Tuesday, May 16, 2006



Ochre Tones by Marjorie Evasco
(Salimbayan Books, South Africa, 1999)

Stories Told in Full

There must be some way to bridge undeniable differences between persons. Friends. Cultures. Towns. Provinces. And, in Marjorie Evasco's case, languages. Ochre Tones is a poetry collection written half in English and half in her native Cebuano.

Cebu is a long strip of land in central Philippines, in the island region of Visayas. Many island provinces in this region speak similar languages, with slight variations. Filipinos who are not Cebuano might find the Cebuano poems inaccessible because, as is the case with many regional languages, Cebuano is taught primarily in the region in which it is widely spoken, even as it is used in the mass media in adjacent regions.

In her Introduction to her book, Evasco says she first had the desire to write in her mother tongue while attending a writing residency in Scotland, four years after her first book, Dreamweavers.

"Then a curious but inevitable thing happened. In the daily company of three British and two American writers, I made a new and distressing discovery: I wanted to write poetry not only in English but also in Binisaya, and I did not know where to begin... I sensed I was back to that strange place of portents," she wrote.

Often there are many subleties lost or misunderstood in translations between languages. I do not understand Cebuano, but I also think and write in two languages.

Take, for example, the title of her final poem in the Earth section: "Elemental." (Ochre Tones contains four sections: Earth, Water, Fire and Air.) It is translated in Cebuano as "Yuta-Tubig-Kalayo-Hangin"; there does not seem to be one word in Cebuano to describe the basic components that make up nature:

In English:
There is a season to this ripening,
the way sap of tree rises to fulfill
fruit of the topmost branch,
or the motion of jasmine
climbing trellises to show off
a single blossom at new moon tide. ...

Reason for this ripening.
You are goldened by my tongue.

In Cebuano:
Adunay panahon alang sa pagkahinog.
Sama sa pagtaob sa duga sa kahoy aron mopalumoy sa bunga
Sa kinatumyang sanga sa kahoy, o sama sa
Sampagita nga mosalingsing sa kinatas-an
Aron ipasundayag ang nag-inusara niyang bulak
Niining bag-ong bulan sa tingtaob. ...

Diya hinungdan kining pagkahinog.
Gibulawan ka sa akong dila.

In this collection, Evasco has told us stories simmering during the time between her Scotland residency and her return to Cebu -- and English alone and Cebuano alone was not sufficient. In Ochre Tones, Evasco nurtured stories fated to be told in two languages, stories fated for poetry. It was the only way to tell them in full.


Yvonne Hortillo is an editorial assistant for The Associated Press. She has never owned a business card in her life. She has crossed the Chicago River countless times, and is fated to cross it untold times more. She adores truth in all forms.


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