Published: February 12, 2011
Philippine oral literature before and during the early years of the Spanish regime consisted of epics, myths, legends, folktales, proverbs, and riddles. With the arrival of the Spaniards, religious literature developed too. This consisted of books of prayer, doctrines, and novenas and biographies of saints and other religious subjects. These latter were circulated and popularized by the missionaries to propagate Christianity among the natives, but most of the missionaries suppressed or discouraged the native literature.
Another type of literature which became popular among the Filipinos during the Spanish regime consisted of the awit (chivalric heroic poems) and corridos (legendary religious poems). These told about the miracles of saints and the heroic and fantastic exploits of Spanish knights and nobles. Examples of this fold literature were Francisco Baltazar’s Florante at Laura and Ibong Adarna. Siete Infantes de Lara and Bernardo Carpio are of unknown authorship.
The favotie reading of the people during Lenten season was the pasion, which told in verse the story of the life and suffering of Christ. The first Tagalog passion was written by Gaspar Aquino de Belen and was published in 1704. Other well-known versions of the passion were those by Luiz Gian (1750), by Father Mariano Pilapil (1814), and by Father Aniceto de la Merced (1856).
A gem of Tagalog prose was Urbana at Felisa, a book on proper behavior for women, written by a Tagalog priest, Father Modesto de Castro.
Famous in Iloko literature was the popular Lam-ang, written in poetry, which tells about the heroic and fabulous deeds of an Ilocano legendary hero by the same name. It was written by Pedro Bukaneg, hailed by some as the Father of Ilocano Literature.
In Kapampangan literature Gonzalo de Cordova, a fascinating metrical romance, was very popular. It was written by Father Anselmo Fajardo.
Filipino-Spanish literature was probably at its best during the last century of the Spanish era. Filipinos who acquired a Spanish education wroter novels, essay, poems, and plays in Spanish. Jose Rizal, excelled in both prose and poetry. Pedro A. Paterno, another famous writer of the time who was to be the chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court early in the America regime, wrote the novel Ninay (1885). Filipino poetes like Cecilio Apostol, Fernando Ma. Guerero, and Jose Palma, won enduring fame in Spanish poetry and were to attain their full artistic maturity after the Americans arrived in the country.