Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pasyon and Revolution

Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910
by Reynaldo Clemena Ileto

Ileto's book is a wonder and the first to ever draw parallels between Western and Southeast Asian traditions especially the practice of the Pasyon. Outwardly, the pasyon looks every bit a practice that can be deemed bizarre. Participants reenact Jesus Christ's punishment and crucifixion. Ileto enables the reader to draw insight between the practice and draw its origins from from both Western and Eastern trraditions. A must for any student of Southeast Asian studies.

Pasyon and Revolution, unlike earlier Philippine historical writings that use largely the Filipino educated elite's categories of meaning, seeks to interpret Philippine popular movements in terms of perceptions of the masses themselves. Ileto submits to varied kinds of analyses standard documents as well as such previously ignored sources as folk songs, poems, and religious traditions, in order to articulate hidden or suppressed features of the thinking of the masses. Paramount among the conclusions of the book is that the pasyon, or native account of Christ's life, death and resurrection, provided the cultural framework of movements for change. The book places the Philippine revolution in the context of native traditions, and explains the persistence of radial peasant brotherhoods in this century. Seen as continuous attempts by the masses to transform the world in their terms are the various movements that the book analyzes - Apolinario de la Cruz's Cofradia de San Jose, Andres Bonifacio's Katipunan, Macario Sakay's Katipunan, Felipe Salvador's Santa Iglesia, the Colorum Society, and other popular movements during the Spanish, revolutionary, and American colonial periods.

A further interesting dimension of this literature on peasant social movements is the scope it provides for writing "history from below" in my view. Iletos excellent examination of the Philippine peasantrys experience of Holy Week and the meaning of the "pasyon" gives us local perspectives and details on peasant protest.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest
by Matthew Restall

The notion of some final and complete "Conquest" itself becomes one of the seven examples of the misconceptions and convenient fictions examined by Restall (Latin American studies, Pennsylvania State U.) in this exploration of the Spanish invasion of the Americas. Noting that the enduring historical myths about the Conquest are rooted in cultural conceptions, misconceptions, and political agendas of the Spanish, he uses Spanish, Native American, and West African sources to contest the ideas that the Spaniards exhibited some special exceptionalism and genius, that they were agents of the King of Spain, that colonialism was rapidly imposed, that the Spaniards acted largely alone, and that the Native Americans displayed little to no adaptability and ongoing vitality in the face of the Conquest.

According to historical consensus, the Spanish conquest of the New World was a cataclysm in which superior European technology and organization overwhelmed Native American civilizations. In this daring revisionist critique, Penn State historian Restall describes a far more complex process in which Indians were central participants on both sides of the struggle. Far from regarding the Spaniards as gods, Restall argues, Indians offered a variety of shrewd, pragmatic responses to the invaders while advancing their own political agendas. Indeed, given that the conquistadors were vastly outnumbered by their Indian allies, the Conquest was in many respects a civil war between natives. Nor did Indian societies fall apart at one blow: independent Mayan polities, for example, persisted into the 19th century. Even under Spanish rule, Indians continued to live in self-governing communities, where they maintained their own languages, cultures and leaders who had considerable clout with the colonial administration. Drawing on Spanish, Native American and West African accounts of the Conquest, academic studies and even Hollywood movies, Restall examines the paradigm of European triumph and Indian "desolation" as it evolved from the conquistador's self-serving narratives to contemporary interpretations by such writers as Jared Diamond and Kirkpatrick Sale. Rejecting the implicit juxtaposition of "subhuman" Indians with "superhuman" Europeans, Restall asserts instead that, through war and epidemic, native societies retained much of their autonomy and cohesion, and "turn[ed] calamity into opportunity." Restall's provocative analysis, wide-ranging scholarship and lucid prose make this a stimulating contribution to the debate on one of history's great watersheds.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Past Revisited

The Philippines: A Past Revisited
by Renato Constantino

This book is Constantino's attempt at a major breakthrough in Philippine historiography: he looks at the oppression of the Filipino masses from earliest time to 1941 and the struggle of men like himself to crack through the stereotypes hitherto propagated by Spaniards and Americans about the Filipinos.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere
by José Rizal

In more than a century since its appearance, José Rizal's Noli Me Tangere has become widely known as the great novel of the Philippines. A passionate love story set against the ugly political backdrop of repression, torture, and murder, “The Noli,” as it is called in the Philippines, was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism, and Rizal became a guiding conscience—and martyr—for the revolution that would subsequently rise up in the Spanish province.

Noli Me Tangere was Rizal's first novel. He was 26 years old at the time of its publication. The work was historically significant and was instrumental in the establishing of the Filipino sense of national identity. The book indirectly influenced a revolution although the author actually advocated direct representation to the Spanish government and a larger role for the Philippines within Spain's political affairs.
José Rizal (1861—1896) is known as the hero of the Philippines and the greatest champion of Filipino nationalism and independence. He angered the Spanish authorities with Noli Me Tangere and its sequel and was executed.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Clash of Spirits

Clash of Spirits: The History of Power and Sugar Planter Hegemony on a Visayan Island
by Filomeno V Aguilar, Jr.

This book, based on the author’s doctoral thesis at Cornell University, is a history of sugar planting in Negros, a Visayan island in the Philippine archipelago. The author, who is from the Philippines and until recently taught in Australia, identifies himself as a Roman Catholic, but offers a balanced, often critical, account of the historical forces, including the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, that have shaped power relations and hegemonic formations on the island.

