Lack of knowledge can be daunting especially in a situation when you are caught off-guard. This is what happened to me the other day when my younger cousin asked why our place was called Iloilo. Sensing that she might have been devouring topics on the history of places such as the origin of Manila or Cebu, I asked her why she was interested. She gave me a shrug, “I was just asking.” She continued to say that nobody speaks much of Iloilo’s origins except for the accounts of Tomas Confesor, Gen. Martin Delgado and Gen. Quintin Salas and not a great deal about the history of our place per se. It was difficult for me to answer except for the few facts that have been embedded in me by my boring highschool teachers. And what I know of Iloilo is very limited to the simple information that native Ilonggos named it after the shape of the Iloilo River whose meanders resemble the shape of the “nose” or ilong. Since Iloilo is predominantly Karay-a speaking people where “L” is substituted with “R” it was first called Irong-irong. Due to the changing formation of the local lexicon which has been tainted with the incorporation of Spanish terms, the name Irong-irong was changed to Iloilo.
“Why is it called Iloilo?” is no ordinary query because a little distortion may create a big error in the future learning, thus a deep pamalandong is needed. Pamalandong here means a very deep reflection which does not limit knowledge to learning but experiencing as well. In the English language, it means “altruism” yet it connotes more “reflection.” Pa in Hiligaynon is a prefix which means “going to” or “to indulge” while landong means “shadow” or “under the guidance of.” Thus, pamalandong literally means “going into the shadow of.” Another beauty of this term is the notion that it goes with silence therefore signifying a critical analysis of the past. In delving into history, it is not just the hard facts that matter but the hues that surround the events that make it more important. One has to know the ways and the emotions to inject alacrity among the readers.
To make my point sturdy and credible, I explored the Provincial Library and the UP – Western Visayas Center for Culture and the Arts Studies. I was amazed to find good sources that could point out to this historical conjecture. However good, there is a dearth for such books which only proves that Ilonggos are not particular in their quest of history. They say that Ilonggos have lost their passion in excavating their past and trying to muster a concrete panorama of the odyssey of Ilonggo people. History then becomes esoteric stuff where it only applies to few who have chosen this line of discipline thus limiting the spread of knowledge among the people. I guess we all need a good pamalandong on this.
I realized that a simple historical research will lead to an insatiable drive for the past. In the case of Iloilo, I not only discovered that because the Spanish could not utter the “ng” well, and the “R” of the natives irked them, they dropped the former name and changed it to Iloilo but much more. But why of all things, the river became the basis of the name and not the vast plain of Iloilo that during the 16th century was blessed with booming sugarcane and rice production compared with other provinces in the entire Visayan Region? The thirst for an answer prompted me to dig more in the library. However, I couldn’t find exact answers to this except the little information I’ve gathered from few academic books. This lot led me to use my own logic in the way of pamalandong. I guess the reason behind was that the Iloilo River was no ordinary river. Unlike other rivers which root from great mountains then flow down to create a river delta, Iloilo river begins from the sea and ends in the sea. You get the picture? It is not actually a river but a sea estuary (which logically means that it has brackish water) that makes it a unique body of water. Although geologists don’t agree in calling this as Iloilo River, we could not blame our folks for their lack of terminologies. What they perceived as a long body of water with narrow borders was automatically termed a river. Estuary for the academic regards will be acceptable but will remain excusable to be called a river by the common people.
Aside from that, Iloilo was well known of its major river systems that traversed the whole province. It was through these rivers that agricultural crops became abundant and effectually put the name of Iloilo as the rice granary of Visayas. Since this land was populated by heathens, they gave the river a special praise for serving as the life-blood of crop production. That might also be one reason why they chose to name this place based on the mightiest and strangest river they knew – the Irong-irong River. Alas, there are no documents that would support my postulate because the first thing that Spaniards did when they first arrived in Iloilo was to proselytize the natives into Christianity and obliterate all practices that reciprocate the dogmas of the church. Sayang!
Despite the knowledge gap, simply because there are no adequate sources or that I have not been eager enough to look for more reference, I can never help but to give conjecture on the notion of the river in relation to the name Iloilo. According to Fr. Policarpio Hernandez OSA in his records of the past, the Iloilo River served to be a channel of trade in 1855 from Villa Rica de Oton-Arevalo to what is now called Iloilo City. During those times, Iloilo stood to have the biggest international commercial port complex outside Manila. The active relation on commerce and trade with other countries made Iloilo the host of galleon trade from Visayas to Mollucas; this put Iloilo as the Queen City of the South before Cebu took hold of the title.
These accounts only show why the river is very important to the Ilonggos and there is no wonder why they named the place in lieu of the most prominent Iloilo River. I just hope that next time somebody will asks me about Iloilo, I have a little dose of knowledge to arm myself.
When words are not enough to address you, let me greet your art nonetheless.
