INTERSECTION: NARRATIVE OF LOVE, SOCIAL DISCOURSE, AND ILOKANO LITERARY HISTORY
Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
University of Hawaii
In my research on Ilokano literary history, there are only a few Ilokano works handed down to us and that present a critical view of the future of the birth land and the homeland, a view that covers half a century.
Lorenzo Garcia Tabin and Sinamar Robianes Tabin’s “Woven Strands of Roses” is one of these few.
It has been forty-eight years since the writing of the first of the love letters.
If we measure this length of time against the finitude of human time—against that time that is intertwined with the mortality of human life—we realize too well that it has not been easy doing this act of stringing the years, this act of safely keeping these letters of love, and this act of holding on to them with tenderest care so that these would not be rendered extinct by the passing of time.
For a witness of this kind of narrative, there is that emotion that overpowers the knotted feelings we see ingrained in these letters, an emotion that seeks the meaning of one’s own life, an emotion that fathoms the root-and-stem of a dream that one day this love would come to a realization, that it would bear fruit, that it would blossom.
Did the author of life provide this extraordinary opportunity so that these letters would be collected—or gathered—into a book?
There are those letters that were lost, letters that found their way to other places—but the more important thing at this time is that most of these have been preserved so that they could show us the way through which the primeval aims would be reflected, aims that spring from the feeling of coming-of-age and of coming into adulthood so that in the end one would be ready to face the nameless challenges in the name of love that is pure, caring, and transcendent.
The important thing right now is that there is this substantive revelation so we can see—we can come to witness properly—the events from 1966 to 1968.
In this book, there are more than two years of documentation and witnessing of the intersection of the personal narrative and the public narrative, of the private history and the national history, and of one’s claim to his own sense of heart and his dedication of that heart to another.
The personal is public—and the public is person as well.
One of the blessings—or occasions for benediction and grace that we see with clarity in this book—is the encounter of all these things so that these many forms of the desiderata of love would be able to bring us to a more sublime level.
It is a level that is elevated, transcendental, and filled with hope despite the many reasons that should have made us embrace disenchantment and cynicism.
But this book shows us the seed of redemption.
This positivity is clearly seen towards the end of the preface to the book—a preface that sums up the whole narrative, a narrative that we could subtitle as ‘love in the time of chaos.’
Manong Lorenzo and Manang Sinamar say: “It is done! This love that is woven of words (and language) has borne fruit; now it has given out offspring. Now we could freely breathe because in the end, here is something that has collected—and gathered—the leaves of love. Even when we as a couple has passed on, this book will be left behind to remind others that there was a Lorenzo and a Sinamar that had woven words (and language) that inextricably bound their hearts.”
This is a heritage—a heritage without restraint, knot, condition, and entangling thread.
And because it is unconditional, we are free to receive it as public text, a text that maps out the texture of love in the time of seemingly endless problems in our everyday life in the context of the personal and the public.
The intimacy is particular, but the temperament of this intimacy is the very seed of its being public.
Because it is familiar.
Because we are implicated.
Because the words of this intimacy are also our very own words.
Words that are not alien, strange, visiting.
Manang Sinamar said in her annotation of her letter to Manong Lorenzo: “I am bored, really bored, waiting for the next letter of my husband to arrive, but all these doubts are now gone because of his unexpected visit.”
In the other part of this narrative, Manong Lorenzo wrote to Manang Sinamar this way: “...I do not get tired reading your letter. As if I get to hear each of your word—words where your love is interwoven. Yes, they dispel even the most minute of my doubt that comes to roost some of the time. I hear you and I feel the love your words express, words that redeem me from the bog of missing you. To be away from each other is most difficult. If only I can, at this time we should be on each other’s side, not only because of our earthly need because that is only secondary, but because of the love that springs from the fathomless care we have for each other, a love that can only be expressed when the sweet moments between us come home to roost and to take refuge. Yes, I want to experience to the full the feeling of being loved by your love only, and I also want you to experience the love I have for you. As if I can no longer wait, as if the days are too long, and the empty moments that come to me give me nothing but pain! What the heck!”
In my close reading of these letters—I read the manuscript twice! —this extraordinary feeling, a feeling of being blessed came to me with this opportunity given me by Manong Lorenzo and Manang Sinamar, an opportunity that dates back to our meeting (in Honolulu) at the first international conference on Amianan and Ilokano Languages and Literatures (International Conference on Ilokano and Amianan Languages and Literatures 2007) in Honolulu when they told me about their plan of putting together a gift of a book for the Ilokano people and for Ilokano Literature.
My having become a witness to the literary lives of these two pillars of Ilokano Literature is a singular honor.
Because these writers are those same writers I read when I was very young.
Because these writes are the same ones who awakened me so I could dream, so I could take part in the struggle with words, words that give reason so I could dream, so I could become a writer like them.
Because these writers are inextricably part of a period of Ilokano Literature, of a period in Ilokano Literary History.
If there is an intellectualized way of mapping out Ilokano literary history, it is a must and it is just proper that we include as a chapter the Coromina episode where we see the many names that filled the first period of the change of the orthography of the Ilokano language, a change from its form in the 40s.
