[A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EVERYONE!
There will be light posting during the next week, so I leave Philippine Commentary readers with this little poem I wrote one febrile month in 1998...]
The Promised Land
Samar is the promised land, this mountainous island on the ocean
Covered with heaven’s bounty, the home that forefathers found,
When their ancient clans from southern empires fled northward,
Away in boats of fleet design to these, their fair Visayan Isles.
Flourishing in the mountains and valleys all over Samar Island
Rise groves of coconut in unceasing progression. Wave on wave,
Grow bowers of banana trees and meadow beds of sweet potatoes,
Bevies of flowers, orchards of jackfruit and guava and mangoes,
Planted by successions of the Samar folk in endless endeavours.
Endeavours to which they, farmer and fisher, trader and grower,
Gave always dedication and striving for the love of their children,
Laboring to win with sinew and industry what tyrants denied them.
All around this Samar isle surges ever the bountiful blue oceans,
Bursting with silver-skinned fishes, sea horses and crustaceans.
In forests of kelp and cities of coral roam the sharks and manatees,
As Pole-bound whales bellow submarine love songs to the seas.
On outrigger canoes and catamarans, ventured they into the ocean
With patience and precision as their forefathers had taught them,
To spear the sail-fin fish, the sting ray, and the wily eel in motion,
To net the living bounty of the sea, as faith in God inspires them.
Of Samar evenings, with the far stars that brought their ancestors,
Looking down on their children’s faces, who gaze up and wonder,
The Samar women, the mothers and the maidens, mingle cocomilk
With fisher’s catch and sweet potato as grandmother showed them.
Of Samar nights, with the far stars gazing elsewhere up above,
Lovers quarrel or their loves resume, babies on mothers suckle,
Little children feigning sleep, to wild imagined places chuckle,
Maidens to their rooms of ancient longing. Sisters unto musing.
Brothers with their fathers sharing angry embers in the darkness
Of Samar nights, the moon hidden in the midnight sky of secrets,
Plotting warfare for the glory of the right, the great ancient battle,
The epic fight between good and evil. Brethren unto bruising.
Centuries of forgotten lives and labors, a thousand years unknown
Show there on Samar Island in the markings of a people’s passage,
The hardy peasants in their hovels, the fisher folk on their boats,
Giving to each other the glad hand of help and far gazes of hope.
And exchanging ever, memoirs of their people and their struggles
Of half-remembered ages in songs and in the Waray Siday verses
Inspired by the smiles of their children, the music of the maidens
The labors of the men folk and their women, the gods of the elders.
Like the mighty storms that sweep in from the sea, Spanish ships
First saw landfall thereabouts, on Samar Island’s little neighbors.
On Homonhon Island just off the southern coast, did Magellan
Plant the banner and stake the claim that outlasted the centuries.
Centuries in which the Samar men, the women and their children,
Suffered in the depths of that oppression a long unending darkness
Enslaved to the yoke of a foreign master who stole the light of days
And through generations forever lost, plunged them into oblivion!
The oblivion of slaves. As of the children of Israel in the days of
The Pharaoh before Moses. So it was with the children of Samar--
In the days when they were but indios, subjects of a far away King,
Communicants of a Cross, that together ruled in the other’s name.
Like lightning energizing a Samar night, Katipunan’s call-to-arms
Roused the hearts of the Samar people to forge the larger nation.
Bagumbayan found ready souls and iron will in the brave warriors
Of Samar Island, to weave a single vision out of separate dreams.
Foremost among them were the Waray clans of Sinulog dancers,
Secret clans of ancient warriors in the mountains, beyond dismay,
Beyond cowing by tyrant’s horrid claim to power. Invading armies
Met their silent Samar disdain, a bolo’s metal glint of stoic honor.
Now hear a tale of tragedy from that wilderness of death, howling
The tragic tale of a town in the pincer claws of war and bloodlust,
Set on the southern shore of Samar Island, beneath the mountain,
Beside the ancient ocean, Balangiga town at the century’s cusping.
The month of dark September, the year nineteen hundred and one,
Finds town and nation fighting for the infant Republic’s survival.
Asia’s first and only, democracy’s newest born, its freedom won,
Spanish routed, struggled now against Empire’s newest arrival.
America, land of the free, not content with liberty and a continent,
Convinced of Manifest Destiny, reached out beyond the oceans
To touch the Spanish Realm, which crumbled quickly in her hands,
And bought with twenty pieces of silver, these islands on the sea.
What price paid she for this dominion, admission fee to Empire!
What price paid we, to thwart her fire, to win our manumission!
Where now the sacred honor pledged to life, liberty, happiness?
Where now the beauteous words of the Sermon on the Mount?
Pinoys and Americanos! You men and women of good will!
You who sing to God and praise the good and curse Oblivion!
You who mock the tyrants and fight for human liberation!
Reckon now with recognition, hearing what the story tells,
Of the soldiers and the heroes that heard Balangiga’s bells.
Listen to the story of Balangiga’s bells!
Hear them now these many years after, still tolling grim emotion,
Echoing into the unpacific twilight of that star-spangled Ocean,
Mournful sounds of the blood-stained Philippine Sea, as it surges
Ever into the far horizons with the tides of irredeemable history.
Filipinos of Faith! Americans of Freedom!
You who think the future’s not debased by a tragic past forgotten!
You who live in freedom’s glorious light and liberty’s protection!
Reckon now with recognition, hearing what the story tells,
Of the soldiers and the heroes that heard Balangiga’s bells.
Listen to the story of Balangiga’s bells!
Glowing softy in their rows of black containers, tapers for the dead
Played sad and sombre shadows on Padre Atoy’s old church head.
Painting softer lights was a candle’s palette of chiaroscuros,
As cool air carried everywhere, the softest sound of Angelus bells.
Out in the church yard, American sentries shifted in vague ennui,
Gathering from the day’s debris, their own sad thoughts of home,
From which they could no farther be on the other side of the world,
These strangers in a strange land, lions in an odd sort of Rome.
Beyond them in the humble little houses around the captive town,
Huddled the hardy Waray folk, elders holding the children round.
As call of bells to soft Angelus prayer flew through the air of dusk,
Whispers of significance murmured with them in the atmosphere.
Farther out, among the hills and mountains stretching northward
Sunset’s dying fingers touched upon their darkening peaks aloft,
Mingling with foliage, orange hues that shift their colors crimson.
Soulful land and mournful ocean slowly unite as night descends.
Standing upright near his rough-hewn wooden pulpit, Padre Atoy,
Parish priest and ever-faithful shepherd of his fearful Samar flock,
Knowing all the tears that flowed into their vale of disconsolation,
Intoned the message of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.
Noted he with glad cognition, that among the usual old women
Present in his church’s pews, were men created equal under God,
Soldiers he befriended with games of chess. White American faces
Seemed as grim in the shadows as those old masks in Samar dress.
Quoted he with extra fervor and devotion, passages in the prayer
Beseeching the Lord to pour forth grace into the hearts of all men,
Pondering as he was on the message given him by a secret angel,
To depart his beloved Balangiga town and flock as soon as able.
Quietly ended that evening Angelus prayer; then towards Padre,
Came something unexpected in boots, striding up the middle aisle.
A soldier, speaking with accents as hard as a New England winter,
Addressed him, “Padre Donato Quiambaolibot?” name mangled.
“I must make confession,” said the young man, his eyes downcast.
“Of course, my son.” Padre Atoy replied, uncertain not unwilling.
Pointing to the confessional box, both quickly disappeared into it.
Later the soldier thanked him but reluctantly was absolution given.
For quaking was Padre Atoy’s blessing hand, as God’s forgiveness
Gave he the boy from Boston beyond the grill, whose grievous sins
Were now, by vows he solemn made, secrets he must take with him,
As all the others that weighed down his heart with heavy sadness.
The boy was part of a special team of reconnaissance and capture.
Upriver they questioned prisoners of war, Katipuneros he said.
Witnessed he most cruel torture by an overeager interrogator,
A grievous sin of foul omission for these acts he’d not prevented.
“Foul murder!” cried Padre Atoy’s heart, urging foul vengeance.
