Reading and Such

The season’s (bilingual) book of joy for kids

'Bum Tiyaya Bum: Philippine Nursery Rhymes and Verses' can expose next generations to the likes of Juan Tamban as well as Humpty Dumpty

A must-have for every Filipino child


‘Book Haul’ by Cecil Robin Singalaoa, watercolor on cotton rag paper, 2020, 4×6 inches

Rene O. Villanueva, the late father of children’s books (a title I am belatedly bestowing on him), was correct when he said Filipino kids were, or are, more familiar with Mother Goose rhymes rather than our very own.

In his Bum Tiyaya Bum: Philippine Nursery Rhymes and Verses, further subtitled Best-loved Poems, Songs, Riddles, and Proverbs from a Filipino Childhood, a Tahanan book, I am transported to a time when the nuns of my youth enforced a strictly English-speaking, even thinking, rule.

Even at home where Tagalog was spoken, my grandmother used to scoop me on her generous lap and jiggle her knees while reciting, “This is the way a lady rides, a lady rides” (a gentle canter), building up to “This is the way a gentleman rides, a gentleman rides early in the morning” (a vigorous gallop).

I recalled sitting in the kitchen with my mother as she asked what I had learned in nursery school. She beamed and copied my gestures as I went through “One little two, little three, little Indians…” and “Where is thumbkin? Here I am!” Wow! I was so pleased at pleasing her!

In second grade, when Sister Scholastica turned up for our afternoon class, she’d try to wake us up from our post-lunch languor by asking us to sing a song. We would oblige with “Sing a song of sixpence a pocketful of rye / Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.”

Call it miseducation or colonial mentality, but it’s never too late to fix things. With the dual language (Filipino and English) Bum Tiyaya Bum, we can expose the next generations to the likes of, not only Humpty Dumpty or Jack and Jill, but the just as colorful Juan Tamban, Inday sa Balitaw, or Mariang Condede.

Sergio Bumatay III’s illustration for “Paruparong Bukid”

Call it miseducation or colonial mentality, but it’s never too late to fix things

Villanueva, who was head writer and creative director of the Philippine Children’s TV Foundation Inc. that produced the much-missed children’s show Batibot, explained “why many of us grew up thinking Mother Goose was the only source of nursery rhymes. We may have wondered why our very own Lola Basyang didn’t give us any rhymes…But that’s simply not true. From Batanes to Sulu, even before Magellan was born and Sabel was just a little girl, we already possessed a wealth of our very own nursery rhymes and children’s songs. It’s just that these were rarely archived or valued as they deserve, which explains why only a few of them have been carried forth onto the tongues and minds of succeeding generations.”

Take the title rhyme. Villanueva first took note of it when he overheard children singing it in the street outside the Sikatuna BLISS condominium. The “song” reads in full:

Sasara ang bulaklak
Bubuka ang bulaklak
Daraan ang Reyna
Pakembot-kembot pa!
Bum tiyaya bum tiyaya
Bum ye-ye!

Translated by Angela Narciso Torres, it goes:

Flowers will close,
flowers will bloom.
The Queen will pass
with pomp and sass.
Boom tiyaya boom
tiyaya boom. Hurray!

I’d recommend to mothers, grandmothers, or other care-givers of children to stick to the Filipino version and just give the translation if the child asks what the whole thing means. Iba ang dating ng Pinoy!

Whoever is reading aloud to the young child can carefully guide him or her through the coated pages to also admire the delicate watercolors of Sergio Bumatay III. They capture an innocent time, a whimsical era that is quickly gone the moment our “littles” enter adolescence.

Illustration for “Sampung Daliri”

A keeper of a book so appropriate for this season! Kudos to Villanueva who compiled the collection, and the publisher who took the risk of putting out the work, although initially uncertain if it was up to it. The project was a quarter of a century in the making. Now, dear reader, it’s time to rediscover the playfulness in the Filipino soul.

Copies of the book are available at Libreria Filipiniana, an online bookstore in Facebook, and Address is at Unit 402 Cityland 3 Building, 105 V.A. Rufino corner Esteban Streets, Makati City.

About author


She is a freelance journalist. The pandemic has turned her into a homebody.

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