'Banaag at Sikat' goes global – The Manila Times

Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.
First of 2 parts
THREE years ago, I was living in Kuala Lumpur and working as head of school and professor of English at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. One morning I got a call from Penguin Random House Southeast Asia.
They asked if I would consider translating Lope K. Santos' Banaag at Sikat into English. I told them I'd read — actually slaved — reading that thick novel in school. They said that they had asked around and my name had cropped up as a translator whose English was “flawless and British.” And also, they added, “your translations sell.”
And that was how I ended up translating Santos' masterpiece, written in 1906 and considered a classic of the Tagalog novel. It was the first Philippine title in the Southeast Asian Classics series of Penguin.
* * *
In 1902, Isabelo de los Reyes — a radical scholar, propagandist and founder of the Philippine Independent Church — started the Union Obrera Democratica, the first labor union against the American colonizers. The Americans had been in the country for only three years, when they snuffed out the dreams of Asia's first independent nation and turned it into a colony. The Americans — always quick on the draw — promptly imprisoned de los Reyes to prevent the growth of the seed he had planted.
The young writer Lope K. Santos was a member of this labor union. This was just a few years after the Spaniards executed the novelist and poet, Dr. Jose Rizal, at Bagumbayan Field for being “the spirit of the Philippine Revolution.” And this was just three years after the US had colonized the Philippines. Nationalist feeling was still running high. American culture — language, literature, music, film and basketball — had yet to take root. The soil in many parts of the country was still soaked in blood. Poems and novels in Tagalog were being published in the newspapers. These works that harked back to a glorious past and satirized a troubled present were being written, published and read. Love of country was the order of the day.
The eminent historian, Professor Teodoro Agoncillo, wrote: “Most influential of these works was Santos' Banaag at Sikat. Avidly read by the masses and the intellectuals, the book in no small measure influenced the workers in fighting for economic, social and political reforms. As a result, more and more labor unions sprouted; strikes were resorted to by the laborers, particularly those engaged in cigar and cigarette manufacture, to the discomfiture of the capitalists who had been accustomed to pushing the workers around.”
But who was this person who wrote not just the first proletarian novel in the Philippines, but the first in Asia?
Santos was born in 1887 in Guipit, Sampaloc, Manila, the son of a worker in the printing press. Even at a young age, he was already familiar with printer's ink. Unfortunately, his father died when he was still young, and the boy had to work in another printing house. That printing house published the Balarila ng Wikang Tagalog (Grammar of the Tagalog Language) by Fr. Mariano Sevilla. The boy showed an early interest in the arts: he read the poems his father had written, he helped in theater productions, and he joined poetry jousts.
He took an education course but was forced to work for the Spaniards, so he could draw a salary as a government employee. After the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato peace treaty between the revolutionary forces and the Spanish colonial government, Santos worked as a guard in Intramuros. Later, he helped distribute firearms and food under the command of Gen. Pio del Pilar when the Philippine-American War erupted.
He moved houses, always on the run from the enemy, and then he met a group of journalists, the brightest and bravest in the country: Rafael Palma, Teodoro M. Kalaw, Rafael Corpuz, Jose Palma, Patricio Mariano, Honorio Lopez, Faustino Aguilar and Francisco Lacsamana. They were not only journalists; many of them were also poets and novelists. Santos had found his milieu.
After the Americans defeated the Filipinos in a long and bloody war, the second wave of colonization began. Along with the entry of the Thomasites, the American teachers who came aboard the cattle ship USS Thomas, arrived the container vans with books in English: Longfellow and Shakespeare, Keats and Lord Byron as well as the explosive books of Hegel, Marx and Engels.
Santos became a militant journalist in Ang Kaliwanagan (The Light) and Kapatid ng Bayan (Brother of the Country) in 1902. He later edited Muling Pagsilang (Rebirth), the Tagalog newspaper of the El Renacimiento (The Renaissance) newspaper. Both the Tagalog and Spanish newspapers were fearless, until the Interior Secretary Dean C. Worcester brought a libel case against Fidel Reyes for his scathing editorial, “Aves de rapina” (“Birds of prey”). The American won the case. All the printing machines of the newspaper were confiscated to pay for damages, and in exchange for the freedom of the publisher and staff.
(To be continued)
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