“Fly up the mountain to our friend the Katipunan commander!
Tell him his plans may be to the enemy revealed. Save liberty!
Accursed be the new conquistadores, to devil pledged allegiance!”
Sullen as burning embers of a tree struck by lightning in the forest,
Remembered the Padre the awesome words that he and the elders
Heard from the American commander when they upon their arrival
Delivered first their message announcing the Empire’s intentions.
Reading from the proclamations of their President and Congress,
Articles, on some authority unknown and by the Filipinos rejected,
Taking what they regarded as these benighted lands unto their own
Declaring, by rights ungranted, the native people to be insurectos
In their own home, in the sacred lands that forefathers gave them.
Ejected were they from the seat of sovereignty and self-governance
Replaced by these strangers and invaders lately come over the sea,
With their soldiers and their rifles and the banners of their Empire.
Remembered the Padre the stony silence of elders who gathered
To listen to the American commander deliver his message of steel,
Subjecting the people to the will of an alien and absent civilization,
Gloved in the glowing, pretty words of a benevolent assimilation.
Remembered too, the Padre, how the embers burned in the eyes
Of the elders upon hearing those words of their new subjugators,
How the tree in the forest struck by the fire of descending injustice
Would ignite in the combustible timbers of his courageous people,
Angry conflagrations that could not but signal their total uprising.
Faces, sullen with pique and masked with the hardness of the ages,
Rose like hornets aroused by giants invading their sacred nests,
Determined to recover by stings of metal the freedom now stolen.
No quarter could be given now that Empire insisted on dominion.
Liberty won from the Spanish tyrant would not be given to another
Ravisher of the people whose wounds from the chains of the other
Had not yet healed in the brief sunshine of new-won Independence.
Wounds that now were raw and red with salt of an ally’s treachery
Would goad the Samar people to vengeance on the new-found foe,
Whose words that day desecrated a sanctuary of the Waray people,
Carrying as they did the message of a new and detestable tyranny.
In the vigilant eyes of a friend, present in that fateful convocation,
Disguised as an old and decrepit beggar quiet in the background,
Padre Atoy recalled the veiled look of unmistakable admonition,
Cast upon him by that friend, the Katipunan’s General Lukban!
As the words of the American captain declaring occupation then
Descended upon them, and the flag of the new imperial occupier
Ascended in the plaza, Padre Atoy with the saddest look of his own
Gave his friend a sign of resignation: wordlessly, “I was wrong!”
As vanishing quietly into the night his friend went up the mountain,
Bearing in his heart, which was hardening with resolve by stages,
Bitterest biles of anger and indignation. As loyal escorts met him,
Reflected in his eyes the cold hard light of the rising Samar moon.
Padre Atoy then, in the gathering gloom of his emptying church,
Pondered on the vexing and explosive situation, as in his thoughts
Echoed still the words and the emotions that the angels and saints
Witnessed just weeks now past in that church profaned by evil war.
Soon would commence, as on the heels of a moment of darkening
In clouds of the luminous sky, the turbulent season when the winds,
Hurled at the land by the neighboring ocean, scream and carom
Among the tremulous waves of trees remade as tumultuous seas,
Shaking their furious leaves that scatter as navies lost in a squall;
When Gods of Thunder roar electric anger in bolts of the lightning
Raining merciless torrents of spears hard at the remorseless earth
Which shudders and trembles and cannot flee from the onslaught;
But must gather in ever-deepening pools, the tears of sadness and
Loss that always appears in that season of floods and pestilence.
These are forces of nature that have carved in numberless ages,
The shape and form and the fortitude of the Samar Island people.
Sleepless on his narrow bed did Padre toss throughout the night.
If holy vows unbroken he must maintain then to certain slaughter
Was he leaving his flock? Yet was his silence the smarter thing?
If up the hill he went, would he reveal the hidden Filipino might?
Battled in him ceaselessly, conscience, common sense, intelligence.
These forces only let him have surcease in sleep when on his knees,
Prayed the Padre as never before, for kindness, guidance, grace.
Where he’d be tomorrow, he offered to the Architect of the place.
Outside his olden Balangiga chapel, beside the signal belfry tower,
There stood an ancient ylang-ylang tree, boughs to heaven turning.
Heavy yellow blossoms, moonlit gleam of silver on them burning,
Stirred in zephyr stream with perfume subtle as the midnight hour.
If you should ask the singer of this song where came its lyric from,
Reply would come that history’s hand has a curious turning thumb.
The mind is numb and the tongue is dumb at tragic past’s appeal,
But sorry future’s sure if those pages aren’t seen. Reveal! Reveal!
Of the troop of men that we have spoken as holding Samar’s town
Its captive treasure, how shall we take a fair and honest measure?
These footmen of the Empire were but as comets falling from a sky
Whose total firmament ought first be surveyed by this ironic eye.
For the hardy men from which they came, themselves were exiles,
Fleeing Western empires in boats of faith and hope in freedom,
To the land of the Plymouth Rocks and Lakes as Great as oceans,
Of forests old and golden prairies ringing snowbound mountains,
A land on which their forefathers founded a republic of free men,
Based on self-evident truths they held to be by God Almighty given,
That men are all created equal with rights unalienable from them,
These being those to Life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness;
That the governed should give consent, else by holy right and duty,
Must tyranny be overthrown! To these they pledged a sacred honor
Their fortunes and their very lives. In truth, the ideals of Liberty
Were never more shining than in the childhood days of that nation,
Ideals that shone upon the dark pathways as stars of inspiration
To the rest of the world, even unto the Filipino nation. But alas!
The land of bison and red-skin peoples beckoned to the envious,
With a lust that mocked their Constitution, and Empire followed.
So if you should ask, how comes this knowledge of those soldiers?
It is by hoof prints of their horses and tracks of the wagon wheels.
Because they come from a race of scriveners about that experience
Discernible is their passage upon that continent of the conscience.
His mortal sins absolved by the wave of a Padre’s quaking hand,
The young soldier who stepped away from his penance at the altar,
Was Edgar Emory Adams, Lieutenant, scribe and son of Pilgrims,
Harvard man, lately of Boston, Mass., by way of Tientsin, China,
Where Boxers in rebellion gave the Infantry a taste of Chinamen.
A company of fine young chaps, volunteers to civilization’s burden,
Commanded by Captain Thomas Connell, lately of Connecticut,
By way of West Point and Cuban War, C-Company, Ninth Infantry
The brave men under arms, the flower of Columbia’s youth at war,
Now stationed at Balangiga town, Samar Island, Visayas Isles, P.I.
So stepped Adams into the cool twilight of a Samar night, curious,
What might be revealed there by a dutiful and ever-observant eye.
Beyond the church yard, behind the plaza out on the river frontage
Strolled Lt. Adams to a sight he did not like, young Billy Hatfield
The trouble-making Private, who had disdainful Kentucky roots
Out of balance, out of quarters, out of uniform, and roaring drunk.
One hand on a bamboo vessel of brown and frothy coco tubà cider.
Another all over a dusky mocha model of sultry Samar pulchritude,
Attired in native sarong dress that clung to her body as a fairy veil,
Settling into dark long tresses and warm shadows across the river.
Not a prude, exactly, and certainly not a wet blanket, Lt. Adams
Fled discreetly the scene of banned fraternizing with the natives,
Though in the morn he knew must he report the witnessed incident.
Now upon approaching their Convent-cum-American Barracks,
Over his genteel heart there stole vague dissatisfaction and dismay
As part of him recoiled in revulsion at Billy Hatfield’s wanton folly
For Adams felt more for duty than Hatfield who only cared for life.
Reflected in them was their people’s ambivalent strife over a war.
Adams believed like President McKinley, in a White Man’s Burden
To be shouldered by every honorable, loyal and educated citizen
Advancing freedom for the heathen as civilization’s glorious task,
The reason he recalled, that many volunteered to war on Spain.
What grand parades and public fêtes did shower on their heads,
Swooning hometown girls made gods of uniforms and manliness,
As richly garlanded soldiers marched off to war, to glorious war.
