POSTSCRIPT / March 5, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Kapampangan women make mark in history

CLARK FIELD — This article by noted writer Robby Tantingco came out last Tuesday in the SunStar-Pampanga. I am reprinting it, with permission, for its timeliness and historical value. Although I’m one of those who insist on spelling “Capampangan” with a “C,” I won’t touch Robby’s “Kapam-pangan” in this borrowed piece.

THIS weekend, when the world marks International Women’s Day, Kapampangans pause and honor their female cabalen who have helped shape history with their sacrifices, their heroism, their art and their personal accomplishments.

There’s Martha de San Bernardo, the Kapampangan who, in 1632, defied the prohibition against Filipino women in monasteries. Today she is recognized as the first Filipino nun.

There’s Dionisia Mitas Talangpaz and her sister, Cecilia Rosa Talangpaz, of Calumpit and Macabebe, who founded in the early 1700s the oldest non-contemplative religious community in the entire Augustinian Recollect Order.

There’s Cristina Ventura Hocorma of Bacolor, who later became Sor Asuncion. In 1885, she founded Asilo de San Vicente de Paul. She is the first Filipino woman in history to establish an orphanage.

And of course, the women of the Revolution: Praxedes Fajardo y Puno, Nicolasa Dayrit y Pamintuan, Matea Sioco and Adriana Hilario, and the women in the armed struggle against the Japanese and afterwards against social injustice — Felipa Culala aka Kumander Dayang-Dayang, Elena Poblete aka Kumander Mameng, and many others.

BUT there’s one Kapampangan woman whom we should honor in a special way — Luisa Gonzaga de Leon of Cabangbangan, Bacolor.

Luisa de Leon is the first Filipino woman to author a book. Before her, all Filipinos who wrote and published books were men. That’s record number one.

Record number two: She is the firstKapampangan to author a book. No otherKapampangan, man or woman, had written and published a book before Luisa de Leon did in 1844. This is quite a feat, considering that Pampanga alone was teeming with Kapampangan poets, playwrights and writers around that time, yet none of them had made the leap and published their manuscripts. Luisa’s contemporary and townmate, Fr. Anselmo Jorge Fajardo, wrote in 1831 “Don Gonzalo de Cordoba,” the longest play in Philippine literature, but it was not published until 1912.

She also shattered another glass ceiling for women when she translated into Kapampangan the Missal (the text of the Mass). She is the first Filipino man or woman to translate the Missal into vernacular.

Throughout the 300-year Spanish colonial period, Filipinos never really understood the Mass, because the Spaniards did not bother to translate the Missal (and the Bible) into any vernacular. Neither did Filipinos, until Luisa de Leon did.

It was a personal achievement for a Filipino and for a woman, as much as it was an act of defiance against the Spaniards who wrote Kapampangan dictionaries, grammar and prayer books, but did not find the Kapampangan language exalted enough to carry the Word of God in the liturgy and the Scripture.

Thus, Luisa de Leon was truly a woman very much ahead of her time, 120 years to be exact. The Pope would not authorize the use of the vernacular in the Mass until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) ended the nearly 2000-year-old tradition.

The title of Luisa de Leon’s book is in Spanish, “Ejercicio Cotidiano” (Daily Devotion), but its subtitle is in Kapampangan: Iti amanu yang Castila bildug ne quing amanung Capampangan nang Doña Luisa Gonzaga de Leon, India quing balayang Baculud.

The 308-page book contains, in addition to the Missal, other common prayers and forms of pious devotion, such as Examination of Conscience, Prayers for Confession and Communion, Stations of the Cross, Holy Rosary, and the trisagium, or three-day prayers to the Holy Trinity. Luisa de Leon collected and translated Spanish and Tagalog prayers from various sources and took the liberty of putting them together in one book, obviously to help her fellow Kapampangan understand the prayers that the friars had taught them.

She also acknowledged in the book’s preface that one of the prayers, the Stations of the Cross, was an earlier Kapampangan translation done by Macario Pangilinan, a poet who was also the gobernadorcillo of Betis in 1839.

The book contains at least 24 illustrations (by an obscure artist named Noguera) showing a native priest in front of a retablo (main altar) during the Mass. Take note: the book depicted a native priest, not a Spanish friar.

Luisa de Leon’s pioneering book blazed the trail for more Kapampangan publications. In 1857, Fr. Domingo Dayrit, Kapampangan parish priest of Mabalacat, published his Pamamatuyag a anting panentuanan qng. cauculan a sucat dang daptan ding anac a bayung cucumpisal a maquinabang.

In 1876, Fr. Dionisio Macapinlac, another native priest, published his popular Casalesayan qng. Mal a Pasion. Our present Kapampangan Missal was translated by Fr. Venancio Samson, who is still very much alive.

In her preface, Luisa de Leon described herself as an india (native woman), although tradition would call her a mestiza (her paternal grandfather was Chinese and her husband a Chinese mestizo). Again, hers was an act of unconventionality, because she chose to identify with her Kapampangan lineage instead of Chinese, as custom dictated.

She belonged to an illustrious Kapampangan clan. Her uncle, Don Leon Pedro de Arzega, was the first layman in the country’s history to earn a Ph.D. His daughter (Luisa’s cousin), Carlota de Leon, married Ciriaco de Miranda, son of Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda, founder of Angeles town and forebear of the Hensons and the Nepomucenos of Angeles. (Ciriaco was the first gobernadorcillo of Angeles.)

Luisa de Leon’s husband, Francisco Paula de los Santos of Porac, became gobernadorcillo of Bacolor and alcalde mayor (governor) of Pampanga. They had three children: Celestino Mariano who became gobernadorcillo of Porac (his children adopted Leon Santos as surname in memory of Luisa); Jose Maria who became gobernadorcillo of Bacolor (his children took the surname Santos Joven); and Francisco Jr. who died in childhood.

She wrote her book during a period of grief, after her son’s death and her husband’s. She died of tuberculosis at age 37 on June 1, 1843, months before her book came off the press. Her remains lie under a thick layer of lahar in the San Guillermo Church in Bacolor.

(Sources: Dr. Luciano P.R. Santiago, Doña Luisa Gonzaga de Leon (1805-1843), First Filipino Woman Author: Introductory Notes in Philippine Studies, Vol. 54, No. 3, 2006; Ivan Anthony Henares, The Leon-Santos Clan of Pampanga)

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 5, 2009)

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