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Collecting the People: Textualizing Epics in Philippine History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First

  • Author(s): Reilly, Brandon Joseph
  • Advisor(s): Salman, Michael
  • et al.
Abstract

My dissertation, "Collecting the People: Textualizing Epics in Philippine History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First," examines the study and uses of oral epics in the Philippines from the late 1500s to the present. State institutions and cultural activists uphold epics linked to the pre-colonial era as the most culturally authentic, ancient, and distinctive form of Filipino literature. These "epics" originated as oral traditions performed by culturally diverse groups. Before they could be read, they had to be written down and translated into, first, the colonial language of Spanish, and later, the national languages of English and Filipino. Beginning from the earliest Spanish colonial times, I examine the longer history of writing about, describing, summarizing, and beginning in the late nineteenth century, transcribing the diverse sorts of oral narratives that only in the twentieth century came to be called epics. I pay particular attention to how the instruments of pen, printing press, tape recorder, and video recorder, and media of preservation such as government report, published or unpublished colonial chronicle, scholarly textualization, coffee table book, or television show, have shaped the epics. By charting how differing sets of actors from missionaries and colonial administrators to nationalists and cultural heritage preservationists sought to make sense of them over the course of successive epochs, I am able to unsettle notions of what this seemingly stable and ancient literary genre is understood to be. I show that throughout the periods I chronicle--the early Spanish colonial (late 16th to the early 18th c.), late Spanish (19th c.), American colonial (1898-1946), early post-independence (1946 to the early 1980s), and the recent era (1970s to today)--the epic has never been represented in quite the same way nor towards unchanging ends. This is a history of changing epistemologies, institutions, disciplines, and technologies engaged in the interpretation of culture.

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