POSTSCRIPT / August 20, 2000 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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If there is Balagtas, we have our Crissot!

AFTER weeks of searching, I finally found yesterday the CD collection of deathless Capampangan music and the songs of “Alang Dios!,” the immortal zarzuela of Juan Crisostomo C. Soto (1867-1918), the province’s foremost man of letters known as Crissot.

I bought the two-CD package at Cabalen restaurant for P575. There is a taped version that sells for half the price. This collection is a must acquisition by all Capampangans, including the thousands of cabalens residing abroad who pine for home.

Literary/music scholars and those looking for smart gift items may want to check out the CDs.

* * *

THE compact disc titled “Pamalsinta quetang Milabas” (Romancing the Past) is a collection of native songs, with separate Minus One accompaniment for those who love to sing (as most Capampangansdo!).

The songs include Atin Cu pung Singsing, Bie ning Casamac, Malagung Cacung Palsintan, Iniang Malati Cu, Aro! Catimias na Nitang Dalaga, O Caca O Caca, O Cacang Maputla, Himno ning Kapampangan (note the “K” this time), and an acapella Pampango version of the national anthem (no, hit’s not called Pilifin National Hantem).

The other CD captures the soundtrack of Crissot’s “Alang Dios!” zarzuela when it was staged, if I’m not mistaken, at the Cultural Center in May 1975.

With the CD package is a small album containing information on Crissot, the province of Pampanga and its rich cultural past. For scholars and those wanting to plumb the Capampangan soul, there are English translations of the songs.

There’s usually something lost in translation. But I’m amazed at how closely the translators were able to hew to the letter and spirit, as well as the rhythm, of the songs.

* * *

OF the two CDs, I am more interested in Alang Dios! Pardon me, but I can sing snatches of some of the immortal love songs, plus the chorus, and had long wanted to find the complete lyrics.

So now I have them complete in hard copy and on record, and since they are a new acquisition, I still listen to them even when I drive!

I was exposed by accident to Crissot’s signature zarzuela, and the captivating music of Maestro Pablo Palma, in my grade school years.

My sister Ching (now a Gonzales) was asked then to lead the cast as Maria Luz Generosa, daughter of a wealthy Don in the play, whose ill-starred romance with a poor painter Enrique is the center of this tragic, sometimes comic, zarzuela. Counterpoint to her was my other sister Bien who also sang a number of songs in a supporting role.

A violinist would come to the house and rehearse my sisters through their repertoire of lyrical songs. I thus imbibed the music. By the time the zarzuela was staged in the town plaza, I knew most of the songs by heart.

* * *

NOTE how “Kapampangan” was spelled in one instance above (“Himno ning Kapampangan”  which was composed only in 1981) with a “K” instead of a “C.” This takes us to the interesting orthography of the language.

Many friends are still perplexed by such words as “quing” or the shorter “qng” (which phonetically should be spelled “king”) as in “quing leon, quing tigre ecu tatacut, queca pa?”  This translates, by the way, to “sa leon, sa tigre hindi ako natatakot, sa iyo pa?

The literature that comes with the CDs explains: “In pre-Hispanic times, the Capampangans used a native syllabary, probably of Indic origin. The Spaniards, however, introduced an alphabetic orthography based on Spanish. In 1946, Don Zoilo Hilario, who was then a member of the Institute of National Language, advocated the adoption of an orthography based on Tagalog.

“In effect, he proposed a series of substitutions: C, when hard, with K (Capampangan to Kapampangan); G, when soft, with H (virgen to birhen); J with H (lijim to lihim); QU with K (quing to king, queca to keka)…”

* * *

BUT some Capampangans, for various reasons, insist on sticking to the old spelling.

In my case, it is more of resistance. I do not relish the thought of being swallowed by rules of convenience (their convenience) imposed from outside threatening to obliterate our distinct personality.

Thus many of us still write “mekeni” as “mequeni” which is the imperative “Come here.” The word is so popular that it has come to refer to Capampangans at times. Some restaurants serving Pampanga cuisine have appropriated the familiar name.