To Hell with Spain! Hurrah Rough Riders! Remember the Maine!
Bright the sunshine gleamed on the grassy stands. Milling crowds
Loudly cheered on the Boston Common’s green, as brassy bands
Bade fond farewell to marching boys in the sunny grove of spring,
When hopes like flowers dripping rain, unfettered, bloom and rise.
Throwing kisses everywhere, the pretty hometown girls applauded
As oompah bands played Souza marches: Stars ‘n Stripes Forever,
Ringing Liberty Bell, saluting El Capitan, and Rocket’s Red Glare.
The hefty cannons boomed their exclamation markings in the air!
Frenzied there the crowd agog, higher and higher the spirits soar
As rank on rank the new recruits march on to war, to terrible war.
Faster and faster down the street tramp they on to the martial beat,
Till softer and softer their echoing feet take them on to men-o’war.
As he settled down to sleep, Adams was back in Boston Mass.,
Looking out on Boston Harbor far below, through Mother’s eyes
Whom he missed, and his Father, whose pride in him burst out.
In his pocket was a letter to them he’d been composing:
Dearest Mom and Dad,
We’ve arrived at our new posting. Samar’s what they call the place. Centuries of the Spanish hosting, has not improved their backward race. It’s America’s turn now, to try and do some good. The Captain wants a cleanup, of the filthy neighborhood. The little mayor’s offered peasants, brought in to do the job. I’m taking on the hundred hardy natives, making up that motley mob. A little civic action is sure to turn the tide. Against the nasty rebels, we’ll win the people to our side. These poor brown childlike devils! They need us for a guide. And don’t you have those worries, Mom, about our moral lives. Disregard the lurid stories, Mom, of extemporaneous wives. Only uncouth fellows indulge in Oriental temptresses. The Captain’s put the priest here, upon a moral press. He wants the local women here, to use a more decorous dress. As for their evil habits, the gambling and the cockfight, we’ve pushed a strong campaign and soon we’ll have these put to flight. It rains here almost every day and the thunder’s fit to split New England ears. Our food is all in tin-can rations, for that I have no cheers. Instead I get my sustenance, in thoughts of all those fair parades on Boston Common there, the inspiration of our countrymen and of course to God for me, your own beloved prayers. In almost every circumstance, our Uncle Sam’s been good to us, though war I’ve learned is something a little short of glorious. Still, that’s the burden we’ve taken up, the task of civilizing men. It’s our reward of gratitude from this backward heathen tribe, that I wish were a bit more certain to arrive. But our Infantry’s a Company of the finest Eastern lads, the Captain’s a West Point officer and his uncle’s a friend of Dad’s. Tomorrow I’ve got the mail detail so I’ll be sending this. The mail boat’s due in Tacloban town and my squad is rowing down. Hope it’s got some mail from you, because I surely miss your kiss, and the company of you and Pup and Sis. Love always, Edgar.
In his mother’s heart, charades were just those very war parades,
Which seemed to make her love for son a foe to love of nation.
Rank on rank of uniformed boys disguised as grown-up soldiers
Seemed to her like little toys all bundled up for cannon fodder.
When misty fogs from great Atlantic blowing in from harbor there
Cast briefly streaking shadows upon the vast parade before her,
Into the heart of Adams’ mother, into the sunshine of her caring,
Crept the shades of silent sorrow and dark foretelling of tomorrow.
Though the golden sun, with help from the booming of the bands,
Recovered strength and re-established the patriotic atmosphere,
Clasped she yet so tightly, to pale and trembling lips, her hands,
Where there before, her soldier son, had kissed them ever tenderly.
Now far away, Adams sank to deeper slumber’s subtle stages, as
Dreaming, he journeyed backwards into the time-bound stream.
He dreamt he was part of an Indian party in the days of Revolution
Wearing turkey feathers, buckskin moccasins and warlike paint.
By stealth and cunning, their party boarded the tea-filled ships.
In Boston Harbor to dump into its salty waters its untaxed cargo.
“No Taxation Without Representation! Down with Aguinaldo!”
Muttered the sleeping Adams in his senseless, stuporous state.
Till the dream eroded and came back again at the Little Big Horn,
Custer against the nations of Oglala, Lakota, Cheyenne and Sioux.
There the flags of Infantry flew near to that of Cavalry, charging
Down upon the foes encamped in tepees beside the Greasy Grass.
Indians, with roughly-carved and ruddy faces splashed in colors
Crimson, green and yellow-jacket, orange fire and purple sage,
Opened fire with rage as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse shouted
Curdling cries of savage anger, scalping skulls of Yankee soldiers
In a feast of blood and bones of men and horses on a tragic plain.
In his tortured dream, Adams saw the headstones in a graveyard,
Monuments of defeat at the hands of implacable redskin warriors,
Clamoring for the golden locks of Custer’s head upon a truncheon,
Wrapped in burning tatters of his flag and treaties he had broken,
Scattered to the winds in ashy remnants of a white man’s burden,
Mingled into the dust of a million Indians below the field of battle,
Restoring for just that instant their stolen happy hunting ground.
Dreams, whose constitution sets them free from logic and reality,
Instilled in the sleeping officer a vague foreboding of things to be,
As the curling smoke of dimly remembered past departed upwards
To future skies of cloudless wonders as moon and stars descended.
Stirring from a slumber of odd disturbance and fantastical dreams,
Adams, in his cot, shook off the night’s illusions with quiet prayer.
He awoke to see in the pale Samar light the nemesis of his evening,
Billy Hatfield sneaking into barracks, a troubled look upon him.
William Hatfield, born to po’ folks in a wood-built cabin by a river
Deep in Kentucky hill-and-hollers country deep in hillbilly heaven,
Solid-built of grits and bacon, strong as oaks of his Kentucky home
Had a voice like thunder rolling round a deep-walled echo canyon.
Ringed a yellow beard around his face on a shaggy-maned head,
Jack-of-all-trades as farmer, woodsman, trapper, rabbit-chaser,
Moonshine master brewer, card-sharp brawling poontang-hunter,
Redneck rouster of bawdy bars and loyal patron of the county jail,
Blue Mountain Man, victim of a well-meaning country preacher,
His cousin the local sheriff and the preacher’s unfaithful foxy wife,
Over a game of cards and whiskey got Billy inducted in the Army
And swiftly shipped out-of-country out-of-sight as Private Hatfield.
At boot camp his sore behind was the loyal patron of Sarge’s boot,
Now assigned to Company C, Ninth Infantry, United States Army
Stationed at Balangiga Town, Samar Island, Philippine Islands
Somewhere on the Ocean, lost in a heathen sea, wondering…
“What am I doing in Googoo Land?”
“Why must we fight these unknown injuns?
Blacker than Pa’s burnt biscuits are they, these Balangiggers.
Why must we fight them with the long guns?
Civilize them with a Krag?
Whiter than lilies are we.
Let’s take ‘em with our bare hands in a fair fight, or
Let’s just leave ‘em be!
We have no fight with these Samar bowl-oh-men.
They were not at the Little Big Horn
Crouched they not in the Greasy Grass.
They didn’t jump us on the Bloody Loam.
All they got here’s coocoonuts.
Take me back to my ole Kentucky home.
What do we want with their lousy Samar?
It rains so much it’s a frog-and-tadpole’s war.
They’ve hit the Spaniard like the small pox.
They thought we were their friends.
But with our jackboots here we’ve jumped into their sandbox,
And to their faces, kicked up the dirt.
So comes the Yankee Doodle hurt.
Boys! That sandbox could be a graveyard.
And how I miss my Granma’s corn-cob grits and ham hocks !”
Declaimed Private Hatfield to all his mates a while upon arriving.
His earnest eyes reflecting in their hues, Kentucky skies above,
Below the which he childlike grew with no ceiling to his senses,
Vanished childhood were the days in freedom’s distant homeland.
Like fruits that one has tasted in the early morn of life’s beginning,
The scent of truth from the stench of lies in the light of a simple
Man’s discerning, is not a thing to be mistaken or misconstrued.
“Benevolent assimilation”, he scarce could swallow or pronounce.
