Writing Mindanao, Righting Mindanao

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 February) – Watch out for the “punto de vista” (point of view) and “omissions, silences.”

This was the challenge posed by Dr. Macario Tiu, National Book Awards winner for History in 2005 and a four-time winner in the Palanca Awards for Literature, at the opening program of the 1st Mindanao Book Festival on Tuesday, February 4, on the theme “Writing Mindanao, Righting Mindanao.”

Tiu, Director of Research at the Philippine Women’s College in Davao City, said his crusade as a writer is “to challenge certain frameworks that we are used to” and “charging into the forbidden quarters” such as the historical context of what is being taught in schools, to “right” Mindanao.

He cited two points to consider in writing and reading history: the “punto de vista” and the “omissions and silences” of the writers.

He said in the past Mindanao’s history was written by the “white men” using their “punto de vista.” This has to be challenged, he said.

Tiu also pointed to so many “omissions and silences” in the text. “It is said that history is written by the victors so here I am, a member of a defeated people trying to right and to overturn what the victors have written about us.”

Tiu cited as example Don Jose Cruz de Oyanguren. “Some of us view him as hero because he conquered Davao. But my challenge is, Oyanguren is not a hero. He was an adventurer.”

He said Oyanguren was actually the pirate but in the textbooks, Datu Bago is pictured as the pirate “kay ang punto de vista sa nagsulat sa libro Katsila man” (because the point of view of those who wrote was Spanish).

“When you use Spanish sources and you are not critical about that point of view, you will repeat that kind of error, point of view. Imagine si Datu Bago taga dinhi unya sya ang pirata? (Imagine Datu Bago is from here and yet he was the pirate?) Can you imagine? Si Oyanguren gikan man na sya sa Basque, nagsuroy-suroy sna sya diri unya dili sya ang pirate? Siya ang pirate. (Oyanguren came from the Basque, came here and he is not the pirate? He was the pirate).

He said this is the type of challenge he poses to his readers.

If Oyanguren is being honored for bringing of Christianity to Davao, “pwes gawin syang santo dili hero” (then he should be made a saint, not a hero).

He acknowledged the importance of the historical text written by foreigners, “to locate time, place, etc…. about certain incidents pero kwidaw, dapat pagbasa nimo sa incidents, dili ilahang mata kundi mata sa Pilipino” (but when you read these incidents, you should read them not from their point of view but from the point of view of the Filipino).

He said in conflicts between the interpretation of the Spanish point of view and local people, he would give preference to the point of view of the local people, of the tribe, “otherwise, what are you a historian for?”

“So I challenge the students here to do that kind of reading. Be very, very critical,” said Tiu, whose book “Davao: Reconstructing History from Text and Memory” won the National Book Award for History in 2005. The book’s second edition was launched last year.

In historical research, he said, there is usually a wholesale copying of the text so the errors are repeated. “When you read the text,” he advised, “go deeper.”

He said Davao is “very fortunate” that there are local versions of history in the last 100 years.

The other challenge in writing and correcting history, he said, is to note down the omissions and silences in the documents.

An example, he said, is the case of Governor General Edward Bolton who was assassinated in Malalag, Davao del Sur on June 6, 1906 by a Tagacaolo leader named Mangulayon.

He said the Americans hailed Bolton a hero but the person who assassinated him should be the hero because they resisted American rule.

But Tiu has more to say about this historical event. “When Bolton was assassinated in Malalag, the Americans conducted a horrible Juez de Cuchillo (literally judgment by the knife). Everything – man, woman, child, old man, iring (cat), iro (dog), patyon (were killed). Where did I get that information? From the Lumads of Davao del Sur. Silent ang American text niana.”

“We have to surface all of these things because these will help shape our valuation of history and help us to move on to something greater,” Tiu said.

In her presentation on Documenting the Mindanao Peace Landscape, Prof. Rufa Guiam, Director of the Institute for Peace and Development of the Mindanao State University General Santos City campus, said peace is “always a work in progress.”

Guiam noted that while the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are about to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), there will always be spoilers.

He said that even before the ink during the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) dried, the spoilers acted up.

Guiam recalled that government dealt with the MILF then. “Now it’s the turn of the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters).”

She asked if there will be another peace negotiations with the BIFF. “I don’t know, we don’t know,” she replied, but quickly added, “peace is a collective concern. Let’s not make peace just an option. It is an imperative.”

The 1st Mindanao Book Festival is a project of MindaNews in cooperation with AusAID and the Ateneo de Davao University’s (ADDU) Department of Literature and Arts chaired by Dr. Pam Castrillo.

In his welcome address, Fr. Joel Tabora, ADDU President, asked, “what and who would we be, as persons and nations, were books never invented?”

Tabora, whose book of essays, “Coming Together, Moving Forward” was one of at least 37 Mindanao books published in 2013, said the book festival “is not just a testament to the enduring magic and appeal of books. It is an ode to the power of human imagination – limited neither by the metrics of physics nor by the confines of mortal experiences.”

“Books have opened entire worlds to us: Middle Earth, Westeros, Narnia, Hogwarts, Malasimbo or, if your prefer, even pre-colonial Mindanao. We joined heroes in their adventures: Alice outwitting the Queen of Hearts, Alejandro Matapang scavenging for food and stories in war-torn Manila, one of Asimov’s characters compiling knowledge from all the corners of the universe for the encyclopaedia galactica, perhaps the four-eyed Datu sa Tsapakan who roams the river of Pulangi, or the Lady Tabunaway, saying yes to Islam and bidding farewell to her brother Mamalu. Books are worlds, times, and endless possibilities.”

“Mindanao’s treasure chest of cultural heritage formed by our pluriethnicity and pluri-histories, is indeed a source of endless inspiration for our writers. May she be your Muse, with all her beauty, all her flaws, each story a revelation. Find her in our peoples’ struggles, in the mysterium et tremendam of her forests, in the song of her rivers, in the dreams of her children. There is no dearth of imagination in our Mindanao. This gathering truly attests to that.”

MindaNews editor Carolyn O. Arguillas said the organizers call it a festival “because it is a celebration. Because we need to celebrate the fact that for the first time, we can see within one room – an exhibit of books on Mindanao’s many faces and facets – not just history and peacebuilding – the dominant themes since 2000 – but also literature, religion, spirituality, governance, economics, environment, arts, etc..”

A century ago, foreigners wrote about Mindanao and its peoples. The “wild tribes,” the “pagans,” they described Mindanawons then, she said.

“But as you will see in the exhibit later, Mindanawons, especially in the last 25 years, have been busy rewriting OUR histories and writing OUR stories. This is why the theme for this first bookfest is ‘Writing Mindanao, Righting Mindanao.’ Because we right our wrong notions of our past and ourselves not just through books on history but also books on poems and short stories, journals, photobooks.”

Dr. Gail Ilagan, Chair of the Department of Psychology and Director of the Center of Psychological Extension Research Services (COPERS) and vice chair of the Mindanao News and Information Center Service Cooperative (MindaNews Co-op), said that after Davao City, the 1st Mindanao Book Festival will move to Zamboanga City, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Cebu and Manila.

Ilagan shared how institutions and individuals offered their collections for display and browsing at the exhibit.

She also paid tribute to winners of the Palanca Awards for Literature and the National Book Awards coming from the region. Last year, UP Mindanao Professor John Bengan won the Palanca for short story in English.