By Deneb R. Batucan and Patricia May P. Catan
“MAS lami gyud ang Bisaya. Gahi nga lami.” These are words you’d likely hear from literary artists when asked about the Cebuano language.
In a world of unlimited hugot and emotion-filled prose, three Cebuano writers — Mechelle Centurias, Jessrel Gilbuena, and Jae Magdadaro — are adamant to express themselves in the language they all hold dear. And it’s true what they say about the Cebuano language — when it comes to the sensibility of the balak, the words seem to have a stronger push and pull.
These up-and-coming poets have set the bar high with their literary creations, so get to know them and brace yourself for some stimulating insights that stir the mind.
Mechelle Centurias, 27
Fictionist and Poet
Seemingly inconspicuous, this lady actually has a super power. And no, she can’t read minds or go invisible. But her words and imagery are striking and as deep as the earth’s core, able to evoke emotion out of anyone who would read them. Mechelle Centurias’ work as a Cebuano fictionist and poet can for sure tickle your think tank as well as your soul.
She began writing in high school as a correspondent for her school’s student publication. At that time, she hasn’t yet tapped on her literary side as she focused more on her journalistic endeavors. But it was in college — where she majored in language — that she came across literature.
With her lit classes, she admitted that she would only comply with what her teacher asked from her. It never crossed her mind that she had the talent to write. Until she met someone, a young poet, in one of her literature classes who influenced her to write.
Mechelle started with writing fiction, or sugilanon, which she is more comfortable with. “Sa sugilanon man gud, maka play ka with the words ug mu-haom ra siya sa story,” she said. Her first published work was a sugilanon. It was an affirmation to her that she could really write. “At first naa pa baya ta’y doubt sa atong self,” she said. “Then if malipay ka sa usa nga na publish, you’ll want more and it becomes addictive.”
Mechelle said that when she started writing fiction and poems, she would always look for inspiration. “Something nga makapuga gani sa imung heart. You want to write about something nga makapatandog nimo,” she said.
But through the years, and with maturity as well, she realizes that inspiration comes and goes. “Kung ganahan ka nga ingnon ka’g maayo ka musuwat, kung kinhanglan, musuwat gyud ka,” she said.
Literature, for Mechelle, is expressing your deepest emotions creatively. Sometimes, if she is going through a difficult time, it helps to express herself though a sugilanon or a balak. “Imu lang ipa-agi ug balak, pero in reality gyud, ga maoy gyud ka’g taman dinha sa imung kwarto. Gihilakan na gyud na nimo’g taman. Kahuman, naa na dayun manggawas nga balak,” she said.
Jessrel Gilbuena, 26
Having a conversation with this thought-provoking man can already stir up one’s feelings. The way he constructs each answer to a question always has heart — as does his poetry.
It was in high school when he started to write poetry. He started with writing English poems because, as he said, he was ambitious. “I thought balak to, pero dili diay,” he said with a laugh.
In college, he studied languages at Cebu Normal University, and it was where he met his poet friends who influenced him on the craft. That was when he started to know the real balak.
He started to use the Cebuano language with his works. He fell deeply in love with the language he actually grew up with. “Mas duol siya sa akong heart. Mas dali man gyud ka ma-in love kung duol nimo,” he said.
Undeniably, Jessrel loves the challenge that poetry gives him. He loves the idea of having an outburst of emotion, and even if it becomes so gigantic, he is able to tame it and make it into a small capsule. “Ako siyang ma-contain in a small vessel. Nga bisan nga nahugno, nabu-ak imung tibuok kalibutan, mahimo nimo siyang mabutang sa imung mga kamot,” he said.
For Jessrel, writing is hard work. If you already know how to write, based on all the things you have learned from what you have read or from the workshops you attended, then you just continue to write. “Magsuwat lang gyud kay para magsuwat,” he said.
Jessrel has already completed a collection of poetry that he will launch at the end of August. Lugas sa Balas is his first compilation of poems, which are all an ode to his foibles, thoughts and everyday life at his beloved island of Bantayan.
The book has three parts: Balay, Ubos sa Adlaw and Kang, which are dedicated poems. “The setting of all the poems is ang isla sa Bantayan. Mga butang nga usually taga didto ra maka-experience ug mga taw nga akong nailhan ug mga reflections nako about sa isla,” he said.
Each time Jessrel writes a poem, the challenge he sets himself is how to present the typical human emotion in a new way. “Bisag nagpuno na imong dughan, grabe na ang emosyon, imu ra gihapon gigamit imung utok,” he said. “Imong sanity ma-preserve nimo kay gigamit pa nimo imong utok. Usahay ganahan na unta ka magpakamatay, pero di nalang ka magpakamatay kay imo naman gibutang sa balak. Dinha na ka namatay.”
Jae Mari Dionson Magdadaro, 21
You will immediately notice her petite physique, but there’s something about this young lady whose infectious smile radiates the entire room once you meet her. This easygoing young lady holds power whenever she has her notebook and pen in hand. One of the up-and-coming Cebuano writers, Jae Magdadaro has quite the interesting backstory to tell on why she started to write and how she learned to love the Cebuano language.
Writing journals was always one of the many things Jae enjoyed doing, but when she found out that her father was reading her personal thoughts, this smart little lady immediately wrote her journals as poetry or in Bisaya, balak, explaining that she didn’t want her father to understand what she was writing.
Further admitting that she was a frustrated writer, Jae expressed that writing in English was different in her case because it doesn’t entirely capture what she truly wanted to convey. “Naay mga pulong nga wala siyay iyahang counterpart sa English nga mokuha gyud sa insakto nga meaning kay lahi man ang sensibility sa Bisaya,” Jae articulated.
Claiming that her strengths didn’t lean on the creative writing aspect, she bluntly said that she wasn’t good at weaving her stories together in English, which is why she chose to write balak instead. “Malumos ko’g daghan kaayo nga words. Mao na akong weakness,” she explained.
Writing balak for Jae was self-taught. Living in a mountain barangay when she was a child was one of the contributing factors where she learned to write in the Cebuano language. Without knowing that listening to the radio and reading Bisaya magazines while conversing in her native language would greatly help her in her path to becoming a Cebuano writer, everything just sailed naturally for Jae.
One of the reasons she grew to love the Cebuano language was the encouragement she received from her professors. She then realized that speaking or writing in her mother tongue wasn’t bad at all. She only had the courage to put her works out there in her last year in college and soon after, Jae actively joined workshops that further developed her craft.
Drawing inspiration from the things around her while walking around the streets of Colon or climbing mountains in her hometown, she creates metaphors every now and then as the creative process begins. Bringing with her a notebook and pen, Jae jots down everything she finds interesting and work her way from there.
Dreaming of having her own collection someday, Jae is determined to undergo the needed process to polish her works. But the dream she is more passionate about is to serve as an inspiration and encouragement to the youth in order to preserve the Cebuano language and maybe continue the legacy left by the ones before them.