Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Most Moral

I DON'T KNOW HOW FORMER editor of The Brooklyn Eagle Charles Montgomery Skinner came to his conclusion about Mangyan morality in Myths And Legends Of Our New Possessions And Protectorate (1900), maybe from reading Dean Worcester, but I'll take it. The earliest book on Philippine mythology in English I've encountered so far.



Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Weeding Casualties

MAYBE THE UNIVERSITY of Winnipeg (then United College) should have held on to this first edition of Manuel Arguilla's How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories (1940), if only its library weeder foresaw the close to 80K Pinoys that would later call its city home. Weeding a collection is a tricky task dictated by a number of factors, poor circulation and plain ignorance among them, and unfortunately the book had no library due date card when it arrived to give me an idea of its circulation history. Mabel Cook Cole's Philippine Folk Tales (1916) from the USC library had the same fate, but maybe books such as these are better off safeguarded in a private library.






Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Flash Friday

I INSTANTLY ADMIRED the work of Kristine Ong Muslim, a Filipina writer based in Maguindanao, Philippines, after reading this short piece a while back in Tin House Online, proof that world-class writing in English can be done by Pinoys who choose not to leave the home country.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Golden Bough Revisited

Contempt and ridicule or abhorrence and denunciation are too often the only recognition vouchsafed to the savage and his ways. Yet of the benefactors whom we are bound thankfully to commemorate, many, perhaps most, were savages. For when all is said and done our resemblances to the savage are still far more numerous than our differences from him; and what we have in common with him, and deliberately retain as true and useful, we owe to our savage forefathers who slowly acquired by experience and transmitted to us by inheritance those seemingly fundamental ideas which we are apt to regard as original and intuitive.--"Our Debt to the Savage"  

The Sibyl Deiphobe with a golden bough in J.M.W. Turner's 1834 painting











Pangutkutan, the Mangyan ritual of exhuming the bones of the dead

IF THE RESEARCH DONE BY Douglas Pennoyer (1977), Thomas Gibson (1986) and Masaru Miyamoto (1988) on Mangyan ritual and religion were published in the early 20th century (although Fletcher Gardner and H. Otley Beyer might have had some by then), they would have made for rock-solid material for Sir James George Frazer's 12-volume book The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1906-1915), an influential work on comparative anthropology and mythology. A required reading (then in Collier paperback) in a graduate seminar I took decades ago, it was a book I don't remember having written a paragraph about, much less paid attention to its criticism, but when I found a copy of the first single-volume, abridged edition of the book (1922), my fascination was rekindled. The book got its title from an episode in the Aeneid, where the Sibyl Deiphobe (then more than 700 years old) tells Aeneas he can only enter Hades to meet the ghost of his father if he offers Proserpine a golden bough from a sacred tree in an adjacent forest, which he finds and presents to Charon, the ferryman, to gain entry to the underworld. The incident was depicted in a trademark 1834 art work by English Romantic painter Joseph Mallord Wiliiam Turner. In a nutshell, the thesis (or theme) of The Golden Bough is that human intellect evolved from a superstitious belief in magicians to a religious belief in priests and gods to enlightened belief in scientists, a proposition that many critics found hard to accept.

Although there are graphic (maybe questionable) accounts of Bagobos, Apayaos and Ifugaos drinking the blood and eating the entrails and brains of their slain enemies to gain courage, and rituals of other Filipinos included in the book--Tagalogs, Tagbanuas, Igorots, Tinguians (who avoided naming the dead), Negritos, Zambals, Italones (unfamiliar to this writer, who I learned are from Nueva Vizcaya), and Agutaynos (another unfamiliar one from Palawan), there are none of Mangyans, which may be fortunate because pundits of the time (thanks to Wiki) found fault with the methods Frazer used to collect his materials; he never spoke directly to people of the cultures he wrote about but relied instead on other researchers' findings and on questionnaires he gave to people traveling to other lands, and many elements of his text were later debunked. "Frazer is much more savage than most of his savages" wrote Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, "since his explanations of their observances are much cruder than the sense of the observances themselves."  British anthropologist Godfrey Lienhardt wrote that the book "had little or no relevance to the conduct of life in an Andamanese camp or a Melanesian village, and the whole, supposedly scientific, basis of Frazer's anthropology was seen as a misapplication of Darwin's theory of biological evolution to human history and psychology," noting that even during Frazer's lifetime, social anthropologists "had for the most part distanced themselves from his theories and opinions", and that the lasting influence of The Golden Bough "has been in the literary rather than the academic world." Social anthropologist Edmund Leach was even more scathing: "Frazer used his ethnographic evidence, which he culled from here, there and everywhere, to illustrate propositions which he had arrived at in advance by a priori reasoning, but, to a degree which is often quite startling, whenever the evidence did not fit he simply altered the evidence!"

