The puzzling depth and humor of Kapampangan riddles and songs of epic wisdom: A disappearing act of real life depiction
By Joel Pabustan Mallari
Dalit a bugtungan, bugtungan a dadalit, o dalit at bugtungan? Poetry has its different characterization in every set of culture of man around the world. In the Philippines, as in this case in Kapampangan, poetry contains many of the ‘early forms’ still known today. Much of it though was buried in our prehistoric past because of the absence of documentations. The problem in the local literary approaches is that local poetry forms are viewed in the western context. Thus much of the study undertaken focused primarily on the measurement of forms like the number of syllables, lines, paragraphs and rhyming and not on the anthropological and sociological background of its cultural formation and social relevance.
Dalit and Marungay vis-à-vis Chinese Kanshi
Fr. Alvaro de Benavente, a Spanish missionary who worked for some years from 1672 to 1698 wrote the Arte y vocabulario de la lengua Pampango, which remains in manuscript form. In this work he noted that the Kapampangan language had two early forms of poetry namely: The Marungay [Manungay?] and the Dalit. The first one as he noted is dramatic and sung while rowing and in their festivities. One person sings and the others answer with an estribillo or refrain. The refrain does not have a fixed number of syllables, while the Marungay is of 6 syllables, and the Dalit, which is graver, has 7 syllables, or three feet and a caesura. In the early Heian Period (794-1185 AD in Japan) Kanshi (Chinese poetry) was the most popular form of poetry among Japanese aristocrats. The most popular style of Kanshi was in 5 or 7 syllables in 4 or 8 lines. These, when chanted, were referred to as Shigin- a practice which continues today. From the ancient, potteries such as those Chinese jars traded in the Philippines had verses written on them are classic examples of old calligraphic expression. The trade with China could have been as early as the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-906). Within the archipelago like those areas surrounding the Manila Bay the recoveries of Tang and Tang-type trade ceramics are evidences of this early trade. On the other hand, examples of dalit from the Luther Parker collection compiled during the early 20th century have mostly 8 syllables in them. While among the available versions of pasiun chanted during the Lenten season have syllables of 8, some have 6 or 7. The difference in the number of syllables might have something to do with the way it was sung or chanted. The prolongation of tones might consist of several counts equivalent to a number of syllables.
Dalit or Kanta? Contemporary forms and cognates
Ricardo E. Galang in 1940, categorized some of the common Kapampangan literature. He listed tumaila as lullabies, basultu as an allegorical or comic song, kundiman as lovesongs, jarana [arana] as a serenade, irijia [aria] superstitious beliefs, vida or bie as folklore, pigmulan as legends, kasebian [casebian] as maxims or proverbs, karagatan [caragatan] as poetical jousts, bugtung as riddles and dalit as a song on rustic life. Dalit is different from the kanta because kanta is the generic term for all types of songs Galang mentioned. Dalit may actually refer to one literary category or form just like the old dalit mentioned by Fr. Benavente. Accordingly it is apparent that taladalit, literally the singer of dalit may have been a type of magkanta. It is just in the same category as magbasultu or mamulosu, the singers of basultu and pulosa respectively. Likewise, Fr. Bergano in his 1860 version of Kapampangan dictionary, wrote the meaning of dalit as “couplet, ballad, Pampango songs… Manyalit, to sing them…Délit, the song and to whom it is sung. Mirálitan, sing to one another.” Other important entries he listed are as follows:
Gàlay. (dipthong.) Noun, tone or range of the voice, like in solmizing or voice practice. Neutral verb, to sing in this manner, to chant. See, Guegay. Idiomatically, Migagalay, Migalegalay, to “sing”, not only in the intonation of music, but also in divulging some secret. Pigalegalay, the thing divulged. Pigalegale ra ita, that is what they go about chanting/ divulging. Also, Pagalay, the bait that is moved in little jerking motions on the surface of the water, like the little beats made for one going over the notes in solfeggio. Pagalayan, the place, or the fish as the objective of such an action. Mamagalay, the fisherman who makes such jerking motions with the bait;
Sacurút. (a.) Adjective, is said of one who speaks or acts precipitously, or with a speedy gait, sacurut ya pamanagcas, sacurut ya panlacad. Active verb and its constructions, to speak, or to read, or to act speedily. P. 2. that which. Mi, with intent, and its passive without an, in the past tense. See Guegai, Galai, its opposites, and you will understand sacurut;
Bingcayo. (g.) Noun, lullaby, a song to lull babies to sleep. Active verb, past and future, migcayo, or, magbincayao, to sing to lull a baby. P. 1. the baby. P. 3. the place, like, a hammock. Maca, becoming lulled, able to lull;
Taila. (pp.) Noun, lullaby. Neutral verb, future, Tumaila, and its variation, Imagtumaila, to sing a tumaila, a lullaby. P. 1. Ipagtumaila, the person to whom/for whom a tumaila is sung/chanted.