Most people don’t know that mequeni (or mekeni) is actually a shortened version of “ume ca queni” which means (You) come here” — with “ume” for “come,” “ka” for “you,” and “queni” for “here.”

* * *

CAPAMPANGANS have been the butt of jokes (most of them good-natured, and which we do not resent, really) about their missing h’s, and their showing up where they are not needed.

Well, I have an explanation for that linguistic quirk, and I hope everybody writes it down so we don’t have to repeat it.

Long before the Spaniards came, there were French voyagers who strayed into Manila Bay and up the Pampanga river. They so fell in love with the place and its charming folk that they tarried while they repaired their vessels and gathered provisions.

One influence they left was the dropping of the “h” sound as the French are wont to do. I could fill this page with examples. The banishing of the “h” sound was affirmed with the coming of the Spaniards.

The natives on both sides of Pampanga river even adopted some French words. For instance, the French “oui” for “yes” has metamorphosed into the Capampangans’ “wa.”

Dios co, mete cu abe!

* * *

SERIOUSLY now, if the Tagalogs venerate their Balagtas (Francisco Baltazar), Capampangans have Crissot. As Tagalogs have their Balagtasan, so are there poetic jousts in Pampanga called Crissotan

Crissot’s main works are 49 plays, a novel, some stories, sketches and a number of poems and newspaper articles. His outstanding original plays, aside from Alang Dios!, are Delia, Balen at Sinta (Love and Country),Sigalut (Trouble), Perla qng Burac (A Pearl in the Mud), Ing Paniu nang Sitang (The Scarf of Sitang), Perla, Zafiro at Rubi (Pearl, Sapphire and Ruby), Ing Sultana (The Sultana), and Ing Violetang Lili (The Lost Violet).

Crissot was born in the town of Bacolor (the old folk call it Baculud) on January 27, 1867. There was a branch of the Soto family in my hometown Mabalacat who had a chest full of moldy Crissot manuscripts.

But those were not the days yet of conservation and the big to-do about saving whatever literary heritage was still extant. I wonder what ever happened to those manuscripts?

* * *

VICE President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a Capampangan, has been cornered into saying that she would stick with her Lakas party even while serving as Cabinet member of President Estrada of the Lamp coalition.

She is increasingly coming under pressure to make a clear stand, especially after she was reported to have said that she would campaign for the Lakas ticket in 2001, but only after office hours and provided she is not asked to attack President Estrada. I won’t be surprised if she was misquoted.

We understand what she is trying to say, even assuming she was misquoted or quoted out of context.

Arroyo is running for president only in 2004, not in next year’s elections. It is too early for her to disturb her vantage as a Vice President serving in the Cabinet of a president belonging to the other party.

* * *

HER being social welfare secretary is giving her a bonanza of opportunities for making herself visible. Because of her unique situation and performance, her popularity and approval ratings are even much higher than those of President Estrada. Her name is at the top of a list of those presumed run in 2004.

Being a lameduck President, Mr. Estrada may even find it to his interest to court Arroyo and strike a deal with her – something like he would help her become president if she could give some assurance… (you know that part about a departing president wanting somebody to cover his tracks).

That is, if Arroyo is able to maintain her formidable lead as the heir apparent. As long as her official association with Mr. Estrada is not turning to be a negative factor, Arroyo will find it to her advantage to maintain good working relations with the President.

* * *

AT the right time, and if there is a good excuse for it, it is reasonable to expect the Vice President to drift away from the President. By her acts, however, it seems that her instincts tell her this is not yet the right time.

In the case of Speaker Manuel Villar, another avowed presidential aspirant, signs are all over his camp showing him slowly distancing himself from the President. Villar has his own readings of the pass-on effects of association with a lameduck president, so we respect his strategy.

But Villar should watch out for that mean “jilted lover” streak in Erap Estrada. You do not live off the man, and then just leave him.

The colorless Villar needs some dramatic explosion to make him shoot up the polls. But will quarreling with Mr. Estrada this early trigger that desired explosion? What if it backfires?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 20, 2000)

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