Filipina Maid of Cotton writes A Ballad of Stone and Wind

Edu Jarque - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Anna Maria “Bambi” Lammoglia Harper was born to write Agueda: A Ballad of Stone and Wind, the historical novel that traces the turbulent transitional era of Philippine history, from 1898 to 1935, as seen through a young girl’s life and the events that shaped both her and her country.

The 251-page narrative believably re-imagines the past of the decadent colonial Manila of our grandparents and great-grandparents, of its people grappling with changes brought about by a new master.

Agueda, despite the cruel hardships of her life, possesses enough intelligence and adaptability, like all conquered people, not just to survive but to triumph. It is easy to become attached to the whimsical child of the opening chapters and to feel sympathy and even empathy with her as an adult caught in the world where Filipinos were second-class citizens and women mere chattels.

It opens with a Manila that had Intramuros at its center and Binondo its commercial hub. While it romanticizes the city with a pristine Pasig River and seeks to continue to mythologize Intramuros, the story, nevertheless, depicts the hypocrisy, decadence and corruption of a dying era.

 Bambi, as the author is also known, is a student of history and tradition, heritage and custom, arts and culture and more important, a Filipino who has intense passion for all these. Manila lives in her veins.

She resided in Malate most of her young life, attended Assumption Convent on Herran St. and the Ateneo de Manila on Calle Padre Faura. After college, her Jesuit education continued at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a  master’s degree in English Literature. Currently enrolled at the University of the Philippines, pursuing a doctoral degree in Creative Writing, she is working on a prequel to Agueda that will deal with the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade.

Bambi’s precociousness is not without a refined visage and a graceful figure. In her youth, it did not go unnoticed by her contemporaries. She was the first to be crowned Filipina Maid of Cotton, setting the standard for the pageant in 1960. On the following year, she went on to the Seattle World’s Fair as one of the Karilagan models for the first exhibition by the Philippine Couture Association.

Fashion shows were more than a parade of beauty and style; they were mainly fundraisers for several charitable institutions. It was every girl’s dream to be a model, not as a profession, but because it equated to having it all — charm, poise  and exquisiteness. They were handpicked from a bevy of hijas de papa. They were the epitome of femininity, elegance, grace, élan. They were looked up to.

Bambi was a popular muse, and she would walk down the ramp, graced the covers and pages of most of the coveted glossies. Her intellect shone through. Even without saying a word, with a stride, a pose, she continued to influence, to inspire.

There is life after modeling, and even until then, she is unceasing in her resolve. For a decade, Bambi also penned the twice-weekly column, Sense & Sensibility, for the Philippine Daily Inquirer that dealt with Filipino history and aimed at the preservation of our customs and conventions. Topics ranged from the inhabitants of the province of Batangas in the 1790s to the disfigured icons of the baroque church in the seaside town of Argao in the island of Cebu to translations of archival documents such as the account of Artemio Ricarte of the Tejeros Convention and the death of Andres Bonifacio. These research and writings lead to the creation of longer historical works such as Sta. Cruz Church: A Living Heritage and introductory essays for Pasig: River of Life, Manila and Laguna de Bay.

Bambi put her words into action when, as a member of the Committee on Heritage of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the national body tasked to preserve, develop and promote Philippine arts and culture, she conceptualized the Filipino Heritage Festival. Held every May, the month-long celebration trains the spotlight on all things Filipino by staging performances, concerts, exhibits, competitions, culinary events, seminars, workshops and pilgrimage tours.

The vanguard of history is, in fact, very vocal about her mission to, as she says in her speech during her well-attended book launch held recently at the Filipinas Heritage Library, “awaken interest in our heritage… the past that I found in the National Archives and the Filipiniana sections of libraries was not the grim, dark misery of the rapacious Spaniards and the depraved friars or the swaggering Gringos. This is not to say it wasn’t there. But it is to state that there was more to it than all this negativism.”

Bambi underlined the importance of looking to the past. She hopes to repopularize old traditions like the folk dances cariñosa or singkil, save old buildings, stop a reclamation project in front of Malate Church, or just to keep old ways intact like, for example, the original street names of old Manila’s suburbs — Salsipuedes, Jolo, Plaza Lawton, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oregon, Florida — which have been changed to suit the times.

In 2008, Bambi became head of the Intramuros Administration, whose main functions are to restore the famed Walled City and promote it as a tourist destination. The conservationist was ideal for the post.

A garden of indigenous bamboos dedicated to Filipino guerillas of World War II was created in Fort Santiago, while a fern garden consisting of more than 300 local species was established in Puerta Real. She spearheaded the refurbishment of Almacenes Reales in Fort Santiago, converting into function areas — most appreciated during the rains — by adding antique windows, balusters, and doors. Several concerts featuring Filipino talents and musical instruments and historically based costume affairs celebrating a bygone era were held. Museum shops with interesting items based on the Intramuros Administration’s rich antique collection were launched.

On the back cover of the novel, National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose shares his praise for the author. When he was an editor of The Sunday Magazine of The Manila Times, the day’s leading newspaper, “a precocious and pretty teenager named Bambi Lammoglia gave me a stunning short story. Since then, I have kept track of its ubiquitous author and on those social occasions that I saw her, I always reminded her of the early promise, that that story should be followed by a much longer work… At long last, it is here.”

And what a debut it is — very much worth the wait for Sionil Jose and other fans of her writing and supporters of her advocacy. Aside from illustrating her mastery of Philippine history, Bambi reveals a knack for consolidating tales from many sources into a cohesive piece. Culled from formal research and stories she has heard over the years, Agueda does not feel like a flimsy chopsuey but instead it is a refreshing helping of halo-halo, a captivating account of the Philippines through the eyes of Agueda.

Agueda: A Ballad of Stone and Wind is available at National Bookstore and the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House (with tel. no. 731-3552 or 406-1611 local 8252 or 8278).


vuukle comment










  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with