‘Asia’s first proletarian novel’ | Philstar.com
January 22, 2022 | 00:00
Penguin Random House South East Asia has just published my English translation of Lope K. Santos’ monumental novel, “Banaag at Sikat”. I called my translation “Radiance and Sunrise”, and it’s the first Filipino title in Penguin’s series of Southeast Asian classics. I was also signed by Penguin for a two-book deal to translate national artist Amado V. Hernandez’s novels: “Mga Ibong Mandaragit” (“Birds of Prey”) and “Luha ng Buwaya” (“Tears of crocodile” ).
Santos was an early Tagalog language writer and senator from the Philippines. He is best known for his 1906 socialist novel, “Banaag at Sikat”, and for helping to develop Filipino grammar and Tagalog spelling.
He went to law school at the Academia de la Jurisprudencia, then lodged at the Escuela Derecho de Manila (now the Manila Law College Foundation) and graduated with the Bachelor of Arts in 1912. At the end of the 1900s, Santos also began writing in his own journal, “Ang Kaliwanagan” (“The Light”). It was also the time when socialism was beginning to make itself felt in many parts of the world.
In 1903, Santos began publishing chapters of his first novel, “Banaag at Sikat”, in the daily “Muling Pagsilang” (“The Rebirth”). The series of publications ended in 1906. The publication of novels in daily newspapers followed a tradition in 19th century England, when Charles Dickens and company also published their popular and endless novels in daily newspapers.
“Banaag at Sikat” has been widely and well read. When later published in book form, it was considered the first “proletarian novel in Asia”. He expounded the principles of socialism and called for labor reforms in government. It was like an electric volt, as the Philippines was then newly colonized by the United States and turned into a source of raw materials and a market for processed goods. Factory work was booming and wages were low.
“Banaag at Sikat” was considered a source of social realism in the Tagalog romance tradition. This vividly reflected the diverse forces that clashed during the early days of American colonization in the Philippines. Under this appearance, the novel could be seen as a social text.
The book’s fallout even went beyond journalism and literature. He inspired the assembly of the Socialist Party of the Philippines in 1932, then the formation of the group in 1946, the Hukbalahap (formerly Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon).
In 1910, the visionary Santos launched his campaign to promote a “national language”, where he organized various symposia, conferences and headed many national language departments in major universities. In 1910, he was persuaded to run and was elected governor of the province of Rizal under the Nacionalista party. In 1918, he was appointed as the first Philippine governor of the newly resurveyed province of Nueva Vizcaya, serving until 1920. Consequently, he was elected to the 5th
Legislative Assembly of the Philippines as a senator from the 12th senatorial district representing provinces with a majority of non-Christian population.
As a public servant, Santos never lined his private pockets with stolen public funds. He also tried to apply, in the real world, the words and principles he wove into his fiction.
In 1940, Santos published the first grammar book of the “national language”, the “Balarila ng Wikang Pambansa” or “The Grammar of the National Language”. It was an important work commissioned by the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (SWF). The following year, he was appointed by President Manuel Luis Quezon director of the SWF, where he remained until 1946. When the Philippines became a member of the United Nations, he was chosen to translate the 1935 Constitution for UNESCO. He was also appointed to help translate the inaugural addresses of Presidents Jose P. Laurel and Manuel A. Roxas.
“Banaag at Sikat” revolves around Delfin, a poor writer in love with Meni, the daughter of a capitalist. Delfin, who is also a law student, is a socialist while his friend Felipe is an anarchist. Ironically, Felipe is the son of a wealthy southern family, but he wants to turn his back on inherited wealth.
Delfin wants citizens to have more rights in commercial and real estate relations. He believes that society could be changed through education, an idea that echoes Jose Rizal’s debut novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” which I wrote about in my column last week.
On the other hand, the young arsonist Felipe is an anarchist. He believes in breaking down the walls of society. Factories should belong to those who work there, while the land should belong to those who cultivate it.
Dr. Patricia Mae B. Jurilla in her book ‘Tagalog Bestsellers of the Twentieth Century: A History of the Book in the Philippines’ said: ‘Banaag at Sikat is now recognized as the most important work of the period known as the Golden Age of the Tagalog Novel (1905-1921) and a milestone in the history of Tagalog fiction for its engagement with social issues…”
The eminent national historian and scientist, Professor Teodoro Agoncillo, wrote: “Banaag at Sikat was a very influential book. It was avidly read by the masses and intellectuals. To a large extent, the book influenced workers who were fighting for economic, social and political reform. As a result, more unions sprang up and workers resorted to strikes – especially those involved in the manufacture of cigars and cigarettes. This was to the dismay of the capitalists who used to push the workers around.
For his part, Marxist critic Dr. Epifanio San Juan said, “In Banaag in Sikat, Santos managed to condense the whole story of the Filipino ‘ilustrado’ (‘enlightened or educated’)…The novel is a true example of revolutionary art.
Published 116 years ago, I translated the novel into contemporary English for 21st century readers. His searing passages on race, class and colonialism still resonate today. May we learn to shape our lives so that, like the characters in this novel, we can help change our world.
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E-mail: [email protected]. “Radiance and Sunrise” is available at www.penguin.sg