Monday, June 25, 2007

Stories We Were Told, Stories We Will Tell

The last major battle in Cagayan Valley, Philippines, against Spanish occupation was waged under the leadership of a woman, a babaylan (priestess) of the Itawes tribe, by the name of Ines Carinugan. A friend emails her story to me, apropos of what, I do not know. Ines was also a mandyadyawak (a healer who also conducts rituals and dances, as oppose to the herbolario, who uses concoctions from plants and animals). I wonder now whether a mandyadyawak was ipso facto a babaylan, though the reverse may not hold true. In any case, the Itawes tribe contemplated rebellion on the heels of an uprising led by Magalat in the lowlands. Magalat's mother had convinced him to forego Catholicism and return to tribal ways, making my friend suspect she was a babaylan as well. Magalat's rebellion was so fierce it required treachery to defeat it; he was assassinated by "friends."

Undeterred, Ines led the Itawes into battle. With Spanish troops augmented by local collaborators (which is how Filipinos are, to this time, defeated), Ines and her warriors were captured. She was hanged (likely as a witch, as Gabriela Silang would be, a hundred years later) and all who followed her, executed. To obliterate her memory and all of her teachings/sayings, the Spaniards concocted the story of the Virgin of Piat -- a small brown statue brought by the Dominicans from Mexico to the Philippines in 1604. The statue, they claimed, instantly converted the Itawes (but only after killings and torture). Via this narrative of “superior magic," they obliterated the memory and teachings of Ines, replacing it with what the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard would call a simulacrum of memory. There is a basilica in place now for the Virgin of Piat.

I had heard of the Virgin of Piat, of course, but knew nothing about Ines. How many constructs had I absorbed through the years and how many more do I still absorb, on a daily basis? When narratives are perverted for purposes beyond truth, or even against truth, how does one distinguish between a simulacrum of reality and reality itself? The eye, after all, doesn't see; the brain does -- and if the latter's processes are perverted, if an automatic mantra rises in the brain that says that one’s thoughts are not sanctified and hence in error, inferior to the infallibility of those who create matrices, even one of smoke and mirrors, what happens then?

If Man were the tool-making species, Woman -- I'd always thought -- must have been the narrative-creating species. The paintings in the Caves of Altamira were likely made by women, as part of the effort to understand and survive nature. The earliest named poet (as oppose to ubiquitous Anonymous) was Ehenduanna (ca. 2300 B.C.E.), high priestess of the moon goddess Innana in that now unfortunate place called Iraq. Narratives, at the dawn of human time, were meant to explain and codify the values/perspectives/practices that enabled humankind to survive. In the hands of women of pre-history, the narrative was both integral to and integrating of communal life, inclusive, not exclusive.

The narrative has become warped, of course, as most things female-invented have in the rise of sexual dominance and private property. The narrative began to serve other purposes. From the earliest slave society to the present, narrative construction evolved into the making of tales (and cultural products) cautionary of rebellion or of questioning the matrix. The Iliad, whose core is an echo of the struggle between women's rights and men's rights (really a vivid illustration of how slave society consolidated itself), teaches the futility of defying the gods, of trying to weave a life outside the construct. Weep and learn, you who read this, is Homer's message; Troy was destroyed because it accepted a woman's right to decide. But our modern construct is that Helen was "the face that launched a thousand ships" (reflective of what we think should be women’s prime quality) rather than Helen, the woman who chose, who defied an arranged marriage.

Now we have modern constructs, trying to create acceptance of even the most unjust acts and actions, like war and invasion. Jessica Lynch and Kevin Tillman bewail before the US Congress stories imposed upon them: the first, as a supposed "female Rambo;" the second, of the supposed heroic death of brother, Pat. Jessica explains she didn’t even fire her gun; and only doctors and nurses were at the hospital where the US military allegedly mounted a death-defying rescue mission. Kevin Tillman, whose brother was practically a military recruitment poster boy, agonizes over the discovery that Pat had actually been killed by "friendly fire," the whole incident covered up and a construct of bravery substituted. As he himself say, the narrative does not fit reality. The two try to delete these simulacra deliberately metastasized all over the world.

On the reverse side, Yoko Tojo in Japan is trying to change history's and popular judgment on her grandfather, Hideki Tojo, prime minister from 1941-1944, an architect of the carnage unleashed by that country upon its neighbors during WWII. He ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor and was hanged in 1948 by US occupying forces as a war criminal. Ms. Tojo offers a different narrative, with the claim that Japan went to war "in self-defense," since a US oil embargo threatened the country's survival. For the moment, she is a lonely voice, calling for Japan's re-arming, citing the Chinese threat. But who knows how far a "meme" could go, in its insidious assault upon consciousness? The grandfather of the current prime minister had also been a war criminal.

We think of the past as immutable but in the Philippines, some writers of children's textbooks are attempting to change the verdict on Ferdinand E. Marcos and his regime. They make the claim that his intentions were good, that his desire was for the nation's benefit, but he was just unsuccessful. Being a survivor of that unspeakable dictatorship, I suffer extreme angst, wondering whether, in due time, this simulacrum of memory will prevail, and all the dead, the tortured and the dispossessed will be, not just ignored or forgotten, but non-existent.

Hope comes from an unlikely source. Our building super, perched on a ladder in the backyard while fixing a window in my apartment, thrusts his head through the opening and in that delightful accent of a migrant from Trinidad, bawls out: "IS THAT WOMAN WITH THE SHOES STILL ALIVE?"

