Joaquin was born in Paco, Manila, one of ten children of Leocadio Joaquin, a colonel under General Emilio Aguinaldo in the 1896 Revolution, and Salome Marquez, a teacher of English and Spanish. After being read poems and stories by his mother, the boy Joaquin read widely in his father's library and at the National Library of the Philippines. By then, his father had become a successful lawyer after the revolution. From reading, Joaquin became interested in writing. At age 17, Joaquin had his first piece published, in the literary section of the pre-World War II Tribune, where he worked as a proofreader.
It was accepted by the writer and editor Serafin Lanot. After Joaquin won a nationwide essay competition to honor La Naval de Manila, sponsored by the Dominican Order, the University of Santo Tomas awarded him an honorary Associate in Arts (A. A. ). They also awarded him a scholarship to St. Albert's Convent, the Dominican monastery in Hong Kong. Career After returning to the Philippines, Joaquin joined the Philippines Free Press, starting as a proofreader. Soon he attracted notice for his poems, stories and plays, as well as his journalism under the pen name Quijano de Manila.
His journalism was both intellectual and provocative, an unknown genre in the Philippines at that time, and he raised the level of reportage in the country. Joaquin deeply admired Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. Joaquin paid tribute to him in books such as The Storyteller's New Medium - Rizal in Saga, The Complete Poems and Plays of Jose Rizal, and A Question of Heroes: Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History. He translated the hero's valedictory poem, in the original Spanish Mi Ultimo Adios, as "Land That I Love, Farewell! Joaquin represented the Philippines at the International PEN Congress in Tokyo in 1957, and was appointed as a member of the Motion Pictures commission under presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand E. Marcos.
After being honored as National Artist, Joaquin used his position to work for intellectual freedom in society. He secured the release of imprisoned writer Jose F. Lacaba. At a ceremony on Mount Makiling attended by First Lady Imelda Marcos, Joaquin delivered an invocation to Mariang Makiling, the mountain's mythical maiden. Joaquin touched on the importance of freedom and the artist.
After that, Joaquin was excluded by the Marcos regime as a speaker from important cultural events. Joaquin died of cardiac arrest in the early morning of April 29, 2004, at his home in San Juan, Metro Manila. He was then editor ofPhilippine Graphic magazine where he worked with Juan P. Dayang, who was the magazine's first publisher. Joaquin was also publisher of its sister publication, Mirror Weekly, a women’s magazine. He also wrote the column (“Small Beer”) for the Philippine Daily Inquirerand Isyu, an opinion tabloid. May Day Eve By Nick Joaquin
The old people had ordered that the dancing should stop at ten o’clock but it was almost midnight before the carriages came filing up the departing guests, while the girls who were staying were promptly herded upstairs to the bedrooms, the young men gathering around to wish them a good night and lamenting their ascent with mock signs and moaning, proclaiming themselves disconsolate but straightway going off to finish the punch and the brandy though they were quite drunk already and simply bursting with wild spirits, merriment, arrogance and audacity, for they were young bucks newly arrived from Europe;
The ball had been in their honor; and they had waltzed and polka-ed and bragged and swaggered and flirted all night and where in no mood to sleep yet--no, caramba, not on this moist tropic eve! not on this mystic May eve! --with the night still young and so seductive that it was madness not to go out, not to go forth---and serenade the neighbors! ried one; and swim in the Pasid! cried another; and gather fireflies! cried a third—whereupon there arose a great clamor for coats and capes, for hats and canes, and they were a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage rattled away upon the cobbles while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tile roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wile sky murky with clouds, save where an evil young moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable childhood fragrances or ripe guavas to the young men trooping so proariously down the street that the girls who were desiring upstairs in the bedrooms catered screaming to the windows, crowded giggling at the windows.
But were soon sighing amorously over those young men bawling below; over those wicked young men and their handsome apparel, their proud flashing eyes, and their elegant mustaches so black and vivid in the moonlight that the girls were quite ravished with love, and began crying to one another how carefree were men but how awful to be a girl and what a horrid, horrid world it was, till old Anastasia plucked them off by the ear or the pigtail and chases them off to bed---while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobble and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his great voice booming through the night, "Guardia serno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o. And it was May again, said the old Anastasia.
It was the first day of May and witches were abroad in the night, she said--for it was a night of divination, and night of lovers, and those who cared might peer into a mirror and would there behold the face of whoever it was they were fated to marry, said the old Anastasia as she hobble about picking up the piled crinolines and folding up shawls and raking slippers in corner while the girls climbing into four great poster-beds that overwhelmed the room began shrieking with terror, scrambling over each other and imploring the old woman not to frighten them. "Enough, enough, Anastasia! We want to sleep! " "Go scare the boys instead, you old witch! " "She is not a witch, she is a maga. She is a maga. She was born of Christmas Eve! " "St. Anastasia, virgin and martyr. " "Huh? Impossible!
She has conquered seven husbands! Are you a virgin, Anastasia? " "No, but I am seven times a martyr because of you girls! " "Let her prophesy, let her prophesy! Whom will I marry, old gypsy? Come, tell me. " "You may learn in a mirror if you are not afraid. " "I am not afraid, I will go," cried the young cousin Agueda, jumping up in bed. "Girls, girls---we are making too much noise! My mother will hear and will come and pinch us all. Agueda, lie down! And you Anastasia, I command you to shut your mouth and go away! ""Your mother told me to stay here all night, my grand lady! " "And I will not lie down! " cried the rebellious Agueda, leaping to the floor. "Stay, old woman.
