Thursday, November 18, 2010

Po-on and the sense of home

I was pondering the title -- why "Po-on"? Why not "Rosales" or "Journey", since most of the book is concerned with those? Po-on itself only makes a brief appearance at the beginning, and then everyone has to pack up and get the hell out.

Then I realized that this is rather a silly question for me to ask, who am moving back to my family's old stomping grounds. I think that once you bond to a certain location, you can't get it out of your blood. I've wanted to come back to Ohio for years now, though when I first left I was chomping at the bit to get out. Istak's family, being forced to leave quickly, had to carry Po-on with them. They had no chance to leave the place behind or sever ties smoothly. Almost anywhere they settled would put them in mind of Po-on, whether through similarity or, more strikingly, through dissimilarity.

6 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Hoping I'm not being too literal here . . .

I asked someone who speaks Ilokano and she said that "po-on" means grave--as in the place where someone is buried.

Which didn't stop me from thinking of Po-on as I do today: the story of a birth.

Melanie B said...

In the author's note in my edition Jose says: "Po-on, which means "the beginning" or "tree trunk" in my native Ilokano, is the first in terms of chronology."

So it seems he was also thinking of the novel in terms of beginnings. But it's interesting that the word can also mean grave. So often in literature you see the images of womb and tomb connected. Birthplace, burial place... both have the idea of rootedness, connection to the land.

It also makes me think of Istak's reaction to the revolutionary literature that Don Jacinto gives him to read: He had gone over the copies of La Solidaridad and returned them; when his benefactor had asked him what he had found in them that impressed him, he had said quickly that there was great truth in what the ilustrados wrote about being rooted in the land. This truth was self-evident to those who worked the land themselves.

Melanie B said...

Also this: "One last question was burning in Istak's mind: the Cripple, the president, all of them-- surely they must know that the revolution had failed. And it had failed because the leaders could not see themselves as Filipinos. Always, they were men of Cavite, of Bulacan, and now, he was Ilokano. How could anyone rise from his origins? Everything starts from there just as with him everything started in Po-on."

It seems the question of Istak's origins, his sense of home and of place is integral to the question of Filipino nationalism: how to resolve the apparent conflict between having one's identity be rooted in a specific locale, a village, a language, and yet also have a greater sense of belonging to a nation?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Melanie, that is actually a conflict that still exists today. A few months ago, while out with friends, the topic of Philippine patriotism came up and I was surprised to hear them echo the same frustration with the lack of unity in our country. Jose's theme is as fresh today as it was not just when he wrote Po-on, but also when the Revolution was taking place.

Melanie B said...

E, That's very interesting. I'm curious, to what extent does language continue to divide peoples and create disparate sense of identity? From what I understand English and Tagalog are both official languages... How effective is either as a lingua franca? Is there actually full literacy in either or both or do some people fall through the cracks? I'm truly fascinated by the politics of language.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Melanie, I would say that in some areas, you'll have better success with English than with Tagalog. I use "Tagalog" and "Filipino" interchangeably because Tagalog has been declared the national language, but that's pretty much just my lip service--and my personal "In your face!" response to the Cebuanos who are unhappy that their Bisaya didn't make the cut. I once heard that if you try to speak to a Cebuano in Tagalog, he won't let you; he'll understand you perfectly, but will switch to English. And most of us who live up north agree that Cebuanos speak English very well--unlike the native Tagalog speakers, who have developed the macaronic "Taglish" (sometimes called "Engalog") that is the bane of our educational system.

But even English is a great divider. A few years ago, I heard the theory that the real social gap is not between rich and poor but between those who speak English fluently and those who don't. And more and more "rich kids" are flunking Filipino class, these days.