Private William Hatfield, lately of God Knows Where, U.S. of A,
By way of hard knocks and poor fortune, now in these boon docks
Full of that youth that’s wasted on the young, but not in his case!
For he was a looker, inviting maidens to love’s sweet surrender,
With playful eyes descending where a maiden’s eyes won’t follow.
He was an eyeful for delighted maidens, their hearts beholding
Sincerest eyes of bluest longing, reckless and oblivious to the war;
Their senses perceiving in his eager lingo and his manners fresco,
Words they did not know, but understood in the universal language
Of native maidens and foreign soldiers on a sultry Samar night,
Dubious that nations’ wars could exceed the turmoil in the hearts
Of lonesome soldiers and lissome maidens on a sultry Samar night.
Up in the mountains, away in the far cliffs northward of the town,
Away in places, out of the way, in caves, in aeries, in secret spaces
Dance and spar the deadly masters of the ancient fighting arts,
With swords and bolo axes, hands as hammers and feet as scythes.
Dance and spar the dread disciples of the Sinulog dueling parts,
Dance and spar the Masters of Arnis, the Escrimadors of Samar,
The spear-and-arrow contingents, the bare-hands fighting forces,
That in the centuries past ever fought the slavers and the pirates.
One such, but only in trusted company, was Balangiga’s mayor
Abayan, also the restorer of coaches and repairer of all things.
One of Twelve Apostles, as their secret society had named itself.
Abayan with five sons, all longing to be as the mighty father was,
Fearsome Fighter, Artiste de Arnis, Master Boloman of Samar.
Abayan, with a daughter some said was better than her brothers,
Gifted as she was with the arts of disguise, the stealth of surprise,
Zarina, the daughter of Abayan, shadow shifter, dazzling dancer.
And so with all the others of the Twelve Apostles, in Samar villages
Up and down the mountain island in secret places, the clans of war
Trained their sons and daughters to be masters of the ancient arts
Wielding bolo honed in ages past of heavy metal strife and sorrow.
To Katipunan’s Lukban were Samar’s Twelve Apostles pledged,
A force of arms, albeit not modern, but a pure, primordial force,
A force of iron wills, intent on objectives at all costs to be won,
Making up for the meager that their nation could muster in wars.
Meeting in secret conclave, up in the mountains lost to casual view
Twelve Apostles and the clans of war, the bolo men and escrimador
Specialists in battle, delivering whirling blades and wooden staves,
The weapons and the missiles of their ancient primeval struggles.
Meeting in secret conclave, the Twelve Apostles stood:
Daza of Borlongan, Major in Lukban’s army, trader, leader.
Abayan of Balangiga, Grandmaster of Bolos, Knives, and Axes
Acidre of Balayon, Grandmaster of Arnis and Kali
Delantar of Capotoan, Grandmaster of Bolo men and Kali
Elacion of Catarman, Grandmaster of Bolo men and Archery
Alvarina of Calbayog, Grandmaster of Bolo men and Arnis
Gandia of Homonhon, Grandmaster of Arnis and Kali
Cebero of Guiuan, Grandmaster of Arnis and Hand Combat
Canonigo of Yacgun, Grandmaster of Arnis and Kali
Devanadero of Catbalogan. Master of Spies, Armorer of Weapons
The “Twelve” in their name being mostly an ideal, the ten present
Sufficed for a quorum of camaraderie that gladdened the hearts of
Fellow travelers on a weary road, together safe in the mountains.
But bitter tidings they offered each other of the enemy’s advances:
“The cost of fighting’s heavy. The armory needs more coach
Springs to make the bolos and the arrows for all the new recruits.
The enemy is too ready, we must know more before each attack.
Soldiers and their weapons are too many, power’s what we lack.”
“With Aguinaldo gone there’s only Katipunan’s General Lukban.
Now the fall of Tacloban in Leyte, American invaders are pressing
The thrust into Samar, Calbayog’s taken, the enemy holds Basey,
The Ninth Infantry at Balangiga, Damocles dagger on our heads.”
Upon a rough-drawn map of Samar Island, marks revealed the foe
Advancing by stages swift and steady occupation of coastal towns
Surrounding the hinter highlands with a band of steel from the sea.
Said the mapmaker Devanadero to the Council of the Apostles:
“Their plan is plain to see. They’ll take the coastal towns of Samar
Wait in occupation, blockade and strangle us in the mountains,
Make traitors of our people, ally themselves with collaborators
To reap us in a circling net of our own hometowns and families.”
Replied Abayan, mayor of Balangiga, pointing to Samar’s map:
“Slash the net there, on the port beside the ocean at Balangiga.
Its passage to the southern seas is our lifeline, key to our survival,
Infantry detachment there is small, and careless and overconfident,
Captain worries more on the morals of his men and our women.”
To the Council’s surprise, Abayan’s daughter Zarina declared,
“There are seventy four exactly, in the American detachment.
Three officers, seven noncoms, sixty-three enlisted men at arms.
As for careless, they have three months provisions in tin cans.
As for overconfident, they have one hundred Springfield Krags
And twenty five thousand rounds of freshly minted ammunition.
Officers and staff are barracked at the Convent and Town Hall
While enlisted men are in four private houses. All the long days
The soldiers sleep and read and play chess with Padre Atoy,
Or are off harassing the town folk pressing them into their civics
Talking to the elders about benevolent assimilation and surrender,
Describing the benefits of their dominion, their fair democracy,
Here, I have made a list with their assignments and sentry hours.”
For the intelligence she had gathered, the Council was admiring.
Though snickers for methods the warrior maiden may have used
Rose up in the gallery. She silenced these with a sinister motion
That sent a shiver up their spines and a quiver in their hearts.
Her father Abayan was given the honor of leading the maneuver,
He devised an attack that amused his peers for its use of disguise,
And solved by a simple signal the problem of the enemy’s dispersal
But the real prospect of its success by design was what won them.
Pledged then each Apostle his best warriors for the endeavor,
From each, the human missiles and living shrapnel they offered
Included themselves for no armchair chieftains there were present,
Council of war united in the grim and gruesome task before them.
Later that day, Abayan and Zarina were away with her brothers,
Abayan had occasion to inquire of her, or rather her arithmetic.
Three and seven make ten, and sixty-three, make seventy three.
Yet said she not, that seventy-four were in Ninth Cavalry rosters?
As Abayan recalled in the Apostolic meeting’s minutiae. Smiling,
Said she “I’m going to save one of them so I can kill him myself.”
Knowing her better than herself, her father kept silent, knowing
His daughter knew better than the rest. Yet, after she hastily left,
Abayan called on Romel his eldest son and put her care in his best.
Then he gathered his sons around him, Romel and Dan,
Israel and Judah, and last and least, at least in height, was little Dalamosiga,
To tell them of the plan to retake Balangiga for the Ancient Clan.
Two pairs were twins, as many were in their Mother’s ancient line,
A line of warriors stretching back to seafaring days of long ago.
Romel and Dan were mutual mirrors as Israel doubled Judah.
Dalamosiga alone was born alone so small a hasty afterthought,
As she, old Waray-waray princess was fond of telling Dalamosiga,
Whenever he, young Waray warrior showed off his fighting graces,
But truly, she loved Dalamosiga, runt of the litter, last of the pack,
For in his brave heart she saw the strength of a hundred warriors.
On Zarina, her eldest child and only daughter, endured a mystery
Closed even to the probing of a mother’s heart as to its source,
Her daughter had a strange primeval force directing her destiny.
Eyes, curved scimitars with pupils like Zen dots, smoldered ever
In a resolute face, defiant face burnished as blue Damascus steel.
Stance, like a maiden hot for a serving of her sweet potato pie, yet
Swift as a Moro beheading she could slice your gut open, smiling.
Primal and primeval were the forces that enthrall and inspire her.
Arms, supple-smooth, rippling avid strength when she flexed them
Yet all an arabesque with her long dark tresses and shapely neck
Around the which she often wore, laurels of ylang-ylang blossoms
Down cascading to her bosom so to camouflage her savage breast.
