Eroticism and Womanhood: Leona Florentino’s Poems in 19th Century Philippines
This article was published in OnlyFacts on April 15, 2021.
Let’s take a break from the Southeast Asian travelling to get into some Filipino poetry, uwu!
Leona Florentino, the Ilocana poetess, is remembered in admiration as one of the most outspoken Filipina writers of the nineteenth century. She is invoked by many scholars as a cradle to the polymath Isabelo de los Reyes and matriarch to Filipino Literature.
She might boast on the ordinary public life of Ilocanos one day, her humble yet chasmic sorrows of womanhood the next. The second, even more difficult to comprehend than the first, sheds light on Leona’s literary talent to enigmatically convey meaning as a reflection of her private life.
Sarah Blanton (2016) asserts that Leona’s use of flowers in her 1882 poem Lenguaje de las flores alludes to the characteristics women possess. For this, a woman named Castora is compared to a jasmine flower who has since wilted beyond her prime. In need of nothing short of drinking water, she re-enters the frame invigorated with life, happy, and content even as she does not fall in the conventional expectations of childbearing and marrying early.
In another mood, Blanton identifies Leona’s satirical agents of “personal enjoyment” for Castora who is all but an old maiden. The verses:
“Procura divertir tu ánimo / especialmente cuando se hacen cariñitos / la vieja D. y M., / que son como tigui de comezón,”
[“Try to amuse your spirits / especially when you make love / old Monsieur and Madame, / who are itching for [each other] like the caterpillar,”]
However unable to attain a twosome, Leona’s taunts Castora with the tigui (itch worm; or in Tagalog, higad) and makes one fully aware of a wanting of a personal, and sensual gratification — intercourse or masturbation. The tigui can also be likened to the shape of a woman’s clitoris.
This erotic scenery, that only otherwise in the time of Leona, was considered immoral and taboo. Nowhere else does Leona reveal these except in the sensation of itching which can be comparable to the Tagalog concept of kati. A woman’s carnal needs, the tigui, the merit to a prized virginity — her moods, her fondness for her own sexual awareness, spells out her desirability in a masculine society. Leona ends the poem with passionate vanity as she returns to her modest place as a woman.
Foronda, M.A. (1976). Kutibeng: Philippine Poetry in Iloko, 1621–1971. Manila: De La Salle University, pp. 33–34; 49.
Blanton, S. (2016). A Threshold of Flowers: Public and Private Eroticism in the Poems of Leona Florentino (Master’s Thesis). University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, pp. 6; 12–14.