How the oldest printing press in Naga keeps the faith and language alive in Bikol

Naga, Camarines Sur (CNN Philippines Life) РAfter three consecutive miscarriages, my parents decided to pray novenas to San Ramon Nonato, one of the famous saints invoked by childless couples, and to Nuestra Se̱ora de Salvacion, a popular Marian image revered in Tiwi, Albay. As a combo, the Tattered / Taped Novenas were passed down from one family to subsequent supplicants. For nine days my father Kapampangan had to prepare the altar and entertain the most requested parapanganams or prayer leaders in the barangay, Nana Taqui, Nana Bitang and my maternal grandmother, Nana Edad. The three women told the unsuspecting couple that in order for their novena prayers to be effective, they must make a vow that if the child is a boy, they should take him to seminary and help him become a Catholic priest.

Three months after the novena, their prayers were answered and I received Kristian’s name to mark the fulfillment of this contract. In 1999, I entered the seminary, and before I was finally handed over to the rector, they ceremoniously handed me the two novenas, and jokingly, I told them that I wouldn’t need these booklets because if I became a priest, I would have to remain celibate for the rest of my life. My mother insisted that I always keep them the same so that I always remember that without these printed prayers, I would never be born.

This is, I believe, the beginning of my love affair with this little publishing press that can be found in any house in Sabang, in the town of Naga. Since 1946, Cecilio Press has continued to print and distribute devotional materials that celebrate the power of the local language of bikol, my native language.

The novenas produced by Cecilio Press served as my first reading. After mass, if his budget allows it, my father will buy me a novena to a saint. I would easily learn and memorize the life stories and miracles attributed to these particular saints and of course the effectiveness of the prayers addressed to them when needed. For snakes and other wild animals, San Benito; for dog attacks, San Roque or / and Santo Domingo; for stomach ailments, Santa Teresa de Avila; for toothache, Santa Apolonia; and for the lost things, San Antonio, to infinity. From the novenas that I collected, I particularly remember the Letania Nin Sarong Ina Na Nagadan nin Aking Sadang (Litany of a mother who has lost a child), which my grandmother asked me to pray every Friday. with her so that we continue to remember the three children. my mother lost before I was born. The Letania contains a long poem, a greeting from the unborn child to the mother and the mother’s response to let the child go. Many times I have seen my grandmother cry at the power of words printed on these fragile papers.

As I prayed to Letania, I felt indebted to those brothers and sisters whom I never had the chance to know. I remember visiting and lighting a candle in a Catholic cemetery in Pampanga, where my supposed older brother was buried, who is called Pedro, and the other is Juan, who was buried in our barangay chapel. And then the third would have been devoured by an aswang.

I was about to enter primary school, when we started to pray a novena for my mother, this time we invoked San Rafael, the patron saint of travelers. My mother was destined for Qatar to become a domestic helper, a katabang in a Muslim family in the Middle East.

Among the writers of Cecilio Press, Rosalio Imperial Sr., is the most prolific and the most important. He has translated several classics of Western literature, including “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” by José Rizal and the Tagalog “Ibong Adarna” to verses by Bikol.

All my childhood since the day my mother conceived me and left us abroad, I have depended on these little intercession booklets that Cecilio Press has tirelessly edited. In my book, this printing press founded by Gaudencio Cecilio, is the glorious reminder of a post-war era, this Bikol, which is the language and the people born of typhoons and volcanic eruptions, scattered by thick mountains and the high seas, whose histories and cultures remain unknown and unappreciated by many of us now, remain steadfast, standing humbly on their ground because we have cultural institutions like Cecilio Press.

Recently, volumes of unpublished manuscripts, copies of novenas, prognosticos, (dream guides) abecedario and diccionario (linguistic resource materials), caton and perdon, including the first typography of Cecilio Press have been donated to Ateneo University. de Naga through its Institute of History and Culture of Bikol and the Fr. James O’Brien Library. During this time when access to everything is limited, I still try to frequent the library and spend hours marveling at the cover illustrations, reading and encoding the handwritten manuscripts from the ex-Antonio and Manuel seminars. Salazar who wrote most of Bikol’s novenas, including those in my special personal collection. The library has some copies of the Kalendaryong Bikol which served as an almanac until the 1970s. A Bikol-Spanish-English dictionary written by Luis Dato, one of the first English poets and at the same time Bikolista.

Among the writers of Cecilio Press, Rosalio Imperial Sr., is the most prolific and the most important. He has translated several classics of Western literature, including “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, “Madame Bovary” by Gustav Flaubert, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” by José Rizal and the Tagalog ” Ibong Adarna ”to the verses of Bikol. A former mayor of the city of Naga, Sali Imperial (his pen name) can be considered the Lola Basyang of our Bikol, translating many European romantic tales into the common language. Imperial also wrote several poems about love, told biblical, apocryphal, and fairy tales, including his account of Comet Kahoutek which appeared in 1973.

In these many collections accessible today to scholars and historians of literature, we can marvel that over the years, the very few agencies that promote and ensure the life of the Bikol language are not really someone. of the colonized educational system that we have. or local communities suffering from cultural malnutrition. But Bikol writers like the Salazar, Dato and Imp̩rial, and this small printing press which, to this day, continues to print and distribute its classics and bestsellers, the novenas of Bikol written in recycled paper obviously without flourishes, but in a language that for me is continually animated by his humble vision of eternity. Read and performed in wonderful cathedrals and makeshift chapels as fervent prayers of the people asking for rains, or a bountiful harvest, or protection from this deadly virus, or the dreaded drought, or for someone to pass the council exams, or may Heaven grant their wish for a child or a safe and peaceful passage to the future life Рwe see where every language is anchored and directed Рto look forward to. Therefore, the language, whether global or indigenous, national or local, should not only be commemorated or celebrated every August like this annual Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa. In my case, I continue to struggle with Bikol, in this language of my birth, I continue to imagine and evoke rawitdawit and usipon and scenarios which I hope will shed some light on some understanding of the complexities of to be Bikol.

In that language of my birth, I carefully read the words that came before me, set as prayers imprinted in the tattered novenas of Cecilio Press, sacred words that were once in the languages ​​of my father and mother. .

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