Hiligaynon Literature Today (Part 1)

By Noel Galon de Leon

WHEN Ramon Larupay Muzones (1913-1992) was recognized in 2018 as the National Artist for Literature, we can say that writers from Iloilo became more enthusiastic to write in their language and explore the possibilities that are offered by independent publishing, book marketing and distribution, and translation.

This recognition of Muzones conferred by the President of the Philippines can also be considered a recognition of the development of contemporary West Visayan literature in general. We cannot forget the contributions of late writers and literary scholars like Tyo “Tagoy” Alv. Mulato, Lucila V. Hosillos, and Leoncio P. Deriada who had previously engineered the Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a literature through their creative writings and scholarship.

Currently, writers and scholars like Isidoro M. Cruz, John Iremil E. Teodoro, and Alice Tan Gonzales of San Agustin Writers Workshop, Alex C. Delos Santos, Melecio F. Turao, and Peter Solis Nery of Weekend for Writers (With Writers), Jose Edison Tondares, Genevieve L. Asenjo, and Noel Galon de Leon of Bantugan sa Panulatan Kinaray-a, continue to pave the way to give space to young writers who want to continue the tradition of writing in their languages such as Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a.

Also, worth mentioning is the scholarship of Ma. Cecilia Locsin-Nava in Muzones’ contribution to Hiligaynon literature. It can be said that Locsin-Nava’s intensive and in-depth study of Muzones’ life and writing led the writer to his current position as National Artist for Literature. His translations of the novels Shri-Bishaya and Margosatubig: The Story of Salagunting which won the 2013 National Book Award for Best Novel in A Foreign Language by the Manila Critics Circle have given many Filipinos the opportunity to read one of the best Filipino novels written in Hiligaynon.

Because of the significant scholarship and generous literary production of the names mentioned, we can truly say that Hiligaynon literature is alive today. Scholars’ continued engagement with the public through conferences and workshops held at book fairs and other literary events is an obvious way for the public, and those outside academia, to enjoy the production of literature today.

In addition to well-known writers such as Alain Russ Dimzon who edited the Ortograpiya sang Hiligaynon together with Agnes Espano-Dimzon and Rex Hidalgo of Sumakwelan Iloilo, Dulce Maria V. Deriada, Early Sol A. Gadong, Gil S. Montinola, and Jesus C. Insilada who are members of Hubon Manunulat, new names of young writers in Hiligaynon also appeared such as Dax G. Dequito, Ericson L. Nudgara, Elijah Jose C. Barrios, Roden P. Pedrajas, Adrian Pete M. Pregonir, Alvin Q. Larida, and Jubelea Cheska Copias who introduced their talent as young writers through winning writing competitions, publishing zines, and contributing to the country’s literary journals in recent years.

Apart from that, we can also say that Hiligaynon literature is alive and well because of the books that have been published since the time of the pandemic, and now that it is in the new normal. Ilonggo writers are constantly releasing new books. It seems that the pandemic has even prompted many writers to complete their pending writing and book projects. For example, books such as Biktima sang Gyera kag iban pa nga mga sugilanon by Maria Luisa S. Defante-Gibraltar, Ang Bubon kang Mga Sugilanon by Linda C. Arnaez-Lee, Mag-Rally Kita by Noel Galon de Leon and June Ivan Gumban, Klaro na Masyado Poems in Tacurong and Cabacan Tagalog by Gerald Castillo Galindez, Astig nga Askal A visual art story book by Ma Rosalie Zerrudo and Ma Margarita Aurora Chavez, Vignette of Voyages by Elvie Razon-Gonzalez, and then there was awe by Kristine Buenavista and Marrz Capanang, undelivered gift by Hercharme D. Demegillo, and Balayon Ko Ang Banwa by Erwin S. Sustento.

Other than this successful aspect of publishing, in the past several years the talent of many writers from Western Visayas has been recognized one after another. The book Cuentos de Juana: narraciones Malayas de Las Islas Filipinas by Adelina Gurrea Monasterio, which was translated by Felino S. Garcia, Jr., won the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Translator’s Prize in 2017, published by Kasingkasing Press in 2022. In the same year, Jesus C. Insilada was also the Grand Champion in the NCCA Writers’ Prize for Hiligaynon Novel entitled Tumandok published by Kasingkasing Press as an eBook in 2021.

Meanwhile, Dulce Maria V. Deriada won the 2022 PBBY-Salanga Grand Prize for her children’s story A Girl Named Villea. Also, at the 40th National Book Awards, John Iremil E. Teodoro won the Best Book of Nonfiction in Filipino for his book Sa Yakap ng Gubat at Dagat ng Palawan: Mga Ekosanaysay, published by Pawikan Press, and Genevieve L. Asenjo won the Best Book of Short Fiction in Filipino for her book Ang Itim na Orkidyas ng Isla Boracay: Mga Kuwento, published by UP Press.

Aside from these achievements that Western Visayas has achieved in the field of literature in recent years, it is also worth mentioning the book projects and publishing initiatives of the local government unit of Iloilo, especially the Iloilo Festivals Foundation, Inc. when they published the books Flavors of Iloilo edited by Rafael Jardeleza, Jr., and the Iloilo Art Book 2021-2022. These types of projects only show how important it is to document the city’s rapid development when it comes to arts and culture. And in order to trace and understand it fully, it is important to write and make books about this knowledge for the benefit of future generations.