Tell me what I have to do. " "Tell her! Tell her! " chimed the other girls. The old woman dropped the clothes she had gathered and approached and fixed her eyes on the girl. "You must take a candle," she instructed, "and go into a room that is dark and that has a mirror in it and you must be alone in the room. Go up to the mirror and close your eyes and shy: Mirror, mirror, show to me him whose woman I will be. If all goes right, just above your left shoulder will appear the face of the man you will marry. " A silence. Then: "And hat if all does not go right? " asked Agueda. "Ah, then the Lord have mercy on you! " "Why. "
"Because you may see--the Devil! The girls screamed and clutched one another, shivering. "But what nonsense! " cried Agueda. "This is the year 1847. There are no devil anymore! " Nevertheless she had turned pale. "But where could I go, hugh? Yes, I know! Down to the sala. It has that big mirror and no one is there now. " "No, Agueda, no! It is a mortal sin! You will see the devil! " "I do not care! I am not afraid! I will go! " "Oh, you wicked girl! Oh, you mad girl! " "If you do not come to bed, Agueda, I will call my mother. " "And if you do I will tell her who came to visit you at the convent last March.
Come, old woman---give me that candle. I go. " "Oh girls---give me that candle, I go. But Agueda had already slipped outside; was already tiptoeing across the hall; her feet bare and her dark hair falling down her shoulders and streaming in the wind as she fled down the stairs, the lighted candle sputtering in one hand while with the other she pulled up her white gown from her ankles. She paused breathless in the doorway to the sala and her heart failed her. She tried to imagine the room filled again with lights, laughter, whirling couples, and the jolly jerky music of the fiddlers. But, oh, it was a dark den, a weird cavern for the windows had been closed and the furniture stacked up against the walls. She crossed herself and stepped inside. The mirror hung on the wall before her; a big antique mirror with a gold frame carved into leaves and flowers and mysterious curlicues.
She saw herself approaching fearfully in it: a small while ghost that the darkness bodied forth---but not willingly, not completely, for her eyes and hair were so dark that the face approaching in the mirror seemed only a mask that floated forward; a bright mask with two holes gaping in it, blown forward by the white cloud of her gown. But when she stood before the mirror she lifted the candle level with her chin and the dead mask bloomed into her living face. She closed her eyes and whispered the incantation. When she had finished such a terror took hold of her that she felt unable to move, unable to open her eyes and thought she would stand there forever, enchanted. But she heard a step behind her, and a smothered giggle, and instantly opened her eyes. "And what did you see, Mama? Oh, what was it? " But Dona Agueda had forgotten the little girl on her lap: she was staring pass the curly head nestling at her breast and seeing herself in the big mirror hanging in the room.
It was the same room and the same mirror out the face she now saw in it was an old face---a hard, bitter, vengeful face, framed in graying hair, and so sadly altered, so sadly different from that other face like a white mask, that fresh young face like a pure mask than she had brought before this mirror one wild May Day midnight years and years ago.... "But what was it Mama? Oh please go on! What did you see? " Dona Agueda looked down at her daughter but her face did not soften though her eyes filled with tears. "I saw the devil. " she said bitterly. The child blanched. "The devil, Mama? Oh... Oh... " "Yes, my love. I opened my eyes and there in the mirror, smiling at me over my left shoulder, was the face of the devil. " "Oh, my poor little Mama! And were you very frightened? " "You can imagine.
And that is why good little girls do not look into mirrors except when their mothers tell them. You must stop this naughty habit, darling, of admiring yourself in every mirror you pass- or you may see something frightful some day. " "But the devil, Mama---what did he look like? " "Well, let me see... he has curly hair and a scar on his cheek---" "Like the scar of Papa? " "Well, yes. But this of the devil was a scar of sin, while that of your Papa is a scar of honor. Or so he says. " "Go on about the devil. " "Well, he had mustaches. " "Like those of Papa? "
"Oh, no. Those of your Papa are dirty and graying and smell horribly of tobacco, while these of the devil were very black and elegant--oh, how elegant! "And did he speak to you, Mama? " "Yes… Yes, he spoke to me," said Dona Agueda. And bowing her graying head; she wept. "Charms like yours have no need for a candle, fair one," he had said, smiling at her in the mirror and stepping back to give her a low mocking bow. She had whirled around and glared at him and he had burst into laughter. "But I remember you! " he cried. "You are Agueda, whom I left a mere infant and came home to find a tremendous beauty, and I danced a waltz with you but you would not give me the polka. " "Let me pass," she muttered fiercely, for he was barring the way. "But I want to dance the polka with you, fair one," he said.
So they stood before the mirror; their panting breath the only sound in the dark room; the candle shining between them and flinging their shadows to the wall. And young Badoy Montiya (who had crept home very drunk to pass out quietly in bed) suddenly found himself cold sober and very much awake and ready for anything. His eyes sparkled and the scar on his face gleamed scarlet. "Let me pass! " she cried again, in a voice of fury, but he grasped her by the wrist. "No," he smiled. "Not until we have danced. " "Go to the devil! " "What a temper has my serrana! " "I am not your serrana! "
"Whose, then? Someone I know? Someone I have offended grievously? Because you treat me, you treat all my friends like your mortal enemies. " "And why not? she demanded, jerking her wrist away and flashing her teeth in his face. "Oh, how I detest you, you pompous young men! You go to Europe and you come back elegant lords and we poor girls are too tame to please you. We have no grace like the Parisiennes, we have no fire like the Sevillians, and we have no salt, no salt, no salt! Aie, how you weary me, how you bore me, you fastidious men! " "Come, come---how do you know about us? " "I was not admiring myself, sir! " "You were admiring the moon perhaps? " "Oh! " she gasped, and burst into tears.