Tagumpay. (diphthong). Noun, victory. Magtagumpay, to sing of, or celebrate a victory P. 3. the conquered. Gamba, and Alaula, is for the barbarous negritos after they have cut off heads
The manner on how literary deliveries and exchanges is apparently significant even before. In fact the term gale (dipth. galai) is still being used today which now refers to the manner of delivering a poetic verse, thus talagale refers to the poet who delivers a verse. The term gege (dipth. guegai) is the pattern of voice intonation and is the opposite of the old sacurut term. These evolutions are also seen on the general understanding of the present use of the tumaila term. This relatively new term specifically refers to a lullaby while it was actually referred to bingcayo around the 18th century. On the other hand the taila was the generic word for all “kinds” of lullabies before. Today, the uses of dalit, and kanta are unconsciously interchanged in use and in definition. Although in some aspects dalit are now considered strictly as religious songs or old folksongs and kanta are those that are considered popular songs that follow the trend of western music. Likewise, the term kanta has become the generic term for all kinds of singing, from the lalarin-larin lullabies we unconsciously hum to the most modern introduction of voiced music of today.
Dalit at bugtung, pre-18th century art and wisdom of singing
Dalit is not an exclusive term among the Kapampangans, According to Jose Villa Panganiban, dalìt is a term known to Bicolanos, Kapampangans and Tagalogs as a psalm or a religious hymn having a dithyrambic epic. In an 1860 Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, dalit is defined as “copla, o apodo con ella”. It has the same meaning with the older Tagalog dictionary of San Buenaventura published in 1627. It is equivalent to bogtong. So dalit is bogtong or bugtung in Kapampangan. This definition of dalit is the same with that of Fray Diego Bergaño. But as earlier noted, according to him, it is a ballad, “Pampango song”. Interestingly, no entries about basultu, pulosa are mentioned. Apparently, pulosa is an indigenized term of the Spanish prosa; while according to Prof. Felipe de Leon, basultu songs like the “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” have their similarity at least their melody to 18th century, Spanish and Mexican folksongs. This folksong carries various interpretations among several scholars, which indicates the enigmatic case of how Kapampangans compose their songs, the kanta, their dalit as riddles that measure their wisdom.
Fray Diego Bergaño recorded several terms that picture Kapampangans’ riddling culture like auit, bugtong, taqui-taqui, magtalubang etc. Auit is a “riddle, or metaphor in verse, like giving congratulations. Magauit, migauit, to recite such verses. Pagauit, pigauit, to whom these metaphors / verses are addressed”. Moreover, auitan, inauit, refers to the person one has endeavored to attract; while mayayauit, meyauit, mayauit, is “the one that becomes attracted. Voluptate trahitur, carried away by the pleasant emotion.” Fray Bergaño adds “no other word can express it with great propriety. Trahit, sua quemque voluptas, its pleasure carries away everyone…” This term is also common not only to Kapampangans but also to other languages like Hiligaynon and Cebuano …[i] On the other hand, Fray Bergano recorded bugtong as an adjective for “unique, the only one” which is still being used today. But he noted that “it also means, to proffer riddles or enigmas” while bugtungan, is the riddle, the guessing game. Other words for this match are taquitaqui, and magtalubang[ii], Fray Bergano defines the former as “a thing spoken of in riddle, enigma, emphasis, and adage” and the latter as “to play the guessing game of the very cunning” respectively.
