On November 20, I will deliver a short lecture as part of a panel in a forum of literati dubbed Philippine International Literary Festival (PILF).   I deem it an act of goodwill to share my thoughts on the general subject matter assigned to the panel where I belong, namely: In my tongue: LitCrit in the Region”.    The speaking piece I prepared and will deliver on Friday afternoon is entitled “Adaptation as Transcreation” as follows –

Mindanao has been home to my art and seat of  my literary adventures since I left Manila and came down to Davao  in 1987.  I live in Bago Aplaya, a shoreline village named after Datu Bago, the native chieftain who fought the Spanish conquistador Uyanguren during colonial times.   Bago Aplaya could have been one of the battlegrounds between the indigenous bagani  warriors and the Spanish invaders.

I  am thankful for having been drifted into this little village, a modest footnote to Davao history, very close to the rhythmic breathing  of  the sea.   Very soon, I built a celebratory landmark in my new home a short image poem, as follows:

Bago Aplaya

Ang look
usa ka panaksan
miawas ang sabawng parat

Sayo sa buntag
kutsaraon ang gagmayng bugsay
ang mga gagmayng bula nanglutaw
sa mga awit sa gagmayng mananagat

Sa gabii
ang buwan usa ka gagmayng buho
li-lianan sa mga bathala
dalandalang bulawan gikutay
lahos sa inablihang-dakong
bintana sa mga payag
The bay
is a big bowl
its salty broth flows over

At early morn
small paddles spoonplay
with the tiny bubbles floating
on the songs of the small fisherfolks

in the night
the moon is a
tiny peephole of the gods
and below a gold-paved
pathway stretches straight to the
windows of the cottages

Up in northern Mindanao in the place of my birth and childhood, Tangub was the cradle of my infant literary career.   It was here I was nurtured with a robust Cebuano language and culture.  The weekly BISAYA magazine opened for me many doors, unfolding  the wonders of literature to my impressionable soul.  It provided a rich resource, a wellspring,  for my grounding in the Cebuano language—a treasure I cherish for my literary journey.

But Cebuano is also the language of my expanding physical world.   It is the lingua franca of Mindanao.   This is a happy incidence because when I started to write about the people and events of this Island,  I could articulate the people’s stories and adventures and dreams with gladsome facility.  My intimacy with the language and the people’s lifeworlds has since equipped me with  the resources I need for my literary undertakings.  And this has rooted even more profoundly when in my wanderlust, giving way to my youthful appetite for adventures, I roamed in the unseemly spaces and corners of the Island,  romancing with life in all its colorful diversities.

Thence, the longing to write — to break the chunks of reality that has become a living part of me into pieces of varied literary genre — songs and narratives,  poetry,  fiction and drama.  Nothing engages me  more with passionate enthusiasm than in the re-creating of a foreign drama piece employing the local language as medium and local geography as setting.  This undertaking is not a mere translation of one language into another.  It is an encompassing  creative activity more aptly to be considered a transcreation.  Well, it has since been  termed adaptation.  As such, it poses a very challenging  task.  It does not only involve the shifting of codes and symbols  from one language to another, necessitating  a happy command of idioms, it entails  delving into a people’s culture — peculiar habits and traits and other patterns in people’s lifeways—in order  for the creative product  to acquire its own identity and integrity .

The nature of drama entails a plurality of perceptions because it presents in levels and dimensions ranging from visual to aural, from verbal to non-verbal, from silence to sounds, and more,  which imply  significances that elicit subjective responses and interpretations.  It entails the artist’s  imaginative power to effectively transport certain scenarios from the original to the transcreated craft  garbed in a new quality of presentment.

Indeed, adaptation of a drama piece that depicts an alien setting with its unique charm is a terrifying but alluring  proposition—nay, it is incumbent  on the artist’s heroism to embark on a  fascinating adventure.

My very first engagement in crafting a drama adaptation was Shakespeare’s Macbeth.   The task  was to transcreate Macbeth into a Cebuano musical that would mirror the situation in Mindanao at a time when prominent political figures were in their elements as power players in real-life drama.

