Literature of the Philippines

From Academic Kids

The literature of the Philippines started with fables and legends of pre-colonial Philippines down to the Mexican(New Spain) and Spanish influences, but there was a pre-hispanical Writing System.


Archaic Writing System

Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines has very few artifacts that show evidence of writing. However literacy was widespread in Luzon when the Spaniards came in 1571 with a script called Baybayin or Alibata.

The Spaniards recorded that people in Manila and other places wrote on bamboo and specially prepared palm leaves using knives and styli. They were using the ancient Tagalog script which had 17 basic symbols, three of which were the vowels a, i, and u. Each basic consonantal symbol had the inherent a sound: ka, ga, nga, ta, da, na, pa, ba, ma, ya, la, wa, sa, and ha.

A diacritical mark called kudlit modified the sound of the symbol. The kudlit could be a dot, a short line, or even an arrowhead. When placed above the symbol, it changed the inherent sound of the symbol from a to i; placed below, the sound became u. Thus a ba with a kudlit placed above became a bi; if the kudlit was placed below, the symbol became a bu.

A Book to Learn Castillian in the 17th Century

In the early seventeenth century a Tagalog printer, Tomas Pinpin, set out to write a book in romanized phonetic script to teach Tagalogs how to learn Castilian. His book, published by the Dominican press where he worked, appeared in 1610, the same year as Blancas's arte . Unlike the missionary's grammar (which Pinpin had set in type), the Tagalog native's book dealt with the language of the dominant rather than the subordinate other. Pinpin's book was the first such work ever written and published by a Philippine native. As such, it is richly instructive for what it tells us about the interests that animated Tagalog translation and, by implication, Tagalog conversion in the early colonial period. Pinpin construed translation in ways that tended less to oppose than to elude the totalizing claims of Spanish signifying conventions.

Spanish Works

Classical literature (José Rizal, Pedro Paterno, Jesús Balmori, Huerta, Farolán, Licsi, Lumba, Castillo etc. ) was written in Spanish. Nationalism was first propagated in the Spanish language, especially in the writings of Marcelo H. Del Pilar or 'Plaridel' in the La Solidaridad publications. In Cebu, 1886, the first Spanish newspaper, El Boletin de Cebu, was published. In 1915, the local newspapers began publishing sections in English. Cebu had its share of writers in Spanish, most of whom wrote during the early decades of the century. Although their output would diminish in later years, Jose del Mar won a Zobel prize for his work Perfiles in 1965.

Ironically, a greater portion of Spanish literature by native Filipinos was written during the American commonwealth period because the Spanish language was still predominant for the Filipino intellectuals. One of the major Philippine writers (Claro Mayo Recto continued writing in Spanish until 1946. Other well know Spanish writers, especially during the American period were Isidro Marfori, Cecilio Apostol(Pentelicas, 1941), Fernando Ma. Guerrero (Crisalidas, 1914), Gaspar Aquino de Belen, Flavio Zaragoza Cano (Cantos a Espana and De Mactan a Tirad) and others.

Among the newspapers published in Spanish were El Renacimiento, La Democracia, La Vanguardia, El Pueblo de Iloilo, El Tiempo and others. Three magazines, The Independent, Philippine Free Press and Philippine Review were published in English and Spanish.

English Works

In Asian literature, Filipinos excel especially in short stories. Leon Comber, the former British publisher of Heinemann Writing in Asia Series and the head judge for the Asiaweek Short Story Competition commended the Filipino writers in his introduction to the book 'Prize Winning Asian Fiction', published by Times Book International, 1991. He said: "Many of the best short stories came from the Philippines... because Filipino writers felt at ease using English as a medium of expression. In fact, their country is the third largest English-speaking nation in the world and they take to writing in the language as a form of 'artistic expression' and show just as much zest and natural talent for it as they do for painting, music and the other arts."

Literature in autochthonous languages

Notable People

Notable Works

  • Noli Me Tangere -Written by Jose Rizal in Spanish. It created controversy among the Spanish authority in the Philippines. It was instrumental in creating a sense of identity as a Filipino during the Spanish colonial period. It caricatured and exposed the abuses of the Spanish colonial government and religious authority.
  • Jose Rizal's works (
  • Manuvu's Tuwaang
  • Sulod's Hinilawod
  • Maranaw's Bantugan
  • Maragtas - A collection of legends of ten chiefs(datus) who escaped from the tyranny of Datu Makatunaw of Borneo to the island of Panay. The chiefs and followers are believed to be ancestors of the Visayans. The arrival is celebrated in the festival of the Ati-atihan ni Kalibo, Aklan.While they are legends, they are also based on actual facts and events. The legends were compiled into a book by Pedro Alcantara Monteclaro in 1907.

See also



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