Notes and anecdotes on the epiko, mostly taken from my Filipino 14 class under Mr. Popa.
The epiko, or epic, is the highest form of oral poetry in Philippine pre-colonial literature. As of recent times, almost thirty epics have been transcribed and preserved. However, it is believed that there are hundreds more that have been erased by the onset of colonialism in the Philippines.
According to Arsenio Manuel, a noted historian and literary figure, the epiko is distinguishable by certain characteristics. The epiko is a long story made in poem form, and is based on the oral tradition. It is usually chanted or recited, especially during grand events such as preparations for war. Themes include supernatural events and heroic acts. Their main purpose is to embody and fortify the beliefs, values, ideals and importance of the community that created it (hence its recitation before the onset of war). The epiko is rarely written, and this is the main reason why so many have been lost to modern scholars. Instead of writing it, the pre-colonial Filipinos memorized the epics entirely, a testament to their mental prowess. Examples of epics across regions include Parang Sabil (Tausug), Biag ni Lam-ang (Ilokano), Keg Sumba neg Sandayo and Guman (Subanon), Alim and Hudhud ni Aliguyun (Ifugao), Ullalim (Kalinga), Agyu (Arakan-Arumanen), Ulahingan (Livunganen-Arumanen), Hinilawod (Labaw Donggon and Humadapnon) (Sulod of Panay), Darangen (Maguindanao and Maranao), Maggob (Mansaka), Handiong (Bicol), Bindian (Ibaloy of Benguet), and Tuwaang (Manobo).
There are certain conventions to the epiko. The first is the use of indayog (cadence), timbang (symmetry), parallelism, alliteration, repetition of key words, and meter that allows the mang-aawit (singer) to remember the epiko in its entirety. It is also episodic; each epic holds many versions and contains numerous episodes. The epiko is also full of description, with each scene described in detail. This is also a technique by which the epiko achieves a panoramic vista; the listener is held in rapture as the singer chants the scene in minute detail. Thus, the environment of the epiko is also given great importance, helping set the mood and atmosphere of the scene. The presence of the environment is also due to the pre-colonial Filipino's affinity with nature. The actions of the characters are also excessive, most probably to hold the listeners' interest. There is also the presence of magical creatures and objects such as the diwata (fairy), anito, espiritu (spirit), hayop (animals), bungangkahoy (tree), nganga (betel chew), hangin (wind) and others. Lastly, the epiko is centered around the journey of the hero, and shows the relationship between the gods and man. Here, the hero acts as the mediator between the gods and men, a savior of sorts.
The morphology of the epiko, as explored by Isagani Cruz (see Additional Resources#1), follows a certain structure as shown below.
- The Beginnings of Philippine Literature: The Epic Tradition by Dr. Isagani Cruz
* A rough translation. Patutunguhan can be taken literally as a place that the hero goes to, or may refer to his fate.