Spanish Colonial Philippine Literature

When the Spaniards came, there was an immediate shift on the focus of literature. It became centered on the Christian faith, and the stories about natural phenomena suddenly became all about the lives of saints and other religious hymns. Slowly, Philippine literature started to emulate the traditional Spanish ways of themes and forms in writing, including the repetitive plots and obvious shadowy characters. Despite these changes, Filipinos still found a way to make Spanish literature their own, as shown through these common kinds:

  • Corrido is a legendary religious narrative form that usually details the lives of saints or the history of a tradition.
  • Awit is a chivalric poem about a hero, usually about a saint. It is also usually sung and used in religious processions.
  • Pasyon is a narrative poem about the life ofJesus Christ, beginning from his birth and up to his death. This is usually sung during the Lenten season. Many women were trained before to perform the Pasyon. Nowadays, it is sung by seasoned performers in churches nationwide.
  • Cenaculo is the dramatization of the passion of Christ. It highlights the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, and it is also done during the Lenten season. A good example is the San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites in San Fernando, Pampanga, where fervent Catholics volunteer themselves to be actually nailed to the cross to reenact the suffering of Jesus Christ.
  • Moro-moro or Comedia de Caper y Espada is a blood-and-thunder melodrama depicting the conflict of Christians and Muslims. It is usually about battles to the death and the proofs of faith.
  • Carillo is a play that uses shadows as its main spectacle. This is created by animating figures made from cardboard, which are projected onto a white screen.
  • Tibag is the dramatic reenactment of St. Helena’s search for the Holy Cross. St. Helena is the mother of Constantine and is oftentimes credited to have influenced her son to be the great Christian leader he is known for today. She is also well-known to have traveled to Syria to look for the relics of Jesus Christ’s cross, the one that was used in his crucifixion. It is also widely believed that she found it in the same country.
  • Duplo or Karagatan are native dramas that are connected to Catholic mourning rituals and harvest celebrations.
  • Zarzuela is probably one of the most famous forms of entertainment hock int Spanish era. Zarzuelas are musical’ comedies or melodramas that deal with Se elemental passions of human beings. A zarzuela follows a certain plot, which shows either a satirical look at society or a begrudged life.

These kinds of Spanish colonial literature show how welcoming your Filipino ancestors were to the Catholic faith. Most of them were happy to be baptized and immediately began to follow Catholicism’s traditions and teachings. This faith and belief transcended up until now, because the Philippines is the third largest Catholic nation in the world in terms of population (after Brazil and Mexico). At the same time, these kinds of literature also helped shape the literature that we have today, not only in terms of faith, but also in terms of values system, societal norms, and realizations about life.

Despite being colonized, most Filipinos back then still treasured the old myths and folklores of their ancestors. One of these is Jose Rizal. Even though he is an ilustrado (a Filipino student educated abroad), he still firmly championed the literature of precolonial Philippines and had also spent time researching on them. This is his retelling of a famous mysterious maiden who once lived in the mountains of his hometown.