I had to laugh. Imelda's self-indulgence and lust for self-aggrandizement were just too loom-large; no construct wide enough nor thick enough could suffice to veil it. My super has just taught me that nowadays, one person's narrative is hardly ever solely about him/her; it inevitably encompasses his/her spouse, children, people close to him/her, friends and foes alike, their acts and actions impinging upon the main text of the story, providing unforeseen paths and channels by which reality can either deconstruct or reinforce legends of infallibility; or render myths -- well, less than interesting. It is a lesson both optimistic and cautionary.

In the shadow of the simulacrum that was the Virgin of Piat, the memory of Ines Carinugan was sheltered by a few who, under the lash of Spanish colonialism’s injustice and the arrogance and cruelty of its adjutants, the "black" friars, rejected the Dominicans’ “smoke-and-mirror” tale, choosing to honor Ines instead. Through 500 years, those who remembered dwindled to one, from whom an anthropologist got and wrote the narrative down in a book which itself was reduced by time to a single copy, which was fortuitously found and Ines became the name of a guerrilla squad operating in the area, both book and squad eventually lost in the turmoil of the post-Marcos era, but the story was remembered, jumping the ocean decades later, to this continent and, now, is sent to me who lives so far from the Valley. First, one mind held the narrative of Ines, then two; three now with me in the tally, and when you finish reading this...

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now that makes one more!

Anonymous said...

Ma'am:

this is really a perfect piece. add me to the tally.

Tita said...

And now five. I agree, that was perfect. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Now this is more like your old self, Madame: guru and prophetess. Our group has met monthly to discuss your postings and we couldn't make heads or tails of the last one. But this is simply a gem! What a great last sentence!

Mayumi Masaya said...

Historical negotiation and the creation of counter historical memories is a way by which one may validate previously 'othered' world views. Stories like Ines Carinugan's are all the more important now, as we realize that perhaps, everything we have studied and read and known to be true, is all a construct. All of which has to do with our lack of identity as Filipinos and the continuous search for it.

What do you reckon?

Ninotchka Rosca said...

I reckon you're right. But that search has been hampered by one constant among constructs: the view that women's class experience has no specificity and can be subsumed under "larger" categories; that women are part of history only as a sub-sector of this or that category, and that nothing they do outside of that category has significance. So our identity remains fractured forever because it is incomplete. What say you?

Mayumi Masaya said...

That is true. I have to admit tho, that I am not very well read in terms of specific women's issues. While I understand the necessity of a particular experience to be treated as such, I have no real issues with it being subsumed into the greater whole. Perhaps I need to be educated more in these terms (?)

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Simple examples: women workers are subject to two things men workers aren't: sexual harassment and doing such "household" work as making coffee, shopping for the boss, etc. Across the board, all over the world, these are two specifics of women's class experience -- but they are rarely factored into a discourse on the working class. We're very clear as to where class oppression stems from but unclear as to where this sense of entitlement (with regards to women's bodies and household work) on the part of bosses comes from. I think it's largely because women's history has been subsumed by and large, so we fail to see the connection between the material and historical bases of women's oppression. Hence, women's emancipation becomes a patchwork affair. I'm still studying this.

bananas said...

Hi Miss Ninotchka. Sorry this is so off-topic. We met recently in Davao for the event that u and the other women had with writers, activists, and journalists. Thanks for the signature and the photo-ops that you so generously granted us. wrote something about the encounter with u (wink...wink...)

Myla said...

Dear Ma'am,

I'm Myla Bantog from the Varsitarian, the 79-year-old official student publication of the University of Santo Tomas. We would like to request an interview with you regarding our article for the August issue about Filipino writers in diaspora. You can contact me at my email ad, myajj4ever@yahoo.com. Thank you very much and more power.

Myla

Ugnayan said...

Hindi ka nagiisa!!! We will stand for freedom!!! We stand for Ninotchka!!! FREE GABNET 3 !!!

Ugnayan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
KGano said...

thank you for this

aussenseiter said...

A voice of dissent...

The story on Ines Carinungan is one of injustice and oppression, I concede that fact. A great slight on our country’s dignity was committed by those Spanish. It is appalling to note the great cruelty which they were disposed of, and how it was ultimately collaborators of our own blood that proved their undoing.

But could they be truly blamed for what the Spanish did? In their point of view, they probably saw themselves as crusaders for Christ, spreading the word of the salvation of souls, and this woman stood in their way. In their point of view, Ines Carinungan was an evil temptress leading souls into the Devil’s gaping maw. In my view, this would have been a justified response on their part, because they probably didn’t know any better. They would not have known that a feminist writer would someday vilify their “valiant stand for Christianity” as another bloody chapter in an unending crusade of oppression of women. This is not to say that what they did was right, but instead to acknowledge that things like do happen in history and isn’t in any way confined to women only.

I seriously doubt there would be much of an issue had Ines Carinungan had been born with a Y chromosome. The violence would still have been there, but people wouldn’t be that outraged since she would have been a man. Where’s the justice-seeking in that? The oppression goes both ways.

marie said...

i enjoyed and was enlightened by this piece. Thank you Ninotchka. My thought is: gender divide was consciously undertaken by the Spanish colonizers. They had to do that, because, in the existing class divisions, there was the woman right on their segments, influential and respected and powerful. they had to recreate the notion of the woman as subordinate to the man, using the philosophy of the catholic bible, which they ram down the throats of men, the only ones they taught to read and write, while relegating the women to the churches and homes, uneducated of their alphabet. hence, the systematic silencing of the female species. i want to do further research on the babaylan, and how they were wonderful keepers of family and community before the spaniards imposed their power into the natives. thank you, ninotchka for making the story of women sharp and suave. let the story of the babaylan be heard millions times over.

Anonymous said...

Literary giant of a woman. Definitely a template for bloggers.