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Philippine 'Balagtasan' (Verbal Joust)

Philippine 'Balagtasan' (Verbal Joust)

Dean Virgilio S. Almario, College of Arts & Letters, University of the Philippines, Diliman

Tuesday, October 21, 2003
3:00 PM - 6:00 PM
1234 Public Policy Bldg.
UCLA Campus

Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of the Philippines, Prof. Virgilio S. Almario, who was also named the National Artist for Literature in June, 2003, will speak on  "Art and Politics of the 'Balagtasan' (Verbal Joust) During the American Colonial Period (1898-1946) in the Philippines"  The word "balagtasan" is taken from the name of Francisco "Balagtas" Baltazar, one of two literary giants in Philippine literature in the 19th century (the other one being Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines' national hero).
RIO ALMA, (the pen name of Virgilio Almario) has published, edited, and written numerous books and articles of poetry and criticism.  He also edited the latest Filipino dictionary "UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino" published by the University's "Sentro ng Wikang Filipino" (Center for the Filipino Language).  His work definitely has influenced Philippine poetry (Tagalog) and the language policy in the Philippines. 
Part of the CSEAS Colloquium Series on "Empire: The Southeast Asian Experience."

During the American Occupation, poetry was more than a personal art for the enjoyment of a small circle of initiates.  At that time, it was a popular art practiced by highly skilled craftsmen for the instruction or delight of a broad public. 


In 1924, a poetic event took place at the Instituto de Mujeres in, Tondo, Manila.  This became the balagtasan -- a poetic joust patterned after the duplo of the 19th century.  It was conceived as a tribute to Balagtas or Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar, the literary giant of the 19th century who wrote the famous awit Florante at Laura, an allegory of the sad condition of the Philippines under the colonial regime of Spain.


It became such a popular form of entertainment that practically every poet of the period, if he was worthy of the title of “makata,” had to display his skill in declamation and argumentation as a balagtasan poet.


In its original form, the joust was written by only one poet, with parts assigned, in the manner of a verse playlet, to the intended participants in the “contest.”  Such was the first balagtasan written by Jose Corazon de Jesus, the author of “Bayan Ko,” the national anthem of the EDSA Revolution.  In this Balagtasan, a butterfly (paruparo) and a bee (bubuyog) battled over a jasmine flower (kampupot).


Later, Benigno R. Ramos, in his two known balagtasan poems, introduced social content, making of the “contestants” proponents of specific philosophical/political positions, as in “Dalagang Bayan Laban sa Dalagang Bukid [ City Lass Versus Provincial Maiden] (1930) and “Balagtasan ng Kalayaan.” (Balagtasan of Freedom).


Later on, the balagtasan assumed the form of debate in verse where the poets had to improvise in verse while arguing a position that they had been appointed to defend.


Compiled by Tita Pambid.  Source:  Philippine Literature: A History & Anthology by Bienvenido Lumbera and Cynthia Nograles Lumbera.

Cost : Free and open to the public.


Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Asian Languages & Cultures, Samahang Pilipino, Philippine Expressions Bookshop