First like a rosy eyelid upon the gleaming waters of the far ocean,
Then as the king of flowers over a sea of trees upon the mountain,
Soft from its catacombs of fading stars in the dark shade of night,
Rose the morning sun upon the riverine delta of Balangiga town.
Above in the highlands, looking down from their lofty promontory,
Battlements of bamboo and the masses of mimosa on the meadows
Stirred in the slowly rising breeze coming over them from the sea
As birds of prey with razor eyes saw rustlings in the purple rushes.
Down in slumbering folds of the ochre river valley, the dew-drops
Flew from golden stalks in the cornrows of a verdant countryside,
To visit upon the diaphanous clouds above in the glistening sky,
Dispersive shroud of moisture that gives the blue to earthly eye.
Loud from their wrinkled throats, crowed the round-eyed roosters
To scare up an early meal of grubs or call the sleeping owners up
To fasten to their scaly feet the warrior cleats of whirling combat
For deadly gladiator duels in the Sabong arenas of the cockfight.
Indoors, within their low and humble houses thatched with palms,
Early wakened by the cries of the children and duties maternal,
The mothers in their sleep-wrinkled dresses and uncoiffed tresses,
Bestoked the sleeping charcoal embers in their primitive hearths,
To eke once more from meager larders, already besieged and bare,
What might be found there as a sustenance for the hungry toddlers.
Above their little dwellings their unceasing struggles for survival,
Gave evidence in ascending little eddies of blue and smoky spiral,
Which, seen from afar by returning spouses, fishers and huntsmen,
Farmers or herders, homeward from the predawn haunts of labor,
Bespoke of the women’s dedication to the needful tasks of the morn
And gladdened the hearts of the men folk, in spirit no more forlorn,
As to homestead and hearth by the seaside or the heart of the town,
Their strides increased to reach before the daylights overbrighten
The waiting bosom of their loved ones, the closed-eyed tiny smiles
Of the infants, and children reassured that forsaken they were not.
Restoring to their honored places their bolos and their scythes and
The fishing spears and netting, then pridefully showing off a catch,
Gathered together the Samarnon men folk with wives and children
In the morning’s repast to fortify them all for another day to pass.
Quietly, in the Abayan household after the morning meal was done
Zarina and Dalamosiga, the eldest and the youngest of their batch,
After father and brothers departed away on the apostolic missions,
Stole away to seashore by the pier to a special errand of their own.
Whispered Dalamosiga to his sister in a most conspiratorial tone,
“Every Saturday morning the Americanos send a squad to Leyte
In a boat or up the coast to Basey to which I’m not exactly certain,
Returning on the evening, with news and supplies they are laden.”
Replied Zarina to her brother, scimitar eyes eagerly a-flashing,
“Then you and I and another friend or two might go with them,
We’ll feign to help them find their way in the treacherous sound,
Offer to fetch them coconuts for drink in the groves along the way,
Or failing that, I and friend Maria have a charm or two to sway
These lonesome soldiers to bring along our harmless little crew.”
Excited by the plan, Dalamosiga pulled her hair in jest and ran.
But she was quicker and smirking got and threw him to the ground.
More somber and serious were brother and sister as in the plaza
Noted they with burning anger, how the fluttering winds of Samar
Played with the Red, White and Blue of the American standard,
The Stars that insulted their newfound pride, vile Stripes of empire.
Symbols, which in simple hearts took on the meaning of the ages,
Wounded them deeply as if the birds of the forest or fish in the sea,
Were to receive a sign from the gods of their primitive instincts
Suspending the laws that governed the precincts of their species.
Brief as the most transitory of instants was the interval of freedom,
As of a door, opening from a cloister of darkness and superstition
To a world of light and promise beyond, which ever so luminous,
Was glimpsed by the hopeful people of Samar and all of the nation,
Only to close with the treachery of an ally who ever only pretended
Or never intended to champion their cause, their cause of liberty.
Brief as the most transitory of instants though that interval was,
Forever was the vision and image of a nation free and independent
Impressed upon the souls and the spirit of the people, as of the face
Of a loved one that the lover can never forget, though the eyes be
Blinded and the heart be skewered by regret. Quiet, they crossed
Beneath the waving flag, with bitter sentiments prudently hidden.
Beyond the plaza, behind the Convent of Balangiga’s olden church
Brother and sister came upon the river’s edge. Going southwards,
Along its margins, they arrived at its outlet to the sea. A crude pier
Stood in white foam wash where rolled the boats in the rising tides.
Waves, glittering emerald, peaked with foam and jade-translucent
Crashed on the sandy Samar shore with voices gay and incessant.
Out in the distance among the morning fogs of dew and sea mist
Were the islands of Homonhon to the south and Leyte westwards.
Waiting among the gnarly roots and thickets of the mangrove trees
Which densely grew in a wild profusion beside the river’s mouth,
Were friends they had called upon for cover and collaboration
In the day’s little project of watching the pier and its approaches.
Today would bring a squad of the garrison soldiers they expected
Would row a boat to bases in Tacloban across the bay, or to Basey
Up the coast. Moments later, slung with rifles and long pale faces,
Appeared before them six soldiers, towards the old pier marching.
With wariness and suspicion, did the officer in charge of the detail
Regard the youthful throng. But Lt. Adams recognized Dalamosiga
The mayor’s son and asked him to guide them through the sound,
Whose unknown reefs and shark-infested waters troubled them.
Looking out onto the choppy waters and the long expense of labor
Required to row the distance to Basey and Tacloban miles away,
Recruited then and there the Lieutenant, five more of the indios,
Whose intentions all along were to be so included in that voyage.
So, with diminutive Dalamosiga at the prow, and sister Zarina
At the helm beside Lt. Adams, and four more interspersed among
The seated soldiers, friend Maria and three more secret clansmen,
Launched the outrigged dugout into the sea swiftly outward bound.
Propelled by bending oars and flying through the emerald waters
On pinions of stout bamboo, soldiers of occupation and captives
Of benevolent assimilation shared the coastal Samar lovely view,
First with some disquiet that later subsided in the glimmering sea,
Where was reflected the mirror image of the azure bowl of heaven,
As swarthy arms of white and the smooth-skinned chocolate ones
Plowed with rhythmic energy into the surface of the emerald sea,
Like legs of a many-color millipede on broad leaf in a banana tree.
In the watery world of the ocean depths that glided far below them
Glimpsed the soldiers and the subjects, the realm behind a Mirror,
An aquaspheric place in hidden gardens of a submarine creation,
The slow-motion universe of fishes, with a sky beneath the ocean,
Made of coral reefs as passing clouds in depths of silent majesty,
Great walls of waving kelp as forests green amid abyssal rain,
Schools of sail-fin fish as flocks of geese that leap to outer space,
Urchin orbs in spiny hordes like freely floating strange balloons.
In the slanting rays of morning, on the ocean’s bottom clearly seen
Were landmark boulders in awesome canyons fantastic to behold,
Each a planet, each a world unto its own, as occupying denizens
With awful claws and deadly pincers, patrol with zeal its borders.
Then! A pod of whales broke the mirror surface of the living sea!
Rising into the air with strange inhuman smiles leviathan and alien
But sentient and childlike and tranquil as emperors in their realm,
As if aware of the wonder and admiration in the boat-bound crew,
That intelligence so self-effacing yet confident and true might exist
As a dolphin or a whale far from the species of the homo sapiens.
Surprised, delighted and astounded, the soldiers and their subjects
Halted their rowing motions and with mirth implacable, laughed.
Laughed with a humor not mocking, but innocent and affectionate,
And humble and meek at the startling closeness of such behemoths
And glad, surpassingly glad, to be beside the Mirror as that vision
Broke its surface and leapt from out the depths of unseen grandeur
In that moment of awe beyond expression. Mind disbelieving sight,
How they longed to touch the grand cetaceans in their dominion,
Or ride upon the hydrodynamic curving tails as down descending
Went the whales into the ocean and Mirror’s surface closed again.
Forgotten for the meanwhile, in that mysterious moment celestial,
Was the wall of shadows above their nations, and duty and strife.
Grew in every soul aboard the knowledge from a source eternal
That brown and white arose from the variegated wisdom of life.
