Technology Serving Cultures: Memories of Naga and Bicol


Tito Genova Valiente

Loss is a magical preservative -Eva Hoffman

THERE is a closed group online, which bears the name:

Memories of Naga and Bicol. It was set up by Alfred Vergara Yrastorza, with Maria Clara Badong Archeta, Francis Pena and Itos Gavino as Moderators.

The invite to the group is simple: “Welcome to Memories of Naga and Bicol.”

It asks members to recall, to remember events, places, people. “Share relevant pictures, memories of places that were once there.”

Loss, like the concern of those who write about the past, runs like an inspired verse across the pages of the group site. The past is the charming key to the discussion in this site.

A simple photo of a group of doctors of medicine in the few years before the Second World War creates a long thread fueled by memory and love. Who is that man in dapper suit and bow tie? Wasn t he our great-grandfather? a young Filipina living across the ocean asks the question. But in asking, she pulls in another cousin and an aunt to help in the remembering. Mistakes are made but members laugh over them: yes, that one in dark suit must be my grandfather.

Another photo is posted; the year has moved from 1935 to 1945. For someone not having any relation to anyone in the photo, the curiosity is never diminished. Oh, they are all well-dressed. Was this near the end of war? Or, has the war ended.

Old photos of old churches abound. Wooden homes when wood was a favored element in architecture tells us the world has changed indeed. Dirt roads and cowpaths meander across towns whose identities will never be revealed unless there are markings on the frames. The images disclose how fast many of our monuments, structures and artefacts deteriorate. The obverse is also true: there are many sites that have remained the same all these years.

What makes the closed group interesting (and this is what is keeping me in the site) are its rules. Ads are not allowed and the members are asked not to post links to commercial sites. That is the first rule. The second rule is: No promotions or Spam. The Administrator speaks: Give more to the group than what you take from it. The third says: No politics or endorsement of any sort. The last rule is basic: No bad words; no obscene photos.

There had been questions posed against the rules. In another domain, the questions can be true or basic - what is bad to you may not be bad to others. Some would contend that the past was not exactly rosy for many or for some. No one disputes this. I don’t think the closed group would even counter against that but here lies the wellspring of charm (and enchantment) for this closed group: the past does come through memories. Each one has a right to his or her own memory. But if you allow the old politics to play itself in the most gruesome way, then members will pit their memories of one event or a person against the memories of another or others of that same event or person.

What I thought would make this site boring is what makes it terrific and outstanding: the absence of debates and disputes. Again, there was one or two instances, I believe, where one member questioned one member about the “grammar” of his post but that disappeared in the buoyancy and festivity of the undertaking. If one therefore wants to grapple with other self-declared online experts,

one can always go to the many sites of culture and engage in mighty and mean discussion there. Here in this group of “Memories of Naga and Bicol,” one simply remembers. And shares the memories.

The rules are not that rigid. For example, a discussion brought up the name of Socorro Federis-Tate, a national writer who was based in Naga and who influenced many scholars and writers of the late 60s and 70s. The mention of her photo (if there is) and her stories (if there are compilations) encouraged me to post a cover of a book published by her family and a selection released by the Ateneo de Naga University Press. The intention was not to sell but to show that there were indeed those stories.

When one sees a photo of what a member claims to be an uncle who was a famous writer, the image stops there. You either like or you just look at it. You do not question the credibility of the one who has posted it. Those who celebrate the man or woman can go to town praising the one in photograph and you wait for another photo or a narrative of an event that will touch you

The feeling in this group is that of kin gathering in a celebration. Only the good words are necessary. One, as the Administrator gently chided members, must respect another person’s memory.

Eva Hoffman, the scholar on nostalgia and diasporic remembrance, is right about being loss as a magical preservative. Loss is the prime mover behind most of the member’s desire to know and to make sure one keeps an event, an object, a person, a place in one’s heart and mind. Those which are not around, when remembered, are certain not be lost.

A week ago, an image of a particular fruit was posted on the site. The member who did so posed a challenge: if you are indeed from the province, then you must remember or know this fruit. It was a yellow fruit, when ripened, but unripe, it stayed hidden in what appeared to be green shell covered with hairs. Thereupon, a member responded: “kurumbot.” Another responded with “passion fruit,” without telling directly the member preceding he was wrong. One unique post was “mirinda” or a kind of orange. More posts followed and they were all saying the fruits in the photograph were “Kurumbot.” Indeed, it was the “Passionflower” or “bush passionflower,” with the scientific name Passiflora foetida. Common in the Bicol region, the image and the recollection confirmed one’s memory. But it was not merely the fruit that was not recovered, for with it were memories of childhood when one was adventurous and knew one’s environment. The bragging rights of those who knew the fruit: We had a unique youth!

For Eva Hoffman and many other writers who lost their homelands, memory stops at a certain point. Nothing happens after that. The world - and its time - stops with certain memories.

The lack of hubris or arrogance among the members of this closed group makes it a vote of confidence about culture being dependent on its bearers. In the case of “Memories of Naga and Bicol,” culture and history and arts depend greatly on the memory of those who would like to think of the past. And because there are no gatekeepers in the persons of formal historians and social scientists who favor landmarks and monumental places and events, the site celebrates the quotidian, the ordinary, and the personal. In place of the extraordinary, the small church on the hill, the birthday party in the home of dear grandparents, the bus terminal where there is now a mall - these miscellany of the simplest of lives are all graded grand memories among these members who refuse to lose the past and thus remember and post about what they could save from what were there before.