The language that built Palawan
My grandmother once told me: “Beken kaw Palaweño kong indi ka kaelam aglimeg i’ Cuyonon (You cannot call yourself a Palaweño if you cannot speak Cuyonon).”
As far back as I can remember, my grandmother always had a peculiar accent when she spoke. Her pitch was fast, and she always seemed to stress every last syllable of a word. Even when speaking Tagalog, she’d utter words like, “katre,” “lomboy,” “kay” and “walâ” in place of “kama” (bed), “duhat” (java plum), “kasi” (because), and “hindi” (not).
About two years ago, during one of our summer homecomings to Palawan, I overheard a crowd of tourists native to Manila (my hunch) getting all excited about their vacation. This conjured up memories of the azure El Nido skies and its emerald islands I had enjoyed years and years ago.
I was also reminded of my trip to Bali, where I saw how Balinese culture permeated every aspect of the way of life of the island: from the architecture, which paid homage to its Hindu origins yet also possessed a native beauty, to the clothing, the colorful sarongs and regal headdresses that adorned Balinese dancers, the greenery across the land, and the people whose hospitality could only be matched by the Filipinos’ own.
Everywhere I went in that island of ancient gods, the scent of incense always seemed to trail me. I was enthralled by the culture and how it attracted travelers from all over the world.
My thoughts then drifted back to my hometown of Palawan, the natural beauty of which would frankly trump Bali tenfold, but whose culture remained largely underappreciated—even by me.
While on a steep and narrow road to Bali’s Tegalalang rice terraces, I asked our driver what language was spoken in Bali. He told me they spoke Balinese, though Indonesian was the language they would use to communicate to non-Balinese Indonesians. It then occurred to me that the visual culture I was witnessing was, in fact, encapsulated in the native tongue—Balinese words expressing Balinese concepts and beliefs.
It made me wonder: What language do the Palaweños speak? Tagalog was what I always knew and heard. So how is the Palaweño distinct from the Manileño, or the Caviteño, or the Batangueño, if all spoke the same language? I consulted my grandmother, whom I always considered “living history.” And that’s what she told me: “Beken kaw Palaweño kong indi ka kaelam aglimeg i’ Cuyonon (You cannot call yourself a Palaweño if you cannot speak Cuyonon).”
My grandmother, who moved to mainland Palawan from Cuyo during the early half of the last century, is only one of the thousands upon thousands of Cuyonons who sought a new future in the country’s last frontier.
They settled and formed new towns such as El Nido, Taytay, Coron and Puerto Princesa, among others. They lived with the indigenous Tagbanwa, often resulting in intermarriage; they also brought Christianity and farming techniques along with them. In other words, they sowed the seeds to the Palawan we know today.
With their migration, they also brought their language and culture with them. That old culture was representative of Palawan for most of the last two centuries, when the local government used Cuyonon and people from all classes spoke
Cuyonon with one another.
However, much has changed from that time. Today, Cuyonon is seen as the language of the barrio while the more prestigious Tagalog has risen in use, causing the decline in our native language that continues to the present.
Ashamed of being blind to the plight of the Cuyonon language and culture for so long, I began a yearlong effort to become fluent in it.
My mother never learned Cuyonon because my grandmother never passed it down to her, so I had to contact every Cuyonon language and culture preservation advocate to gain sources and references in learning the language. The fruits of my labor have been sweet nonetheless, and now I can speak Cuyonon with fluency and ease. I am beginning to write in the language, too.
I am well aware that my efforts may not be able to stop the decline of Cuyonon, but with the collective efforts of all Cuyonons, the trend can be certainly reversed. I hope Palaweños will come to realize that, aside from our turquoise waters, white sand beaches, emerald forests, golden fields and and radiant corals, Palawan’s greatest beauty lies in its soul and culture — ig maman ang bisarang Cuyonon (and that is the Cuyonon language).
* * *
Duke Xander M. Campilan, 16, studies at San Beda College Alabang