Metrical Romances: Awit at Kurido

by Dean S. Fansler, Ph.D.

Forty years after the Spaniards had founded a permanent settlement in the Philippine Islands, Cervantes published in Spain the first part of the "Adventures of the Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha," a book that effectually destroyed, among the cultured classes at least, the taste for romances of chivalry. Nearly three hundred years later, when Spain withdrew from the isles of the Pacific, nine-tenths of the books printed in the Filipino dialects were either religious (prayers, saints' lives, and moral tales) or romantic and fantastic stories of the type ridiculed to death in the peninsula by Cervantes. Until the American occupation brought the freedom of the press to the Philippines, the reading-matter of the natives was largely the reading-matter of the Spaniards of the sixteenth century and earlier. Nor have the last fifteen years accomplished among the masses any decided revolution in literary taste. The literature of modern Spain has had very little effect upon Philippine literature. The most popular single book in the. Islands to-day—the "Pasión," a fourteen-thousand-line metrical account, in quintillas, of the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ — goes back to a Spanish original of the early seventeenth century. While it is true that the commercial presses in Manila, Iloilo, and Cebú, during the last decade, have been printing many new realistic novels and plays from the pens of young writers, the metrical romance continues to hold its place. The stories of Rodrigo de Villas (the "Cid"), Charlemagne and his Twelve Peers, Bernardo del Carpió, the Seven Lords of Lara, and a number of others based upon early Spanish history and legend, keep appearing in larger and larger yearly editions. The enchanter Freston, who Don Quixote was convinced had carried off his beloved library, must have deposited it in the Philippines.

A classification of sixteen of the metrical romances current in one or more of the Philippine dialects will show the wide range of material treated, and will give Occidental readers some idea of the mental pabulum of the ordinary native. Brief synopses of those stories most interesting from the point of view of literary history may be serviceable for comparison with the well-known English and European versions popular centuries ago, but unread to-day except by a small group of specialists. Before the classification and analyses are taken up, however, some attention might well be given to the form in which these stories are presented to the Filipino reader.

These romantic narratives are all in stanzaic verse, which is of two types, — quatrains of twelve-syllable lines in assonance, and quatrains of eight-syllable lines in assonance.  The twelve-syllable line is much the more common of the two: it is the vehicle not only of the greater number of the metrical romances, but of most of the saint-legends, novenas, and other religious works. The common generic name for the type of stories we are accustomed to term in English "metrical romances" is corrido.  Among all the Filipinos the word corrido means an extended narrative of the life and adventures of some person. In Tagalog the term, if strictly used, is applied only to poems written in octosyllabic lines; those in alexandrines * having on the title-page Buhay nang, etc. ("Life of," etc.) or Salita at Buhay, etc. ("Story and Life," etc.). The general Tagalog word for "poem" or "song" is awit. The other dialects make no such formal distinction between the corrido and the Buhay.

The Philippine corridos vary in length from a few hundred to several thousand lines. They are printed in pamphlet form, one tale to a volume, on a very cheap quality of paper, and sell for the small sum of five or ten cents. As a result of the perishable nature of the booklets, no very old copies have survived the ravages of mildew and bookworm: the oldest copy I have seen was dated 1815. This fact need not indicate, however, that the corridos have not been popular more than a hundred years. Indeed, I am inclined to believe with Barrantes that probably many of the romantic tales of Spain were told to the natives by the soldiers of Legaspi before the beginning of the seventeenth century, just as the missionary priests lost no time in introducing to the Islands the "Pasión," the saint- legends, and the religious plays (autos sacramentales). And many of the metrical romances must have been circulated orally or in manuscript long before they were put into print; not a few are known to-day only in small restricted areas and only in manuscript form. On the whole, we are probably safe in concluding that the corridos have been popular for three or more centuries among the Filipinos. These stories not only make up the body of most of the entertaining reading of the lower and middle classes, but they also furnish passages for quotation and recitation on every conceivable occasion. The lives of such heroes as Jaime del Prado and Bernardo del Carpió are sung by the small boy driving the cattle to pasture, by the peasant working in his paddy-field, or by the itinerant beggar travelling from one town fiesta to the next. Even in social gatherings the apt introduction into the conversation of moralizing or didactic lines from some well- known corrido is received with approbation. In the duplo, or wit-combat often indulged in at funeral feasts, the winner is always the person who has at his tongue's end quotations from the "Pasión" and the corridos, that are most appropriate for carrying on the argument proposed. Besides,.these stories are often done into dramatic form; and no town's celebration of its patron saint is thought complete without a comedia, or moro-moro play.

Of the metrical romances based directly upon European material, the following may be taken as representing all that is typical of the genre. They fall into seven classes, and are distributed thus:

I. Charlemagne Romances:
 1. Prince Baldovinos.
 2. The Twelve Peers of France.
 3. Count d'Irlos.
II. An Arthurian Romance:
 I. Tablante de Ricamente.
III. The Constance-Saga and its Variants:
 1. Florentina.
 2. Adela.
 3. Maria.
 4. Proceso.
IV. Classical Romance:
 I. Paris and Oenone.
V. Oriental Didactic Tales with Western Modifications:
 1. Alejandre and Luis (a variant of Amis and Amiloun).
 2. Blancaflor and Floristo (a garbled version of Floris and Blanche-fleur).
 3. Prince Erastro (a popular form of the Seven Sages of Rome).
VI. Romances based on Spanish History and Legend:
 1. Rodrigo de Villas.
 2. Bernardo del Carpió.
VII. Romances based on Italian Novelle:
 1. Romeo and Juliet.
 2. Gricelda.
"Bernardo del Carpió" and the "Twelve Peers of France" are easily the most popular of the stories just enumerated. To test a surmise of this fact, I questioned one hundred and seventy-five representative college students. One hundred and four replied that they had either read in their dialects, or had been told in their dialects, or had seen acted in their town fiestas, the life of Bernardo del Carpió ; and eighty-five made a similar report on the "Twelve Peers."

As to the authorship of the corridos, the only thing certain that can be said is that most of the versions are anonymous. In some instances it would appear that Spanish priests acquainted with the dialects had written the tales. The large number of Spanish words, the occasional Iberian turn of the native construction, and the frequent references to biblical and classical history, point to this conclusion. But just who these priests were — if priests they were, indeed— no one can say. Like their medieval counterparts in England and France, the stories are peculiarly non-subjective; and at no time while reading them do we feel at all concerned to know who wrote them. As in a marionette show the story is the thing, not the impersonal reciter behind the scenes, so in the metrical romances.

- This study was written and published in 1916.