The list of literary figures The Golden Bough had its impact on is indeed long: T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, Robert Graves, H.P. Lovecraft, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, and so on. Make a separate list of non-writers like mythologist Jessie L. Weston, psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Ron Howard of The Da Vinci Code.  Fanciful and contrived or illuminating and prophetic, the book has a leave-it-or-take-it thesis, and I am inclined to take the latter position. I also believe that human thought progresses by accretion, that elements of savage ritual and magic and religion persist in modern human scientific thought, as man continues to make sense of and survive the challenges presented by the world around him. Maybe that's why we see evidence of voodoo being practiced in New York City, or simply enjoy a bloody steak sizzling on the barbecue after a stressful day. (In Mindoro we have this ritual of tossing the first shot of gin bulag, or Ginebra San Miguel, to the bushes for the dead, and I swear one will keep drinking the contents of that anointed bottle until it is empty.) In the last chapter of the book entitled "Farewell to Nemi", Frazer proposes that while science is the sturdiest form of thought, it is possible that another future system of thought may replace or improve it, and he doubts the ability of science to protect the human race in moments of apocalypse such as when the sun expires. This brings us these questions: if science is not the ultimate stage in the evolution of human thought, what is it and what will it be like? Can the next stage in the development of human thought, after science, save us from the death of our solar system and bring us to another blue planet? Did Stephen Hawking have anything to say about this?

Yet the history of thought should warn us against concluding that because the scientific theory of the world is the best that has yet been formulated, it is necessarily complete and final. We must remember that at bottom the generalisations of science or, in common parlance, the laws of nature are merely hypotheses devised to explain that ever shifting phantasmagoria of thought which we dignify with the high sounding names of the world and the universe. In the last analysis magic, religion, and science are nothing but theories of thought: and as science has supplanted its predecessors, so it may hereafter be itself superseded by some more perfect hypothesis, perhaps by some totally different way of looking at the phenomena—of registering the shadows on the screen—of which we in this generation can form no idea. Brighter stars will rise on some voyager of the future—some great Ulysses of the realms of thought—than shine on us. The dreams of magic may one day be the waking realities of science. But a dark shadow lies athwart the far end of this prospect. In the ages to come man may be able to predict, perhaps even to control, the wayward courses of the winds and clouds, but hardly will his puny hands have strength to speed afresh our slackening planet in its orbit or rekindle the dying fire of the sun.--"Farewell to Nemi"


Goat head in Brooklyn's Prospect Park: voodoo in the city? (Marc Lallanilla)

Kurtz' jungle readings in Apocalypse Now


Kepler 186f: after science, what stage in the development of human intellect can bring us there?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Of Ferals And Fetishes

WHILE I'M ON THE SUBJECT of American imperial Gothic (and not-so-Gothic) fiction about the Philippines, I am posting several more stories that I have come upon in this foray. The first is "Mivins" (1902), the only short story on this subject as far as I know that is not available on public domain, by our mysterious writer Sargent Kayme which appeared in Metropolitan Magazine, a copy of which I found on Biblio. Here the barong reminds us of the awesome blade that hacked the head off a carabao at one blow in Apocalypse Now. The second is by another little-known writer Charles E. Meyers: "The Anting-Anting of Maga" (1895) in Overland Monthly, which has shades of Robert Louis Stevenson and W.W. Jacobs. Then the three Laguna hag tales (1902-1903) by African-American U.S. Volunteer Army captain Frank R. Steward (whose narrator doesn't identify himself as such) in Colored American Magazine, and are the subject of University of Texas scholar Gretchen Murphy's angle of reading. What I consider the most sympathetic of the group are the poignant last two stories, also from Overland Monthly: Pierre N. Beringer's "Joseppa, Sweetest of Tagalog Children" (1900) and William O'Connell McGeehans's "The Spirit of the Philippines" (1902).

