Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Three
It took me long enough to get this post up, didn't it? Apparently, I approach the June Giveaway the way I approach all the parties I throw: no matter how much I prepare for them in advance, I still like to make a lot of things up as I go along. And then sometimes dinner is late. But at least it's always interesting, right?
Well, you can be the judge of that after you finish this "second course" of the month . . .
Eight Muses of the Fall
by Edgar Calabia Samar
Daniel thought that it would have been stranger if, after going around the whole barrio, he would not even find a single atis tree. That was one of the things he liked about Atisan. Of the scores of San Pablo's barrios, it was the only one that retained its early name. Almost all of the other barrios are now named after saints. Putol is now Sta. Cruz. Ilog is now San Diego. Kalihan is San Francisco; Balagbag is San Isidro. Balanga became San Antonio. Malamig, San Jose. Bulaho became Santiago; Balangin is now Sta. Filomena; Tikew is San Marcos. Malinaw became San Lucas; Wawa, Del Remedio; Palakpakin, San Buenaventura. Almost all the barrios had been christened. Atisan was the only one left. Stubborn barrio.
Perhaps that's why the atis needed to remain, so that the barrio could cling to its name. If the atis go, who would stop the people from naming it after some foreign saint that performed some unknown miracle in some faraway land?
If you've been wondering about the Filipino passage I quoted in my Reading Diary entry for Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog, you'll be happy to know that the above excerpt is the English translation, with an additional paragraph thrown in. And if you're wondering what an atis is, the book translates it as "custard apple" and the Internet as "sugar-apple." I like it, but it can be tricky to eat. As for why Edgar Calabia Samar chose it for the fictional barrio at the heart of Eight Muses of the Fall . . . my only guess is that all the other fruits were already taken--not on the map of the area, but on the map of national symbols.
The barrio of Atisan isn't just stubborn; like all ancient places, it is also mysterious. That is, it holds on tightly to memories that predate written history, but it isn't sharing what it remembers. Some of the older villagers can pull up vague memories of days gone by like water from the bottom of a deep well . . . just as they do in one scene with Atisan's oldest, mossiest, most obscure well, somewhere at the barrio's edge. In an age of indoor plumbing, there's no reason to remember such sources of water . . . until an infant keeps falling inexplicably ill. Only then might his grandmother recall the old belief that when your baptism at church doesn't properly "take," and evil spirits continue to plague you, the only way to fix it is to immerse you in the "oldest water" of your birthplace. And of course this will make sense to everyone, the ancient well will be sought out, the child will be bathed there, and his health will improve.
Nice, aye? And there are more old folk beliefs where that came from--not merely in this novel, but in Filipinos' collective memory. For instance, back in the 1960s, when one of my aunts was less than a year old, she was very sickly, too. But she had been born in one of the big city's new suburbs, where no one had lived for more than one generation; if there were any ancient wells around, no one could point my grandparents in its direction. On the other hand, someone was able to remind them (or perhaps they themselves remembered) that another way to fix a seemingly botched baptism is to change the baby's name. And so my aunt's lovely original name of Fe Esperanza Caridad--possibly the very reason why the evil spirits wanted her, as per other bits of folk wisdom--was changed to the less alluring Rachel Eunice. She has to tell this story every time there's a problem with paperwork because her birth certificate and baptismal certificate don't match any of her other records.
It's enough to make even the most Catolico cerrado Filipino wonder why we had to listen to those foreign missionaries in the first place. =P But while we might like to return to what we see as our true roots . . . to go back home to our own Atisan . . . it is impossible. As soon as the sick child is bathed in the old well, everyone happily goes back to their modern bathrooms. Ironically, it is the "Traddier" Catholics who best understand that to forget a tradition is to kill it--and that to remember it later on is not to resurrect it. Yet it takes a surrealist like Samar to envision a world in which once-forgotten villages vanish from maps even while you still live in them, once-forgotten friends lose all their own memories of you, and once-forgotten "muses" of the natural world . . . Oh, wait. That last part is a spoiler. =)
I'll be posting a longer review of Eight Muses of the Fall soon, but if you already think you want to win a copy of this novel, claim an entry or two in the Rafflecopter below!
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Image Source: Eight Muses of the Fall by Edgar Calabia Samar