It’s Lola Basyang’s Birthday!

Originally authored on February 11, 2019

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For many years, readers mistook the real Lola Basyang as an old woman full of ancient stories stuck in her antiquated baul, only to find out later she was a man. Lola Basyang became a generic name in Philippine society depicting an old grandmother telling stories to her grandchildren meant to teach moral lessons. It was in the pages of Liwayway Magazine, which he co-founded in 1922, where Severino Reyes’ Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang appeared and eventually became the most widely read prose feature of the magazine. Until today, the name Lola Basyang is still being used by different art forms, stage and, television shows.

On February 11, 1861, Severino Reyes, a noted playwright, writer, dramatist, and acclaimed as one of the giants of Tagalog and Filipino Literature in the early 20th century, was born in Sta. Cruz, Manila. A well-educated man who attended several institutions of higher learning, he completed Bachelor of Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas. Proficient in both Tagalog and Spanish with a fair knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and several Philippine dialects, Reyes could converse profoundly on religion, history, philosophy, literature, arts, and sciences.

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He married a childhood friend, Maria Paz Puato and blessed with 17 children. To get away from being enlisted into the Spanish Army to fight the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu, Reyes accepted a clerical job which he later quit and instead decided to put up a store at the corner of Calle Azcarraga to support his growing family. As the zarzuela was introduced in the Philippines in 19th century, it was later on adapted in the vernacular. Soon, zarzuela became known in the country as sarsuela.

In 1902, Severino Reyes, a prolific writer, foundedm and directed the Gran Compania de Zarzuela Tagala which became famous. He also made films and translated literary works into Spanish and Tagalog. The company traveled extensively bringing shows in neighboring towns and provinces. One of the most cited and memorable, he created was the zarzuela “Walang Sugat”. It was a drama set in Bulacan during the Philippine revolution which tackled the bravery and dedication of the Katipuneros during the later years of Spanish occupation. The countless zarzuelas he wrote and directed marked the beginning of the golden age of zarzuela in the Philippines.

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During the Japanese occupation, Reyes suffered from heart disease and died on September 15, 1942. It is important to note the cultural significance of Severino Reyes. His innumerable literary works are highly regarded not just within Filipino culture and history but also recognized and honored by other countries.

Today, having lost its appeal as a form of popular culture, we salute organizations that are exerting efforts to revitalize the zarzuela. It remains an integral part of our theatrical tradition and heritage. The zarzuela is an art that we must treasure because it is an expression of our Filipino ingenuity.

* – credits to the owner/s for the pictures

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