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Friday, March 26, 2010

Leading Filipino Women: Leona Florentino

Leona Florentino
The Great Ilocana Poetess
(1849 – 1884)

       Leona Florentino was a great Filipino poetess. Her writings were known and praised not only in the Philipines but also in Europe.

Leona’s Parents
       In Vigan, Ilocos, Sur stands a simple statue. This statue was built in honor of the great Ilocano poetess, Leona Florentino.
Leona was born on April 19, 1849 in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Her father, Don Marcelino Florentino, was the richest man in the Ilocos province in those days. Her mother, Isabel, also came from a wealthy family. Leona and Jose Rizal were distant cousins. Rizal’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Felix Florentino, was a cousin of Leona’s father.
       Leona had many brothers and sisters. They were all brought up in a strict manner by their mother. She punished them by whipping when it was necessary. She did not believe in letting her children grow up doing nothing. She taught them to work and often told them that work was good for children.

Leona’s Education
       Leona was a very bright girl. Her mother taught her to read. Leona wrote her first poem before she was ten.
Leona, however, was not allowed to study in higher schools although her parents were rich. In those days it was not necessary for girls to be highly educated. So Leona did not go to college.
       But Leona studied by herself. She learned to speak English from Father Evaristo Abaya, the parish priest of Vigan. Father Abaya encouraged her to go on writing poems.

Leona’s Poems
This is one of her poems written in her native dialect, Ilocano:


Essem quen yamanco
Diac mayebcas
No addaca laeng a sicacoes
ti salum-at
Naipangena itoy aldao a
ingret gasat
a pannag casangay mo
cas umis-urayco a

        The poem was written for Emilia, one of Leona’s friends, on her birthday. It expressed Leona’s good wishes. In English, it says: “I cannot describe my joy and thankfulness in finding you in good health, especially on this day, your birthday. I have been waiting for it for a long time.”
        Leona Florentino wrote not only poems but also plays. Her works were admired not only in the Philippines but also in Europe.
Some of her poems were shown at an International Exposition in 1887. A big library in Paris contains some of her works. But most of her poems were lost during the Revolution. Only a few of them have been saved.
       This great poetess wrote on many subjects. She wrote about love, good conduct, and religion.
       She wrote about the people around her whom she loved. Leona’s poems and plays described the life of the people in the Ilocos provinces. She praised what was good. She criticized what was bad.
      Among her great poems are To A Young Woman On Her Birthday, Castora Benigna, and Leon XIII.
      According to Eulogio B. Rodriguez, a former Director of the Bureau of Public Libraries, Leona Florentino was the greatest Filipino poetess of her time. She died on October 4, 1884.

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