Back to Back Issues Page
Balitang Tagalog Bilang Pito
February 08, 2011

Insights on Filipino and Tagalog, Trivia on Language and Culture

(Think Tagalog)

Orosman and Zafira on Stage

Orosman at Zafira (Orosman and Zafira) is a three-act musical adaptation of Francisco Balagtas' (1788-1862) Komedya . The story is that of lovers caught up in the midst of a tribal war caused by greed and the lust for power. Balagtas' Komedya, Orosman at Zafira (1857-1860), written while the poet was in prison for subversion, follows Florante at Laura (1838), a tragedy considered to be his masterpiece.

To appreciate this modern musical, the audience has to overcome what seems to be a major stumbling block - the language. Watch for and prepare to listen to vintage Balagtas Tagalog. This was the lingua-franca during his time, and his original play was rendered in rhyming 12 syllable lines set in stanzas of four lines each. Now Dulaang UP has adapted and set this to music inspired by indigenous chants and melodies from Northern and Southern Philippines.

Story of a Flawed Alliance
The story is of three allied tribes: Marrueco, Tedenst, and Duquela, which later on fought each other because Tedenst wanted to rule the whole kingdom. This alliance is initially marred by the adulterous relationship of Aldervesin, the adopted son of Mahamud - Sultan of Marrueco - and the Sultan's wife Gulnara. This adulterous pact is a weak link that enables Tedenst to overthrow the reigning ruler. Boulasem, the Tedenst ruler, conspires with and uses Aldervesin to execute his murder plot. During a feast, he kills Mahamud and usurps the throne.

Zafira, Mahamud's daughter, meets the elder son of Boulasem, Abdalap, who woos her possessively. Zafira rejects him, but she falls in love, with the second son, Orosman, and they become lovers. The death of her father, Mahamud, grieves her much, and she asks help from Zelim, warrior from Duquela, so she can declare war against the Tedenst tribe. War ensues, compromising the relationship of Gulnara and Aldervesin. Zafira and her allies lose the war.

Crimes of Passion
The plot is further complicated by Abdalap's lust for Zafira. He covets her and wants to make her his wife. But Zafira refuses his advances and she rejects Abdalap's selfish, intense longings for her.

Meanwhile, Boulasem castigates Abdalap because of his disobedience. He tells his son to forget Zafira, but Abdalap is stubborn and continues to pursue his love for Zafira even if she has been condemned to die. He bribes her with freedom in exchange for her consent to become his queen, but Zafira will not yield to him. Boulasem discovers Abdalap's transgression and puts his son in prison. Abdalap agrees to marry Gulnara to escape his father's anger. Abdalap submits to Boulasem's desires, but Gulnara rejects him and insisted on her love for Aldervesin. Boulasem immediately issues the death sentence on Aldervesin.

Bloody Sequence
Zelim and Orosman frees Zafira and Aldervesin from captivity. A second war erupts, this time between the brothers Abdalap and Orosman. Zafira joins the war. Bloody fighting is danced on stage. As the music and dancing escalates to a heavy and engrossing crescendo, the audience begins to feel the violence. An ensemble of agile bodies wrap, cringe and extend on stage in sequential isolation movements, to the marching beat of instruments, deadly shouts of anger, and violent thrusts of energy that depict the resolve of warriors. All twisting and turning and jumping and running on stage successfully depict a bloody, costly, unnecessary war.

Abdalap turns bitter over his father's meddling and his complete lack of control over the situation. Since Abdalap finds Boulasem a major hindrance to his plans, Abdalap kills him. Then, he crowns himself Sultan. Now that he rules the whole kingdom, he catches Zafira again and violates her so she will agree to become his wife. This makes Zafira hate him even more. Zafira vows revenge.

Orosman finds Boulasem lifeless and he hunts Abdalap. Lovely dance of chaos on stage builds up and portrays how bitterness and rejection have completely poisoned Abdalap's head and heart. He kills everyone who fought him in the war. The people sing a refrain of prayer for God to intervene and stop the bloodshed. Abdalap won't let go, but Zafira won't let herself be tied up to him. Gulnara and Zafira plan an escape and execute their plan on the day of the wedding itself.

Final confrontations
Aldervesin, Zelim of Duquela, Zafira, Gulnara and Orosman lead their people in a final battle against Abdalap. A batalla march signals another decisive act of mass annihilation. War takes its tremendous toll on everyone. In the end, exhaustion and diminished forces figure in several heights of blocked tableaus of the ensemble cast falling one on top of each other. Abdalap capitulates. Zafira and Orosman wins the war, but the ghosts of those who fought for Zafira so she can have her revenge and get back her peace, dignity, and self-respect intrude her memories. They cross her mind like captives marching toward their execution. Their dimmed silhouettes complete the picture of utter destruction.

