On the day Nakem Conference 2007 was to start on May 22, the first rains of May came. For the Ilokano and Amianan mind, this spelled blessings from the universe, from the anitos, from the cosmos. The thought of the blessing is salving, soothing, saving. Let the butterflies in the stomach go away, I said, in a language withour language, without words, beyond words.
On the road from Manila, detours and all, and with the dark night for a cover initially, I thought of the days ahead, the days of the future, and the language and culture struggle that we must wage and win, not for ourselves but for our people, for our communities, for the country.
Nakem Conference started with the idea of sanctifying the memory of the first fifteen Ilokano workers who set foot in the Hawaiian islands to battle fatigue from economic deprivation and faith in mankind, the man of commerce, and the promise of good life in the plantations and before the atrocious and oppressive plantation bosses.
Forget the debilating heat of the Hawaiian sun in these isles. The Ilokanos, browned by the sea and surf and that same sun of the Hawaiian islands, can forgive the heat and with long-sleeved working shirt to shield and protect them, and with that generation after generation of collective memory, a memory of coming to terms with what the sun can do to the skin, they came to the Hawaiian shores, on the SS Doric, and their eternal memory of that eternal voyage was to be etched in the stone of a people's consciousness.
We started that way with Nakem 2006. Nakem 2006 was to be the beginning of an eternal gratitude, of making sacred the sacrifices of the Ilokano workers in the plantations.
But we knew early on that that was not to be the end.
We knew clearly that this was to be the beginning of more Nakem Conferences to come, the conferences envisioned as the gathering of the best of the Ilokano and Amianan minds, with creative writers in attendance, with performing artists taking part, with scholars presenting their discoveries, and with political and cultural and educational leaders taking the lead in revisiting and in rethinking about policies and political practices especially those concerning language and culture, and the correcting of errors linked with languistic and cultural justice and democracy.
Yes, a revolution and its revolutionary context must frame this new way of looking at the Ilokano and Amianan self and selves, be these in the Philippines or in exile.
And so, in November 2006, we linked up with Mariano Marcos State University to brainstorm the holding of 2007 Nakem Conference.
This University, for historical correctness, is the first ever to take up this challenge, with Dr. Alegria Tan Visaya and Dr. Miriam Pascua seeing that it is worth hosting it. It paid that we were dealing with the Board of Regents at that time in that fateful day in November, at the joint UH Manoa and MMSU Administrators Conference in Honolulu, with Dr. Visaya and Dr. Pascua right away agreeing of the need to bring back Nakem Conference to where it ought to belong--to the Ilokos, to the Amianan, to all the peoples in this part of the homeland.
It was still raining when I hit that Batac crossroads where buses are to stop and vomit the passengers in search of other roads less travelled, or in search of their roots and themselves. I was one of those, and the rains fells as if in a hail, in a deluge, and the waters rushed to the earth, the little rivers sparkling in the early morning sun.
I breathed, heavy and dense and fulfilled, despite the fitful sleep one does when you travel for hours and hours on end.
Tonight is going to be the big day, I thought, and I prayed to the spirits, to the anitos of old, to that energy in myself. Apo a Manangngaasi, I muttered, in silence, talking more to the silent surroundings around me, in this morning light, in this early hour when one's being is so light one can float freely in the air rushed by the rains. "This work is not mine, this work is not ours--it is yours, take it, take it. To you do we commend what is going to come. To you do we commend Nakem and its possibilities.--Daytoy nga aramid ket saanko nga aramid, daytoy nga aramid ket saanmi nga aramid--kukuam daytoy, alaem, alaem kadi. Kenka nga ipabus-oymi ti pagbanaganna. Kenka nga itaklinmi ti Nakem ken dagiti amin a posibilidadna."
I closed my eyes and I saw MMSU and Batac in my mind. I saw the best of our cultural workers, our scholars, our academics, our educational leaders, our teachers. I did not see the numbers but I saw them come--and I said, "Come, come, please come."
I got off the Partas bus and the cold air of the rains embraced me.
I write this from hindsight now, with my ubiquitous notebook for facts, recall, and guidance. More than 180 participants were to come and one with us.
A Solver Agcaoili
MMSU Batac/May 25-07