Among the examples of riddles found in the 1860 version of Vocabulario of Fr. Bergano, they depict meticulous observations of ordinary happenings and instances of daily living, which are delivered as riddles. Some of which are as follows:
“Linucsu yang dalaga, mebalag yang saya na: the maiden jumped, her skirt dropped: a riddle about the grain, jumping at the heat of the pan, it puffs, and discards its shell / husk, as Emebusa[iii]…
Libolibong[iv] silo mo, palad nung acua mo co, is a riddle about the shadow: You may have a thousand traps, it will be your good fortune if you can catch me…
Ing quigli co quebuctut, suyi[v] yang macatapuc, muban ya yata quing lub, alan manğacung sibut, v. g. Pedro wishes to marry Maria, but her father detests Pedro, or if her father approves, Maria does not, unless there is one who would remove the difficulties, his wish would remain a mere wish. Literally, what I conceived and now is pregnant with it, appears to be in a breech position; there is a danger it shall grow old inside, without any prospect of it coming out…
Alang mininggang ibat quing lub, No one was born learned, and also, No one comes out of the womb already dressed. Inquire about the meaning of this riddle: Ding culyauan adua minğatba la quing sanĝa. Two orioles roosting on the either side of the branch…”
Every set of the above mentioned examples comes in a 2-line of 6-syllable format phrase. Poeta Geronimo Del Rosario once made an important insight on this, as saying that these old phrases like bugtung may not be that extraordinary to early Kapampangans as we come across on them today, they were just part of the ordinary lines of thoughts and understanding, just like old words that we seldom use today.
Dalit = bugtungan and marungay = basultu
The marungay might be the early form of basultu before, since some of the classic examples like the “O Caca, o Caca” and “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” each have 6-syllable pattern. To date, the general practice of basultu singing is composed of naming persons especially guests or listeners present and or narrating present situations. This can be related to the early marungay (or manungay), of 6 syllables. The term manungay, is a diphthongized term of manungge which literally means pointing or mentioning something like persons or things. Another context of this term somewhat challenged those persons pointed at or mentioned. As in the case of Fr. Benvente’s description, one person sings (as manungge?) and the rest answers.
Thus the old dalit is now known bugtungan and the old marungay (or manungay) is the basultu (and or pulosa). The old description for dalit and marungay fits well with Fr. Bergano’s examples of bugtungan and that of the old and famous basultu pieces like “O Caca, o Caca” and “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” of today.
Secret links of bugtungan, karagatan and bulaklakan
In an ethnographical essay done by Demetria Santos, there seems to be a slight difference in these two forms of riddle games. As she relates, “bugtungan needs no further explanation and karagatan is somewhat the same as bugtungan but done only in a much complicated way”. In this case, the people divide themselves into two groups.
In a compilation “A Little Book of Filipino Riddles” the various terms for a Filipino riddle are: in Ilocano it is burburtia, in Pangasinan boniqueo, in Tagal [Tagalog] bugtong, in Pampangan bugtong, in Bisayan tugmahanon. This collection further narrates that the “young people mostly give out Filipino riddles. When several are gathered together they will question and answer; they are much in vogue when a young gentleman calls upon his sweetheart; among Tagals [Tagalog] and Pampangans at least the chief occasion for giving bugtong is when a little group are watching at night beside a corpse. In propounding a riddle it is not uncommon to challenge attention by repeating as witty a rhyme, which is quite as often coarse as witty.”
On the other hand, the ethnographical study done by Leon Gonzales in 1915, bugtungan and karagatan [caragatan] are noted as part of the old customs done by Kapampangans. These activities are usually associated to burial ceremonies. Both involve a beautiful verbal poetic joust. Extant examples, show that bugtungan have 2 or 3 lines only while the latter is a progressive type of an emotional debate. Moreover, according to the experience of poet Amado Gigante, karagatan is traditionally considered as the introductory part of every session of bulaklakan. These 2 genres together with kikimut, paisipan, and kasebian are regarded as old forms of pre-Hispanic Kapampangan drama according to Edna Zapanta Manlapaz. She notes that kikimut is similar to the Tagalog karilyo, a shadow play; while the paisipan and kasebian are variants of bugtungan.
The following is an example of rhymed poetic conversation between the ari (called poderdanti) and the makiabe (suplikanti). It was provided by A. Gigante based from what he heard from the older generation of poets he met before.