Mangyan amulets (Masaru Miyamoto)

Capt. Frank R. Steward

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Pot Training

MY BALETE BANYAN (Ficus philippinensis) bonsai-in-training ($50 FedEx included, Wigerts nursery in Florida) had to come in while still with its moorings and take its reserved pot ($20, pick up at Home Depot) when the temperature outside dropped below 60°, and is already firing up the imagination. Not yet permanently planted, the aerial strangler roots are there, anchored in the ground but still too young to tackle a giant dao tree, and the main branch is leveled for a kapre to smoke his postprandial cigar on. Shaping a bonsai is a long and slow process especially for a newbie like me, so I'll be coming back to this specimen about a year from today to check on its progress, saving in the meantime for a phone with a better camera. And to be clear, this pot has nothing to do with weed!


Friday, October 11, 2019

Giving It A Shot

VISITED THREE MORE campuses (Amsterdam Avenue and Ithaca are done) and several antiquarian bookstores in the last four weeks. We are giving ourselves a break this Columbus Day weekend, then it's off to Providence ("where the Old World shadows hang heavy in the air" says Don Henley) before the November 1 Early Decision deadline. My baby stretching wings and aiming high before she takes off.





Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Imperial Gothic

WHO WAS SARGENT KAYME? Because I like mysteries, I did some online sleuthing on a recently acquired book to shed light on the identity of the author behind Anting-Anting Stories and Other Strange Tales of the Filipinos, well-received book of short stories (in 1901 when America was fascinated by the exoticism of its new possessions) but only came upon one interesting lead. Written under a pseudonym, the book was thought to have been written not by "a soldier in the United States service but a well-known New England author" (Current Literature, 1901) and indeed reminds one of Kipling out of other writers of the Gothic during the imperialist period--Conrad, Croker, Perrin, Bierce, Crawford et al. "Mivins", the only other known work ascribed to this nom de plume, was a short story in the July 1902 issue of Metropolitan Magazine (More on this later). So if the writer was a well-known author, why use a pseudonym? Wouldn't using the real name help sell a book, much more one of demonstrated quality? Care to take a stab? I've given up, going instead for a story in the anting-anting collection that touches on Mindoro and gives one a taste of Moro terror and raw swift's nest.


Monday, September 30, 2019

The First Mangyans In America

THE LARGELY UNKNOWN FACT that among the non-Christian Filipinos brought by the Americans to the United States in 1904 to participate as living human exhibits in the St. Louis World Fair were five Mangyans from Bulalacao--Kabesa Sabong, Sinhigan, Daliwnan, Salayaw (who died there) and Karyo--was documented by Antoon Postma in a (somewhat disorganized) manuscript called The First Mangyans in America: Their Aborted Bamboo Mail 100 years after the expositionThe manuscript was based on Karyo's early account of the experience (page 30), told from memory thirty five years after the voyage and after being urged by US Army Contract Surgeon Fletcher Gardner, who was "instrumental in attracting and recommending these Mangyans (to Dean Worcester) as interesting tribal subjects to their curious countrymen at the World Fair." The manuscript also delves into the fate of the unanswered and presumably lost bamboo mail sent by the families they left behind in the Philippines and known to have been under the guardianship of Gardner, duplicates of which reappeared years later. Some of the most powerful messages in the bamboo mail was one reminding a husband not to gamble and another warning Kabesa Sabong that his wife will kill herself by eating a poisonous sea crab called tanggalungon if he didn't return by the month of April. Last is the amusing but perfectly understandable effect of the voyage on the returned Mangyans (as reported by American officials in Mindoro) after having seen the "Great White City": Kabesa Sabong's character change when dealing with his village subjects (which was promptly corrected by authorities), the trophies, certificates and souvenirs they brought home, and the intriguing suggestion (apparently by Harold Conklin) that Karyo may have had a wife (or wives, and even an offspring!) in America. If there ever was, Karyo's descendants should collect far more than the 50 silver dollars he was paid by the Americans when he returned home.

