Sunday, September 7, 2008

It must have been tough

It must have been tough for the Thomasites who arrived in Manila on 21 August 1901. After a month –long sea voyage aboard US Army transport “Thomas” (which is why they were called Thomasites) .
Assuming the Thomasites were given a thorough briefing of what life is like in the tropics, they must have still had worst cultural shock which the majority of them endured quite heroically.
In the records of the War Department of the USA (“Doorway to the archcives of our national greatness”) the Philippines, Manila and the Filipinos were described from the cynical eyes of the conqueror: “Many have taken advantage of the opportunities offered for education by the Jesuit order, and have been carried through the classics, but then the majority seem to have suffered from the ‘civilization’ offered them”—a cryptic statement worth reading between the lines.

The Thomasites were probably warned about the terrible weather, described in the War Records as such: ”The blistering sun or something else has burned both ambition and emotion out of him [the Filipino] if he ever possessed either…With the possible exception of some parts of the interior of India and Arabia, it is doubtful if there is any hotter climate than that of Manila. The islands reach within four degrees of the equator The temperature is not so very high but the humidity excessive.”

The unnamed rapporteur of the War Annals warned that , “…The most extreme care must constantly be exercised to keep one’s physical condition properly toned all summer long. The hottest days in the year are in May and June. ..For seven months in the year, from April to October, no one but the poorest laborer goes out of doors unless compelled to between 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. ..In Manila, the whole population rises at 4 and 5 a.m. and gets the work of the day out of the way until 8 o’clock. …At sundown Manila wakes up.”

After the weather advisory, came a language situationer as they were sent to these islands to teach English, Judging from the War Annals, they must have been told something to the effect : “Practically nothing , but his [the Filipino’s] curiosity , which seems insatiable, will stir him from his rut and the vocabularies of hundred of thousands of the tribes men lack anything that answer for ‘Thank You.’

Even then it was observed that Tagalog was the language of commerce: ” Of the dialects, the most important is Tagaloc (sic). It is spoken by fifteen hundred thousand Tagals is Luzon and the adjacent islands. Ten thousand girls have often been heard chattering Tagaloc (sic) all at once in a Manila tobacco factory. …The native aptitude in the use of modern writing material is beyond doubt ..” The report quotes a Spanish priest who sardonically said that , “ the natives no longer use arrows and spears against us, but pen ink and paper , and fables, calumnies and jokes…”

Was there peace and order? The Thomasites arrived five months after Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo was captured , yet the Philippine-American war was till raging. A month after they landed , Filipino Revolutionary forces led by Gen Vicente Lukban wiped out a whole company of American soldiers in Balangiga, Samar, which in retaliation was left a “howling wilderness” by American General Jacob Smith. In Laguna, parts of Central Luzon, Negros, Leyte and Cebu, fighting was still going on , guerilla style, in defense of the First Philippine Republic. . Generals Macario Sakay, Luciano San Miguesl, Artemio Ricarte, and Julian Montalan were still up in arms even if Apolinario Mabini had been arrested and exiled to Guam.

As they were fielded to various provinces, did the Thomasites notice that communities were being uprooted and reconcentrated (hamletting) ? Crops were being destroyed (scorched earth) to prevent the Filipinos from supporting the revolutionary fighters, according to historian Augusto . de Viana, .resistance continued in the islands but with the passage of the Bringandage Act of 1901, those who continued to resist USA domination were labeled insurgents, tulisanes , highway men and outlaws.

An American linguist of the time, Mary I. Bresnahan wrote:” It continues to be speculative if the Filipino's purported desire to learn English was genuine or not. Documents tell us about Filipinos trembling with fear inside their huts built on stilts as they expected the intrusion of the cruel Americans reputed to be blood thirsty giants bent on killing even the most trusting among them. Unsure about the real motives of the invaders, the Filipinos did what they thought would please the Americans the most. And that was to learn their language, ---English." ("The Americanization of the Philippines, The Imposition of English during the 1898-1901 Period" by Alfonso L García Martínez, Law College of Puerto Rico, 1982).

1 comment:

jlg said...

Back at the end of the XIX and beginning of the XX century Filipino literature came only in Spanish. José Rizal wrote his works in Spanish,,,

It´s a pity that the load of Spanish speaking Filipino writers came to an end without a fight...

IN 1917, the Sociedad Talia, a theatre guild, sponsored a playwriting contest. The judges, among whom were Fernando María Guerrero, Cecilio Apostol and José Carvajal, chose Un lio por un retrato by José Ma. Garcia Suárez as the best comedy and Sólo entre las sombras by Claro M. Recto as the best in drama. Recto was then 27 and this was his second play: his first, La ruta de Damasco, had been pronounced “very promising” by the critics, who noted that the young poet from Batangas had been deeply influenced by Benavente.
On June 19 of that year, in Manila, Sólo entre las sombras was performed for the first time, with the greatest actress of the period, Praxedes L. de Pastor, more popularly known as Yayeng in the role of Gabriela. The day had passed when opening nights commonly ended with the constabulary hauling off the author and his cast to jail; but the Philippine theatre was still so ferociously alive that a new play was then apt to excite as much public discussion as politics does nowadays. Recto’s prize-winning play was no exception.

