Myths, folklore and nationalism

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

The debate on supposed Filipino indolence has been ongoing for centuries. Then as now, the Filipinos had their defenders and detractors. There were Spaniards who thought little of the Filipino. But there were Spaniards who thought greatly of Filipinos; in some cases even more highly than other Spaniards. There are similar attitudes today from Filipinos on Filipinos; some think highly of their fellow countrymen, others do not.

Friar Gaspar de San Agustin, OSA in 1772 was one of those who thought little of the Filipino; in fact he is one of the first to describe the Filipino as ‘indolent.’ “The complexion of these Indians, as revealed by their outward features, is cold and moist, being much under the influence of the moon…This complexion and influence is what makes them inconsistent, malicious, suspicious, sleepy, lazy, sluggish, given to frequenting rivers, seas and lakes, attached to fish…that is to say thriving on fish diet more than any other…”

Father Juan Jose Delgado, SJ on the other hand, had a far different opinion. “Who are the seamen who sail the ships and galleons to Acapulco and other ports, and sail them back? The Spaniard, perhaps? Ask the navigators, the marine officers, the boatswains, and they will tell you that this great and inestimable service is performed by Filipinos… Again, who are they that cultivate these lands and supply us with what we eat? Do the Spaniards, perchance dig or reap, or plant anywhere in these Islands? Of course not…It is the Filipinos who defend us from our enemies…Does anyone believe for a moment that the Spaniards by themselves can keep this land if the Filipinos did not help them?” There are many obscurations in our history that, instead of being consigned to footnotes, have become popular. The myth of the Filipino as indolent is one of them.

One aspect as well that we have forgotten is the rich folklore and ‘mystic’ tradition of our ancestors. Part of the problem is precisely that it was an oral tradition. But what was preserved in writing gives us a picture of pre-Hispanic culture. In understanding and appreciating the folklore of our ancestors, much as by studying fiesta, we develop an understanding of their culture from whence we sprung. Further, it was religious, as well as retained pre-Hispanic ‘mystic’ and animist elements of Filipino culture, which played roles in the development of national sentiments. One of the great examples of this was the Apolinario de la Cruz uprising in 1841; itself the pre-figuration of the nationalist movement in the 19th century.

In Nick Joaquin’s The Order of Melkizedek, one of the characters says; “It seemed to make sense, what he said – that nationalism was not a political but a spiritual problem. Our people had to be renewed in spirit. They were not really political, they had no political ideas: nationalism as a political movement, like Recto’s, would never reach them. But they were deeply religious in the sense that they believed in magical forces. And the nationalist movement could reach them only if it came in the guise of religion, a magical nature religion, but with the Christian forms familiar to them.” The common denominator in the sporadic Philippine peasant revolts was not alien rule, or the tenancy question, but a religious or magical element. It was the fight for religious rights that opened the people’s eyes to all their rights.

An issue we see with our understanding of history is “parochialism in time,” that is, the tendency to use the present as the absolute standard with which to evaluate the past. We project the present on the past; instead of the reverse. The past becomes something that obstructed the present. We do not see today as a product of culture and history. Fiesta is one of the links between the past and present. In foregoing the myths about Filipinos and shedding the “parochialism in time” prism with which we view our history and culture, we can instead do something remarkable: reclaim what it means to be Filipino, and in the process, reinvigorate a sense of nationalism in the Philippines.

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