LUGAR LANG| Pagbinayloay: Notes on Mindanawon Writing (Part 2)

 I THINK one of the things that made our panel on Mindanawon writing particularly notable was the design of the venue, which was set up as a theater-in-the-round by IPAG (Integrated Performing Arts Guild) director Steven Patrick Fernandez for their performances in Taboan Mindanao. They transformed the Farmers Training Center of Central Mindanao University into a fitting venue for literary exchange. Even though some of the audience did not have a visual of the speakers, I imagine the dramatic lighting on the stage helped to focus attention on the discussion.

Gracielle Deanne Tubera, the youngest writer in the panel, was born and raised in Cotabato but studied nursing in Ateneo de Davao and has settled in Davao. In Cotabato, which has borne the consequences of the war in Mindanao, bombings were daily fare. People had to learn to live with the threat by adjusting their schedules and lifestyles. Tubera, as a child, was kept within the safe confines of their home. She, in turn, resisted the confinement by letting her imagination wander. While cable TV cartoons nurtured her, she used these as inspiration to create her own stories. Thus, she learned early that the imagination was a refuge from the real world. She learned how to become a writer before she learned to literally write and before she became a nurse. Today, her experiences in the nursing profession surely give her material, but she knows that her writing has also taught her a deeper empathy for her patients. In a similar manner, Floraime Pantaleta, who was born in Basilan and raised in Zamboanga City, spent her childhood confined in the illusory protection of their home. She shared that her family’s choice to move to Zamboanga was a way to escape the violence in Basilan. While violence also later erupted in Zamboanga, her family was not directly affected by it. Yet it didn’t mean that they were not affected by the terror of living in a war-torn land. Her writing today, while she is based in Iligan, is always writing from Basilan and Zamboanga. When she hears of terrible news from her hometowns, no matter how physically removed she is from the violence, she struggles with the pain and fear. For her, poetry is a way to deal with her own powerlessness, as well as her confusion.

Mark Anthony Daposala, who hails from Cagayan de Oro, writes poetry in Binisaya that can be likened to the “”bugoy” style of some Cebuano poets, who write from their experiences as men, often with a humorous conclusion. But Daposala posits that his writing is distinct because he is from Cagayan de Oro, which provides him with a specific sense of place, and perhaps a darker humor. In addition, they have their own use of Binisaya, a dialect of Cebuano, which he is hoping to make known through his writing. And it is the details of his daily life that he wishes to be able to express in his poems.

Finally, John Bengan, who was born in Roxas and is a Davao settler, is the senior writer in the panel because of his various writing awards for fiction, as well as a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the New School in New York. He shared that when he started writing, he didn’t consciously think of his identity as Mindanawon. Like many writers, he began because he became conscious of story. In college, he wrote stories about the so-called Davao Death Squad because he was fascinated by the characters in that dark world, which seemed to him like the “aswang” of his childhood in Capiz. When he studied in the US, he became more conscious of English as a language for telling stories, because he learned that many Americans do not even know what a “jeepney” is. This brought to the fore questions about inherent difficulties for Filipinos writing in English and its audience. Perhaps this is one of the factors that Bengan has now begun writing in Binisaya—in order to express what cannot be translated.

How exhilarating it was for me to sit in that circle of some of the most brilliant young writers in Mindanao (and in the country), and to share in the process of defining what may never be a unified identity. Mindanao is a diverse community and our polyphonic writing voices all contribute to the big story that is unfolding like a modern symphony.

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Posted in Opinion