Damiana Eugenio, master compiler of Philippine folkloric myths, legends, riddles, and proverbs

CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress) - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - October 22, 2014 - 12:00am

Professor Damiana L. Eugenio, a scholar who spent a quiet lifetime compiling the nation’s folkloric literature, died last week at the age of 93 years.

Known mainly to a few specialists in the field, she however served a wide national audience. Folklores, myths, legends, riddles and proverbs being part of our national heritage.

Master compiler of folk literature.” Damiana Eugenio’s life’s work focused on our folk literature from the time she wrote her doctoral dissertation at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

In 1966, she wrote a monograph, Philippine Proverb Lore, which was published in the UP Social Sciences and Humanities Review. One decade later this work was reprinted as a book by the Philippine Folkore Society. (This would later form the core of the volume on Proverbs, below.)

In the early 1980s, she set up a UP Folklore Studies Program. Encouraged by a grant from the National Research Council of the Philippines, Dr. Eugenio conceived a broad-based publication project that included a seven-volume program of publication of compiling the national folklore.

“Seven-volume series.” The first of these volumes was published in 1982 under the title “Anthology,” covering a mixture of various classes of folklore material.

Later volumes arranged the folkloric material through thematic groupings. Thus, each succeeding volume concentrated on specific subjects of folklore. By this time, too, the the UP Press undertook the full publication responsibility.

With their printing and reprinting schedules noted in parentheses, the sequence of volumes is as follows: Volume 2, the Myths (1992, 1994, 2001); Volume 3, the Legends (2001, 2002, 2005, 2011) ; Volume 4, the Folktales (1989, 2001, 2006, 2011); Volume 5, the Riddles (1994); Volume 6, the Proverbs (1992, 2002, 2006); and Volume 7, the Folk Songs (in typescript). 

The only unpublished part of the series is volume 7, the Folk Songs. (It is still a mystery to me why this volume has been held up in editing). A volume 8 was subsequently printed, the Epics (2001, 2004). The last is a bonus since it was not included in the original plan.

Compiling work including editing is scholarly effort, not authorship.” The preface to the first volume, published in 1982, says a lot about the project. Here, I quote from Dr. Eugenio who explained the challenges she faced in her work.

“Undertaking this rather ambitious project of compiling a national collection of folk literature has not been easy. It meant bringing together the widely scattered items of folk literature – both the individual selections that have been published in a wide variety of magazines and newspapers and the regional published and unpublished collections; classifying them into recognizable genres; and choosing for inclusion selections that would be representative not only of the different genres but also of the various ethno-linguistic groups in the country.

“Faced with a rich and varied corpus, one immediately realizes the sheer impossibility of finding full justice either to the different types of folk literature or to all the ethno-linguistic groups that together make up the Filipino nation.”

Thus, the items in the collections were written by others, either as transcriber of tales that they had heard orally or as original rewriting of the folklore. Among the authors of these studies are well-known anthropologists and writers, a few of them also compilers of tales.

Earlier compilers of folklores.” The foremost anthropologist of the period, Dr. E. Arsenio Manuel, wrote the preface to the first volume, Anthology in 1982. He expounded that during the American occupation period, there were two American scholars, then faculty members of the UP, who collected their respective Philippine folklore studies: Dean S. Fansler and H. Otley Beyer

Below, I quote portions of Professor Manuel’s extensive comments (breaking the long paragraph into many):

“The assiduous collecting work of these two faculty members of the State University produced substantial though varying results. D.S.Fansler after years of unrelentless activity wrote Filipino Popular Tales …. This was his magnum opus, a significant contribution to Philippine oral literature studies and historical folkloristics. “

“On the other hand, Professor Beyer produced an equally significant compilation titled Philippine Folklore, Customs and Beliefs, in 20 volumes, which was finished in 1922, though unpublished, shortly after the Fansler volume. “

“These compilations entailed many years of collecting work: the first [Fansler’s] could only see the light of day after its author had in his hands 2,000 tales. Of course Fansler could not make use of all these materials, but he used them in his comparative notes, so that every tale included bristles with comparative notes.

“The work of Beyer also has notes, but these are mainly descriptive. In other words, Fansler has depth, Beyer has breadth, for the first made use of other folktale collections and studies not only of Philippine material, but also those of Southeast Asia, India, and other parts of Asia, Europe, and other countries to enable him to state whether a tale was indigenous or came from outside the archipelago. “

“Though most of his tales were Tagalog, Fansler did not foresee criticism from that angle in calling his work Filipino. But Beyer covered many more ethno-linguistic groups, his aim being a total coverage, though his 20 volume selection did not have much from the Muslim and pagan groups of Mindanao and Sulu.”

“The present collection (Dr. Eugenio’s) focuses on oral traditions or folk literature, somewhat like its predecessors. “It is wider in coverage than Fansler’s work in two respects: first, almost all types of oral literature, recited or sung, are represented in the compilation; and second, the selections come from a more nationwide scale, for all peoples are represented – Christian, Muslim, and pagan groups as well. “

“When put side by side with Beyer’s compilation, however, it is narrower in scope because it does not include customs and beliefs; but again much broader with respect to folk literature and ethnic boundaries. This emphasis on oral literature is understandable, for Dr. Eugenio is a professor of literature.”

“Just like her predecessors, this work took many years to prepare and compile. It is a welcome volume for several reasons, among which is the fact that it is the first comprehensive reader of its kind to come in print. As a pioneering venture, it presents almost all oral types from a greater number of ethno-linguistic groups known. It is also written in the English language of the country.”

Dr. Damiana L. Eugenio, the nation owes you a lot. A long, scholar’s life well-lived!

My email is: gpsicat@gmail.com. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/

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