A diptych for Bikol cinema

Nora Aunor in Kristian Sendon Cordero's Hinulid

There is something about the diptych, an ancient religious icon that attracts me. It must be its two-fold page that bewilders me which does not provide a middle ground, a transitory phase, or so-called third space, or the liminality, or what could be the straight-into-your-face-narrative—it could be the predestined attraction between the opposites or the recurring promise of possibilities—no temporalities. 

A diptych is a piece of art that is worthy of veneration and it is also an artifact that serves a very specific purpose, read during the liturgy by a deacon as it contains the list of names both of the living and the departed. The living or the militant church is inscribed in one wing of the diptych while the dead or the triumphant church who are presumed to have won their earthly battles are on the other page. In the diptych, the living and the dead are in one book albeit not on the same page. Some diptychs contain the name of the bishops and the local churches in communion with them. In a time when a bishop is evicted from his office or is excommunicated, his name will eventually be removed from the sacred artifact. In other diptychs, one finds biblical and apocryphal scenes relevant to the story of salvation— in a diptych that I saw in a recent visit in a museum in San Francisco, there is the scene of the Last Judgment in one panel, which contains scenes of diabolical punishments to those who have been judged unworthy of the kingdom. This torturous scene is punctuated by a celestial event, that of the coronation of the Virgin Mother as queen of heaven and earth, and such event is witnessed by the elected few.

In view of the discussion on regional cinema that this journal would like to solicit, I offer the image of diptych to intimate my preliminary and personal notes about the first two Bikol films that I wrote and directed in 2013 and in 2016 respectively, as these cinematic productions draw a lot of its inspiration and structures from the intertwining narratives that produce two of Bikol’s beloved religious icons—the Nuestra Señora de las Angustias (Our Lady of Anguish, similar to La Pieta of Michelangelo) and the Amang Hinulid (Santo Entierro or the Dead Christ). Although not as popular as Virgin of Peñafrancia in Naga City, these two religious icons continue to draw its own devotees. Compared to Inang Peñafrancia (the focus in Alvin Yapan’s Debosyon), the Inang Angustia venerated in Nabua and in Iriga can be considered “local” as opposed to the “regional” Peñafrancia. The popular Amang Hinulid is in Calabanga (a second class municipality in Camarines Sur) and yet we opted to select the Tolong Hinulid (Three Christs) venerated in the town of Gainza (named after the Dominican Bishop Francisco Gainza who pioneered the publication of several important Bikoliana materials including the Vocabulario de la lengua Bicol by Marcos de Lisboa, OFM and a four-volume of homilies in Bikol; a fifth class municipality in the same province) as our basis for our second full-length feature. 

Both the Inang Angustia and Tolong Hinulid generate an interesting set of confabulations among its ardent supplicants. The chapel of the Tolong Hinulid in Gainza, which was said to be an original devotion popularized by the Rizalistas, who settled in the town at the beginning of the 20th century, is now under the parish church. Only one of the three Christs is brought out for the Good Friday procession. In many instances, the village of Cagbunga that is beside the Bikol River has been flooded several times, and in these instances, the images of the Tolong Hinulid were thought to have been lost and yet after several days, all three were found together on the other side of the river.  

On one hand, the considered original image of Inang Angustia found in Mount Iriga after the January 4,1641 eruption is now in parish church of Nabua. On the hill of Inorogan that is supposed to be the site of the eruption, a local philanthropist built a small chapel to mark this so-called miracle of Inang Angustia. In the narrative of Inang Angustia, it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared in 1641 at the time when God the Father has made the decision to destroy the newly converted villages in the towns of Nabua, Buhi, and Iriga as most of the natives did not fully embrace the new religion of the colonizers, and instead continued to practice their pagan beliefs. That Mary interceded on behalf of the people, characterized by a caring disposition more than this God the Father that is portrayed as similar to the deity in the Old Testament, may actually be deemed heretical by the institutional church in the same manner that some of the residents in Cagbunga, Gainza believe that the Tolong Hinulid is the Holy Trinity. 

To date, no one in the institutional church is willing to pay attention to the historical claims that the alleged eruption of Mount Iriga in 1641 did not actually occur. Volcanologists have studies and proofs that the eruption of the said volcano certainly happened a hundred of years before the first Europeans have reached the peninsula. The one that erupted in 1641 is Mount Parker in Mindanao and yet for some reasons, one Franciscan friar by the name of Felix de Huertas recorded that this event happened in Bikol peninsula and that all other volcanoes in the region had erupted simultaneously on that fateful day. The feast of the Inang Angustia continues to be observed on this said date in Iriga City. These popular stories of devotions have allowed us to generate and draw our assumptive trajectories on the kind of cinema that we are producing from a region that is tempered by its “specific geographies or locations” (typhoons and volcanic eruptions) and its “acknowledged and unacknowledged histories” that formed a particularly distinctive epistemic underpinnings in which the Roman Catholic Church continues to be the main key player that exerts a considerable influence among the population in the region (which is Bikol) and elsewhere.  In our first film, Angustia, we tried to weave the stories of an image that is lost and found in the mountains with the agonies and ecstasies a certain creole priest named Don Hernandez who was assigned in the Bikol region at the beginning of 19th century. 