Mangyan gentlemen at the turn of the 19th century (Dean Worcester)




Saturday, August 24, 2019

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Temporarily Tropical

MY PERENNIAL PLANTAIN (Musa basjoo) in the Maspeth backyard comes back every year to provide leaves for our inihaw na bangus and maruya (not the seed-laden fruits). This one is ready to fruit and drop its talisman, and I assume its heart can also be shredded for Mindoro kare-kare.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Our Peace Corps Volunteer

KINDA COOL to connect (online through her daughter) with the Peace Corps volunteer who taught at Juan Morente Sr. Memorial Pilot School in Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro in the 60's when I was a second and third grader. Mary Koeman Olthoff, a Dutch Calvinist from western Michigan, was a beloved figure during her two-year stay in our town as a volunteer, for which she was named an Outstanding Young Woman of America for 1969. I remember her as the teacher who tackled apprehensive parents and took her class to Paraiso Beach after school to teach us how to swim. Mary, who I imagine is in her eighties today, was gracious to share old pictures with alumni of JMSMPS celebrating a grand homecoming. Grateful to Mary, and for the things that few of us remember.



Friday, July 26, 2019

Done With Junior Year

SARA'S RECORD in her first three years at Stuyvesant High School came out this week, so I'm replacing her junior year report card with a transcript that shows more values to intellectualize about. After Sydney, here's to senior year and college applications!


Friday, June 7, 2019

The Kansas Connection

THE WICHITA DAILY EAGLE kept close tabs on the Philippine front this month in 1898 to monitor the situation for arriving sons in the 20th Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment, set to sail for Manila later that year. The 964 enlisted men and 46 officers that included General Frederick Funston, sly captor of General Emilio Aguinaldo, were officially mustered into service on May 13, 1898, but didn't arrive in Manila until December 6. Funston captured Aguinaldo in Palanan on March 23, 1901 and was lampooned by Mark Twain in his sarcastic satire A Defence of General Funston because of the tactics he employed in the operation: “begging for food then capturing his benefactor.”

The Wichita Daily Eagle, June 18, 1898
The proclamation muted below the headline
Where the buffalo roam: the 20th Kansas, home on the firing range
Frederick Funston with officers that captured Aguinaldo

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Gabo 101

JUST GOT MY HANDS on the first edition of Márquez's Cien Años (Barcelona, Círculo de Lectores, 1967) and Eréndira (México City, Editorial Hermes, 1972), both for less than $40. In Spanish, of course. Buen provecho!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Spring Reading

ARGENTINE WRITER CÉSAR AIRA a fascinating read, and this spring break, I got my hands on his fictional memoir The Linden Tree which is about the small town he grew up in and how Perón's presidency roiled his parents' marriage. Classified as a realist, surrealist, absurdist, cubist, philosophical, master of the supernatural, he has published more than one hundred books of stories, novels and essays, all of which he claims as "a footnote to Borges". Read an excerpt from the memoir here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

An Unlocked Door

BUT RATHER HEAVY. Can she open it? Sara's first college invitation from the Ivy League after her SAT scores.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Thing With History

SARA'S (BELLY DANCE) GROUP in this year's SING! and her fall semester report card. Kinda low in history and computer science, but Spanish and American Lit rock. So does the diversity of these Stuyvesant girls.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Open Hands

AND THIS IS OPEN. There is nothing legal here, just humor and a clean slate (like a Mangyan clearing) for everyone to mark on and tweak into whatever they like.


Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper
Martín Espada

At sixteen, I worked after high school hours
at a printing plant
that manufactured legal pads:
Yellow paper
stacked seven feet high
and leaning
as I slipped cardboard
between the pages,
then brushed red glue
up and down the stack.
No gloves: fingertips required
for the perfection of paper,
smoothing the exact rectangle.
Sluggish by 9 PM, the hands
would slide along suddenly sharp paper,
and gather slits thinner than the crevices
of the skin, hidden.
Then the glue would sting,
hands oozing
till both palms burned
at the punchclock.

Ten years later, in law school,
I knew that every legal pad
was glued with the sting of hidden cuts,
that every open lawbook
was a pair of hands
upturned and burning.