“THE role of the writer is to document the past and the present, to immortalize the human experience, and chronicle the truths of the world around him,” fiction writer and educator Jesus Insilada told Panay News.
Currently the principal of Caninguan National High School in Lambunao, Iloilo, Insilada was one of the finalists of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize for championing culture-based education at his far-flung school.
The prestigious prize is a US$1-million award presented by the Varkey Foundation annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her profession.
Overseeing a community elementary school where over 90 percent of the students belong to the Panay Bukidnon indigenous peoples group, Insilada has incorporated tumandok culture into the everyday lessons and curriculum of all subjects being taught – engaging learning through traditional dances, songs, epics, local games and crafts that lend a more accessible context to their studies.
Himself also a full-blooded member of the Panay Bukidnon community, Insilada’s award-winning works of fiction are similarly anchored on the rich folklore and oral history of the “suludnon.”
“I take pride in our culture and I write to fulfill my advocacy of helping document and preserve the Panay Bukidnon culture and oral literature,” said the four-time Carlos Palanca Memorial Award recipient.
Insilada’s “Panubok sa Pula,” which won the Palanca Award in 2012, talks about pursuing the rights and welfare of the Panay Bukidnon people amidst modernization and the destruction of the environment, meanwhile “Amburukay” which took home gold at the 2015 competition is a re-imagining of a compelling character from the sugidanon epic of Panay: the Hinilawod.
A proud member of the indigenous people’s community, Insilada comes from a poor farming family. He shares that, through his hard work and the sacrifice of his parents, he was the first member of his family to graduate college.
“We have a lot of reasons to protect our identity, rights and welfare as Panay Bukidnon,” shared the inspiring teacher. “I started writing because I felt I have a lot to tell and share about the many aspects of being a Panay Bukidnon.”
“First and foremost, I am a teacher than I am a writer, culture advocate, but for me these three things are inseparable,” he added.
Insilada is a member of Hubon Manunulat, an organization made up of writers from Western Visayas. It was founded in March 2014 to unite local writers with the passion for writing in the mother tongue.
“My hope for Western Visayan literature is to discover more young writers and encourage them to use their native languages: Hiligaynon and karay-a. We should write our own stories as Ilonggos and as Western Visayans.”
Writer, poet and educator Early Sol Gadong airs a similar sentiment to Insilada, wanting to put up “safe spaces” in Iloilo’s thriving art and literature community for young writers to explore and hone their craft.
“For the past three years, we have been really conscious in providing writers, especially younger ones, alternative venues para may access sila to reading materials and so they can improve their writing,” said Gadong, assistant principal of the University of the Philippines High School in Iloilo, also a member of Hubon Manunulat.
“I want young readers to be interested in reading and to be interested in reading local literature. I also hope to get them interested to read and write in their mother tongue,” she added, a 2016 Palanca awardee in the Hiligaynon short story category.
In the past three years, Gadong has been part of the team that has spearheaded the “Magsugilanonay Kita: West Visayan Mother Tongue Children’s Books Summit” and “ZineZone,” a series of xerography and self-publishing festivals for young local writers.
“[Through ZineZone] na-realize ko nga kadamu gid ya gale sing young writers who want to get published, kulang lang gid sa opportunities and proper avenues that will encourage them to write even more,” she said.
As a member of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community, Gadong has not shied away from writing enthralling stories and poetry inspired by her own experiences.
“One of my advocacies is to talk and share stories about the members of the LGBTQ community here in the Visayas, often very few of their narratives get told. Gusto ko gid mangin part sing pagsugid sing ila mga suguilanon,” she told this writer.
“It wasn’t really a conscious decision to write about LGBTQ stories, it was just that growing up, wala ako sing mga narrative nga ini nga mabasa. For the younger generation, who like me when I was a teenager, are looking for these stories, at least may ara na sila mabasa.”
Gadong’s “So I left my Ilongga,” a spoken word piece that has gained popularity in the Poetika circles of Iloilo, is a sincere and heart-breaking poem that explores love and loss through the linguistic twists and turns of the Hiligaynon language.
“Naga-lean gid siya toward my personal gender identity as a member of the LGBTQ community. I really feel that very few stories, particularly that of lesbian members of the community get told in Western Visayas,” Gadong explained.
Also part of Hubon Manunulat are Gil Montinola – a 2015 Palanca awardee and public school teacher at Mina Central School – and Noel Galon de Leon – a writer, filmmaker and publisher for Kasingkasing Press, based in Guimaras.
“Gusto ko matabo nga ginabasa sing tanan, nga biskan mga ordinaryo nga tawo gabasa sing Hiligaynon literature, sing sulat sang mga Western Visayan writers,” said Montinola.
WRITE WITH PURPOSE
“Nag-change na ang role sing writer, sang una masulat ka daw for self-expression lang, subong dapat ang role sing bawat isa nga writer is to contribute to the community and write with a purpose,” De Leon told Panay News.
“Ang writer on a personal note, gasulat para i-express ang lawas niya,” shares Gadong. “Pero in the larger scheme of things, it makes you ask: If it was never written down, did it happen? The role of the writer is to write about the current landscape and situation around them, because siya ang ga-record sing world from iya personal context.”
“There is so much potential here in Western Visayas in terms of good writing. In the next couple of years, I hope mas maging mapangahas nga mag-tackle sing relevant issues both ang young and established writers of our region. At Hubon Manunulat, we hope for a more progressive and innovative thriving Western Visayasn literature community,” she concluded.
In celebration of national literature month, Hubon Manunulat is set to hold “Tukibasa” – a play on the Hiligaynon words tukib meaning “to discover” and basa “to read” – a celebration of the joy of discovery through reading at the University of the Philippines Visayas on April 14.
“Tukibasa” is held in partnership with the National Book Development Board, Kasingkasing Press, and the University of the Philippines Visayas./PN