By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
Buy and Read Local
posted 21-Jan-2010  ·  
1,724 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

First of two parts

With a high literacy rate of 94% in our province, we Catandunganons are not strangers to the print media. A significant number among us read regularly, enough to sustain local publications, the most successful of which is this weekly tabloid you are holding. But this piece is not about regular papers locally published but on those that come out occasionally, specifically books. By the looks of it, there is a current flowering of books that target local readers. Being home during the last Christmas break, I had the pleasant surprise to discover two recent titles: Virac of My Dreams by Osita G. Abundo and Mutya ng Virac, Beauty Beyond the Legend by the Mutya ng Virac, Inc. and the Center for Catandungan Heritage, Inc. Slim volumes both, but they were substantial enough to fill up the gaps in my stay, in between partying, beaching and Christmas Cheer-ing.

The two are but the most recent in a string of titles published locally starting from about three decades ago, and coming in greater frequency in recent years. That is something remarkable in a small provincial setting such as ours. As far as I know the first locally circulated book was the poetry collection of Jose Arcilla Tablizo titled Island Poems which came out in the 1970’s. Known as JAT, the author personally typed the poems, in as many carbon copies his Underwood could muster, bounded them at home and distributed copies to friends. At the flyleaf was written, in typical JAT fashion, that no rights are reserved, anybody may used any part as one sees fit, or words to that effect. Needless to say it was not for sale. JAT was a philosopher-poet who held court, dispensing his poetry and his life, at the now-defunct L&H restaurant. He wrote minimalist lyrical poems of universal concerns. While clearly cosmopolitan in his sensibilities, he was of the island by heart, one whom I call the insulare par excellence. He is one among my idols. It will need volumes to write about JAT, so I reserve my opinion on him for a future issue of this column.

The next book that came our way was Bernardo Vargas’ History of Catanduanes. Published by the Ecoprogress Corporation (igwa pa da ini?) in the late 80’s, it was the first attempt to come up with an extensive history of Catanduanes. Heretofore, what we usually got were the one or two pages featured in souvenir programs. I did a review of this book in the now-defunct Islander and I was not very kind, on the grounds that it lacked proper documentation which is basic in writing history. Reading it again, I realized that there are some gems in the book, specifically the portion on the Alberto political dynasty. Only a few now could make out that relatively recent period. So how much more for earlier ones? Oh, the need to come up with a well-researched history of the province cannot be exaggerated.

In the late 90’s I got hold of a novelette by Mark Anthony Ignacio called Arikdik. This will have to be recognized as the first piece of fiction of Catandunganon material published locally. I also did a review of this piece in the Islander. The one let-down was that while the title was in Virac Bikol, the text was in Pilipino, perhaps in an attempt to reach wider readership. Mark Anthony showed real promise in fiction-writing but then his first attempt got a lot of rough edges. The prose was uneven and the narrative faltered about. I suggested that he hone his craft some more but sadly I never read anything from him again. We still wait for his next output; writers do need a lot of pahinog-hinog.

In 1998, Mrs. Carmen A. Arcilla released her Treasures from My Memory Chest. It was a collection of stories designed and written for children. But it was good reading for adults as well. I particularly warmed up with the stories because they sounded very much like those told me as a child by my own parents. I will write about this work together with Mrs. Osita G. Abundo’s Virac of My Dreams in the second part of this series.

The first decade of the new millennium saw a rise in the number of publications. First were the monographs on Catandunganon achievers by Dr. Estrella Placides. Commissioned by the provincial government, the two volumes titled In the Eye of the Storm contained biographical sketches of island personalities mostly selected from the ranks of recipients of The Outstanding Catandunganon Award (TOCA). They were intended not only to inform people about Catandunganons who did well in their respective fields, but also to inspire the youth. Out of delicadeza, I will not write at length about these works because they were authored by my sister, plus the fact that I was among the featured persons. But the monographs, I guess, can speak for themselves.