One of the reasons for the local Catholic Church’s strong influence is the continuing use of the church-engineered Bikol language (also known as Bikol-Naga, as Naga is the old Nueva Caceres, the seat of the archdiocese). This kind of Bikol started to collect and gather various vocabularies from different parts of the ecclesiastical zone from 16th century up to 19th century to come up with a lingua franca designed to identify the Bikolanos. Interestingly, it is not Naga though that asserts this being the “home of the standard Bikol”, as one finds in a nearby town, Canaman, the welcome signage that claims that the said town is the true home of the Bikol language. Despite the recent changes in the translation in the vernacular version of the mass and basic prayers, most of the Bikolanos obediently complied with the new translations. No one from the town of the standard Bikol filed a protest against this change. Bikol, therefore, or the standard Bikol is what the Catholic Church declares so—so be it, amen, in saecula seculurum. However, such position of the institutional church is now being challenged by the ongoing publication and production of literatures and cinema that make use of the available local languages including the church-engineered Bikol. 

In both films that we made, the status of the church-engineered is historicized and problematized in relation to other Bikol languages considered to be a minor, a non-standard such is the case of Bikol Rinconada. In Angustia (Out of the Depths, 2013), the indigenous characters Dunag (played by Michelle Smith) and Sikaw (played by Victor John Loquias) speak the Bikol-Rinconada in relations to the Bikol-Naga spoken by the converted natives and the parish priest. This particular linguistic conjecture may actually raise several contentions against the film Angustia sooner or later since the Agta language is now considered to be an extinct language prior to our film production. In lieu, I made use of the Bikol-Rinconada since many of the remaining Agta Tabagnon are still in this area and have adapted the Bikol Rinconada or the Buhinon (Buhi is a town in the Rinconada area, 5th District of Camarines Sur) as their language.

In the case of Hinulid (The Sorrows of Sita, 2016), we agreed to allow everyone to speak his or her own kind of Bikol. After reading the script which I initially wrote in what I presumed to be Bikol-Naga, the Bikol poet Raffi Banzuela (who played the role of Padre de la Rama) had “to adjust” it to his Bikol-Camalig and Bikol-Legazpi idiolect. In several instances, the actress Nora Aunor and I discussed the changes in her script because she thought that the lines are ‘malaka-taga-Nabua’ (the accent sounds from Nabua, the nearby town of Iriga) and opted to make it, “taga-Iriga” (one from Iriga). Someone who is not aware of the linguistic diversities of the Bikol region will never enjoy this kind of dynamic in the film. In another screening in the town of Gainza, one of the main locations of our second film, the people requested that the subtitles in English be removed. In Baao Community College, during the screening of Hinulid, the students suddenly burst into laughter when they realized that they were “talking back” to the film. 

One of the most enduring insights we have in the film Hinulid is in the meaning of the word itself. Hinulid is the popular term used to refer to the Santo Entierro (Spanish), which refers to the “Dead Christ”. But it is worth noting that the Bikols did not use the Spanish Santo Entierro or San Sepulcro. Rather, the word Ama (Father) Hinulid or Tolong (Three) Hinulid is used—in the Marcos de Lisboa Bikol Dictionary, here is the entry—

HOLID. pp. Imperative. Naholid, l, nag, to lay down the child on the lap or on the cradle or somewhere else. Hinoholid, l, pinag, the child being thus laid down. Hinoholidan, l, pinag, the place or cradle. Yhinoholid, l, ypinag, the hands, time and cause.  (Translated by Evelyn Soriano)

Is it be possible that the early Bikols viewed death as a manner of sleeping as suggested in the word Hinulid? Should it now be translated as The Three Sleeping Christs? We may continue to ruminate on these things about language (regional or national, local or international, uttered or subtitled), which remains to be the site and carrier of critical discourses. We may continue to unravel the meanings of locations and question our proposed sites of power and devotions which interplay with the intricacies of human intimacies. In this diptych, the two underlying elements, which characterized this cinema from Bikol, are the loci and the lingua of the aforementioned region. As filmmakers, we will continue to provide and disrupt and interrogate our myths and stories to the current conditions of the region that remains to be trapped in the traditional political system, a high poverty rate index, militarization in the countryside, and the massive influx of urbanization.

The region on the other hand should not in a way limit or obstruct the continue negotiations and one must cultivate this sense of yearning as geographies both physical and imagined and our rich linguistic diversities are calculated, marked, and in some instances are projected as cinema, as regional. 

– Kristian Sendon Cordero

Post a Comment

0 Comments