Nature, which the Leviathans that had suddenly appeared to them,
Inhabit without Hobbes’ goblins: possessiveness, diffidence, glory,
That account for the quarrels of the Commonwealth of humankind,
Had much to teach, not only in such rarefied encounters as this.
For all aboard that boat afloat in God’s affection, were young and
Gentle and full of expectation from life, despite the circumstances.
Alone in the frail and cumbrous craft upon the vastness of the sea,
Did they wonder Who had sent the whales and what the lesson be?
Far off, the coastal shore of Samar isle faded in the heat and haze.
A wall of shadows rose again. Human vanity regained composure.
Naked men are soft as flesh, so in society prefer to don vain armor.
Ahead, Dalamosiga was pointing them to a coral atoll for a rest.
Tikling birds, the long-legged inspirers of ancient Waray dances,
Chorused in numberless flocks from their rookeries in the rocky
Nooks of the isolated island as the boat of the voyagers beached.
Furious with the flapping of wings and the startled calls of alarm,
Did the flocks of birds greet the intruders on their isle of roosting.
As aliens, newly landed from worlds unseen, did the soldiers then
Marvel at the grand and sonorous sound of the winged multitudes.
In a profusion of golden cowrie shells on the sandy shore reflected
Was a wondrous sunshine, as on precious metals inlaid on helmets
Of warriors in a phalanxed army, resplendent in glory and honor.
Safe from their enemies in an island fortress secured by isolation,
Here were the nurseries and training grounds of an avian nation.
Wandering up among the nestlings, clutching their awful weapons,
Puzzled and rued were the soldiers at the fearlessness of the birds,
Who stirred not at their approach, but only attained a stony silence
When lo!--from a place unseen and a source unknown there came
The sound of a flute, sweet and strange such as never they’d heard,
Except in a dream, where its notes, high and low, achieving grace,
Showed an impossible range, as if the old Mother of Winds herself
Had fashioned from the bamboo groves a forest full of Pan’s Pipes
And composed the symphony of sounds, now plaintive, now strong,
That seemed to weave together in a magical and harmonious song
The loud cacophony of the Tikling birds, who seemed to listen with
Tides as they found the rocky shore before retreating away again.
Soft exceeding soft, as though from the rhapsodies of the seraphim,
Then, high and clear and bright, as from the throngs of archangels
Came to the soldiers’ startled ears the music of the Samar ages,
Borne by the molecules of the air as a myriad crystalline spheres.
Then suddenly, with a contrapuntal savagery, a loud staccato beat
As of staves or sticks striking the resonant boles of bamboo trees,
Gave to the fluting waves of golden pipes a matching sound of feet
Stamping to the ground dancing sounds of syncopated melodies.
Running up to Lt. Adams, eyes crazed by stronger stuff than tubá,
Which would be the elixir of amazement, came the shaggy Private,
Hatfield of Kentucky to report that he’d been with the native band,
Having witnessed a display that disturbed and delighted his mind,
Of a deadly dance by the maidens Zarina and Maria, and flutist
Diminutive Dalamosiga, down by the side of a blue lagoon beyond.
But his accents and demeanor, redolent of uncouth Kentucky youth
Was disdained by his Boston Brahmin officer who, ever decorous,
Required the odious mountain man before him to stand at attention
And if curious of his meaning yet would have no more description.
Besides, before long, came returning the natives through a breach
In the grove, innocent as daggers sheathed within their scabbards.
Onto the boat, soldiers and subjects clambered at Adams’ order,
Basey beckoned far away; Tacloban with a mail boat even farther,
Fretting at the height of the sun and the lateness of the morning,
So did an angry Yankee officer spur on his secretly smiling rowers.
But grievous and grim was the news that greeted them at Basey.
In the late-afternoon, the boat bearing the soldiers of Lt. Adams
Was moored to the pier and feelings of foreboding overcame them.
As at half-mast stood the flag that flew above the outpost there.
For the direst of events only, was such a signal reserved, and dire
Beyond expecting, was the event that occasioned its use that day.
For President William McKinley, Commander-in-Chief of them all
Was assassinated some weeks before and the nation was grieving.
In the quiet that dashed the spirits within, of the soldiers at Basey,
In a shock that overtook Lt. Adams and men, Zarina and friends
Were all but ignored, leaving them to see and record in their heads
The state of the fortifications, the number of men and other details.
Huddled in the boat by the sea the others and she quietly conferred
On all that they had seen and heard. Maria had taken a newspaper
Carelessly left alone and secreted it in the folds of her bold sarong.
Others counted the soldiers at Basey and knew Adams got his mail.
Most valuable of all were the simplest observations Zarina made.
The President was shot almost three weeks before; almost two
Had now past since he actually died. If it took that much time for
Such news to arrive, vulnerable must the Ninth at Balangiga be!
In her tactical mind, already repaid were their efforts of that day
By the discovery of how little regard the American commanders
In Basey and Tacloban must have for the company at Balangiga.
Irresolute she saw them to be, now she knew how very isolated too!
No trip to Tacloban would there be, as Dalamosiga had surmised,
For without further ado came Lt. Adams and crew ready for return
To comrades in Balangiga for whom a shock at the news awaited.
Eastward near the coast quickly they rode on a returning course.
An angry Samar moon rose almost full in the sky as they left Basey.
An angrier moon arose in Zarina’s heart, and bitter with recall of
How complete was the occupation at Basey, how abject the people.
Most galling of all was the swagger of the Marine named Waller,
A superior to Adams, his rank she could not tell, perhaps a Major.
The look in his eye, as with utter contempt, he surveyed the natives,
She’d seen before in the evil of a pirate slaver, a conqueror’s eye,
As of a butcher in a cattle abattoir, too eager for cruel slaughter.
Silent, but with strokes of rowing that scoured the shadowy water,
Labored the soldiers and the indios, until near the midnight hour,
Sighted they Balangiga’s moonlit pier, undulating in tide receding.
Bone-weary and way-worn, bearing awaited mail and hated tidings
Trudged the soldiers home, grim-faced Lt. Adams quickly leading.
Like the plague would spread the news of their President’s death,
Demoralizing message of their mission’s conceiver and architect,
McKinley, who knelt to God for inspiration, now gone to judgment.
Unseen, unnoticed in the rushing of their arrival and quick egress,
Except by sharp-eyed Zarina, slipping off to mangrove shadows,
The shaggy-maned and ever-curious soldier Private Billy Hatfield,
And a new-found friend, the native warrior maiden, friend Maria.
Above, the moon looked down on Zarina and Dalamosiga’ s steps,
Retracing the early morning route, as homeward bound they went,
Faces shining with the far stars of their ancestors gleaming in eyes
That foresaw in Samar gloom, the crimson hues of a coming dawn.
Now commences that wettest season of the year which in ages past,
The Waray folk have known to be announced by wondrous signs,
As in the Tikling birds leaving off their habit of building their nests
And the sour lanzònes, pinched by the Virgin, now are sweetened;
As in the haloes and the glories and the strange-colored rainbows,
Mysteriously from eastern skies and with bulbous clouds following,
Sweep to the westwards over the ocean onto land as evil portents;
When the winds, which normally are gentle, suddenly are agitated,
Disturbed in composure as if by the motion of the chaotic currents,
Far-off in the ocean, peaked with foam and threatening and jagged
Like the topsails of the vintas of pirates and raiders approaching
To capture the women and the maidens and the children as slaves,
Bearing them off to southern enclaves, scattering them in harems;
When the rains, which mostly are kind and greeted with welcome,
Now arrive as furies of lightning and roaring thunderous torrents,
Dragging the boulders from mountains and carving deep crevasses
Besieging the land and pelting the people with quicksilvery arrows
Swelling the waters of the rivers that swamp their embankments,
Inundating fields of the rice crops, surrounding the animal herds
Which, affrighted in panic, break down their enclosures and flee.
This is the season of storms that are monsoon squall and typhoon,
When the old Mother of Winds struggles with her Sister the Forest.
This is the season when the Samarnon folk huddle together in fear,
As lightning and thunder bear witness to the anger of elder gods.
