ANMLY #35 :: Kognisyon: Contemporary Philippine Literature in Translation

In celebration of National Translation Month, this sampler of translated Filipino writings marks the final installment to a three-part Philippine literary series that included “Neighbor Species and Shared Futures” and “Writings by Filipino Women,” all made possible through ANMLY’s generosity and solid commitment to international solidarity. In this sampler, you will find a novelette translated from Filipino, two short stories translated from Cebuano and Filipino, and poems translated from Cebuano, Filipino, Hiligaynon, Ilocano, Kinaray-a, and Waray. 

Although the totality of the three installments of Philippine literary works here at ANMLY already constitutes a modest sampling of contemporary Filipino writing, it still barely grazes the surface of what’s possible in a country with more than 150 languages. But it does help change—and change for the better—the perception of the kind of literature that represents the Philippines in the English-speaking world. For a very long time and until now, literary productions, originally written in English by Filipinos in the Philippines and the diaspora, are the most visible abroad. Hopefully, this dominance will someday be unsettled by a steady stream of books translated into English from any of the languages in the Philippines. Then maybe we can connect the ‘changed’ Filipino literary representation in our attempts to answer one of the most unanswerable questions in the study of world literature: “what is authenticity?”

In November 2018, Words Without Borders gave me and Kristian Sendon Cordero the privilege to guest-edit the first internationally published sampler of Filipino literature in translation. Then in April 2021, Loch Raven Review published a folio of 49 poems written and translated from nine languages in the Philippines, which I guest-edited with the hope of presenting a not-a-sidelong glimpse into the complex multicultural Philippines that is more than just the country’s capital of Manila.

In this folio, you get to read my translation of Rogelio Braga’s novelette, “Aling Lilay of Luzon Avenue,” which juxtaposes gritty social realism with the chilling incursions of the neighborhood aswang, the titular character Aling Lilay. “Aling Lilay of Luzon Avenue” is also a time capsule with high points set during the frenzied final days of the growing resistance movement against the Marcos dictatorship, the coup d’état-ridden presidency of Corazon Aquino, and the impeachment trial of Erap Estrada, the Philippine president ousted after a three-day mass protest in 2001. 

The lore of the Indigenous Tagbanua tribe talks of a mythical creature called balbal that steals corpses. The balbal steals the corpse during the wake and eludes detection by replacing the corpse with a banana stalk. The banana stalk acts like a doppelgänger. People attending the wake won’t see the banana stalk, but a dead body in the likeness of the corpse already spirited away by the balbal. The only way to know for sure that a corpse is what it should be—and not replaced by a banana stalk brought in by a balbal—is to pass it through an open window. Aling Lilay was not only an aswang, she was also a balbal. Braga’s “Aling Lilay of Luzon Avenue” marries two of the darkest and most enduring lores of the northern and southern regions of the Philippines. 

Tilde Acuña translates “My God,” a story from UZ. Eliserio, a Filipino fiction writer known for his consistently riotous and subversive storytelling. Meanwhile, John Bengan translates from Cebuano the rattling interior darkness of R. Joseph Dazo’s flash fiction piece “Somniphobia.” 

Waray-language literature is beautifully represented here through Michael Carlo C. Villas’s translations of the poems of Sunray Balasbas, Reynel Ignacio, and Amado Arjhay Babon.

JL Lazaga translates the Ilocano-language poems of Linda T. Lingbaoan. Karla Quimsing recasts her sensuous poetic voice from the melodic Hiligaynon into English. I translate Mai Santillan’s poems from Cebuano—a language that has a distinctive attitude, like dry wit and petulance mixed together—as well as Vanessa Anne Joice T. Haro and M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac’s poems from Filipino. Other translated poems from Filipino that you’ll find here are written by J.G. Dimaranan (trans. Tilde Acuña), Ansherina May D. Jazul (trans. Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III), and Edgar Calabia Samar (trans. Nicko Reginio Caluya). Works by two writers in the Kinaray-a language, John Iremil Teodoro (trans. Merlie M. Alunan), and Genevieve L. Asenjo (trans. Ma. Milagros Geremia-Lachica), are also in this folio.  

Happy National Translation Month, everyone!

Kristine Ong Muslim
September 7, 2022
Maguindanao, Philippines