Sunday, April 05, 2009

Harvest of words

I DON’T recommend wet shoes, wet clothes and wet skin for sitting through three hours of academic talk.

But though last Friday’s flash downpour made me drip all the way to chilly Buttenbruch Hall, nothing could keep me from this book launching.

It’s not every day that you get two replacements when the sun hides behind a summer squall.

Last April 3, the University of San Carlos launched the “Dictionary of Bisayan Arts” and “Kulokabildo: Dialogues with Cebuano Writers.”

The publication of a new dictionary should be a matter of rejoicing. Next to politics and religion, finding the right word is the cause of great contentions.

The last time I sat before a work station as an editor, I had two invaluable references when it came to pairing meanings and words in Cebuano. Work mates Josua S. Cabrera and Leticia S. Orendain are artists of different persuasions, but both inhabit the language like their original skin.

The other reference, of course, is the writer. When a word or phrase in a contributed poem snagged my reading, there was sometimes no Jos or Sangay to holler for a lifeline. So I had no choice but to plunge into that vortex of sound and images and hope to find, like the missing treasure at the becalmed bottom, a glint of the poet’s vision.

Such strategy was not without risk, as I learned from repeated rereading of Richel Dorotan’s “Aliluyok.” Emerging from the fugue of vertigo I descended into, I realized that if poetry reading, like diving, is a treacherous business, it is not always due to the environs but the diver’s skills and experience.

Thus, for this enthusiastic but raw reader of native writing, Dr. Erlinda K. Alburo’s “Dictionary of Bisayan Arts” comes as a lifeline, thrown out to those floundering among words, native but unfamiliar in association.

The 308-page reference expands on the “Dictionary of Cebuano Arts,” which she compiled, edited and published in 2006. With grants from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Toyota Foundation, the Cebuano Studies director researched for 10 years, compiling Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray words—the languages representing the three sub-regions of the Bisayan islands—that will allow students, artists and cultural workers to talk about their art in their own words.

The first step in owning is naming. When radio commentators declare “tataw kaayo,” I interpret them as believing the matter is clear and open only for one interpretation. Under Alburo’s section on verbal arts, the term “tataw” refers to a condition in painting or writing when a color surpasses another or “some letters more than the others.” Since local radio polemicists argue that truth is not perception and selection but the clarity inherent in the argument, “tin-aw kaayo” may be more apt then since the word, according to Alburo, means “clear, transparent.”

Our native tongue has a multi-hued palette. “Tibangtibang,” in Waray, refers to the rainbow of colors that make a hammock or scarf a shimmering presence. “Tinggad” is the color that stands out for “vividness and luster.” “Tiriktirik” means being dotted all over.

The “Dictionary of Bisayan Arts” made me realize that our art and our language are not just “tumung” (dyed black) or “uburun” (white as the heart of a banana stem).

In the hands of Cebuano writers—specifically those featured in “Kulokabildo: Dialogues with Cebuano Writers” (more next week)— language, memory and identity coalesce into the weaving and summoning of “tibangtibang.” 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” column of Apr. 5, 2009

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