Published in two parts in the Bikol newspaper, Vox Bikol.
AS OF WRITING, I don’t know if this will get into print lest be perpetually labeled profane and thus, alas, a trash. If that is the case, then my journalistic career is over; more sadly, it will be short-lived. But no. Maybe I can just appeal for a rating of R-18; heavens, save my soul.
A few days ago, while living up to Bikol summer traditions, I was in Pasacao with the Ateneo de Naga University Choir for a two-day spree. Once, while the choir members were swimming, I strolled along the beach for some good photography. I stumbled upon some fish vendors talking to one another in a language that was very distinct—living humor and candidly sincere vocabulary. I surmise they were actually gossiping.
“Buráy ni inà niyá! Anó man daw an giníríbo sa laóg, anó?” a female vendor asked with a malicious look in her face.
“Málay ko man. Péro sigurádo ‘ko baralbágan ‘to!” the first vendor exclaimed followed by a loud roar of laughter.
“Iká man mánay, bakà máhiling mi man iká dumán!” the first vendor taunted the woman.
“Daí ‘ko kayán ay. Daí ko ipápahámak d’yan an buráy ko!” the woman vendor said in a loud voice. Another chorus of laughter followed.
One notable about the conversation was the straightforwardness of the so-called vulgarities. Had the conversation happened somewhere in the nook of the society’s learned—those who have mastered what social arts mean, that could have been the lesser form, the uneducated, nasty, impure, immoral. The elderly would have frowned while the young would have grinned; the moralists would have elegantly displayed their enthused didacticism. That is if reflection is one-sided. For I think we never have really considered the question: why? Why such language exists?
In Bikol, vulgar or profane language is known as rapsák. In the outskirts, where life is sustained by farming, fishing, and other livelihood solely relying on the gifts of nature, rapsák is more observed in daily conversations. Siestas in the fields on hot afternoons, lull market hours, are commonly accompanied by conversations on village life. These conversations are often heavily laden with humor and pranks. Quite obvious, most known Bikol rapsák in contemporary conversations are almost always of sexual overtones. I was once asked by a Manileño on common Bikol vulgar expressions and I couldn’t give him any rapsák which was not sexual in nature other than lintian!. I believe rapsák in Bikol is more than profanity; it is deep in the Bikol language itself. While rapsák in other languages might just be a set of expressions of surprise and astonishment, in Bikol, it is our own colloquial, a colloquial which is faithful to its native Latin colloquium or conversation. Rapsák could actually be the language spoken on the ancient saúdan, dálan, baybáyon,etc. of Ibalong villages. And my conjecture is that rapsák has ever been present in Bikol.
Bikol historian Dr. Danny Gerona had actually dived into the depth of the word órag. How órag has come out from the battering of history is óragon itself. In his monograph, Órag as a Bikol Virtue, Gerona followed the course of history and examined how the word changed every now and then in the face of the colonizers. The órag as the exploits of the pre-Hispanic male has become the lustful órag created by the Spanish friars. In this case, the nobility that was in the ancient órag was downgraded to the profane—the rapsák. Is the profanity of rapsák a creation in the advent of Catholicism? Is pre-Hispanic rapsák actually an amoral language?
In the eyes of Mikhail Bahktin, rapsák is our own culture of the carnivalesque. The early rapsák had Bahktin’s carnival characters who were blasphemous, rugged, dirty, hungry, drunkards, perverts, and the likes. In the case of the fish vendors of Pasacao, their rapsák was a manifestation of the natural folk culture of humor which takes place despite full knowledge that some social entities are in fact powers that approve what should and could be rapsák. For Bahktin, carnivalesque was there even before the existence of the Church and governments.
In this case, rapsák is no longer confined to the concept of the profane as laughable matter, but rather, it goes back into the possible truth that rapsák was not profane until powers labeled it as such. In Gerona’s monograph, órag was not profane until its first published definition in 16th century in Fray Marcos de Lisboa’s Bikol-Spanish lexicon as “dishonesty or lust.” Órag as “lust” also appeared in Fray Domingo Martinez’ Doctrina Christiana. Why do then some of us still tremble lest be damned after muttering the word órag? Or can we actually say: Si inà n’ya! P’wéde ko iníng yamutámon dáwa nuarín!