The candle dropped from her hand and she covered her face and sobbed piteously. The candle had gone out and they stood in darkness, and young Badoy was conscience-stricken. Oh, do not cry, little one! " Oh, please forgive me! Please do not cry! But what a brute I am! I was drunk, little one, I was drunk and knew not what I said. " He groped and found her hand and touched it to his lips. She shuddered in her white gown. "Let me go," she moaned, and tugged feebly. "No. Say you forgive me first. Say you forgive me, Agueda. " But instead she pulled his hand to her mouth and bit it - bit so sharply in the knuckles that he cried with pain and lashed cut with his other hand--lashed out and hit the air, for she was gone, she had fled, and he heard the rustling of her skirts up the stairs as he furiously sucked his bleeding fingers.
Cruel thoughts raced through his head: he would go and tell his mother and make her turn the savage girl out of the house--or he would go himself to the girl’s room and drag her out of bed and slap, slap, slap her silly face! But at the same time he was thinking that they were all going to Antipolo in the morning and was already planning how he would maneuver himself into the same boat with her. Oh, he would have his revenge, he would make her pay, that little harlot! She should suffer for this, he thought greedily, licking his bleeding knuckles. But---Judas! He remembered her bare shoulders: gold in her candlelight and delicately furred. He saw the mobile insolence of her neck, and her taut breasts steady in the fluid gown. Son of a Turk, but she was quite enchanting!
How could she think she had no fire or grace? And no salt? An arroba she had of it! "... No lack of salt in the chrism At the moment of thy baptism! " He sang aloud in the dark room and suddenly realized that he had fallen madly in love with her. He ached intensely to see her again---at once! ---to touch her hands and her hair; to hear her harsh voice. He ran to the window and flung open the casements and the beauty of the night struck him back like a blow. It was May, it was summer, and he was young---young! ---and deliriously in love. Such a happiness welled up within him that the tears spurted from his eyes. But he did not forgive her--no!
He would still make her pay, he would still have his revenge, he thought viciously, and kissed his wounded fingers. But what a night it had been! "I will never forge this night! he thought aloud in an awed voice, standing by the window in the dark room, the tears in his eyes and the wind in his hair and his bleeding knuckles pressed to his mouth.
But, alas, the heart forgets; the heart is distracted; and May time passes; summer lends; the storms break over the rot-tipe orchards and the heart grows old; while the hours, the days, the months, and the years pile up and pile up, till the mind becomes too crowded, too confused: dust gathers in it; cobwebs multiply; the walls darken and fall into ruin and decay; the memory perished... nd there came a time when Don Badoy Montiya walked home through a May Day midnight without remembering, without even caring to remember; being merely concerned in feeling his way across the street with his cane; his eyes having grown quite dim and his legs uncertain--for he was old; he was over sixty; he was a very stopped and shivered old man with white hair and mustaches coming home from a secret meeting of conspirators; his mind still resounding with the speeches and his patriot heart still exultant as he picked his way up the steps to the front door and inside into the slumbering darkness of the house; wholly unconscious of the May night, till on his way down the hall, chancing to glance into the sala, he shuddered, he stopped, his blood ran cold-- for he had seen a face in the mirror there---a ghostly candlelight face with the eyes closed and the lips moving, a face that he suddenly felt he had been there before though it was a full minutes before the lost memory came flowing, came tiding back, so overflooding the actual moment and so swiftly washing away the piled hours and days and months and years that he was left suddenly young again; he was a gay young buck again, lately came from Europe; he had been dancing all night; he was very drunk; he s stepped in the doorway; he saw a face in the dark; he called out... nd the lad standing before the mirror (for it was a lad in a night go jumped with fright and almost dropped his candle, but looking around and seeing the old man, laughed out with relief and came running.
"Oh Grandpa, how you frightened me. Don Badoy had turned very pale. "So it was you, you young bandit! And what is all this, hey? What are you doing down here at this hour? " "Nothing, Grandpa. I was only... I am only ... " "Yes, you are the great Senor only and how delighted I am to make your acquaintance, Senor Only! But if I break this cane on your head you maga wish you were someone else, Sir! " "It was just foolishness, Grandpa. They told me I would see my wife. " "Wife? What wife? " "Mine.
The boys at school said I would see her if I looked in a mirror tonight and said: Mirror, mirror show to me her whose lover I will be. Don Badoy cackled ruefully. He took the boy by the hair, pulled him along into the room, sat down on a chair, and drew the boy between his knees. "Now, put your cane down the floor, son, and let us talk this over. So you want your wife already, hey? You want to see her in advance, hey? But so you know that these are wicked games and that wicked boys who play them are in danger of seeing horrors? " "Well, the boys did warn me I might see a witch instead. " "Exactly! A witch so horrible you may die of fright. And she will be witch you, she will torture you, she will eat your heart and drink your blood! " Oh, come now Grandpa. This is 1890. There are no witches anymore. " "Oh-ho, my young Voltaire!
