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Inquirer Southern Luzon
A hundred proverbs reflect Bicol’s culture

By Juan Escandor Jr.
First Posted 03:19:00 08/10/2006

Filed Under: Arts, Culture & Entertainment

Published on Page A15 of the August 10, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

WHAT makes the newly published ?Balalong? unique is that it attempts to chronicle Bicol culture through proverbs.

Balalong (stress on the second syllable) is a precolonial period instrument made of bamboo that is beaten by a stick and used by chieftains to summon the villagers. It is also the title of a 118-page book, which seeks to show that Bicol has its own set of proverbs that reveals strands of its unique culture.
The collection represents spoken Bicol in Naga City and most parts of Camarines Sur.


Sometimes witty and humorous, and at other times profound, the proverbs that author Fr. Philip Francis Reazon Bersabe compiled and classified provide windows to the wisdom and values of a section of Bicolanos through generations.

Classified into four categories?moral, psychological, religious and secular?the book tries to unravel the deeper meaning of each proverb as observed in daily life.

Explained and illustrated, the collection of 100 Bicol proverbs, like in any other cultures worldwide, expresses the perception of ideas and ideals that matter to people based on the norms and tradition in the localities.

For example, ?Kun sa lubang ka mahayop, puling an saimong madadakop? (Blow into the mortar, and the dust will get into your eyes) conveys wisdom in simple terms.

Some proverbs are informal and hilarious, reflecting a contemporary outlook. ?An tawong matorognon, naagawan nin agom (A sleeping husband loses his wife)? and ?An babaeng mainikid-ikid, sa pungo nasasabit (A flirtatious woman gets caught in the protruding branch).?

Bersabe has more of this kind of proverbs that include Bicol?s version of machismo that, he says, originated from Caramoan, Camarines Sur. ?An lugad nin lalaki, tinatahi nin nawi (The wound of a man is sutured by a large strand).?


?Balalong? shows images that portray Bicolano values and wisdom. It is an addition to the growing list of Bicol literature that seeks to define the Bicolano identity.

But Bersabe, being a priest, tends to frame his discussion with biblical passages, which could narrow the readers? appreciation of the entries.

It is not remote that several of these proverbs evolved from precolonial times when animism was the dominant worldview of the natives. Framing them from a Christian viewpoint alters their original context.

For example, in the proverb ?An harayo sa gatong, dai matotong (One who is far from the burning wood will not get burned),? Bersabe explained this to mean that a person must avoid trouble by distancing oneself from quarrels, dissensions, misunderstanding and trouble.
But he concluded that this ?may positively refer to a person who runs away from the love of God and needs to be closer to Him again, to get burned by His love.?

Although the book tries to provide a historical context to some of the proverbs, much work is needed to find their original meanings.

Language research can deconstruct the original meaning of the proverbs. Only thus can Bersabe unleash the universal meanings of the proverbs he has compiled.

Still, the author?s intention of documenting them before they are totally forgotten is laudable.

Bersabe has earned two summa cum laude honors, in 2000 when he finished his Bachelor in Sacred Theology and in 2002 when he obtained his Licentiate Masteral in Sacred Theology at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Sacred Theology and Graduate School, respectively.

?Balalong? came out from Goldprint Publishing House in Naga City only in June.

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