Even if Bikol rapsák is seemingly spoken in different parts of the region, it still remains a subject of social criticism, a taboo. This prohibition mainly came from what Mikhail Bahktin called powers that entered Bikol along history, such as church, schools, foreign cultures, among others. These institutions consequently—whether intentionally or unintentionally—provided substitutes for the so-called rapsák. The Rinconada generic expression másimut, no matter how Bikolanos are amused hearing someone utter it, is still considered a grave totónglon (curse). Children are reprimanded by adults whenever órag or any of its suffixed variations is said, advertently or inadvertently. These powers, instead proposed another set of vocabulary which could be expressed instead of the native rapsák. And thus, Bikol, like any other place where Spaniards set foot on, have: Diós ko!, Susmaryósep!, Santísima!, Patawáron!. These expressions, religious and reverent in character, took the place of the indigenous rapsák, and thereafter, provided sharp contrast for the rapsák to be eventually labeled profane. Western influence, however, did not just bring religious and reverent expressions. They have also shared with us sharp scornful vocabulary in: híjo de púta, imbecíl, estúpido, cabrón, índio, and many more.
This overturn of the rapsák is actually seen in Gerona’s paper as the logic behind the colonizers’ desire to sexualize the word órag. Orágon, which was mainly attributed to the dominant pre-Hispanic male, had to be recreated into a word which was unlikable and unpleasant in nature. This is true in many things. The Spanish colonizers gave the impression that almost everything we had was not good, and thus, enforced upon us a change in everything, including culture, and yes, even language. They were picky however. They did not teach us everything, but rather, taught us what would leave us in guilt, what would not allow us to enter heaven, what would leave us in endless scruples. They did these so that the seemingly ignorant race they found on this part of the East Indies would be easier to conquer. They succeeded, at least, in giving us a life in borrowed malice.
I remember two persons while writing this article. One was the late Governor Nonoy Bulaong who we used to laugh at for his humor. But we laughed at him more because of his nasty language. Now, something inside me reacted writing the word nasty. The second person I remember was the late National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan, also a Bikolano, who got into trouble with MTRCB for mentioning the word titì in the documentary program I-Witness of GMA 7. Obusan caught in film Lukáyo, a pre-Hispanic wedding ritual still practiced in the outskirts of Laguna. In the ritual, the old women of the village had wooden penises tied on to their waists as they danced the couple to and from the church for fertility and fortune.
As I further, I am tempted to reflect whether we are made sincere or not as a people negating a very essential characteristic of our language and culture. Again, this is a matter of language. This is a matter of conquering our tongues and accepting that every word is essential and meaningful, including our líntian, orágon, másimut, and the likes. In fact, I believe that our vocabulary of rapsák is richest in terms of meanings. How many times we resort to them when we are out of concrete words and yet we are fully understood by others? How many of us resort to them in times of greatest and strongest emotions?
My point is that we control rapsák as we control our language; we are its owners. I do not say we utter it unreasonably all the time. I say let’s try get in touch with our language and know its contours so that we can manage it fully and responsibly. We are the best judge as to whether our language is good or bad, and not some colonial power or foreign culture or any establishment. Many times, we can learn from the candid ones like the fish vendors or Bulaong and Obusan. What they did not have was the foreign malice for our indigenous thoughts. And thus, the beauty of our language, sincere and actually respectful, was revealed.
In “Rabelais and His World,” Bhaktin tells us that “true ambivalent and universal laughter does not deny seriousness but purifies and completes it. Laughter purifies from dogmatism, from the intolerant and the petrified; it liberates from fanaticism and pedantry, from fear and intimidation, from didacticism, naïveté and illusion, from the single meaning, the single level, from sentimentality. Laughter does not permit seriousness to atrophy and to be torn away from the one being, forever incomplete. It restores this ambivalent wholeness.”
Líntian! Rapsák does.