Czyka Tumaliuan - I Help Preserve Filipino Literature

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Oct 25, 2018
by Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu
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Czyka Tumaliuan - I Help Preserve Filipino Literature

Book bar owner discusses giving authors a voice and why she is helping to create a digital library WORD UP: In addition to her work as a writer, self-publisher, comics creator, poet, and archivist, Czyka Tumaliuan (center) is also working on the first VR-made art exhibit with Filipina artist Issay Rodriguez.

“There [are] a lot of things that I do in the Philippines...” says Cyzka Tumaliuan, before listing the different areas her work takes her. She is a writer, self-publisher, comics creator, experimental poet, archivist, and open-source advocate.  She is also the founder and lead organizer of an independent, experience-driven book fair in Manila, the Philippines, called Komura.

However, she is perhaps more well known as the owner of Kwago, a bookstore in Manila that sells books and magazines. More appropriately, she describes Kwago - the Filipino word for “owl” - as a “book bar.” Tumaliuan says, “It has fiction-inspired coffee and cocktails. It allows me to make people drunk and force them to read,” she jokes.
Tumaliuan was among 50 participants who convened at Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria, for the fifth program of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.

“For the digital natives right now, they are not interested in reading. [But I am going to] name this drink after a local writer, and I will tell you about this writer. It allows me to share [Filipino culture] through taste,” Tumaliuan says.

There is a “Hemingway” drink, inspired by the American writer Ernest Hemingway and the “Dark Hours” drink inspired by a book of the same name by Filipino writer Conchitina Cruz, whom Tumaliuan describes as a massive influence for her taking up experimental poetry.

In college, Tumaliuan says she was depressed and “didn’t know what to do” but Cruz’s works, written in her native Filipino language, saved her.

This unique business model keeps Kwago financially afloat. The shop deals in books considered commercially inviable or politically controversial by much larger outlets. Tumaliuan says, “In bigger bookstores, they can’t make money out of it, so they don’t support it, but for [Kwago], we support each other in the community, so it is a reader-based model.”

In a recent interview with CNN Philippines Life, Tumaliuan said, “I also read [the books] and actually, I am their first customer.” Kwago has attracted attention all over the world. In a profile piece by Rappler.com, Tumaliuan said the project was about human connections. She said, “The physical space allows you to connect, and that’s more important, khait hindi ka bumili ng book (even if you don’t buy a book).”

The books are mostly self-published by little known and experimental writers in the Philippines who without Kwago would have no opportunity to share their work with the wider populace.

Since opening in 2017, Kwago has transformed from a simple bookstore into a safe space for up and coming spoken word artists, musicians, and independent zine makers to display their craft in a welcoming atmosphere.

In recent times, however, Kwago is not the only thing occupying Tumaliuan’s already busy mind. She is involved in the arduous task of digitizing to preserve classic Filipino language literature. “Print is dying,” she says and “we have a lot of literature written in dialects in the Philippines.” Without scanning these books page after page with her friends, she fears some of these books and the languages they are written in will simply go out of existence.

“Kopya means copy in Filipino, and basically we are creating a digital library of Filipino literature by manually scanning them and putting it in a [computer program].” These books are inaccessible to a lot of people but with a small team Tumaliuan is scanning to preserve them for future generations and for free. She says, “I really believe that knowledge should be free...”


The Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators V is part of a ten-year multi-year series. This year's program is supported by the Albanian-American Development Foundation, American Express, Arts Council Malta, Arts Council Korea, Asia-Europe Foundation,  Bush Foundation, Cambodian Living Arts, Canada Council for the Arts, Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, Foundation Adelman pour l’Education, Fulbright Greece, Japan Foundation, Korea Foundation, the Llewellyn Thompson Memorial Fellowship, Robert Bosch Stiftung, The Kresge Foundation, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Nippon Foundation, World Culture Open, Adena and David Testa, and the U.S. Embassy Valetta, Malta. More information on the program can be found here. More information on the series can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by using the hashtag #SGSyci.