This is the season of dark clouds passing above as chariots of war
Eclipsing the sunshine that maidens and lovers united in betrothal,
Look hopefully for in the future full of children and contentment.
This is the season of a howling wilderness of tragedy and death!
Listen to the story of that long ago feastday of Michael Archangel,
In Balangiga town beneath the mountain, beside the ancient ocean,
When the warrior clans of the Samar people rose up, and bravely
Delivered a blow for the freedom of the infant Filipino Republic!
The sun had not yet arisen from its caverns far to the eastwards.
Up in the mountains, the trees were in shadows as they slumbered.
Warm with the hens, the round-eyed roosters still were dreaming.
Down in the town, the plaza and churchyard were in darkness,
As Waray women were walking to church in the pre-dawn gloom.
Larger than usual in frame, thought the yawning American sentry,
And dressed to the nines with heavy shawls and dark long skirts,
Faces white with powder of rice and awkward, but he ignored this.
Now what in the world were they bearing so ponderously he asked.
Replied the one with scimitar eyes choked with tears and sadness,
“These are the coffins of our babies who died in the night from the
Pestilence and the El Tor that robbed their breath and their blood
Through their eyes and ears and their mouths and their bottoms!
These are our infants who cried with a fright in the fiery coldness
That burned their brows and chilled their breasts and choked them
So killed in our hearts, hope for the future and our only gladness.
Look, if you must, look upon the visage of my offspring and baby!
Twisted in death and still bubbling at the mouth with the sickness.”
But the sentry, fearing offense to the lady and prospect of infection
Turned away from her scimitar eyes and let them into the church.
So passed into the sanctuary the procession of the veiled women,
Bearing their burdens aloft while wailing and singing most sadly
As they passed by the sentry, who yawning, thought he heard only
Clinking of earrings and bangles worn by the troop of the heathen.
Abayan the mayor, dressed as a mother with breasts of a maiden,
Dagger and short knife hidden among them, hung back by the gate
To observe him, as the others took to the doorway and short path
Leading to the Convent where soldiers were quartered and hungry.
These soldiers were awakened by the seemingly early arrival and
Loud lamentation of mourning by the natives for the Sunday Mass.
But most were eager to read their mail and the papers which for a
Lack of their ration of candles, they had not yet, since Adams came
From Basey in the darkness of the night before, with evil tidings of
President McKinley’s passing at the hand of the hidden assassin.
Captain Connell, with breviary before him and grief in his heart,
Prayed for the fallen chieftain far away in the Home of the Brave.
Though the reports were thoroughly sketchy, still, with bitter anger
He blamed the opponents of the war, traitors in their homeland,
For the killing of McKinley. Resolved he then to double his efforts
Here in this benighted land to accomplish America’s objectives.
“Why do these little brown indians fight and resist us?” he fumed.
“Why don’t they see our generous intention to teach them freedom
And make them a part of our system? What can they gain rebelling
Against us? Why insurrection? Liberty, welcoming huddled masses
Deserves not the slap in her face with which they have responded.
A curse on these little brown heathens with their unlettered ways!
A curse on the Katipunan leaders Lukban and Malvar most hated!
Curse the seductive women who are leading our good boys astray!
Where in the world is the Padre? Mass for McKinley must he pray.
No more of these cockfights and gambling and heathen display.
No more of this rubbish on the streets, of the dogs and chickens.”
So did Captain Connell of the Ninth spend his last moments alive!
For lo! Loud and insistent and clear from the belfry of the church,
Above the singing below of the Waray warriors dressed as women
Rang the signal tongues in the iron mouths of Balangiga’s bells!
Sang the iron tongues this song for you the tale of Balangiga tells!
Joining the ringing bells, as if making reply that others had heard,
Came fearsome blasts of conch-like shells from out the shadows,
Which like the horns and trumpets of Israel that smote the walls
Of Jericho, called forth the waiting wielders of the avenging bolo!
Out in the courtyard, whirled the sentries in sudden brazen alarm,
As Abayan the Mighty advanced upon them with Romel and Dan.
Raising rifles, they were staggered by daggers in their foreheads,
Delivered with patience and precision by the twin Samar fighters!
Within the Church, the women became again as Waray warriors,
And roused their sleeping babies from their little wooden coffins:
Their bolos and axes, krises and knives, weapons of primal battles.
Up in the Convent a tumult arose as through the doorway and gate
Crashed the main contingent of the fighters the Apostles brought.
First to die was Captain Connell, pistols blazing at the onslaught.
Bolos versus sabers, knives for Krags, staves versus baseball bats,
Brown native warriors white foreign soldiers the same red blood!
Out in the breakfast tent, behind the Convent, another fight was lit.
Brought in as peasants to clean the town, Katipuneros attacked it!
Valiantly, early risen soldiers fought well, but without conviction.
Died there Major Groswood, doctor and torturer, eyes gouged out!
Hundreds of barefoot Katipuneros bearing their primitive weapons
Exploded from the huts and hovels surrounding the captive town,
As the ringing bells signaled a coordinated attack on the soldiers
Who fought and fell to the avenging warriors of the ancient clans.
As escrima blades of the Sinulog dancers cut them down in spades,
Rushed some soldiers to the plaza to rally to the Stars and Stripes.
There they met their doom as wave on wave the bolo men arrived.
But as much they took they gave, and there did many warriors die!
Up in the tower, still did the diminutive Dalamosiga ring the bells,
As sister Zarina watched for the escaping soldiers from a window
Making for the river’s edge and the boats by the pier on the ocean.
Like the wily eels in motion, she speared them with bow and arrow.
And when in counterattack some soldiers fought their way there,
To the belfry where the maiden and her brother rang signal bells,
Romel and Dan were ready, as their father Abayan had bid them,
Mowing down soldiers with fists as hammers and feet as scythes.
Surprise on their side, the Apostles gained the upper hand, but not
Without losses, grievous and bad. In the midst of a deadly combat,
Lt. Adams shot little Dalamosiga with his Colt 45 and then he fled.
After him went Israel and Judah returning later with Adams’ head.
But upon the cold, hard Balangiga soil, had Dalamosiga fallen,
Dropping like a heavy stone into the deepest well of ancient night.
As his body fell to a crumpled heap, the forever-dreams beginning,
The rising sun eclipsed by blood, the earth beneath him spinning,
His sight enmired in mud, Death’s mask before him grinning back,
Espied he yet the final gloaming of colonial tyranny’s heavy might.
As he lay there, his head in Zarina his sister’s bloodstained lap,
Heard he yet in his death throe, cries for villainy’s final overthrow.
As the light of consciousness was then extinguished, the agents of
The Great Artificer tapped upon his shoulder, time it was to go.
As warrior gazed on the turbulent waves of the remorseless sea, he
Saw a nation’s sad tableau of looming clouds in a war-torn century.
Beside her primitive hearth, and staring into the sleeping embers,
Waited the warrior Mother, the ancient Waray Princess of Abayan,
Who already knew by mystic art before they bore his body to her,
The Knife of Ancient Wounding would pierce and rend her heart.
And as his brothers and the clansmen bore his lifeless body to her,
The Song of Ancient Grieving rose up to pierce her broken heart,
As with lips, pale and trembling kissed the ancient Waray Princess,
Her dead and fallen warrior, a star in eternity’s unending nights.
A battle great was won by the warrior clans at Balangiga that day.
Many more would be fought in the course of long and tragic fray.
Down from the flagpole in the plaza, to cheers of endless jubilation
Descended the hated symbol of Empire’s malevolent subjugation!
Here was the news sent to America by reporters of war in Manila.
“Massacred was the Ninth Infantry by a primitive force of rebels”
“In Balangiga town, Samar province, Visayas Isles, Philippines”
“Few survivors only. Governor Taft scolds leaders of the Army.”
So would commence in recrimination a stormy season of outrages,
When the Generals of the Armies, hearing gloating of their critics,
Feeling heat from the public and the grieving parents of the dead,
Being summoned before committees, blue beribboned in politics,
Red in the face, guilty in conscience, indiligent and derelict of duty
Must then unleash all the horrible forces at their dread command
To avenge America’s dead, restore their honor and pride of place,
And most of all, punish the foe of the mighty, make waste his land!