It was promptly denounced by those who felt it to be an attack on the system of education then being imposed in the Philippines and as an invitation to return to the ways of the past. In the newspapers, in the clubs and in tertulias raged an increasingly bitter war over the question of whether or not there was a reactionary tendency in the Recto play.

To Recto’s defense came some of the most brilliant minds of the period –Apóstol, Feliciano Basa, Manuel Rávago, Manuel Bernabé, and Francisco Varona– who argued that Recto merely wanted to rectify, to redress the balance, to moderate the “violent saxonization” of the youth. (In those days, sajonismo was the term for Americanism.) What the play advocated, said Recto’s defenders, was a blending of the two cultural forces then in conflict, the old and the new, through a tempering of the modern with the classic educational ideals –a synthesis of the Hispanic and the Anglo-Saxon traditions.

Unfortunately, as we all know now, that is not what happened. No attempt at a synthesis, or even co-existence, was ever encouraged. One culture was simply totally discarded while the other was adopted wholesale. And although they did not know it then, Recto’s defenders, all writers in Spanish, were actually fighting for their own survival. As it happened. Recto was the last important writer in the direct line of succession from Rizal –“a true sprig of the Great Tree,” as Varona put it– for, surely, not even the most nationalistic among us will claim that today’s writers, whether in English or Tagalog, can trace their literary ancestry back to Rizal. In fact, it is very probable that the only reason why Rizal’s books have not joined the works of Guerrero and Apostol in oblivion is that he happens to be our national hero. But as it is, we know him only in translation. The original Rizal is a foreigner to us, ----and a dead foreigner at that.

Nothing is more futile than to argue over “what might have been”, – but suppose that there had been no cultural break; suppose that the literature developed by Rizal and Recto had continued to develop-and there can be no question that it would have continued to develop, if the Americans had not stayed. Those who repeat the trite cliché about the Philippines making more progress in 50 years under America than in the tree centuries under Spanish miss the point of our history altogether. By the 1890’s, the Philippines had reached a point in culture when it could not but bloom, -as it did. And such was the impetus of the Revolution and of the Intellectual movement at the turn of the century that, Americans or no Americans, the first decades of this century were bound to be a time of great and momentous advances in the Philippines. The American occupation hastened our modernization and our political development but it was to thwart the full flowering of the cultural trend represented by Rizal and the other ilustrados, –a trend that might have led to a richer and more autonomous culture than the one we actually got.

The shift from Spanish to English was a fatal blow to our cultural growth; our literary development suffered, –and is still suffering–, for literature is the very soul of language and we were made to abandon the language in which our literature had developed and to begin all over again in English. The prime victims of this shift in language were, of course, the writers in Spanish of the 1900’s, who, deprived of an audience, either fell into decline or, like Recto, who could become one of our greatest literary figures, abandoned literature together. All these writers had achieved such a superb mastery of Spanish that it stands to reason that the generation after them would have carried this mastery to even greater heights and might have produced a greater literature.–What the succeeding generation actually produced were the groping pioneering efforts in English of the 1920’s, ---a labor that was valuable and heroic but which was a radical deviation from the development indicated by our history, and which therefore, could not, ----and did not----, produce the great literature that the tremendous intellectual vitality of the 1890’s and the 1900’s seemed to herald.–For the Filipino writer in English has suffered grievously, too, from the incoherence of our culture, ----and here the best example is José Garcia Villa.

Logically, and chronologically, Villa – along with all the pioneer writers in English of the 1920’s – should have been the further development of Rizal and Recto; He might even have been, so indubitable is the top quality of his genius, the culmination of 300 years of Spanish in the Philippines. If Rizal was the Marlowe, Villa should have been the Shakespeare, ----if there had been no interruption in the development of our culture. Unfortunately, there was and when Villa came, he had to manufacture, instead of continuing, a literary tradition. He should have been the flowering ; he had to become a seed. Rizal and Recto should have been his fathers but Villa had to start from scratch ----and the literary fathers he made for himself were Sherwood Anderson and E.E. Cummings. The result has been “pure” poetry, very beautiful had it not been quite rootless, and which, for all the relation it has with the Philippines might just as well have been written by an Eskimo. This is not Villa’s fault but the fault of history, which cut him off from his true roots; and he, Villa, every Filipino writer can not but suffer from this loss of a tradition; this alienation from the “classic” writers of his own history.

So great has that alienation become that people of the old culture seem to us almost foreigners, ----or mestizos---- and there has arisen in our times, the preposterrous need to explain that the culture which produced Rizal and Aguinaldo, the Lunas and the Guerreros, and Apóstol, Bernabé and Recto was a culture as truly and authentically Philippine as the Ifugao, the Moro, the Yanqui colonial, or today’s enlightened Sajonismo. Whether that culture, ----if Dewey had only sailed away at once----, might not have developed into the Philippine culture (as the Hispanic culture in America developed into the specifically Mexican, Guatemaltecan, Argentinan, etc.), we will never know now. At any rate, this play of Recto’s may serve to indicate the potentialities of the literature that we lost.

Article by Nick Joaquin