Makiabe: “Ginung mikibandi kaniti king santungan
Aring pamuntuk na niting katatagan
Nanding maglakad ku king tulid nitang dalan
Ding dakal a tau kaku lang amatan
Inia mengutang ku, karelang pakibat atin bulaklakan”
“A maginung ari, nung kekong itulut
Kening katatagan, bias kusang lauk
Ban matad kung saya karetang malungkut
A likuan ning bangke atlu pamung aldo
Pakibat ning Ari (The king answers):
“Ing amung magsalita nung bias kang lauk
Kening katatagan, buri kung abalu
nung dakal ing abias ing kekang daralan
Uling siguradung detang disan
Ing sablang bakal mu, iti itun dangan
Kanita masubuk ampong mabitasa
King dakal ya bitbit iting kekang diua”
(Afterwhich, the makiabe walks, for every step of the way he provides wisdom of contemplation)
“Kanian kekang panlub ing aduan ming saria
Ing balang takbang mu
Dian mung kabaldugan para king Dios Ibpa…”
This excerpt involves a deep sense of wisdom and quick thinking. It is a challenge to the wit. Among other contemporary sources, bulaklakan is regarded as equivalent to the Tagalog duplo, a poetic game or contest dramatically strung to a short narrative sequence. Folksingers like brothers Johnny, Florentino and Francisco G. David of Jalung, Porac vividly remember the manner bulaklakan was played. According to them, the old name of this game is talubangan. This is what Fr. Bergano mentioned as magtalubang in his 1860 glossary compilation. This poetic guessing game involves the use of imaginary characters like talubang (butterflies usually composed of male participants) and bulaklak or sampaga (flowers, the female members). The metaphorical interaction of characters takes place when the talubang flies and carries a bugtung and lands on a bulaklak. It is then answered in verse also. The separation of sexes indicates gender rivalry and the victorious members end up as new partners lovers.
Fr. Bergano provided an excellent example as he noted “Bintalbintalan[vi]…is held like a thing that was never seen before; from this nuance, the word is used for a game of wits, similar to that played by two or more contestants, so they say, Ing talubang banua bintalbintalancoya, mecayabpayabpa can Pedro, and the answer, E dimpa; the rejoinder: Nuya dimpa? Talubang banua, (a certain species of butterfly, which no one has ever seen), and the others now inquire from the contestants in the game. (The heavenly butterfly I am inquiring it may have alighted on Pedro. No, it has not! Where could it be?”
19th Century Karagatan Evolution
Generally in the 19th century, the indigenous poetic joust evolved into a folk verse game that sometimes involved a man and a woman. The karagatan just like the Tagalog duplo/dupluhan had male (belyako/ bellacos) and female (belyaka/ bellacas ) participants who presented on a make-believe court litigation, accused one another of fantastic crimes in highly puzzling terms while the accused defended themselves in terms just as puzzling, argued their cases in elegant verses. The poetic joust like karagatan, bulaklakan, duplo and juego de prenda were actually used to entertain guests and bereaved families during wakes.
Later on Spanish influences came in, thus variants of poetic joust created Crissotan and Tolentinuan genre. Crissotan is the Kapampangan equivalent of the Tagalog balagtasan (named after Francisco Balagtas, the name by which Francisco Baltazar was popularly known). It is the art of publicly arguing in extemporaneous, metered and rhymed poetry composed of two opposing master poets with a moderator called lakandiua, while Tolentinuan has three arguing individuals. The former was first coined in 1925 (one year after the first Balagtasan was held in Manila, April 6, 1924) by Amado Yuzon in honor of Juan Crisostomo Soto. The latter was first held in 1930 in a Pampanga Carnival Fair which was participated by Amado M. Yuzon, Silvestre M. Punzalan and Roman P. Reyes. The crissotan just like balagtasan has its parallel in Visayan (using the same balagtasan name), Ilocano (bukanegan in honor of the poet Pedro Bukaneg, the transcriber of the epic Lam-ang), bukanegan began in the early 1930s.
The 20th century saw the entrenchment of American neo-colonial culture through the transplantation of American political institutions, popular education, the introduction of the English language and religious reformation. A lot of writings, journalistic and literary, have deplored social diseases perceived to have been brought about by America. Writers have deliberately exerted efforts to resist this. If the Tagalog duplo gave birth to the balagtasan karagatan and bulaklakan gave birth to crissotan, tolentinuan. They all became the vehicles of social protests in the 1920s as Ruth Elynia Mabanglo notes. In fact much of these voices of protests penetrated all forms of literary genres. One of the best examples is the Pasion ding Talapagobra of Lino Lopez Dizon printed during the time of the Luis Taruc at the height of socialist movement in Pampanga. An excerpt from chapter IX “Ding Tau Sucat lang Mie Antimong Tau”, these 171-173 stanzas shows a strong socio-political message of humiliation in a perfect 8-syllable rhymed verses:
Ing Dios diman e migculang
Canitang cayang lelangan
Keting yatung cacarinan,
King sabla tang kailangan
Ala tang sucat iliwan.
