IN the process of compiling dictionaries, confession manuals and codes of etiquette in the Philippines, Spanish Catholic colonial missionaries in the 17th century had to mention the aspects of indigenous sexuality they found distasteful and the sex actions they wanted to suppress. Their works, as the Filipino cultural historian Resil Mojares has remarked, point to the existence of a rich, highly developed native vocabulary relating to the body and its sensuality, a “body dialect” that the “missionaries found disquieting and threatening, suspicious of what libidinal devilish impulses may lie within.” The natives, they believed, had a “surplus of physical expressiveness”. By attaching condemnation to the meanings of words to do with sex, the religious translators asserted both their own superiority as moral arbiters and the broader civilizing claims of Hispanic colonial authority.
Centuries later, the same stigmatizing process can be seen in the work of Filipino intellectuals, but this time it had a patriotic motive. Pedro Serrano Laktaw was the son of Rosalio Serrano, a Spanish mestizo who, in 1872, compiled a popular Spanish-Tagalog dictionary for use in schools. Pedro was born in 1853 and, like his father, compiled dictionaries. He first became a primary school teacher, married and fathered a large family before departing for Spain in about 1888 to study for the Normal Superior teaching qualification in Salamanca. He became the foremost Tagalog grammarian and lexicographer of the day.
The first part of the work that made his name, the Diccionario hispano-tagalog, was published in Manila in 1889. Highly praised by Filipino intellectuals such as Jose Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar, the dictionary gained him international recognition. He was later able to secure for himself the position of tutor to the young Prince of Asturias, the future King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Together with Rizal and Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, Serrano Laktaw was the first to employ the new Tagalog orthography (‘ka,’ ‘wa’ etc.) in a published work. But his dictionaries bore evidence of his censoring omissions and censorious definitions, especially with regard to Tagalog terms related to sex.
In his Diccionario hispano-tagalog, Serrano Laktaw included some words referring to the male genitalia like titi (penis) and bayag (testicles). However, he systematically excluded from his Diccionario certain words in the Tagalog vernacular relating to the female genitalia and those that referred to intercourse. Not included were common words for the vagina such as pocqui and poclo; for the clitoris as tilin and tinggil; and for the sexual act, hindot. Putting these words into a dictionary, he presumably felt, would have been grossly indecorous.
Serrano Laktaw used his father’s work as a basis for his own Diccionario and he clearly wanted to use the power of translation in order to propagate good morals. This desire was not driven by prudishness alone. Serrano Laktaw wanted to demonstrate that Filipinos possessed a high morality and civilization that entitled them to their place in the modern world. Filipino claims to equality as Spanish citizens, he believed, would be bolstered not only by a mastery of the language of the colonizer, but also by matching the public morality that Spaniards liked to profess. In writing the prologue to the Diccionario, Serrano Laktaw’s friend Marcelo H. del Pilar welcomed the work explicitly as part of the wider “civilizing mission.”
This motivation is also apparent in the second volume of Serrano Laktaw’s Diccionario, which gave his Spanish equivalents for Tagalog words. Here too, his renditions go beyond any impersonal and objective definition of meaning. His unusually long entry to libog, the Tagalog word for sexual desire, strikingly illustrates his proselytizing ambition:
Libog; kalibugan. Lujuria; concupiscencia; lascivia; liviandad; sensualidad; carnalidad; crápula; torpeza; deshonestidad; impudencia [sic]; impureza; obscenidad.f. malicia; impúdica. Nakahihikayat sa kalibugan. Voluptuoso, sa; sensual; lasciva, va. Adj.- Malibog Lujurioso, sa. Sensual; carnal; crapuloso, sa. Deshonesto, ta impudente; impudico, ca; impuro, ra; obsceno, na; voluptuoso, sa; liviano, na; lascivo,va; libidinoso, sa; adj. braguetero, m. Nauukol sa kalibugan. Carnal; lascivo, va; pornográfico, ca. Adj. Sinon.de iyag.
Kalibugan might be translated in English as sexual lustfulness; malibog as sensuality, and tacked on at the end is the synonym iyag, or lustful desire. Examples of how kalibugan might be used in a sentence are provided by the phrase nakahihikayat sa kalibugan, which may be loosely translated in English as “seduced by sexual lustfulness,” and nauukol sa kalibugan as “drawn to sexual lustfulness”. With these derivations and usages, Serrano Laktaw points to the fertile possibilities of the Tagalog root and to the rich indigenous vocabulary of physical expressiveness recorded by the early Spanish missionaries and explorers. Libog, we learn, is a root word whose vernacular arms sinuously twist to incorporate the myriad physical states of sexually yielding sensuality. Libog is desire, lustful, earthy and physical. Libog is seductive and enticing; an irresistible succumbing.
In the vocabulary of Tagalog sexual life, libog was then as now a common and straightforward word used to denote sexual desire and lust. Recognizing the power of this word, its importance in the erotic vocabulary, and its popularity, Serrano Laktaw defined libog using Spanish words that described the sins of the flesh, associating the word inextricably with moral filth and decadence. He offered a battery of European words, that had negative, not neutral, connotations. He submerged libog deep in the Spanish lexicon of sinful lustfulness—carnality, shamefulness, lasciviousness, indecency, and dissipation. From his ilustrado, propagandista perspective, a translator who like Rizal wanted to prove the morality and civilization of his countrymen, the most common word in the Tagalog lexicon of physical desire, libog, conveyed feelings that were not just impure but obscene, pornographic and downright wicked.