With only a few surviving from the tragic Captain Connell’s crew,
One of them even being a deserter and a traitor to the Empire too,
Vengeance could only be exacted, the score be truly evened out,
With total annihilation of the enemy’s forces in heavy-handed rout.
So spoke the written orders of Waller’s superior, General Smith,
The Howling Jake, who got them straight from Arthur McArthur,
The American Commander of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces.
“The more you slay, the gladder I shall be. A howling wilderness
Is what I want to see!” said Smith to Waller, the avenging hammer
Of his wrath upon rebellious Samar. So sailed the Roughest Rider
With a suitable band of rougher soldiers than the boys of Connell,
Back down to Balangiga with orders to burn the insolent town!
Samar is the promised land, this mountainous island on the ocean,
This island that forefathers found in ages past and long-forgotten.
But where are the bounties that covered its mountains and valleys?
Where are the fruitful orchards of mangoes and flowery bevies?
Where are the Samar people, the hardy peasants in humble houses,
The fisher folk on their boats? Where are the farmers and traders,
The mothers and the children and the maidens singing love songs?
Where is old Balangiga town with its pier on the sounding shore?
Waste are those beautiful orchards of fruit trees hidden in grottos!
Trampled and torn to shreds by successions of rampaging soldiers.
Gone are the houses of Balangiga town beside the mournful ocean.
Destroyed and burnt to the ground in angry fires and left in ruins!
These are the fires whose burning fingers of crimson-colored hues
Lay low to utter ashes the humble peasant houses and fishing boats
To smoldering, flying embers; the fires of Empire’s fiery lightning
That down descending, light up the blasted remnants of the town!
The fires of Empire’s bidding, whose flames were first as kindling,
Grew and grew and leapt from hut to house to humble dwelling,
Then spread to orchards, fields and forests and up the hillsides
Consuming crops in fiery, crackling waves that bring on famines,
Affrighting herds that flee in stampeding shadows awful for to see.
Behind the withering fires came rank on rank of avenging soldiers
Completing the work of the flames that clear the annihilating path,
Until at last, nought was there but devastation where once was life.
These are the fires, that ascending up from the commingled bones
And bodies in the funeral pyre of soldiers and warriors that died,
Carry up to the leaden skies of Samar their brave spirits and souls,
Where aloft in the jetstreams of the world they shall forever soar.
Up the flagpole in the deserted plaza ascends again the standard,
Whose brightly-shining Stars look down below in proud dominion
As the conquering soldiers bear off their booty of the twin carillon
Whose signal tones once mocked in battle, its Stripes of Empire!
No more are the mothers and the maidens, that through the ages,
Mingled cocomilk with father’s catch for the love of their children.
Punished and ravished were they in orgies of hateful vengeance,
And scattered like leaves, blown everywhere by the winds of war!
Low and lachrymose, with sadness surpassing sadness, with grief
Overflowing in tears of bitter lamentation, mothers and daughters
Howl with their breaking hearts for the young sons and the fathers
Immolated on the altars of their ancient arts in the church of war!
No more on Samar nights do the far stars that guided the ancestors
Look down on children feigning sleep, smiling in imagined places.
Orphaned are they by the loss of their kinfolk decimated in battles.
Gaunt and hungry and homeless, they forage like dogs in a forest!
If still the round-eyed roosters crow, yet absent are their owners.
Gone are the men folk behind the plow, no longer at daily labors.
Forfeit are their fishing boats for venturing far into the oceans.
Slaughtered were they in gruesome bloody battles against Armies
That gave no quarter and with guns and cannon slew men or boys.
The few that remained or escaped, in pathless wastelands wander,
Up in the highlands far in the mountains, or hiding in secret caves,
Mortally-wounded and broken, with body and weapons destroyed!
No more in the customary places of honor beside primitive hearths
Hang the bolos and scythes and escrimas. Lost in the cold recesses
Of caverns full of teeth like subterranean headstones, the warriors
Wait in the abiding blackness for the coming resurrection of dawn.
No more does the kindly old Padre pray the soft Angelus at sunset.
Arrested and tortured was he with the others for crimes admitted,
Crimes of sympathy and caring for their flock. Steadfast for liberty
Stood he before his accusers, as did Gomez, Burgos and Zamora,
Long ago in the mutinies of Cavite against the Spanish oppression,
As did the fathers of his country, Rizal, Bonifacio, del Pilar, and
Their brothers Lukban and Malvar and all of the nameless others,
Who won him the cross of freedom in the name of nation and God!
But up in the belfry tower of Padre Atoy’s old Balangiga church,
There in the midnight sky of secrets when an angry Samar moon
Rises up like a yellow eye of distant longing and watchful waiting
In the predawn gloom of the feastdays of Michael the Archangel,
Still does a Maiden with long tresses and scimitar eyes a-flashing,
Seem to look out from the casement window into the dark twilight
Down at the margins of the ancient river flowing out to the ocean,
Firing arrows at something indistinct in the mangrove shadows!
Still does diminutive Brother with the heart of a hundred warriors,
Play melodious tunes on Pan’s pipes to the old Mother of Winds,
In whose icy breath on the other side of the world, old anger wells,
As iron tongues make sudden answer by tolling Balangiga’s bells!
Filipinos of Faith! Americans of Freedom!
Listen now to this humble song, for you the tale of Balangiga tells.
Of how two nations, with intertwining fates in tragic war begotten,
And offspring’s intermingling blood and bones in dust forgotten,
March on to far horizons, clinging each to each’s own illusions.
Pinoys and Americanos! Men and Women of Good Will! You!
You who sing to God and praise the Good and curse Oblivion!
You who fight the tyrants and stand for human liberation!
Reckon now with self-recognition, hearing what the story tells,
Of the soldiers and the heroes that heard Balangiga’s bells.
Listen to Balangiga’s bells! Silent, distant, yet, poignant, true.
Silent, for the two nations and peoples have almost forgotten them.
Distant, for the two have survived them and in history proceeded.
Poignant in existence as booty of cruel war and scars of revenge.
True in eloquence of testimony of how high and low man can go.
Forever are they like whispers murmuring in the winds of a storm
That comes in the dark of September, winds that shake with forces
Supernal, the sweetly odorous blossoms of the ylang-ylang tree;
Blossoms that fall from its shadowy boughs in numberless masses,
As from sinners sincere in contrition, prayers asking forgiveness,
As from grooms and maidens united in betrothal, faithfulness ever,
As from mothers and fathers in their labors, dedication unceasing,
And from smiling infants, assurances of hope and love eternal.
[Bronze Medal Winner in Epic Poetry, Heritage Prize in Literature awarded by the National Centennial Commission, June, 1998 to Dean Jorge Bocobo, writing under the pseudonym, Evangeline Agonistes. The Gold Medal was won by Cirilo F. Bautista for his epic, Sunlight on Broken Stones. Often referred to as the Balangiga Massacre by both Filipinos and Americans (each for their own reasons), often ideological, the Battle of Balangiga was, in my opinion, the greatest military victory of the Philippine Revolutionary Forces under General Lukban after General Emilio Aguinaldo had already surrendered to the U.S. Expeditionary Forces in Luzon. Though the Katipuneros won that battle, they would go on to lose the Philippine-American War. This analogy is not exact, but it is as if France -- after seeing the American Revolutionaries defeat the British Empire and declare Independence on July 4, 1776 -- it is as if France then purchased America from Great Britain in a Treaty of London in December, 1776, and then successfully recolonized her. For on June 12, 1898, the Philippine Declaration of Independence from Spain was read in Kawit, Cavite to the tunes of a nascent national anthem and the display of the Philippine flag. But on December 10, 1898, the United States indeed purchased the Philippines from Spain in the Treaty of Paris (ratified in February, 1899) then turned her into America's first and only ever colony. My own approach to history and the past, is to know what happened and then accept it, so as to approach the future of humanity by a process of successive approximations to universal ideals -- those instilled in humanity by God and manifest in the hearts of men of good will.]
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!