Aguilar’s book is a wide-ranging study of the rise of sugar haciendas and the sugar-planter class from the Spanish through the American colonial periods. It is rich in detail that ranges from the anecdotal to the statistical, derived from archival materials in the Philippines, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom; from published scholarship; and from fieldwork involving key-informant interviews, observation of rituals, and documentation of folklore. The analysis is in two parts: the first a reconstruction of the history of the Visayan Islands under Spanish colonial rule from the late sixteenth century to 1855, when the sugar economy was established; and the second an eclectic and complex account of power and hegemonic formations surrounding the sugar-planter class since 1855. The rich material is organized around the author’s well-defined theoretical positions: that the social structure is essentially fluid; that political economy is intrinsically and dialectically intertwined with culture; and that the relationship between structure and agent is mutually determining and dialectical.

We read about indigenous indios, Chinese, Chinese mestizos, waves of Augustinian and then Franciscan friars, foreign merchants, and representatives of the colonial state, all intermingling in a complex society that cannot be straightforwardly explained in terms of simple power relations. In different situations and historical circumstances, each social category possesses and utilizes varying levels of economic, social, cultural, and symbolic capital. The study examines the transformation and shifting fortunes of each social category over time and in response to external circumstances. The mestizo sugar-planter class, for example, appears quite weak in relation to a scarce indio labor force under the “neutral” Spanish colonials, but during American colonialism becomes a powerful socio-economic force whose dominance is later subject to the influx of foreign capital and technology.

Aguilar employs the cockfight, a prominent feature in local cultural practice, as a dominant metaphor to shed light on fluid developments in the socio-economic structure. Around the cockpit, gamblers play a skilled and calculated game of manoeuvre, casting their bets on cocks that have, notionally, an equal chance of winning, but whose “inner strength” – that differentiating winners from losers – only a skillful gambler can detect. Social relations were similarly ambivalent, the site of complex and risky negotiations and manoeuvre. Individuals and classes that gambled skillfully rose in prestige and power, but could just as easily fall into decline as a result of misfortune or bad judgement.

Aguilar also explores the dialectical connections between myths and folk histories on the one hand and developments in social, economic, and political structure on the other. Indio shamans such as “Papa” Isio, whose grotesque imitation of Catholic signs and ritual was an effective mode of anti-colonial resistance, had supernatural powers that commanded the following of large numbers of indio plantation laborers who had broken their debt obligations to mestizo sugar-planters. Fantastic stories were spun around prominent mestizo leaders such as Juan Araneta, who communed with a powerful preternatural spirit, was invincible to bullets, and boldly committed acts sacrilegious to Catholicism. This story relates quite clearly to the celebration of anti-colonial heroism and the anti-Catholicism of Masonic capitalism that was on the rise. We read about Kanlaon, a volcano that is really an enchanted city with a centrifugal mill producing sugar for “America” and manned by engkantos or golden-haired, blue-eyed spirits of fair complexion.

Aguilar’s study is an ambitious and original attempt to reconstruct an important component of Philippine history, explaining historical dynamics in terms of local culture as a simultaneously determining and determined site of power and hegemony. Aguilar brings together a wide range of existing scholarship on Philippine history and anthropology, which he uses with concepts from cultural theory to analyze, often very convincingly, his own material obtained from archives and fieldwork. His writing is always clear and often vivid. Only its broad coverage may make it difficult for the reader to follow the central lines of argument. Strategically placed summary paragraphs and a concluding summary would not only help orient readers (as would a glossary of non-English terms), but would also integrate the material more effectively. On the other hand, this colorful and engaging book has many interesting accounts that make it accessible to a non-academic reader. Students would find in this book useful historical and ethnographic material illustrating the complex processes of negotiation under weaker forms of hegemony.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Why Did Tupas Betray Dagami?"

"Why Did Tupas Betray Dagami?"
by William Henry Scott

The Dagami Revolt was a revolt against Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines. It was led by the Chief Dagami of Gabi (now part of Cordova). The revolt actually began in 1565, but is sometimes dated as 1567, the year of Dagami's execution.

On May 22, 1565, a party of 16 led by Chief Dagami and four other chiefs hid themselves outside of the stockaded Spanish settlement in Cebu, intending to kill some Spaniards. At dawn of the following day, May 23, Pedro de Arana, a member of the personal company of Spanish Governor Miguel López de Legazpi, came out of the fort alone. As he walked along the beach near the war party, they speared him and cut off his head. They returned to Gabi and made a great celebration and feast with it. The murder went unsolved at the time, and Dagami continued as Chief of Gabi and continued to foment revolt.

In December of 1566, after two Spaniards were killed and three others nearly died inside the fort after drinking poisoned wine purchased from Cebuana wine-sellers, Legazpi sent for Rajah Tupas and his fellow datus, accusing that some of them were behind the killings. The chiefs protested their innocence , and Legazpi told them that their guilt could only be absolved by handing over the culprits. The following day, Tupas handed over two women who, under torture, implicated two others. Three of the four were sentenced to flogging and deportation, and the fourth sentenced to death. The condemned woman was executed and her body was drawn and quartered, with the pieces of the body displayed along the road between the Cebuano settlement and the Spanish fort. The following day, Tupas betrayed Dagami to Legazpi.

Dagami was condemned to be drawn and quartered the next day in the place where Pedro de Arana had been killed. Dagami's head was displayed on a pole in that place and the four quarters of his body were displayed on poled along the beach.After this was carried out, Tupas lauded Dagami as having been among proudest in the islands, ans said that when they were thinking of making peace with the Spaniards in 1565 had advised him not to make peace, had hindered him from doing that and that after the signing of the Treaty of Cebu, Dagami continued to be rebellious against the Spaniards and in favor of revolts and war, and that the governor had given him his just deserts.