To those who study the diachrony of the Ilokano language, this is a landmark in the change of the aesthetic sensibility of the Ilokano, a sensibility that accounts the mixture of the change in the orthography, the meditative direction of the way of writing of the writers and of their artistic vision, and the welcoming attitude in including the philosophical perspective of the idea and the ideal in the name of the good life, of a just society, and of a love that is free.
Manong Lorenzo says: “I miss the happenings in those days because of the gradual coming to an end of our brotherhood in Coromina. That separation gave rise to the pursuit of our dream, or of our dream that our goal in life would be fulfilled. We had to search for the light that would lead us to our future. There is that deep feeling of missing each other because of our camaraderie and I doubt if there will ever be a group like ours that come out as tightly knit as ours. That thought came true because there has never a group like ours that has been formed. Now, we seldom come across each other since we parted ways.”
And with this Coromina episode, we come to know these pillars of Ilokano Literature, to wit: Teresito Gabriel Tugade, Peter La. Julian, Constante Domingo, Ben Chua, Prescillano Bermudez, ken Lorenzo Garcia Tabin. Of these six, four of them did not turn their back to the call and the invitation of literature, and each of them has left behind a rich body of work, each work a product of their individual imagination.
There is enchantment in the everyday life in Coromina, like the half-naked, bare-chested Terry Tugade while trying to form in his head the idea of the freezing cold in Anchorage, Alaska, the setting of his novel “White Gold.”
I remember this novel so well, a copy of which I bought from saving up my money reserved for snacks.
Manong Lorenzo writes of this everyday life: “At this time around, Pres (read: Prescillano Bermudez) is ironing his clothes. Ben (read: Ben Chua) is preparing our midday meal—today is Sunday and it is his turn to be our houseboy. Tante (read: Constante Domingo) is embracing firmly his pillow even as he dreams of a nurse. Peter (read: Peter La. Julian) and Tito (read: Terry Tugade) are not around—they might have gone on a date. Did I tell you that there are days assigned to each one to serve as houseboy? Whoever is his turn, he must go to the market, cook, wash the dishes, and clean up the mess of the room!”
And many more, like the hegemonic dominance of Bannawag over those who wish to write outside the authority, stranglehold, power, and blessing of this magazine, the reason why the writers must hide under a pseudonym when they write for other publications, like what happened to Manang Sinamar who had to assume four pseudonyms.
There is something tragic in this phenomenon, and this is a symptom of reading through which we the next generation of critics could begin to unravel this Ilokano literary experience.
In this “love in the time of chaos,” there are many questions.
These questions are fixed firmly in the confusing event of society, of the everyday event of absence of justice in our collective life, and in the blatant display of lordism in the birthplace and homeland of kings whose throne is the result of an illusion of democracy and freedom.
Manang Sinamar says: “What is my worth to you, Lore? Sometimes, I imagine you have another woman in your life in Manila, that you pretend you have fallen in love with me, and at times, I could not help but tear up, and then tell myself at the same time: that in case Lore thinks this way, for as long as he is happy, I will also be happy for him and will promise to the Creator as well that I will never trust anyone who will offer his love to me.’
In criticizing textually, there is in this episode an inherited solution of an Ilokano woman to all her love woes, a solution ingrained in martyrdom and in becoming a martyr as a defense mechanism of a woman in the face of a rotten society that produces rotten men.
That is the same defense mechanism that is inherent in the aesthetics of Leona Florentino in the face of the machismo of her husband, the father of Isabelo delos Reyes.
But Manang Sinamar is not—never—a Leona Florentino. Instead, she overcomes the century of Leona, and trains her sight on that direction of love that is requited by a love that is immaculate, the love of Manong Lorenzo.
But there is context to these doubts—and this context is complicated and complex—and we include here the observation of Manong Lorenzo on the country, and this pertains to the bigger social reality, of the nation: “If this continues to go on (the election in the Philippines), the government becomes murky and the people lose their trust on the political leaders. Another thing, the performance of the politician is no longer the measure the voters use, performance that serves the many and lasts long to benefit the people. If there is something gleaming shown them, the people open their mouth right away and open their palms right off. Many just try to figure out who serves the next meal so they could go there. They say that the politician with the thickest pocket line is where the voters go. In other words, many of the electorate is now blind. I think now of the best way to put an end to these things. Is this now the real picture of the Philippines? What tough luck! Whoever has the boldness and daring to stand up to right these wrong things, they are snuffed out. If only I have the power, I would file my candidacy and I would pull out the horn of the small gods!”
This is not a flimsy idea that gets to reside in the mind, thought, and consciousness of a writer, and with the passing of time, we see in the writings of Manong Lorenzo and Manang Sinamar these same ideas of refusal, of resistance, of rising up so that the younger writers that come after them would be educated of what is happening to the country.
Because there is a role of the wise writer and his wisdom-filled work: the education of the reader, the need to leave behind a way to awaken the citizens, and the need to insist that it is just right and fair that an element of criticism must be in place in one’s work even as the reader enjoys the sweetness of what he reads.
This is the virtue that this book leaves behind.
And this virtue is what is being passed on by the love of Lorenzo Garcia Tabin and Sinamar Robianes Tabin, a love that is borne of the intersection of a society going through a lot of difficulties, of the life in the everyday marked by innumerable questions, and of the vision that there is goodness in the days ahead.
In the end, we say: Tempus fugit, ars longa—Time flies so fast but art remains with us forever.
The art in this book will remain with us forever.