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Resurrecting a Dying Art Form: The Tanaga


I am starting a website to answer the call of the Committee on Literary Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, poet friends (Roh, Kiko, Mark, Kris, Jojo and the Pinoypoets!), and like-minded Filipinos who wish to resurrect a dying art from back into the limelight.

It will be at http://tanaga.blogspot.com

The Tanaga is a type of short Filipino poem, consisting of four lines with seven syllables each with the same rhyme at the end of each line --- that is to say a 7-7-7-7 syllable form, with an AAAA rhyme pattern as in this example:

In the Old Tagalog original:

"Catitibay ca tolos
sacaling datnang agos!
aco’I momonting lomot
sa iyo,I popolopot."

In the Modern Tagalog syllabication:

Katitibay ka Tulos
Sakaling datnang agos!
Ako'y mumunting lumot
sa iyo'y pupulupot.

Translation (mine):

Oh be resilient you Stake
Should the waters be coming!
I shall cower as the moss
To you I shall be clinging.

The above Tanaga is attributed to Friars Juan de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlucar by Vim Nadera, and quoted them as saying “Poesia muy alta en tagalo, compuesta de siete silabas, y cuatro versos, llena de metafora.”

Originally a rhyme pattern of AAAA or AABB is used, but the modern tanaga is free to deviate from the rhyme, as in this tanaga by Alejandro Abadilla:

“Umawit si Villa
At ako’y umawit,
Nguni magkakontra
Ang sa aming tinig.”

A poetic form similar to the tanaga is the ambahan. The Ambahan's length though is indefinite, and follows the following form:

  1. A rhythmic poetic expression with a meter of seven syllable lines and having rhythmic end-syllables.
  2. It is most often presented as a chant without a determined musical pitch or accompaniment by musical instruments.
  3. Its purpose is to express in an allegorical way, liberally using poetic language, certain situations or certain characteristics referred to by the one reciting the poem.
- Mangyan.org
The tanaga however being more compact at seven-syllable quatrain makes it a more attractive and easy form to experiment with.

Poets test their skills at rhyme, meter and metaphor through the tanaga because not only is it rhymed and measured but also exacts skillful use of words to create a puzzle that demands some kind of an answer.

- Wikipedia.org

Tanaga contains lessons or teachings and practical philosophies used by the elders to give reminders for the youth. It has a structure composed of four verses and seven syllables in one stanza.

- GlobalPinoy.com


It was lyric poet Ildefonso Santos who was said to be the first to discover the virtue of tanaga as an epitome of the dictum “less is more” when he wrote the metamorphosis of rice in four lines:

Palay siyang matino,
Nang humangi’y yumuko,
Nguni’y muling tumayo:
Nagkabunga ng ginto!

In his Doktrinang Anakpawis (1979), poet/critic Virgilio Almario in a way tried the versatility of tanaga in his own brand of protest literature:

Isang pinggang sinangag,
Isang lantang tinapa,
Isang sarting salabat,
Isang buntunghininga.

- Vim Nadera
Since I write mostly in the English language, and quite sparingly in Filipino , I am advocating the use of the Tanaga in the English as well, and I am openning it to the world to use.

I encourage like-minded poets from all over the world, and not just Filipinos to use this form and spread it all over the world! Remember if it's 7-7-7-7, it's not haiku, it is Tanaga. ;-) If you use more than four lines at seven-syllables per line, it is called Ambahan.

If you are interested to submit a Tanaga in English or in the vernacular, do email me at jardinedavies@gmail.com so I can post it on the blog with full rights reverting to the author.

I invite even non-Filipinos to participate in this venture. If you care about modernity but doesn't wish it to impinge on the the cultural treasures of the past then let us build on the traditions of the past and merge it with the Future! Let us keep the Tanaga and Ambahan alive! If you want to help as a co-moderator of the Tanaga blog, do let me know so I can add you and

Help ressurect a dying artform!

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posted by Jdavies @ 3/03/2005,


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The Author


Jdavies lives in Quezon City, Philippines and has been blogging since 2002. A brand manager in a leading technology company and a freelance new media/web strategy consultant, he has refocused his blogging from personal, political & sociological observations, to marketing-related efforts and Internet trends that are relevant to his career and branding advocacies.

About This Blog

This blog is a depot of thoughts and observations on marketing trends which remain personally relevant to the Author as far as his marketing career is concerned. Having evolved from the personal blog of Jdavies, much of the earlier work contained herein are laced with personal speculation, political views, and similar advocacies. These posts are being kept for posterity's sake and for no other reason. No effort is being made to claim that the author will not contradict himself from his previous positions or that such advocacies are absolute.


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