And what if I tell you that I myself have seen a witch. "You? Where? "Right in this room land right in that mirror," said the old man, and his playful voice had turned savage. "When, Grandpa? " "Not so long ago. When I was a bit older than you. Oh, I was a vain fellow and though I was feeling very sick that night and merely wanted to lie down somewhere and die I could not pass that doorway of course without stopping to see in the mirror what I looked like when dying. But when I poked my head in what should I see in the mirror but... but... " "The witch? " "Exactly! " And then she bewitch you, Grandpa! "
"She bewitched me and she tortured me. l She ate my heart and drank my blood. " said the old man bitterly. "Oh, my poor little Grandpa! Why have you never told me! And she very horrible? "Horrible? God, no--- she was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen! Her eyes were somewhat like yours but her hair was like black waters and her golden shoulders were bare. My God, she was enchanting! But I should have known---I should have known even then---the dark and fatal creature she was! " A silence. Then: "What a horrid mirror this is, Grandpa," whispered the boy. "What makes you slay that, hey? " "Well, you saw this witch in it.
And Mama once told me that Grandma once told her that Grandma once saw the devil in this mirror. Was it of the scare that Grandma died? " Don Badoy started. For a moment he had forgotten that she was dead, that she had perished---the poor Agueda; that they were at peace at last, the two of them, her tired body at rest; her broken body set free at last from the brutal pranks of the earth---from the trap of a May night; from the snare of summer; from the terrible silver nets of the moon. She had been a mere heap of white hair and bones in the end: a whimpering withered consumptive, lashing out with her cruel tongue; her eye like live coals; her face like ashes...
Now, nothing--- nothing save a name on a stone; save a stone in a graveyard---nothing! was left of the young girl who had flamed so vividly in a mirror one wild May Day midnight, long, long ago. And remembering how she had sobbed so piteously; remembering how she had bitten his hand and fled and how he had sung aloud in the dark room and surprised his heart in the instant of falling in love: such a grief tore up his throat and eyes that he felt ashamed before the boy; pushed the boy away; stood up and looked out looked out upon the medieval shadows of the foul street where a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage was rattling away upon the cobbles, while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, heir tiled roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wild sky murky with clouds, save where an evil old moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable the window; the bowed old man sobbing so bitterly at the window; the tears streaming down his cheeks and the wind in his hair and one hand pressed to his mouth---while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobbles, and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his voice booming through the night: "Guardia sereno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o!
Society for the Filipino is a small rowboat: the barangay. Geography for the Filipino is a small locality: the barrio. History for the Filipino is a small vague saying: matanda pa kay mahoma; noong peacetime. Enterprise for the Filipino is a small stall: the sari-sari. Industry and production for the Filipino are the small immediate searchings of each day: isang kahig, isang tuka. And commerce for the Filipino is the smallest degree of retail: the tingi.
What most astonishes foreigners in the Philippines is that this is a country, perhaps the only one in the world, where people buy and sell one stick of cigarette, half a head of garlic, a dab of pomade, part of the contents of a can or bottle, one single egg, one single banana. To foreigners used to buying things by the carton or the dozen or pound and in the large economy sizes, the exquisite transactions of Philippine tingis cannot but seem Lilliputian. So much effort by so many for so little.
Like all those children risking neck and limb in the traffic to sell one stick of cigarette at a time. Or those grown-up men hunting the sidewalks all day to sell a puppy or a lantern or a pair of socks. The amount of effort they spend seems out of all proportion to the returns. Such folk are, obviously, not enough. Laboriousness just can never be the equal of labor as skill, labor as audacity, labor as enterprise. The Filipino who travels abroad gets to thinking that his is the hardest working country in the world.
By six or seven in the morning we are already up on our way to work, shops and markets are open; the wheels of industry are already agrind. Abroad, especially in the West, if you go out at seven in the morning you’re in a dead-town. Everybody’s still in bed; everything’s still closed up. Activity doesn’t begin till nine or ten-- and ceases promptly at five p. m. By six, the business sections are dead towns again. The entire cities go to sleep on weekends. They have a shorter working day, a shorter working week. Yet they pile up more mileage than we who work all day and all week.
Is the disparity to our disparagement? We work more but make less. Why? Because we act on such a pygmy scale. Abroad they would think you mad if you went in a store and tried to buy just one stick of cigarette. They don’t operate on the scale. The difference is greater than between having and not having; the difference is in the way of thinking. They are accustomed to thinking dynamically. We have the habit, whatever our individual resources, of thinking poor, of thinking petty. Is that the explanation for our continuing failure to rise--that we buy small nd sell small, that we think small and do small? Are we not confusing timidity for humility and making a virtue of what may be the worst of our vices? Is not our timorous clinging to smallness the bondage we must break if we are ever to inherit the earth and be free, independent, progressive? The small must ever be prey to the big. Aldous Huxley said that some people are born victims, or "murderers. " He came to the Philippines and thought us the "least original" of people. Is there not a relation between his two terms?
Originality requires daring: the daring to destroy the obsolete, to annihilate the petty. It’s cold comfort to think we haven’t developed that kind of "murderer mentality. " But till we do we had best stop talking about "our heritage of greatness" for the national heritage is-- let’s face it-- a heritage of smallness. However far we go back in our history it’s the small we find--the nipa hut, the barangay, the petty kingship, the slight tillage, the tingi trade. All our artifacts are miniatures and so is our folk literature, which is mostly proverbs, or dogmas in miniature.
About the one big labor we can point to in our remote past are the rice terraces--and even that grandeur shrinks, on scrutiny, into numberless little separate plots into a series of layers added to previous ones, all this being the accumulation of ages of small routine efforts (like a colony of ant hills) rather than one grand labor following one grand design. We could bring in here the nursery diota about the little drops of water that make the mighty ocean, or the peso that’s not a peso if it lacks a centavo; but creative labor, alas, has sterner standards, a stricter hierarchy of values.
Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. A galleryful of even the most charming statuettes is bound to look scant beside a Pieta or Moses by Michelangelo; and you could stack up the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace. The depressing fact in Philippine history is what seems to be our native aversion to the large venture, the big risk, the bold extensive enterprise. The pattern may have been set by the migration.
We try to equate the odyssey of the migrating barangays with that of the Pilgrim, Father of America, but a glance of the map suffices to show the differences between the two ventures. One was a voyage across an ocean into an unknown world; the other was a going to and from among neighboring islands. One was a blind leap into space; the other seems, in comparison, a mere crossing of rivers. The nature of the one required organization, a sustained effort, special skills, special tools, the building of large ships.
The nature of the other is revealed by its vehicle, the barangay, which is a small rowboat, not a seafaring vessel designed for long distances on the avenues of the ocean. The migrations were thus self-limited, never moved far from their point of origin, and clung to the heart of a small known world; the islands clustered round the Malay Peninsula. The movement into the Philippines, for instance, was from points as next-door geographically as Borneo and Sumatra. Since the Philippines is at heart of this region, the movement was toward center, or, one may say, from near to still nearer, rather than to farther out.
Just off the small brief circuit of these migrations was another world: the vast mysterious continent of Australia; but there was significantly no movement towards this terra incognita. It must have seemed too perilous, too unfriendly of climate, too big, too hard. So, Australia was conquered not by the fold next door, but by strangers from across two oceans and the other side of the world. They were more enterprising, they have been rewarded. But history has punished the laggard by setting up over them a White Australia with doors closed to the crowded Malay world. The barangays that came to the Philippines were small both in scope and size.
A barangay with a hundred households would already be enormous; some barangays had only 30 families, or less. These, however, could have been the seed of a great society if there had not been in that a fatal aversion to synthesis. The barangay settlements already displayed a Philippine characteristic: the tendency to petrify in isolation instead of consolidating, or to split smaller instead of growing. That within the small area of Manila Bay there should be three different kingdoms (Tondo, Manila and Pasay) may mean that the area wa originally settled by three different arangays that remained distinct, never came together, never fused; or it could mean that a single original settlement; as it grew split into three smaller pieces. Philippine society, as though fearing bigness, ever tends to revert the condition of the barangay of the small enclosed society. We don’t grow like a seed, we split like an amoeba. The moment a town grows big it become two towns. The moment a province becomes populous it disintegrates into two or three smaller provinces. The excuse offered for divisions i always the alleged difficulty of administering so huge an entity.
But Philippines provinces are microscopic compared to an American state like, say, Texas, where the local government isn’t heard complaining it can’t efficiently handle so vast an area. We, on the other hand, make a confession of character whenever we split up a town or province to avoid having of cope, admitting that, on that scale, we can’t be efficient; we are capable only of the small. The decentralization and barrio-autonomy movement expresses our craving to return to the one unit of society we feel adequate to: the barangay, with its 30 to a hundred families. Anything larger intimidates.
We would deliberately limit ourselves to the small performance. This attitude, an immemorial one, explains why we’re finding it so hard to become a nation, and why our pagan forefathers could not even imagine the task. Not E pluribus, unum is the impulse in our culture but Out of many, fragments. Foreigners had to come and unite our land for us; the labor was far beyond our powers. Great was the King of Sugbu, but he couldn’t even control the tiny isle across his bay. Federation is still not even an idea for the tribes of the North; and the Moro sultanates behave like our political parties: they keep splitting off into particles.
Because we cannot unite for the large effort, even the small effort is increasingly beyond us. There is less to learn in our schools, but even this little is protested by our young as too hard. The falling line on the graph of effort is, alas, a recurring pattern in our history. Our artifacts but repeat a refrain of decline and fall, which wouldn’t be so sad if there had been a summit decline from, but the evidence is that we start small and end small without ever having scaled any peaks. Used only to the small effort, we are not, as a result, capable of the sustained effort and lose momentum fast.
We have a term for it: ningas cogon. Go to any exhibit of Philippine artifacts and the items that from our "cultural heritage" but confirm three theories about us, which should be stated again. First: that the Filipino works best on small scale--tiny figurines, small pots, filigree work in gold or silver, decorative arabesques. The deduction here is that we feel adequate to the challenge of the small, but are cowed by the challenge of the big. Second: that the Filipino chooses to work in soft easy materials--clay, molten metal, tree searching has failed to turn up anything really monumental in hardstone.
Even carabao horn, an obvious material for native craftsmen, has not been used to any extent remotely comparable to the use of ivory in the ivory countries. The deduction here is that we feel equal to the materials that yield but evade the challenge of materials that resist. Third: that having mastered a material, craft or product, we tend to rut in it and don’t move on to a next phase, a larger development, based on what we have learned. In fact, we instantly lay down even what mastery we already posses when confronted by a challenge from outside of something more masterly, instead of being provoked to develop by the threat of competition.
Faced by the challenge of Chinese porcelain, the native art of pottery simply declined, though porcelain should have been the next phase for our pottery makers. There was apparently no effort to steal and master the arts of the Chinese. The excuse offered here that we did not have the materials for the techniques for the making of porcelain--unites in glum brotherhood yesterday’s pottery makers and today’s would be industrialists. The native pot got buried by Chinese porcelain as Philippine tobacco is still being buried by the blue seal.
Our cultural history, rather than a cumulative development, seems mostly a series of dead ends. One reason is a fear of moving on to a more complex phase; another reason is a fear of tools. Native pottery, for instance, somehow never got far enough to grasp the principle of the wheel. Neither did native agriculture ever reach the point of discovering the plow for itself, or even the idea of the draft animal, though the carabao was handy. Wheel and plow had to come from outside because we always stopped short of technology, This stoppage at a certain level is the recurring fate of our arts and crafts.