Exploring the historico-political terrain of Mindanao in the 1970s towards the 80s enabled me to set foot on the legendary narratives  of the most dreaded warlord of the island—Ali Dimaporo.  He was to be the referent figure in re-shaping Macbeth into the adaptation’s central character Kadil Dimakurog.  And the title became Ang Trahedya sa Balay ni Kadil.  

It was a great advantage that I had a very good English teacher in high school whose bias for Western, especially English, literature was contagious.  I enjoyed writing the songs for the play’s  libretto,  re-creating with joyful confidence the English blank verses  into euphonic Cebuano rhymes.  And nowhere is this more picturesque and hilarious than in the  Songs of the Three Witches  [Awit sa mga Impakta].  Let me give you a glimpse into this hilarity. . .here are a few excerpts-

Ning dapit nga awaaw
ing suok nga mamingaw
sa mga kilat gisug-an
sa dalugdog gitugtogan
gihandom kong kagiki
sa baki ug mga butiki
Ehee, naay ihi sa paniki
ipaanod imong mga kiki
Ang laway sa bakukang
Sinaktag singot sa umang
kinuskos sa kuko sa bao
ug iti sa buntis nga kwaho
Itoson sa lusa nga panaksan
Isablig sa nawong sa buwan!

Nakaamgo ba ta sa tilimad-on
niining hagip-ot nga panahon?
Nanaghoy ang mga agukoy
Nanitsit ang mga mangla
May selebrasyon sa yuta
Gibalita sa mga isda!
Dili manghilabot
sa taga-ibabaw sa yuta
kay wala nato masuta
tanang badlis ug kunot
sa ilang palad ug lubot!
In this desolate place
in this lonesome corner
brightened by lightning
thunderclaps a-drumming
I long for the giggling
of the frogs and lizards
Ehee, bat’s urine to wash away
the morsels between your teeth
Sputum of beetless
mixed with sweat of seashells
scrapings from the turtle’s nails
fecal drops from a pregnant owl
boiled together in an enamel pan
splashed on the moon’s countenance!

Are we aware of the omens
in this very crowded season?
The hermit crabs are whistling
the squid fishes are hissing
the sea scorpions are clacking
There’s a celebration on the land
that sea creatures are broadcasting!
Let us not meddle with the affairs
of those dwelling on the land
we have not concretely seen
all the lines and wrinkles
on their palms and anal openings!

My next engagement was Bertolt Brecht’s  Mother Courage.   I was commissioned  by Tanghalang Pilipino of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to write the script for a musical adaptation of the play.   Again I deigned to render the Mindanao of my heart an impressive  locale—in language, in color, and in historical reality.  It was a happy decision to highlight the symbolic interplay of the three peoples of Mindanao.   And so Madonna Brava,  decidedly a Zamboanguena,  had three children who separately descended from the ethnic lines of a Maranao Moro,  a Subanen Lumad  and a Christian Bisaya settler, characterizing  her as a tenacious “woman of substance” embroiled in a war that ran  across Mindanao’s contemporary history.

I fashioned the central character  Madonna Brava as a kind of ubiquitous witness to the rough and tumble wherefores of  the Mindanao war.  She followed its warpaths with the flamboyance of a trader and the bravado of a woman who needed to survive her family in a milieu of uncertainty, terror and death.   These are real and vicarious vicissitudes experienced by most everyone who are a part of  Mindanao —perchance,  parallel to and yet entirely different from those of  Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage.

In my adaptation of  Riders to the Sea by John Millington Synge,  I set the action in an island  village  in the southwestern side of Davao Gulf.  The correspondences in scenario and  actions were of course modified to accommodate  local culture and  geographical specifics.   I have intimate familiarity  with the fisherfolks,  being their door- to-door  neighbor in my home  in Bago Aplaya.   Their daily struggles for survival,  their constant confrontations against the bipolar temperament of  the sea,  how they have hardened in body and spirit amidst adversities,   are particularities intimately intertwined with the breezy tone of their language.   And I am familiar with how the poor take to terms with calamities and deaths in the family, which constitute the central action in the play.

