14 June 2014


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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If you have a Locus Focus post of your own today, please leave the link in both the combox and the Rafflecopter. I would love to read it and to discuss it with you . . . and to award you a whopping ten entries for it in the June Giveaway! =)

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Image Source: Eight Muses of the Fall by Edgar Calabia Samar


Belfry Bat said...

There is something just too evocative in that story of the oldest well; I could see a mossy old well and all that.

I think I'm with you on the subject of surrealist writing, though I can't think why — I haven't read much; maybe it's because I've soem sense of my narrative stack being rather shallow. There was that Hofstadter book, for instance. It was fun, and yet...

But these snippets were delightful!
See you next week!

(irrelevant aside: I've been dropping-by of a Sunday to say at most one thing a week for the last Month. How am I still comment cheesifer number 3?)

Enbrethiliel said...


Yeah, the legend of the wells is something else. =)

I'm okay with Surrealist paintings, apparently, but Surrealist writing is just too much.

PS -- LTG has only recently dropped from #1 to #2, and he hasn't commented in YONKS. But you could analyse the maths behind my Top Commenters widget better than I could!

Sheila said...

Bahaha, I beat out LTG! I will admit it's been a goal of mine. ;) Though mine are also almost always *longer,* and there's no tally of that.

Rebaptizing, changing names .... that reminds me of a story from my husband's family. His grandfather in the Dominican Republic, when he was a child, fell deathly ill. And his poor, single mother's only idea for how to cure him was to take him to the Marian shrine and make a vow. The vow she made was to dress him as a girl until he was, I think, about 13. And she carried it out too!

I have no idea why she chose that, or what history that legend might be. No one in the family knows. Is it just the idea that to get a really big result, you need to do a really strange thing?

I do know that this doesn't seem to be part of American culture at all. Not sure if that's the "Anglo" thing or the "Protestant" thing or what. But I've never heard of any American doing anything like that.

Enbrethiliel said...


It was about time you got first place, Sheila! ;-)

The mother's vow reminds me a lot of the Filipino idea of a panata, which I loosely translate as "oath." It's kind of like swearing fealty to God or to a patron saint. Then you will do something to seal your commitment and God or the saint will grant you something in return. It's not a bargain or exchange as much as a relationship--like the adoption of an adult son who will immediately have a hand in running the family business.

I'd say that we don't do weird things like that . . . but we probably do. =P The most famous panata in the Philippines is the promise to be crucified every Good Friday. But most people just promise to visit a certain church (one with an image of their patron) every week or every month.

I have a friend who grew up in the Dominican Republic. I'll ask her about that story, in case she has any light to shed on it. =)