By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

(April 1996)

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RAW NG KAGITINGAN is celebrated by Filipinos on April 9, every year, and it seems appropriate that we discuss the concept of heroism, that is, the Filipino concept of it.

While working on the proposed concept for a new television program to be aired for elementary grade pupils this coming schoolyear, I confronted the question of heroism. The word "Bayani" would be central to the title, theme and actual message of the program, and I had to give inputs on this to the "think tank" preparing for its launching. So off to the books I did go. Specifically, dictionaries.

The first thing to be learned here is that the meaning of the English word "hero" is not exactly the same as that of our very own "bayani".

My 336-page Webster's Dictionary "for home, school and office" gives only one definition of the word hero: "A figure in mythology and legend renowned for exceptional courage and fortitude." The bigger and much bulkier dictionary at home, with 1,560 large pages, gives the following definitions: "1 a:a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability. b: an illustrious warrior. c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities. d: one that shows great courage. 2a: the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work. b: the central figure in an event, period of movement. 3: submarine. 4: an object of extreme admiration and devotion: IDOL. (Etymology is given as "akin to Latin "servare," to protect.)

How about "bayani"? Let's read these entries in Diksyunario ng Wikang Pilipino published in 1989 by the Linangan ng mga Wika sa Pilipinas (LWP), formerly known as the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa:




1ba-ya-ni   png. (pangngalan) Taong matapos mamatay ay ipinagbubunyi ng bayan dahil sa kanyang hindi pangkaraniwang paglilingkod sa bayan o sangkatauhan; taong may di pangkaraniwang tapang at tigas ng loob sa harap ng panganib o kaya ay katatagan ng kalooban sa paghihirap at pasakit.

2 ba-ya-ni, pd. (pandiwa) Nauukol sa paggawang hindi binabayaran ang gumagawa. sk (singkahulugan): pakisuyo, tulong, bataris, suyuan.




After taking note of parallels in descriptions such as bravery and toughness, we realize the glaring disparity in situating the phenomenon: the English, or Western "hero" is mythological or legendary, and often "of divine descent" in the mold of the Greek and Roman gods; the Tagalogs' "bayani" is situated in his or her (the word "bayani" is not gender-specific) relation to the community spirit -- working for free the way we have always known the "bayanihan" spirit to be.

The word "exceptional" in the small dictionary's definition grates against the envisioned theme and message of the TV show being planned, the heroism can be discovered and cultivated in each of us. This is also found in the LWP Diksyunaryo's first definition, although counterbalanced somewhat by the second meaning, which stresses the community and one's service to it, thus allowing ordinary folk to qualify for the attribute. What disturbs me more is the qualifier in LWP's definition that says "matapos mamatay."

Dictionaries are made on the basis of statistics on how this word and that is actually used by speakers of the language. [This is why no amount of protesting can remove the meaning, "domestic helper", attached to the word "Filipina" in British dictionaries. That is what most English-speakers in Britain mean when they use the word Filipina and the correction should be focused on the social reality and not on its reflection in such surveys as dictionaries.]

The sense that one has to be dead to be a "bayani" in the first meaning given by the LWP 's Diksyunaryo is disturbing. It may have discouraged many of us from aspiring to be heroes. But this meaning has been attached only during this almost one century that has passed since the days of the Katipunan. Rizal's execution at Bagumbayan and his proclamation as "pambansang bayani" may have contributed much to it. And I have very recently come across a proof that death as a qualifier for "bayani" was not in the meaning attached to the word by the majority of those who used it during the Spanish period.

The point is that you may not simply translate because what we think are word equivalents are sometimes as varied as the cultures that used them. Of course, I will still use the word "heroism" but this time I'll try to be closer to its "bayani" sense.

The qualifier in the first meaning of "bayani" given in the Diksyunaryo produced by the Linangan ng mga Wika sa Pilipinas, to the effect that one becomes a hero upon being recognized as such after death was not there much earlier in the history of usage of the word. The Katipunan, under the leadership of Andres Bonifacio, used the word "bayani" as the label for its third- grade members, the highest rank in their "katipon" and "kawal." One became a "bayani" after being elected to any of the organization's collegial leadership councils. Surely, these were not posthumous awards being given!

As I write this column, I have before me a photocopy of a page from Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, Compuesto por Varios Religiosos Coctos y Graves republished ("reimpresso") in Manila in 1860 by Imprenta de Ramirez y Giraudier. Page 44 of this overly bulky dictionary, which I found at the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, carries two entries of the word "bayani." The first definition carries the words "Valiente" and "animoso," and the second one begins with "obra comun." These two definitions run parallel to the two entries in LWP's Diksyunaryo, but conspicuously absent in the 1860 book's entries are the words "muerte" or anything similar to it (like "morir"), to put in the sense of one having to die first.

The TV show we are working on will be aired for schoolchildren, and it will encourage them to appreciate and admire our relatively well-recognized "national heroes," open their minds to the likelihood that their very own respective grandparents were heroes in their own right, and encourage these children to aspire to develop in themselves the atributes of being "bayani."

Here are some of the concept points alreadu discussed by the people preparing this program:

"Bayani" as concept and word can have any of these three applications: "bayani as a person; "kabayanihan" as a heroic act; and "bayani"as a heroic group, community or nation.

The core value in being "bayani" is recognition of and deference to the interest of what is bigger than the individual, like the group, the community, the nation, even humanity and nature. This deference is conscious even if almost instinctive and habitual.

For one to be "bayani" in meeting with various challenges both in daily life and in critical historical moments, he or she must have all or at least most of the following: 

(1) determination; (2) perseverance; (3) courage; (4) diligence; (5) enthusiasm; (6) humility; and (7) inspiration and effect of inspiring others.

The seventh point above underscores the need to avoid putting our national heroes on top of unreachable pedestals. They were as human as we all are. And, indeed, we can all be heroes like them. In our own right, in our own small ways.

This is the message we are going to bring to the children through the TV sets. We hope this can somewhat "distract" them somewhat from concentrating too much on those hyperviolent robotic and mutant superheroes they watch on TV everyday. With this, and the KAMALAYSAYAN's efforts to propagate the lessons from the Katipunan's Kartilya, and parallel efforts from various directions, including parents, we may yet be able to validate Rizal's philosophical optimism that "the youth are the hope of the Fatherland."

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)


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