I had the chance lately to read your notes and they were all wonderfully written. Based on your exceptional prowess, I can adjudge that hardly anyone could imitate your style. Sometimes I question myself why I continue to write despite of my incapability to capture my subject with adequate adjectives and to animate my character with lithe verbs. My compositions are obviously far inferior than yours- a carrion in the state of literary writing. Yet you never wanted me to speak of this because you believe that I could do it well like everybody else. But with humility, I admit that there will never be another you and never will have the chance to acquire your skill; your style is not of Filipino but of European litterateurs. I know that you labored much to perfect your this and to my own assessment, nobody could ever do it better than you. So with your books-oh particularly your collections-have never ceased to give you the edge of intelligence.
Oh Colette of the new age, your dexterity constantly impresses me. I wish to cry because I could never be like you nor just even rest on your shadow for you are holy and I am profane . If its really true that you got some blessedness in your being, please sprinkle me with graces that I may also hold my pen with artistry; but let it not be out of pity that you address me but with altruism instead. I only wish nothing but to have the patina, at least a tinge of your blessedness, to write not just by memory but by heart as well. With so much reverence for your existence, let you be praised by a lowly admirer who got nothing but a dying pen.
When this letter is inadequate, let this be just a pure laurel.
My Pen’s Anguish
Shame on me, who writes from the pit and not from the clouds,
When your words are ethereal mine still lies in the cocoon of maturing
And why do I write when I have nothing but humiliation
That rather me nor the pen I’m using that is wrong;
You speak of Paris, I my barrio-
I have no doubt that I will never hold on to you.
The respite to think may not suffice the struggle,
But your beauty of hand will serve to revere
That I may praise behind but never the chance to touch you
For you speak of Paris and I my barrio.
The best place to be? I’ll answer with conviction that it is the library. Nothing equals the free knowledge that the library could offer. Aside from its sacred silence, the aura of the piles of books that invite readers is pervading. All you need is curiosity and you will realize how the library can be a great source of wonder.
When given ample time, I always see to it that I visit the Provincial Public Library to browse through interesting books that pique my attention – especially at the Filipiniana Section. It has been my ritual now to praise Filipino writers especially if their masterpieces depict a cogent aspect of Filipino culture and history. The librarian, who became my friend a week after I applied for a borrower’s card, asked me why I am so enamoured by Filipiniana. I couldn’t give her the best answer except that famous Aristotelian line: “I want to know more.” But after a month of personal research, I told her that Filipino literature is also a good source of entertainment. In bolder terms, more like “showbiz”.
Let me put it clearly by giving examples. The scholarly yet imaginative works of Teodoro Agoncillo creates a great shift of how history could be presented. His Revolt of the Masses revolutionized the imagination’s role in retelling the alacrity of the past by making it contemporary for the reader. It is not just dates or hard facts but the creation of atmosphere that draws the reader to a certain event in history that enables reading to become worthwhile. Now, let’s shift our attention to his student, Ambeth Ocampo (although I only read 3 of his books: Mabini’s Ghost, Looking Back, and Luna’s Mustache), he made history a sort of textual sitcom. I don’t want to elaborate more about his work of how Mabini jocularly danced with his rocking chair because he could not walk for a polka or how Francisco Balagtas could be so jingoist but fairly loved sex; it’s up to the reader to read the books themselves. So it is no wonder that he was awarded the National Fellow for Essay by the University of the Philippines for two consecutive years.
However the ones who are creating stories have also personal stories to tell. I wish to state some of my discoveries here and I hope will not be charged libelous by some of my conjectures. Did you know that Agoncillo and Ocampo were/are numero uno chikadoros? They both criticized the faculty of history in UP of having been mediocre in their quest for local and national history. Agoncillo never wanted to teach in UP had it not for his wife convincing him. “Nang hindi pa ako nakalikha ng libro, bakit hindi nila ako nilapitan para magturo sa kanila?” And then when he started teaching in Diliman, his colleagues, who all held doctorate degrees in philosophy, asked him, “Sir Agoncillo, why did you not take a doctorate degree?” He stood up and walked up to them, “Who will teach me? Ikaw?” Ang yabang! Although that was meant to be a joke, it bore the truth of his pride. This incident led UP to endow him the Honoris Causa. While Ambeth laughing to hear this, he admitted to Agoncillo something that seems blasphemously creepy, “Sir, the reason I entered the Benedictine Monastery… it was not a vocation but the desire to access their library which is not open to the public.”
In the case of litterateurs, there are actually eternal disputes among their pacts. When Nick Joaquin was on his peak, he looked down on the two groups of young writers from Sto. Tomas and University of the Philippines. He pinned down particularly Francisco Sionil Jose as blabbering young writer who used to quarrel with his boss. When Jose had etched his name as a professional writer, he avenged his pride, labeling Joaquin as a writer who lived luxuriously under the Marcos wings.
