagination. Ours, needless to say, is the continuing age of nation-formation. Crucial to the realization of this nation is memory. Here enters Lumbera for his work is necessarily a kind of memory that makes the history of the nation real and felt, rather than inaccessible and cold. This is the need that he sees, the commitment he claims. Lumbera remembers, for example, how the textbooks that he read as a growing boy in Lipa obscured the ravages of the Filipino-American war. To this lack Hibik at Himagsik Nina Victoria Laktaw is a supplement so that the Filipino reader, Lumbera hopes, will see the blood in the enemy’s hands. In other words, Lumbera’s play reveals that which is suppressed in public memory—the real violence of American colonial intervention.

It can be observed, accordingly, that Lumbera’s collection hopes to achieve one end, and that is the production of consciousness. Because the writer intends his plays to be read, they are inextricable from the uses of pedagogy. It is only proper, in that case, to regard Lumbera as a chief architect of the pedagogy of consciousness. This does not come as a surprise to those who have seen the literature textbooks that Lumbera has authored and, in certain instances, co-edited with others: Pedagogy, Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology, Rediscovery: Essays in Philippine Life and Culture, Filipinos Writing: Philippine Literature from the Regions, and Paano Magbasa ng Panitikang Filipino: Mga Babasahing Pangkolehiyo.

Lumbera admitted elsewhere how his personal vision was transformed after reading the works of nationalist historian Renato Constantino. How beautiful it is to imagine the scale of minds, molting after reading Lumbera. It is only right that Lumbera joins the ranks of Balagtas, Rizal, Lazaro Francisco, Amado V. Hernandez and others—loyal and true biographers of Inangbayan. In the next one hundred years, Lumbera’s texts will reveal to their readers the way we have come to understand the country of our time. Posted by Bulatlat.com

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