Tulikärpänen - filippiiniläisiä novelleja
Firefly - Filipino Short Stories
Riitta Vartti (ed.)
Published by Kääntöpiiri, Helsinki, Finland 2001

Riitta Vartti, riitta.vartti@kolumbus.fi, päivitetty 20.12.2012 updated.

by Riitta Vartti

"Are there writers in that country"? "What is the language they use"?

These are questions I have had to answer when telling people that I am translating short stories by Filipino women writers. To the first question I could answer: There are so many writers in the Philippines – and also women writers – that it has been difficult to choose only a couple of them for this first Finnish anthology of all times. To the second question I answer shortly: Mostly they write in English and in Filipino, language that is also known by names Tagalog and Pilipino. More about languages and literature I will tell in my article in the end of the book where there is also a glossary.

Stories and excerpts from novels for this anthology were chosen first, on gender basis and second, on cultural basis. We wanted to make known especially women's writings about women's life – despite the fact that even no Filipino men's writings have been published in Finland yet. Of course, it is a pity that not so many Finns could even mention the name of the Filipino national writer José Rizal. Perhaps this anthology will further inspire to read what men and women have written in that far away archipelago from where we maybe know only a few non-literary names: Armi Kuusela's millionaire husband Gil Hilario or dictator Ferdinand Marcos - or now after the events in Jolo, Robot, the guerilla leader, and the new woman president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Four Filipino women's names are possibly mentioned in literature most frequently: Gabriela Silang, Leonor Rivera, Imelda Marcos and Corazon Aquino. Unfortunately, no one of them is a writer. Gabriela Silang was a fighter leading troops against Spanish colonial rule during the 1700s. Although she was hanged and the colonial rule lasted for additional hundreds of years, she still infuses courage into the struggle against remnants of colonialism. Leonor Rivera, the beloved one of the national writer in the end of the 1800s, lives in Rizal's works as Maria Clara, the chaste image of Filipina, both idolized and criticized. Imelda Marcos, former beauty queen and dictator's wife, represents another, more power-seeking kind of woman. Corazon Aquino was the first woman president. People elected her to take power and replace the dictator in 1986. Gabriela, Leonor, Imelda and Corazon or Cory - everyone of them adds something to the image of the Filipina and their influence can be seen also in literature in one way or other.

All four of them have represented privileged elite from where also most of the professional authors still come. In a developing country writers are not supported with grants. However, our goal was to choose for this anthology short stories that would reflect as many generations, circles, classes, ways of thinking and life situations as possible. As it is, in the Philippines there is not only one uniform culture, even though the Manila elite has a strong hegemony.

During last hundred years, majority of the intellectuals have written in English. There exists less literature in native languages. To the translators of this anthology it was a relief, of course, because we know English better than the original languages of the country. However, the English speaking elite tends to tell stories only from its own narrow standpoint. As is well known, in the Philippines there is a very wide gap between the rich and the poor. It is as if the life in countryside and in slums had nothing in common with the life of the rich in their secluded world behind walls. Furthermore, Manila is its own world differing from the rest of the country even by the language. In addition to English, some texts were also translated from Tagalog for this anthology. We did not forget minority languages but left them to the next volume.

Common to all the chosen authors is a high level of education and being part of the elite. Nevertheless, the specter of the stories is wide in many ways. The writers represent different periods of history and different generations. They come from different parts of the Philippines and many of them even live outside the country. Majority of the stories are set in the surroundings of the rich, a milieu best known by the authors. But there are also stories from peasant world, small towns and slums. Both madams and maids are represented in these stories.

We were able to include stories from the first decades of the 1900s until date. In the background there are second world war and Japanese occupation, the Vietnam war and American bases, the social friction and new rise of nationalism during the 1960s and 1970s, dramatic fall of Marcos' dictatorship in EDSA revolution 1986, growth of sex tourism. We come also to the current time, the period of Ramos and Estrada when the Philippines is being tied closer to the globalizing world economy, and six million Filipino migrants earn currency to finance the change.

A woman's life from small girl to grandmother is lived in these stories. Angel, 10 years, is afraid of her cousin's aswang stories, and Marra, also her age, has problems with her brother. Enthusiasm of a girl of 16 over a coming debut ball turns into crying because of harassment in the street. Later come the first, often unhappy love stories. Father demands her daughter to marry - following a suitable pattern. In the life of an adult woman the important matters are husband, children, family, pregnancy, childbirth, death, rites, beliefs. Everything is influenced by the strong spirit of the Catholic church. Chastity is expected from a woman, abortion is forbidden. Instead, husbands have often lovers. The starting point is understanding women, but in some stories, the author has taken a man's viewpoint.

However, in addition to family, in the Philippines also work and social participation belong to women's life. In women's stories you can find both rallies, detention, torture and the daily grind of NGO work. Some like Therese sacrifice nearly all her life to it. Oftentimes, it is necessary to move abroad and make painful decisions because of job, livelihood and relationships. Women have stepped into the global labor and marriage market. Nina decides to move to the US with an American man, but Angie stays home. Emily works as a maid in Hong Kong. Luvee, instead, returns from Germany after many years. Eleanor with her friends learns to live in the other side of the globe, in Switzerland.

Welcome to the world of the Filipina described by herself!

In addition to our translation group I want to thank also the authors who participated in polishing the translations with tens of emails. Particularly I thank writer Marianne Villanueva and the Ateneo Library of Women's Writings (ALIWW) and its workers, Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz and Gemma Roces.

Riitta Vartti
Finnish-Philippine Society
The women's group PINAY


© Filippiinit-seura ry
PL 1278
00101 Helsinki