The santo everybody’s collecting now are charming as legacies, depressing as indices, for the art of the santero was a small art, in a not very demanding medium: wood. Having achieved perfection in it, the santero was faced by the challenge of proving he could achieve equal perfection on a larger scale and in more difficult materials: hardstone, marble, bronze. The challenge was not met. Like the pagan potter before him, the santero stuck to his tiny rut, repeating his little perfections over and over. The iron law of life is: Develop or decay.
The art of the santero did not advance; so it declined. Instead of moving onto a harder material, it retreated to a material even easier than wool: Plaster--and plaster has wrought the death of relax art. One could go on and on with this litany. Philippine movies started 50 years ago and, during the ‘30s, reached a certain level of proficiency, where it stopped and has rutted ever since looking more and more primitive as the rest of the cinema world speeds by on the way to new frontiers. We have to be realistic, say local movie producers we’re in this business not to make art but money.
But even from the business viewpoint, they’re not "realistic" at all. The true businessman ever seeks to increase his market and therefore ever tries to improve his product. Business dies when it resigns itself, as local movies have done, to a limited market. After more than half a century of writing in English, Philippine Literature in that medium is still identified with the short story. That small literary form is apparently as much as we feel equal to. But by limiting ourselves less and less capable even of the small thing--as the fate of the pagan potter and the Christian santero should have warned us.
It’ no longer as obvious today that the Filipino writer has mastered the short story form. It’s two decades since the war but what were mere makeshift in postwar days have petrified into institutions like the jeepney, which we all know to be uncomfortable and inadequate, yet cannot get rid of, because the would mean to tackle the problem of modernizing our systems of transportation--a problem we think so huge we hide from it in the comforting smallness of the jeepney. A small solution to a huge problem--do we deceive ourselves into thinking that possible?
The jeepney hints that we do, for the jeepney carrier is about as adequate as a spoon to empty a river with. With the population welling, and land values rising, there should be in our cities, an upward thrust in architecture, but we continue to build small, in our timid two-story fashion. Oh, we have excuses. The land is soft: earthquakes are frequent. But Mexico City, for instance, is on far swampier land and Mexico City is not a two-story town. San Francisco and Tokyo are in worse earthquake belts, but San Francisco and Tokyo reach up for the skies.
Isn’t our architecture another expression of our smallness spirit? To build big would pose problems too big for us. The water pressure, for example, would have to be improved--and it’s hard enough to get water on the ground floor flat and frail, our cities indicate our disinclination to make any but the smallest effort possible. It wouldn’t be so bad if our aversion for bigness and our clinging to the small denoted a preference for quality over bulk; but the little things we take forever to do too often turn out to be worse than the mass-produced article.
Our couturiers, for instance, grow even limper of wrist when, after waiting months and months for a pin ~a weaver to produce a yard or two of the fabric, they find they have to discard most of the stuff because it’s so sloppily done. Foreigners who think of pushing Philippine fabric in the world market give up in despair after experiencing our inability to deliver in quantity. Our proud apologia is that mass production would ruin the "quality" of our products. But Philippine crafts might be roused from the oldrums if forced to come up to mass-production standards. It’s easy enough to quote the West against itself, to cite all those Western artists and writers who rail against the cult of bigness and mass production and the "b! tch goddess success"; but the arguments against technological progress, like the arguments against nationalism, are possible only to those who have already gone through that stage so successfully they can now afford to revile it. The rest of us can only crave to be big enough to be able to deplore bigness.
For the present all we seen to be able to do is ignore pagan evidence and blame our inability to sustain the big effort of our colonizers: they crushed our will and spirit, our initiative and originality. But colonialism is not uniquely our ordeal but rather a universal experience. Other nations went under the heel of the conqueror but have not spent the rest of their lives whining. What people were more trod under than the Jews? But each have been a thoroughly crushed nation get up and conquered new worlds instead.
The Norman conquest of England was followed by a subjugation very similar to our experience, but what issued from that subjugation were the will to empire and the verve of a new language. If it be true that we were enervated by the loss of our primordial freedom, culture and institutions, then the native tribes that were never under Spain and didn’t lose what we did should be showing a stronger will and spirit, more initiative and originality, a richer culture and greater progress, than the Christian Filipino. Do they?
And this favorite apologia of ours gets further blasted when we consider a people who, alongside us, suffered a far greater trampling yet never lost their enterprising spirit. On the contrary, despite centuries of ghettos and programs and repressive measures and racial scorn, the Chinese in the Philippines clambered to the top of economic heap and are still right up there when it comes to the big deal. Shouldn’t they have long come to the conclusion (as we say we did) that there’s no point in hustling and laboring and amassing wealth only to see it wrested away and oneself punished for rising?
An honest reading of our history should rather force us to admit that it was the colonial years that pushed us toward the larger effort. There was actually an advance in freedom, for the unification of the land, the organization of towns and provinces, and the influx of new ideas, started our liberation from the rule of the petty, whether of clan, locality or custom. Are we not vexed at the hinterlander still bound by primordial terrors and taboos? Do we not say we have to set him "free" through education?
Freedom, after all is more than a political condition; and the colonial lowlander--especially a person like, say, Rizal--was surely more of a freeman than the unconquered tribesman up in the hills. As wheel and plow set us free from a bondage to nature, so town and province liberated us from the bounds of the barangay. The liberation can be seen just by comparing our pagan with our Christian statuary. What was static and stolid in the one becomes, in the other, dynamic motion and expression. It can be read in the rear of architecture.