Dapot ngni surian tamu
Ing cabilian da ring tau
Keti babo na ning yatu,
Ating mabsi, ating mau
King cabiayan a mayubu
Dacal la ring alang bale
Maki-sulut la ring pobre
Ing bili ra macajale,
Dacal la ring mangamate
King danup alang pagcabie
Napun, ngeni at bukas: the disappearing act of unique humor
The loss of ancient forms of witty entertainment to today’s fading jambori of basultu and dalitan which once served as an effective channel of social reforms is alarming. Most of the remnants of these old wisdom and compositions became dormant in the hands of the “able few”. Among the many culprit of its extinction include the slow development of free verse writing and the unwelcomed reactions of unrhymed pattern of delivery. Whatever remained of the early basultos or dalit played on short slots of airtime are limited to the humorous ribald versions of folksongs. Wakes and other social reunions are no longer hosted by folk artists in their houses but by instant services provided by funeral parlors and resorts. Thus intimate social gatherings are diminished into simple meetings over butul pakuan and tetra packed juices. The fact that local artists like poets and folksingers are mostly in their twilight years and very few among the younger generation have the passion to learn this legacy further threaten this scenario. To add insult to this museum-bound tradition is the fact that these old artists and practitioners clamor for public attention and solicit funding for them to support. Thus the puzzling depth and humor of Kapampangan riddles and songs of epic wisdom are most likely headed to the last part of jambori, the cheap public performance, which is not actually appreciated by the new Kapampangan generation. As the popular “non-sensical (?) song “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” goes “meuala ya iti eku kamalayan”.
 Hernandez, Policarpo OSA, THE AUGUSTINIANS AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PAMPANGO LITERATURE: Printing Press, Philology, Poetry and Religious Literature. Alaya Journal No.3, Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University 2005
 Galang, Ricardo E.
1940 Ethnographic Study of the Pampangans. Of the Natural History Museum Division Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Manila
 Panganiban, Jose Villa
1972 Diksyunario-Tesauro Filipino Ingles
 Santos, Demetria.
June 30, 1915 Religious Beliefs in Connection with the Dead. In Philippine Folklore, social Customsand Beliefs (A Collection of Original Sources) Collected and arranged by H.Otley Beyer Vol 9 (From the Pampañgan people) Pampañgan paper No. 6 (Folklore #336). Manila. unpublished
 A Little Book of Filipino Riddles by Various. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Release Date: December 15, 2004 [EBook #14358]8859-. Produced by Jeroen Hellingman and the PG Distributed Proofreaders Team, from scans kindly made available by the University of Michigan. http://www.sakoman.net/pg/html/14358.htm
 Gonzales, Leon M.
June 30, 1915 Past and present burial ceremonies among the Pampañgans. In Philippine Folklore, social Customsand Beliefs (A Collection of Original Sources) Collected and arranged by H.Otley Beyer Vol 9 (From the Pampañgan people) Pampañgan paper No. 7 (Folklore #337). Manila. unpublished
 Zapanta-Manlapaz, E.
1981 Kapampangan literature: Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila Press.
 Mallari, I.V.
1954 Vanishing Dawn. Mc Cullough Ptinting Company. Philippines. Pp. 75-79
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December 11, 1983 Kapampangan Poetry. Philippine Center of International P.E.N., Cultural Center of the Philippines
[i] Awit n. Kpm. Hlg. Sb. Tg. song, chant, hymn. Syn. kanta, kanto, kansiyon; kundiman, balada, dalit, imno; melodiya, himig, tono; tugtog, musika.—Hlg. ambahanon; Png. laingey; SL. awit. (Panganiban 1972)
[ii] From the word talubang, butterfly
[iii] From the word busa. This word refers to toasted glutinous rice, the grains are puffed. (Bergaño 1860)
[iv] From the word libo, thousand
[v] From the word suyi, a thing in reverse, that is upside down, like the feet are above, and the head is below (Bergaño 1860)
[vi] Bintal, the precious stone (Bergaño 1860)
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