Zafira can't escape the feeling of blood on her hands. She chants a dirge of defeat, a haunting melody. The narrator is desolate and sings about misfortune, a deeply divided land, and the loss of a loved one.

(Speak Tagalog)

Tagalog Through the Years
In Orosman and Zafira, the timeless theme of passionate love and greed is sung on stage in antiquated Tagalog. Nobody speaks Balagtas Tagalog anymore. Hardly any of the Tagalog vocabulary used in this musical play is understandable to the young. Internet culture and pop and MTV influences have completely altered our tongues.

Yet, modernizing this Komedya's language to make it appeal to the present generation will violate the poetic narrative. While the play is a celebration of the alternative music created for the here and now, it is also a celebration of the poet himself, his mastery of the language and his aural excellence. Balagtas is a pillar of the Tagalog language, and it is only proper to celebrate his works to heighten appreciation of how Tagalog has evolved through the years. Dulaang UP's experimental adaptation tried to stay as close as possible to the original text using the theme of lust for love and power as narrative thread.

The Ethnic Beat
The audience need not strain their ears to understand the narrative. Listening to the music and watching the actors in their excellent best keep interest at high point. Although the twists and turns of the story is as common as the plot structures of recent soap operas and fantaseryes , what makes Dulaang UP's Orosman and Zafira unique is the music, how it perfectly fits the language and makes it accessible.

Music by Carol Bello is neo-ethnic, "accompanied by traditional ethnic instruments of the Northern Philippine and Southern Philippine communities, e.e, djembe, tongatong, gangsa, and kubing." The rhythm, uniquely blended and sang in a variety of voices, sound emphatically tribal and edgy.

Direction and choreography by Dexter Santos leads the audience to experience the drama intensified by an illusion of moonlight versus the steadfastness of decay. The beat on stage becomes contiguous with the audience's heartbeat, pounding and bridging the gap between apathy and compassion.

Lust and Love
One may find it difficult to understand the lyrics of the songs in this musical which are Tagalog to the core, but this hardly matters. What really matters is how Balagtas' Komedya successfully dramatizes his comment on the issues of his time. Interestingly, the play has not lost its punch. People's hearts have not changed that much even with the proliferation of self-help books and religious literature. Many men and women are still greedy, many are still lusting for power, many are still getting into dangerous liaisons to fill their yearnings.

Selfish love and lust for power will always result in war and injustice. Orosman and Zafira could be an analogy of how the country's people groups compromised themselves in sketchy alliances, thus losing the game in the end. Relationships whose parties pursue their vested interest within a patronage culture will untangle violently if these interests are not met. Today, those who hold the reins of power need to check if their motives and actions are closer to those of greedy Boulasem's, if their passion, like that of Abdalap's, is simply towards fulfilling their self-ambitions and feeding their lusts, or if their call for a revolution, as Orosman's and Zafira's, are masked personal vendettas, rather than real advocacies for the sake of the greater number of people they have vowed to serve.

Watch Orosman and Zafira on February 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 at 8:00 PM; February 5, 12, 19 at 10:00AM; February 5, 12, 19, 26 at 3:00 PM at Centerstage Theater, SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City, Manila, Philippines.

(Filipino Files)

As in other cultures, our unique traits as a people are exemplified in our idiomatic speech and everyday language.The vernacular shows how past and present influences have molded our tongues and fueled the dynamics of our day to day relations.


    As we process words and language, linguistic problems occur and it is not always easy to decide on solutions. But fortunately, there are a number of sources we find extremely helpful and from these sources, we have culled some principles which helped us answer our questions. Meanwhile, we would like to share some of the lessons we learned through the articles below.

    Clearly, a tested guide to a faithful and accurate translation is a sensitivity to the nuances of the language. If the linguists know the technical rationale for their choices, they can defend their choices objectively. But love and passion for the language will also drive the linguists toward the best sources for applied linguistics.

    "Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika, higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda." Jose Rizal

    Till Next Wordhouse Update


    Enter Your E-mail Address
    Enter Your First Name (optional)

    Don't worry -- your e-mail address is totally secure.
    I promise to use it only to send you Tagalog at Wordhouse.
Back to Back Issues Page