WILA at 24 and a book launch

One group and one writer made me realize that Cebuano literature is very much alive.

Coming from hours-long interaction with the computer, which was bordering on becoming apathetic, over imagined emotions and thoughts about condominiums, I had welcomed any form of respite one September day.

Luckily, it came in the form of the 24th anniversary celebration of the Women in Literary Arts (WILA) at the Rizal Memorial Library. As expected, it was another night rich with poetry, prose, music, and promise. It was my second time to attend their anniversary through the invitation of its past president Ms. Haidee Emmie Palapar.

WILA was launched on Sept. 25, 1991 at the University of the Philippines Cebu Audio Visual Room with Ms. Erma Cuizon (I’m also reading her Woman: Collected Essays) leading the core group. Founded by seven women writers, WILA is considered as the only organized women writers’ group in the country.

Since its creation, WILA have been carrying out their mission to promote the arts in general and Cebuano literature in particular. This is reflected in the number of books published through the group, including an anthology of poems titled femi.nest and another anthology of creative writing in Cebuano and English titled Babayeng Sugid: Cebu Stories. I gratefully got my copy of the latter as a Christmas gift from Ms. Palapar, which I have yet to read more and feature in this blog.

For photos of WILA’s 24th anniversary, check out this Facebook album by Ms. Palapar.

Also, WILA’s mission is manifested in the significant number of writing workshops and seminars it has conducted, promoted and participated in over the years. One seminar will be held over the weekend, with the theme “Women in Disaster,” which I am looking forward to with much apprehension, given the fact that I had not sat down and seriously wrote a creative nonfiction fiction piece for sometime prior to my submission of my entry for this seminar.

On its 25th year, Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu, director of the Cebuano Studies Center, will take the helm as newly elected chair of WILA.

Dr. Erlinda Alburo

Preceding the literary readings to celebrate WILA’s 24th anniversary was the launch of Bisayangdako: Writing Cebuano Culture and Arts by Dr. Erlinda Kintanar-Alburo. Knowing that it was a book of essays about our homeland was enough motivation for me to attend and get a copy.

The book, published by the University of San Carlos Press, contains 64 essays that fill 157 pages. They are grouped according to seven topic categories: On Culture & Arts, On Folklore, On History, On the Literary Arts, On the Native Tongue, On Women Writing, and On Men Writing.

Dr. Alburo, a passionate and supportive teacher (I’m describing her based on personal experience) of language, literature and research at the University of San Carlos, harvested most of the compiled essays in the book from columns “Diyandi” in the Freeman Magazine and “Promdiwise” in Sugbo News.

From these pieces put together, the reader is invited to form a picture of the bigger Cebuano culture of which they speak,” Dr. Alburo says in the preface of the book.

She notes, “…outside of Cebu no one seems to know — or care — about what we are doing here. At the same time, one may be so caught up in local happenings that one doesn’t give a thought to other events of the kind in the rest of the country. This lack of connection is somehow addressed by the pieces in this book.”

The book cover, sourced from the Cebuano Studies Center, shows the art form of the balitaw, an icon of Cebuano culture, combining poetry, music and dance. This style is reflective of bisayangdako, or extemporaneous verse, without fixed steps or music, according to Dr. Alburo.

Personally, I enjoyed reading the book when I selected sections to read for the day. I would start a silly routine declaring to myself, “Today I will read something about the native tongue and another on history.” Each piece is a rediscovery or a new learning about Cebu’s culture and arts. When I bought my copy, I hit the stack on folklore first, given my special preference for old stories. I knew a bit about one of the origins of Mandaue City where I grew up (mantawi to refer to vines) but not the water stories behind it or its special relationship to Mactan, Liloan and Camotes.

This is one of my favorite lines: “The order in the universe before was dependent on a balance to be kept by deities and spirits who, however, could not prevent breaking of the rules, in the same way that the moral and social orders today when disturbed are difficult to restore (p. 36–37).”

The writer covers a wide range of topics yet all relevant, including tubậ (coconut wine) that acutely reminds me of my grandfather and his coconut trees in Balamban, Cebuano Studies Center where she was former director, use of folklore to cope with modern changes, history, book reviews, and literary events.

What I found interesting is the single hard-hitting thought-provoking sentence that caps most of the essays I have read so far. For example, Dr. Alburo writes the end in Old Water Stories for Today as: “A good look at our own folklore may indeed equip us for survival and coping with change, more than we think.” In Maria Cacao for Regreening, she writes at the end, “…we give back to Nature the same care we get from her. In this light, the yarns of old can become an equipment for survival.”

To me, WILA and Dr. Alburo’s latest book prove one thing: Cebuano literature is indeed alive.

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This experience with female literature advocates in Cebu was first written, shared and posted on my blog, www.nancycudis.com, on Oct. 8, 2015.

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