The next  adaptation I wrote was Agatha Christie’s novel Ten Little Indians.  I created a mystery house in a fictional island which I named  Isla Verdadera  off  the coast of Davao Oriental.   I thought the setting  made an apt representation of a mystery island because this part of Davao Gulf  is dotted with many islets that harbor fabulous tales associated with the indigenous tribes.  And so the choice of setting is something that tickles one’s imaginative excursions into the mysterious.

The characters in my adaptation included prominent names in old Davao, like a certain Mrs. Dalisay, a Major Fajardo,  an Atty. Laurente Navarez,  and other names who by their sounds alone must be people invested with some respectability or of a social group  who can afford vacationing in an expensive isolated island resort.     But what was accorded  utmost preoccupation  was the versatile use of language among upper class and pedestrian characters in the play.

At present, I am working on Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird.  It is a fairy play, and it excites me no end because a climate of  enchantment pervades in the play from beginning to end.  Already I  have drawn from Mindanao myths and legends materials which I can readily use as native magical trappings.  As a matter of fact, the title is intriguingly captivating—Si Pamana, Ang Prinsesang Aguila— suggesting a magic realism that ushers the apparition and or participation of diwatas and bathalas and legendary heroes of the Lumads.

At this point,  I feel that it is good to listen to some words from people with some  semblance of  authority. Malgorzata Marciniak in her “The Appeal of Literature to Film Adaptations” argues -,

Each work lays the groundwork for many possible adaptations because each art can play with elements of other arts. Artistic devices such as metaphors or symbols are not just literary means of conveying significance.   A literary work speaks to us not only through its words printed on paper, it can be also read to us, so that we get to know it by listening to a human voice. A painting is not only an image but also the temperature of the colours, their texture and the story the patterns and the colours tell us. These faculties of all forms of artistic expression prove their transitional and mediating nature and invite to translations and never ending decoding and encoding transformations.*

And Annie Brisset in her essay “The Search for Native Language: Translation and Cultural Identity”  summarizes,  to wit –

The task of translation is [thus] to replace the language of Other by native language. (…) Translation becomes an act of reclaiming,  recentering of the identity, a  re-territorializing operation. It does not create a new language, but it elevates a dialect to the status of national and cultural language. The existence of native language presupposes that its speakers are “in the world according to culture, that is according to an ontology”  which is unique to that language, and to that language only. **

I am happy and comfortable with these arguments. They give me  moral and philosophical support.  I feel  more secure and confident that what I am doing is not at all criminal.

In fine, the challenge in the crafting of an adaptation belongs to the realm of the creative—a skillful harnessing no less of one’s imaginative energy to summon the most appropriate elements in a culture—a creative handling of language most suitable to the desired textural quality of the craft  — summarily, an ardent striving to give birth to an artistic creature  that can stand on its own identity and reality and charm.  As a work of art.


*  Marciniak is a Math professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio, USA.  But she is also into filmography and at the same time a movie actress.   She became well known for her works on Madame Curie, the scientist.

** Brisset is a professor at the University of Ottawa, affiliated to the School of Translation and Interpretation and the Department of Theatre. She is also a member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and thereby authorised to supervise theses. Since 1996 she has been a consultant to UNESCO, and has worked on various projects for the development of multilingual communication in Central and Eastern Europe, including the establishment of the network of UNESCO Chairs in Translation and Cross-Cultural Communication. In addition, she is the president and founding member of IATIS (International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies). She has published plenty of articles, essays and publications, whose topics are mainly connected with theatre, problems of translation and identity of the reader. Her contribution to Translation Studies is great and known all over the world. As the president of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies, she has coordinated plenty of projects, delivered lectures and published many works, which have significantly improved the development of studies on translation.

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