The last two years before the end of the decade saw two titles beefing up our body of local reading fare. These were what I got hold of last Christmas. As mentioned already, I will discuss in the second part Mrs. Abundo’s opus (published in 2008). The latest to come out of press (2009) is the Mutya material. It was done in the coffee-table book format but without the characteristic glossiness because of financial constraint. With scant text, the strength of the book lies in the photo material. Essentially, it is a pictorial gallery of homegrown female beauties, and appropriately so because beauty is basically visual (despite claims that it is something "inside" and invisible). Being about the Muyta ng Virac, the focus is on this particular beauty search which started out in 1976. As such, the book is also a testament to the works of Noli Rodrigueza who pioneered the Mutya search. It is about time to recognize Tito Noli’s contributions to the cultural life in the province. Which is considerable. He brought haute couture (high fashion) to Catanduanes, and continues to lord over it, despite the pretensions of somebody else we know. He also elevated to a higher level of taste and craft the practice of production design in the province. We see evidence of this in the lavish designs of church altars and stage presentations during special occasions. Many of the homegrown artists in production design and fashion have been influenced or trained by Tito Noli.

But Virac had other town-level beauty searches and there is another section on them in the book. It is pleasantly surprising to know that the earliest queen was proclaimed in 1908, almost at the same time that Manila had its first Carnival Queen. During that time, way before advance transport and media technology, Catanduanes was such a remote outpost. But then, nakipagsabayan pala tayo sa Manila, even if only in usaping beauty queen. Then as a closing part, the book featured "some empowered women." This is commendable because the message is that the female beauty is not simply a looker but a doer who makes significant contribution to society. Viva las mujeres Catandungueñas!

The flowering of book publishing in the province, albeit in still modest proportions, can be attributed to several factors, chief of which is the increasing facility that technology provides. Desktop publishing through the use of computer had made the enterprise cheap and easy. But equally important is that Catanduanes has a cultivated tradition of literacy, by which I mean not only the ability to read and write but the strong motivation to do so. And over and above these favorable factors would be the sort of material to write about, provided by the richness of the broad cultural complex of a society. We as a people have such wealth. But finally, what matters also is that we have among us individuals who have the urge to commit their experiences to print for public consumption, even if it might not be economically lucrative. I have not asked about the profitability of book publishing in the locality, but I can imagine that it is not exactly materially enriching. Surely, what the authors are after is the self-fulfillment it brings. To illustrate in the case of Mrs. Abundo and Mrs. Arcilla, the richness of their experiences of Virac was such that they feared it might be lost to coming generations. So they must commit them to print. Fear of forgetting, not so much by them but by the society itself, is what compels one to publish.

Publication in many cases therefore is a personal matter and so the burden of financing had been basically addressed by shelling out personal resources. JAT for his part simply made use of his ample time available as a retiree, doing what may be called "backyard publishing." But there are other sources available. In the case of Dr. Placides, her monographs got some modest financing from the provincial government. The Mutya on the other hand solicited sponsorship. The downside of this however is that the book looked like a souvenir program full of ads. But these means will not be adequate to sustain and further develop local book publications. Ultimately, it will have to be public patronage that must do so. Therefore, local publication can only thrive if there is a critical mass of people who buy and read local on a regular basis.

Finally, here are some of my suggestions as to how local publication can develop further in our province. First is to use more popular languages, such as Filipino or any of the two Catandunganon languages (North and South), in order to reach more readers. The latter specifically beg to be developed in their written forms. Secondly, the big institutions in the province must take active role in this enterprise since they have the resources to do so. I am referring to the local government and the schools, especially the institutions of higher learning (e.g. CSC and CC). The latter specifically should be at the forefront of initiating and sustaining the standardization of the written forms of both Viracnon (South) and Pandanon (North) languages. Then too, such institutions not only must extend financial help but also use their clout to create readership. The schools can make worthy locally published materials a required reading by their clientele. Thirdly, we appeal to those who have existing body of works to bring their manuscripts out of the drawers and consider publication. Manoy Goyito Sarmiento for example has a growing collection of eulogies he has delivered. These are perfect chronicles not only of the life and times of the departed but also of their society. Etasor (Efren T. Sorra) has his "Burabod" series. JAT has a gem of epistolary collection (letters). We are sure there is a wealth of print-worthy materials out there in private safe-keeping waiting to see the light of publication. Lastly, we must encourage those who think have that "way with words," young and old alike, to write, write, write and publish. It is supremely gratifying, surely for the soul, if not so much for the pocket. And you do your society a great service because you writers, with your enterprise of remembrance, are an antidote to forgetfulness. Lest we forget, the wisdom of the ages has it that those who fail to remember are doomed to repeat their mistakes.

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