Bicol literature at the crossroads

Short of a distinctive definition of Bicol literature, writers attending the fourth quadrennial Bicol writers’ conference “Pagsurat Bikol” on April 29-30 at Ateneo de Naga University take comfort in the fact that Bicol is in their hearts and minds when they weave pieces of literary work.

“Bicol literature is poetry, novel or fiction written about Bicol. Not necessarily in the Bicol language, not necessarily published in Bicol, and not necessarily by a Bicolano, but it’s about Bicol. Meaning, if it’s a short story, the setting is in Bicol or its character is a Bicolano. It’s about Bicol,” Marne Kilates said.


Kilates, a native of Daraga town in Albay, has three books of poetry in his name and is a translator of the works of National Artists Rio Alma and Bienvenido Lumbera.

A Palanca awardee and, later, its judge, he became a recipient of the Southeast Asian Writers Award handed down by the Thai monarchy.


Indie filmmaker and novelist Alvin Yapan, who hails from Pili, Camarines Sur, agreed that Bicol literature is any literary work pertaining to Bicol, adding that it must also be an instrument in enriching the region’s culture.

Tito G. Valiente, a member of the film critics’ group Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, scholar of Japanese films, newspaper columnist and director of the Institute of Bikol Culture and History of Ateneo de Naga University, said the definition of Bicol literature has evolved through history.

Bicol literature “is always a literature of displacement,” he said, as Filipinos are displaced because they have been colonized and uprooted from the original culture.

Children’s book author Christine Bellen, who grew up in Bacacay, Albay, saw Bicol sensibility in Bicol literature, but that Bicol literature must be asserted “the way feminists asserted their identity to gain emancipation.”

Bicol literature, however, is also in the crossroads of standardizing its spelling.

Jose Obias, journalist, author of a book about the Our Lady of Peñafrancia and educated in the seminary, suggested the selective adoption of the Spanish spelling.

But Paz Verdades Santos, who taught literature at De La Salle University and author of several books, disagreed.


It is apparent that it should no longer be the old Spanish spelling “with ‘qui’ for ‘k’ (aqui/aki (child)) and the Spanish ‘g+ñ’ for ‘ng’ (gnonian/ngonian) even if some of the older writers prefer that (Spanish spelling),” she said.

Santos said she generally goes for the simpler syllabic spelling based on pronunciation, like Filipino.

Even the spelling of “Bicol” has evolved to “Bikol, which most Bicol writers use in their published works, said Kristian Cordero, an award-winning poet and fiction writer.

Santos said the usual answer to the question of two spellings is “Bicol” is the region and “Bikol” is the language.

“I prefer to use Bikol consistently though, whether it is the region, the language, the people, and whether writing in English, Filipino or Bikol,” she said.

She said that based on her monitoring of literary books by Bicolano authors, including children’s books, self-published books, translations and second editions in various languages published from 2008 to 2012, the body of works has reached more than 60.

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TAGS: Ateneo de Naga University, Bicol, Bienvenido Lumbera, Literature, News, Regions
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