Now, at last, the Filipino attempts the massive--the stone bridge that unites, the irrigation dam that gives increase, the adobe church that identified. If we have a "heritage of greatness it’s in these labors and in three epic acts of the colonial period; first, the defense of the land during two centuries of siege; second, the Propaganda Movement; and the third, the Revolution. The first, a heroic age that profoundly shaped us, began 1600 with the 50-year war with the Dutch and may be said to have drawn to a close with the British invasion of 1762.
The War with the Dutch is the most under-rated event in our history, for it was the Great War in our history. It had to be pointed out that the Philippines, a small colony practically abandoned to itself, yet held at bay for half a century the mightiest naval power in the world at the time, though the Dutch sent armada after armada, year after year, to conquer the colony, or by cutting off the galleons that were its links with America, starve the colony to its knees.
We rose so gloriously to the challenge the impetus of spirit sent us spilling down to Borneo and the Moluccas and Indo-China, and it seemed for a moment we might create an empire. But the tremendous effort did create an elite vital to our history: the Creole-Tagalog-Pampango principalia - and ruled it together during these centuries of siege, and which would which was the nation in embryo, which defended the land climax its military career with the war of resistance against the British in the 1660’s.
By then, this elite already deeply felt itself a nation that the government it set up in Bacolor actually defined the captive government in Manila as illegitimate. From her flows the heritage that would flower in Malolos, for centuries of heroic effort had bred, in Tagalog and the Pampango, a habit of leadership, a lordliness of spirit. They had proved themselves capable of the great and sustained enterprise, destiny was theirs.
An analyst of our history notes that the sun on our flag has eight rays, each of which stands for a Tagalog or Pampango province, and the the Tagalogs and Pampangos at Biak-na-Bato "assumed the representation of the entire country and, therefore, became in fact the Philippines. From the field of battle this elite would, after the British war, shift to the field of politics, a significant move; and the Propaganda, which began as a Creole campaign against the Peninsulars, would turn into the nationalist movement of Rizal and Del Pilar. This second epic act in our history seemed a further annulment of the timidity.
A man like Rizal was a deliberate rebel against the cult of the small; he was so various a magus because he was set on proving that the Filipino could tackle the big thing, the complex job. His novels have epic intentions; his poems sustain the long line and go against Garcia Villa’s more characteristically Philippine dictum that poetry is the small intense line. With the Revolution, our culture is in dichotomy. This epic of 1896 is indeed a great effort--but by a small minority. The Tagalog and Pampango had taken it upon themselves to protest the grievances of the entire archipelago.
Moreover, within the movement was a clash between the two strains in our culture--between the propensity for the small activity and the will to something more ambitious. Bonifacio’s Katipunan was large in number but small in scope; it was a rattling of bolos; and its post fiasco efforts are little more than amok raids in the manner the Filipino is said to excel in. (An observation about us in the last war was that we fight best not as an army, but in small informal guerrilla outfits; not in pitched battle, but in rapid hit-and-run raids. On the other hand, there was, in Cavite, an army with officers, engineers, trenches, plans of battle and a complex organization - a Revolution unlike all the little uprisings or mere raids of the past because it had risen above tribe and saw itself as the national destiny. This was the highest we have reached in nationalistic effort. But here again, having reached a certain level of achievement, we stopped. The Revolution is, as we say today, "unfinished. " The trend since the turn of the century, and especially since the war, seems to be back to the tradition of timidity, the heritage of smallness.
We seem to be making less and less effort, thinking ever smaller, doing even smaller. The air droops with a feeling of inadequacy. We can’t cope; we don’t respond; we are not rising to challenges. So tiny a land as ours shouldn’t be too hard to connect with transportation - but we get crushed on small jeepneys, get killed on small trains, get drowned in small boats. Larger and more populous cities abroad find it no problem to keep themselves clean - but the simple matter of garbage can create a "crisis" in the small city of Manila.
One American remarked that, after seeing Manila’s chaos of traffic, he began to appreciate how his city of Los Angeles handles its far, far greater volume of traffic. Is building a road that won’t break down when it rains no longer within our powers? Is even the building of sidewalks too herculean of task for us? One writer, as he surveyed the landscape of shortages---no rice, no water, no garbage collectors, no peace, no order---gloomily mumbled that disintegration seems to be creeping upon us and groped for Yeat’s terrifying lines:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold: Mere anarchy is loosed... Have our capacities been so diminished by the small efforts we are becoming incapable even to the small things? Our present problems are surely not what might be called colossal or insurmountable--yet we stand helpless before them. As the population swells, those problems will expand and multiply. If they daunt us now, will they crush us then? The prospect is terrifying. On the Feast of Freedom we may do well to ponder the Parable of the Servants and the Talents.
The enterprising servants who increase talents entrusted to them were rewarded by their Lord; but the timid servant who made no effort to double the one talent given to him was deprived of that talent and cast into the outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth: "For to him who has, more shall be given; but from him who has not, even the little he has shall be taken away. " ANATOMY OF THE ANTI-HEROPaint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all, but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me. - Oliver CromwellTwo views of Rizal that scan the man behind the monument are clearly headed for controversy. A startling anatomy of the hero is offered in "The First Filipino" by Leon Maria Guerrero and in "Rizal from Within" by Ante Radaic. The Guerrero book, in English, is a biography in the modern manner, where the details are massed not for their scholarly but their emotional value, and the delineation is by narrative, crafted,progressive and dramatic like a novel, and just as readable, though the style is hardly Guerrero at his felicitous best.
