Filipino art and literature

The Ifugao tribe made iconic sculptures

Featuring a rich blend of elements from Malaysia, Spain, America and a whole host of other nations, the artistic culture of the Philippines is richly diverse. Many of the traditional tribes that can be found in remote areas of the country and on some of the smaller islands also have their own unique practices, that all fall into the melting pot that is the Philippines.

Artistic expression in the Philippines

The Filipino people are naturally very creative, and art forms an important part of the culture here. Many people seem to be able to pick up a brush almost at will and create stunning works of art, while other people are skilled at cooking, woodcarving and other skills such as weaving. Northern Luzon is full of fascinating tribes such as the Ifugao people who built the amazing rice terraces around Banaue around 3,000 years ago.

One of the best ways to discover the full range of artistic expression in the Philippines is during a festival, when people gather to share their skills and create colourful costumes as well as floats, special dishes and a whole host of other items.

There are countless art galleries to be found in the Philippines, and these are good places to discover the way that the artwork here has developed over the centuries. However, artwork in all forms can be found all over the country in various venues, from pieces that are proudly displayed in homes and businesses to those on market stalls and at the side of the street.

Travel fact

The oldest surviving written Filipino text was discovered near Laguna de Bay and has been preserved on copperplate. Dating back to around 900AD, this unique text is a record of payment of a debt using 856g of gold, and the language used resembles Old Javanese and Sanskrit.

Literature and theatre in the Philippines

Literature has played an important role in the liberation of Filipino people and the patriotic novels of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal are said by many people to have paved the way to freedom from the oppression of the Spaniards.

In the past, legends and myths were passed down by word of mouth, and it wasn’t until the 17th century that these stories started to be written down. Original stories and poems also started to emerge at this time, and while the oldest of these were written in Tagalog, many of the more modern tales tend to be written in English.

Theatre has long played an important role in the culture of the Philippines, and the oldest of the traditional plays tend to depict the life of Jesus Christ. Known as cenaculo, these plays are extremely popular, while the moro-moro plays are comical in nature and present the feuds between the Christian and the Muslim people in the Philippines. Adapted from Spanish origins, the zarzuela plays are also popular and are a type of operetta.

There is also a thriving modern theatre industry in the Philippines, which tends to take its inspiration from popular Broadway productions as well as avant-garde stage shows. Those who wish to gain an insight into the theatrical traditions of the Philippines should pay a visit to one of the country’s main theatrical institutions such as the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, which proudly displays the nation’s theatrical skills.

Visitors will also want to witness Balagtasan, which is an interesting type of spontaneous poetic debate that is performed by poets who compete against each other by reciting spontaneous poetic verses to demonstrate their points of argument.