In one of the coteries of social gatherings the two writers met. Having them praising each other’s prowess, they came to the point of bickering whether Jose Garcia Villa was the best Filipino writer. Nick Joaquin argued he was, Sionil Jose refuted the claim because Villa never wrote based on the Filipino setting but in western paradigm. When Villa who was staying in the US heard this, he signified aid to Nick Joaquin’s camp pronouncing Jose as an insecure pen-ass. When Isagani Cruz, a good friend of Jose became conscious of this feud, series of critics had been published against them, thus the start of endless bickering and shenanigans. However, regardless of endless hurling of criticisms, they were right on the affirmation that each of them writes very well. But I doubt if the review of Joaquin on Jose’s work was authentic. And now that Nick Joaquin has finally passed for his eternal repose, I just hope that they are in peace with each other especially that Christmas is nearing.
This discovery proved the wide array that the library could offer us. No matter how dearth the resources are, it always serves as the sanctuary of learning. If people only realize that this is one of the essential structures in the society that needs constant visitation and support from concerned people, then our library could truly be a great place to be. Although I could spot regular visitors, which I could make a mental note of their faces, they were nonetheless students who came to study and not to read. They were the same students who always occupy the same table. When I inquired the librarian (to confirm my conjecture) if they were researching, the librarian replied they were not. “What can you expect from nursing students but money? I hope you could make tsismis out of that,” she chuckled.
1. November is primarily about remembering the past. This is the time when we commemorate our dearly departed. The memories of places and times you experienced the beauty of love together creates a dimension where life and death meet. Then you always feel time never goes old….it instead swings us back to where we’ll always see the life of the people who touched us, and their souls will always be with us, not in some corner that would depict separation but within the confinse of memories and hearts. As long as they occupy a portion in our lives, they will always be present among us…and this is one of the best treasures in life.
2. We always drool over foreign stories… such is the example of El Dorado.
If there is someone who could tell us what and where El Dorado (Spanish for “The Golden One”) was, Voltaire’s famous character, Candide, could. Even Spanish conquistadores and British pirates who have searched the trails of Peruvian forests have not found the place. Neither a place in Columbia nor Argentina had proven to have a resemblance of the Indian tale which in turn became a subject of kibitzing among artists like Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Milton to explicate how human desire could be so ninny during the moments when potential richness is known to the world. Obsessed by the idea of abundant treasure, the place became a dream for hunters that even locals of South America were eager to search for it. The dream of getting rich in a flash is always a treat for the greedy, thus creating a lethargic sense of life. You probably think why crime rates in urban regions keep on rising especially when national economy plunges – it is not because of poverty alone but the formidable yearning of man for “instant-money”.
In 1911, when an American historian by the name of Hiram Bingham fortuitously discovered the long lost kingdom of Machu Picchu thousands of feet above sea level where nobody thought it would exist. After the clamor spread in pace, people thought that the world had finally found El Dorado and the myth after all had a point of verity. Of course, there was no treasure found in that place except for another tinge of information about the spectacular Incan civilization. Although some argued that place really existed, the myth of El Dorado will remain a story until hard facts of pure gold will be unfolded before the world.
Nevertheless, this myth will serve as a mirror of how men are fascinated by treasure and discovery.
3. Stop, look and listen… El Dorado is here.
You don’t need to look far ahead to find gold in foreign land. Right here, the treasure is buried and it only takes education and much reading to excavate it. When speaking of potential economy, the Philippines is not just abundant in natural resources but in “yamang tao” as well. It has been noted by historians that far back in our history, our country was once a prominent icon of possibilities – in trade, cultural wealth, and government. Chinese chroniclers who traveled to the Philippines in lieu of trade addressed our land as “Ma-yi” or Mountain of Gold. If Latin America has the Golden One, we have a far better Mountain of Gold; and that’s a total mismatch of ratio and proportion.
And what did Spain speak of us? We were not branded as Indios all the time. Some of the Spanish writers called us “Islas del Romero Feliz” and “Crown Jewel of Spain’s Overseas Possession.” However, it was only recently that this research has been made; and after all our loathing for the maltreatment of Spain, we come to realize that not all Español are cruel. Some of them appreciated our land in history but was only hidden during centuries of Spain’s subjugation of the Philippines – to strip us of the knowledge of their political mayhem.
With regards to the people, we almost permeated every country in the world. This put us as the ultimate competitor of Chinese in vying for world domination. This has a funny connotation but it speaks well of the true treasure of our country. When confronted with questions of how our economy survived, we always look at the remittances we get from our OFWs – the core that sustains our national economy. It is the people, the yamang tao, that is the primary drive of our economic foundation. Yet we are labelled lethargic or tamad. We are never sloth as far as Philippine main export, LABOR, is concerned. Our life is divulged by extreme poverty, but it is this destitution, that drives us to work hard. Then going to that misconception, I dare say that Filipino is never tamad and we know ourselves better than those foreigners.
Our country deserves a name that goes beyond many treasures… and Rizal has known this for so long that he addressed the Philippines as the “Pearl of the Orient Seas.”