Saturday, September 03, 2016


LAST week’s column (“Parsing Cebuano”) stirred up a hornet’s nest in the family.

After I posted on Facebook the article, first published in Sun.Star Cebu last Aug. 28, my sister and aunts reacted to Cebuano words for garden fauna.

One lives in Sydney; another in New Jersey. However, our mother tongue remains a puissant link across time, place, and even communication platforms.

The contentious stemmed from the disrobing of the familiar. When I wrote last week that “alindanaw” translates to dragonfly, an aunt expressed her confusion over the Visayan folk song, “Ako’y Pobreng Alindahaw”.

Many Cebuanos, or at least those of my generation, grew up hearing the lilting lyrics and melody of an “alindahaw” flitting among plants and flowers: “Ako'y pobreng alindahaw/ Sa huyuhoy gianod-anod/ Nangita ug kapanibaan, Ahay!/  Sa tanaman ug sa mga kabulakan”.

Based on the context of the song, I always assumed the song was about butterflies. Writer and fellow teacher Lilia Tio pointed out that “alindahaw” means a drizzle. Google validated with several articles and even a book that referred to an error that still flits across generations.

I wonder how Tomas Villaflor, credited in the Philippine Music Registry website as the song’s composer, immortalized the wrong word.

Yet, listening to a version sung by the Mabuhay Singers and uploaded on YouTube, I feel that the slip, though linguistically unfortunate, doesn’t mar the nostalgia that warms the heart of those who remember and often yearn for the Cebu of old—“ang kinatam-isang Cebu”—before traffic, Oplan Tokhang, and the unofficial but more feral Toksil.

Recalling how our family scrambled over the Cebuano words for spider, butterfly and moth, I remembered Lily’s observation that Cebuano is an earthy language.

Not only are many words in the vernacular rooted in agriculture and nature, our mother tongue is as uninhibited and robust in its literal and symbolic associations with desire, procreation and regeneration.

Listen to blogger, poet, and fellow teacher Jona Branzuela Bering’s dirge to the late Temistokles M. Adlawan, part-time “habal-habal” driver, “balak” poet and recipient of the First Taboan Literary Awards, along with Erlinda K. Alburo, Merlie M. Alunan, Resil B. Mojares, and Rodolfo E. Villanueva (also known as Renato E. Madrid).

In the second stanza of “Sa Imong Pagbiya (Alang Kang Nyor Tem),” Jona writes: “dinhi/ ang katri nakadungog / sa imong gipang-agu/ samtang gadamgog ugdo/ hamis, dughan, sampot”. And she concludes in the final stanza: “dinhi/ ang abog nahimong/ kabahin sa tanan/ ang tanan nahimong/ kabahin sa abog.”

In five short stanzas, the speaker invites the listener to revisit the latter’s home before departing. Only Cebuano can turn a short circuit of the earthly abode into a meditation on desire and decay, the fleeting and the enduring: “ayaw kalimtig tan-aw/ ang sulod sa imong payag/ hinumdomi, kini ang nag-inusarang/ saksi sa imong kaugalingon.”

“Sa Imong Pagbiya” is taken from “Alang sa Nasaag,” “balak” written by Jona from 2008 to 2015, published by Bathalad Inc. and launched last Aug. 27.

Thanks to her many lovers—Lilia, Jona, Nyor Tem, Bathalad, and—Cebuano endures and transports a yokel like me to appreciate the sublime nuances of sound and sense: “tam-ison (sweetish),” “tam-is (sweet),” “tam-is-tam-is (sweeter),” and “kinatam-isan (sweetest).”

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 4, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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