Because Historians Do Not Have Monopolies of Histories

November 7, 2019

 

There are historians and historians as there are history and histories.


In the National Library, there is an odd and gripping collection of stories about provinces, towns and villages. It is called “Historical Data (Philippines).” The data were collated following an Executive Order dated Dec. 5, 1951, designating teachers, head teachers and principals to compile the data on the history and culture of barrios, towns and provinces.


The presentation of data is uneven. As one reads, one feels the field researchers were following a form given to them.


Having been gathered from the field, the narratives do not have the lofty language that scholars mistake for truth and authority. As with other secondary data, the worldview behind the words and stories are the hidden treasures of these historical data. 


How did the researchers view history? What stories did they consider “historical?”


Formal history basically is concerned with the monumental, the huge achievements of individuals who are raised into heroes. In this collection, one meets the man and woman on the street, the neighbor speaking about the place and the events taking place in the surroundings – as remembered, as memorialized in small details. These are tales that are told over fences, or while one looks out of the window. 


The town that one loves becomes alive at a certain point of the past, not the historical past, simply the past of days gone by.


One afternoon, I decided to travel by way of this collection to two towns of importance to me: San Fernando in Ticao, Masbate, where I was born, and Buhi, the place where my father came from. Buhi is also the town where the Agovidas come – the family of Lolo Doroy, the last Sacristan Mayor who was the only one who could drive away the Demonio from the deathbed of the priest this great-grandfather had served. 


The town of San Fernando yielded data on places I had not even visited. Gibraltar, Buenos Aires, Costa Rica – the names conjured all kinds of distances. If exoticism could kill, these villages, I told myself, were murderously lovely sites for reckoning. 


“Gibraltar” would not fail me. It had the duplicity of a colonized site. Gibraltar was also known as “Canlibas.” The explanation for the name “Gibraltar” is c0mpelling because it echoes that of the territory at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula: the barangay, or barrio then, was given the name because in the place could be found a “rock” that looked like an “altar.” The name “Canlibas” owes its existence to local knowledge, with the “libas” referring to a particular tree noted for its sour leaves.


It is in the customs and traditions that Gibraltar can be interesting. Only in this place, insofar as my previous researches are concerned, that I encounter unique practices. One is about burial practices: as one leaves the house for the funeral procession, one must remove a floor of the house and this is to be disposed along the way. It is also in Gibraltar, as reported, that when a child dies, dancing follows the burial. 


“Costa Rica” also has another name, “Linadladan.” The term refers to some twenty or thirty traps lined up. The informants of Costa Rica talk of a Chinese junk built near the island. There is also a claim that the modern calendars were brought over by the Chinese. Again, these responses should not be taken as solid answers but as cue for us to ask questions. 


Buenos Aires was formerly known as “Sinibaran,” a reference to the effect of a massive clearing done in the area through slash-and-burn technique. The effect of the process was the blackening of the ground, from which the name “sinibaran” was taken. How long ago was this, no one is sure. The name “Buenos Aires” is, however, attributed to Mayor Geronimo Aligada, who was mayor in 1905. In one of his visits to the place, he noticed the cool air and thereupon declared that the place be called “Buenos Aires.” Argentina, therefore, does not have anything to do with the place. Or so it seems.


With the front page missing the data on Buhi amazes for its details. The list of “Capitanes” or “Presidentes” date back to 1703. The researchers ascribe this knowledge to the Franciscans who listed not only the names of these individuals but also the achievement of each and, most particularly, the calamities and unusual occurrences that happened in their respective incumbency.


When Juan de Belero was Capitan in 1783, the tower of the Church was built. The buildings of canals are also clearly designated in the records. In 1827 when Alberto San Juan Arcilla was “Capitan,” a series of earthquakes at “successive intervals” were noted. The barrio of Horoan became part of Tiwi in 1837, an information, which should concern those interested in the devotion to the Salvacion.


Under Eutiquio Infante in 1900 is marked the beginning of “emprestito” (spelled in the report as “imprestito”), which is explained as “war collection,” a kind of credit taken from the public aimed at generating war fund? Was this was related to the formation of “Gobierno Filipino,” which could imply the rise of rebellion/revolution in the town?


February 26, 1900 was also the date of the arrival of the Americans, an event said to have caused the escape of the people from the town to the mountains. This reveals a more passionate response of the people compared to the more placid image of the people and the benevolent imaging given to Americans. 


It was during the American occupation, in 1906-07, that taxes were imposed on lumber and other forest products. Could this be the beginning also of the frenzied deforestation of the mountains around Buhi?


There are more questions than answers provided by these data gathered by our underpaid teachers of the 50s. In one entry under the years 1929-31, great flood swept over the town and a grass called “estraño” appeared. The word means “stranger.” Was it a new kind of grass? Where did it come from? Was it an evil plant?


I think it is time to go back again to Buhi and San Fernando and look for more questions because, as Michel Foucault puts it, “visibility is a trap.” 

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