The Radaic piece, in Spanish, is a psychoanalysis of Rizal, with emphasis on his formative years, and has clinical fascination, though rather prolix and turgid in the writing, its special quality evident in its sources, which range, not from Retana to Blumentritt, as one would expect in a Rizal study, but from Rilke and Dostoevsky to Proust and Joyce! The Guerrero opus is magnum. It's a massive tome (over 500 pages), has 24 pages of bibliographical references, was unanimously awarded the first prize in the biography contest during the Rizalcentennial.
It was published by the National Heroes Commission, has so far been received by what one editor calls "a conspiracy of silence," but can be expected to find its way to the top of the Rizal shelf and into every debate over the hero's personality. The Radaic study is basically an extended essay, and a tentative one; the author subtitled it "An Introduction to a Study of Rizal's Inferiority Complex. " It's [end of page 53] barely 70 pages ong and is still in manuscript, awaiting translator and publisher. It begins with an exposition of Adler's theories, concludes with a letter of Kafka to his father. Radaic, a Yugoslavian exile, finished his study in late 1963, just before his tragic death. For epigraph, Guerrero uses the words of Cromwell quoted above and two lines from Othello:Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuateNor set down aught in Malice.
Radaic's epigraph is from Alfred Adler:"To be human is to feel inferior and to aspire to situations of superiority. "Guerrero sees Rizal as the first man to use the term Filipino in its present sense, and he stresses the role in the Revolution -- which "was, in a sense, made in Spain" -- of Rizal's class: the propertied bourgeoisie and the ilustrado though they, and Rizal especially, might seem to condemn it.
Guerrero paints a cruel picture of Rizal sitting comfortably in a ship's cabin, sailing off to Europe in September, 1896, while Bonifacio and his Katipuneros were being driven back to the hills of Balara and the Propagandists crowded Fort Santiago: "Rizal was vexed because he had heard that he was being blamed for the disturbances in Manila. " Rizal's trial, says Guerrero, presents us with a dilemma. Rizal passionately defended himself from the charge that he was involved in or even sympathized with the Revolution -- hardly an attitude we would honor him for. Was he innocent or guilty? " asks Guerrero. "If innocent, then why is he a hero? If guilty, how can he be a martyr? "Guerrero accepts the retraction as genuine: "That is a matter for handwriting experts, and the weight of expert opinion is in favor of authenticity. It is nonsense to say that the retraction does not prove Rizal's conversion; the language of the document isunmistakable. It is a truism that the recantation of his religious errors did not involve the repudiation of his political aims. We may also accept that he was not too fervent a Mason.
In fact Rizal himself stated that he had ceased being a Mason in 1891. Why should it be so strange then for Rizal to 'abhor' Masonry as a society when he had in fact already left it four years before? One whosesympathies are not engaged on either side must face the authenticity of the instrument of retraction, on the one hand, and, on the other, the admitted failure of the intellectual assault on Rizal's position, and can only wonder what it was that happened to the decided rationalist who had promised to kneel and pray for the grace of faith. For Radaic, Rizal is "a mystery still to be revealed," a sphinx who, even in the impulsive confessions of his youth, already knew what not to tell -- which is why, says Radaic, not everything has yet been said about Rizal, including, perhaps, the most importantfacts:
"While gazing at pictures of that giant of small and delicate body, many Filipinos must have felt as I did when I first came to know about him, a few years ago, in Europe -- that behind the well-buttoned frock coat was hidden a deep and delicate human problem. Radaic suspects that Rizal suffered from complexes of inferiority (he terms them "complejos de Rizal") and that these arose from a belief that he was physically defective. It's necessary, says Radaic, to do for Rizal what Socrates did for philosophy, bringing it down from heaven to earth, not to degrade it but to understand it better. It's curious, but both Leon Maria Guerrero and Ante Radaic, in their personal circumstances, approximate certain aspects of Rizal, so that one feels, at times, that they are reading themselves into him.
When Radaic, for instance, dwells on Rizal's obsession with physical deficiency, one cannot but remember that Radaic, too, was obsessed with physical deformity, being crippled: he had lost a foot in an escape from a concentration camp. Guerrero, a descendant of ilus- [end of page 54] trados, was bred by the Ateneo and a home steeped in the old Filipino-Spanish traditions, and is thus perfectly at home in the mind of Rizal. Hehas lived long abroad, has a cosmopolitan outlook, and is at the same time a nationalist whose moth wings got rather burned in that Asia-for-the-Asians flame.
Radaic, on the other hand, fled from his homeland, which groaned under a tyranny, and became that archetype of modern man: the displaced person, the stateless individual, which, to a certain extent, Rizal also was, when he rejected the Spanish friar's concept of the Philippine state as "a double allegiance to Spain and Church. " In Madrid, at the university, from the Filipino girl who became his wife, Radaic heard of Rizal and immediately felt arapport with the Philippine hero.
He became an ardent student of Rizal, did a thesis on him ("Rizal: Romantico-Realista"), and came to the Philippines to marry, and to become a countryman of his hero. He had just finished "Rizal Por Adentro" that night in January when he climbed to the roof of the main building of Santo Tomas and jumped off. Because Guerrero and Radaic seem, at certain points, to be reading themselves into Rizal, to read their respective studies of him is to see the hero through the prism of Guerrero's cosmopolitan intellect and the dark glass of Ante Radaic's tragic sense of life. Guerrero's RizalFor Guerrero, Rizal is "the very emb