Silent anticipation fills the room as a commanding presence makes its way on stage. Taking their rightful place in front of a microphone, a compelling rhythm of verses are rendered by design. Amplified by the speaker’s charisma, exuberant laughter and enthusiastic cheering are observed from the audience as they perform the clever lines of their tigsik.
This was how Maica Cañeso (I, BIO-MED) was first exposed to tigsik at a high school poem recital. “I [was] mostly [fond of] its mix of humor, which I think is natural in our Bicolano culture,” she shares. Indigenous to the Bicol Region, the ancient oral literary form of tigsik, which means “toast” or “salute,” is often short and inventive in its delivery.
Despite the delight that it can bring, only native Bicolanos are familiar with tigsik. “Nalaman ko lang [kung ano ang tigsik] after ma-meet ‘yung iba’t ibang tao from other provinces in the region,” Cañeso laments.
(I was only familiarized with tigsik after meeting people from other provinces.)
Fortunately, there are many who are immortalizing the traditionally oral artform, finally giving tigsik its much-deserved time in the national limelight.
A way with words
The magic of tigsik began during glorious jubilation, as it doubles as a gesture to honor its subject. Festivities were treated to a taste of the tigsik poets’ wits, while indulging in fermented coconut water or nipa fruit extract—tuba. Young men also recited tigsik as a sign of their affection, while poets verbally jousted in fiery debates. Whatever the context, University of Santo Tomas-Legazpi Languages and Literature professor Caroline Grace O. Montas explains, “[Tigsik is characterized by] short yet meaningful verses. [Its] content and delivery is a form of entertainment to its audience.”
Despite being compared to the Japanese haiku and the Tagalog diona, tigsik celebrates the homey Bicolano culture. Multi-award winning Bicolano poet Abdon Balde Jr. clarifies, “Tigsik [describes] olden rituals and myths, ideas and innovations, events and social gatherings, [and] places and historical sites, and [expounds] on cultural icons.” He shares that tigsik can be used in almost anything—persons, places, beliefs, or even the Mayon Volcano such as in Balde’s Tigsik sa Mayon: “Tinigsik ko an Mayon / Sa pagdadapit-hapon; / May mayumhok na tamong / Nin mga panganoron; / Handa sa kabanggihon / Sa lipot kan panahon!”
(I toast to the Mayon / In the dusk; / There is a soft veil / Blanket in the skies; / Anticipating in the cold / Of the coming night!)
Tigsik’s long-spanning history enticed Balde into employing the medium. He regularly writes poems in the form of tigsik and posts them on social media, opining, “Tigsik is a unique Bikol literary form. There is nothing like it in any region in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world.”
The poet shares that tigsik’s formation begins even before its writing process. “Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning,” Balde propounds. While the format of tigsik is not standardized, Balde reveals that being a tigsik poet requires mastery of language, the art form, and the topic. “The tigsik may be sincere, humorous, or acerbic—but in all cases witty or satirical,” highlighting the artform’s adaptable nature.
What started it all
Driven by his advocacy of promoting Bicolano culture, Balde authored over a thousand tigsik in the span of eight years. But these were not done tediously, “The gratification [in writing tigsik] is almost instant,” he declares, hoping to publish a tigsik book to promote culture and to enhance awareness of the local literature.
Contentment is not only found in writing the literary art form. Montas recalls reading a touching piece created by Kris Abegail Villamor for Teachers’ Day. She shares, “I would love to read it again and again for it shows appreciation to the teachers’ sacrifices and love for their profession.” Reading or beholding a tigsik performer’s works will also give a sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
Its inherently witty and philosophical nature makes tigsik ripe for commentary as well. Balde notes, “Tigsik is kept abreast with social and political developments.” In one of the tigsik pieces mentioned in his Rikorida Bikolandia post, he playfully takes a jab at corrupt local politicians, “Tinigsik ko si Konsehal / Dai man nakapag-adal / Makaskas mag suma-total / Kun boto an pigbabakal.” Consequently, Montas encourages, “[We must continue] to produce tigsik and [to share] it to everyone [to] make this form of literature alive.”
(I toast the Councilor / He is unschooled / But he swiftly counts / When he’s buying votes.)
New age of oragons
However, Cañeso worries that the current societal climate hinders tigsik’s growth. “Globalization causes people to migrate from rural to urban areas due to more opportunities,” she narrates in Filipino. “[This] leads to forgetting the culture of our province even in using our mother tongue.” Fortunately, tigsik’s flexibility gives leeway for various kinds of poems, including modern topics and urban environments. Montas attributes this to tigsik’s lasting legacy, “These pieces are being revived by its content and audience; the revision is what makes it alive and timeless.”
Balde emphasizes that tigsik lives and dies with the existence of its practitioners. Hence, he accepts offers to teach and to educate students about the literary art form, and aids teachers in organizing recitation contests. From 2014 to 2015, he partnered with the Albay Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office to spearhead a year-long initiative to share tigsik—plastered on pictures of local environments and sceneries—on his social media accounts and in the Albay Provincial Capitol’s Arts Atrium.
With all of these initiatives, Cañeso is hopeful of maintaining the presence of tigsik and the Bicolano culture itself throughout generations. “‘Pag nakalimutan natin ‘yung sarili nating kultura, hindi lang natin makakalimutan ‘yung pinanggalingan natin,” she illustrates. “Mawawalan din ng diversity ‘yung bansa natin, which makes us unique from other countries.”
(When we forget our own culture, we don’t just forget our upbringing. Our country’s diversity is also lost.)
Found between the lines of the tigsik are the undeniable charm and wisdom of the Filipino. Amid the fast-paced hustle of modern society, tigsik is a reflection of the Bicolanos being “cheerful, humorous, and oragon,” as Cañeso describes. Like the culture it represents, the rhyme and meter of tigsik has endured the test of time. And through the heroes that diligently protect it, the gorgeous poetry will continue to prance its way into the hearts of every Filipino.