Piux Kabahar’s Literary Language in Theater and Song (1920s-1930s)

This paper (for virtual presentation in the 2021 International Mother Language Conference hosted by UP Diliman) is about Cebuano language, my mother tongue, and its organic artistic development within the affordances of live theater and recording technology. I speak particularly about Piux A Kabahar’s unparalleled contribution to a local creative industry, having founded Cebu’s first music recording and film companies in 1939. Piux Kabahar–playright, comedian actor, poet, musician, later turned bureaucrat and radio personality–was the son of Justo, the church organist of San Nicolas District who joined the Katipunan’s Leon Kilat’s revolution against Spain during the last years of the 19th century. Deeply committed to the plight of the poor, Piux Kabahar, just as his father was active in vernacular musical play, saw the potential of literary publishing, theater performance, and song as a vehicle for imaginative social critiques and, in the process, developed the capacities of mother tongue to indicate and express local sense and sensibility. He wrote works in vernacular poetry and music theater that were quintessentially artistic even if their messages were overtly political and underwritten by an economic context. 

This paper analyzes his 1929 sarsuyla “Rosas Pangdan,” which is about the transformation of the traditional song-debate danced balitao in the then urbanizing Cebu and his 1930s song “Wasay-wasay,” which is perhaps the most beautiful Cebuano song ever written. The former inspired Minggoy Lopez to write his bucolic folk-like song “Rosas Pangdan,” the latter Ben Zubiri’s feelingful radio song “Matud Nila.” Attention to poetic languages set to music such as Kabahar’s music pushes one to appreciate the use of mother tongue into the realm of the literary where art and morality meet. Such effort also makes language alive through the users’ creative faculty by continuously reliving its memory for the future. This memory, however, would fail in the ensuing decades as crass commercialism denuded the imagination of the local creative industry practitioners.

The video presentation will be uploaded after the conference.