lunes, 28 de mayo de 2012

From One Master To Another - Po-on by F Sionil José

Po-on is the novel that completed F. Sionil José’s Rosales project, in which, over five books, the members of a single family appear to live out the very detail of Philippine history. Po-on does not actually start in Rosales, the fictitious town in central Luzon that gives its name to the saga. Here we start in Ilocos, a northern region apart, with its own language and culture. At the outset, we learn from an old Spanish priest that a local Cabugaw sacristan, Eustaquio, shows much promise and is recommended for the priesthood. But we also come to know a local lad called Istak. He is a devout Christian, but also deeply rooted to the traditions of his people and family. As a devout Christian aspiring to the priesthood under a baptismal name, he remains an Ilcano allied to the faith of his colonial masters. Istak’s father has lost an arm. It makes life as a peasant farmer quite difficult. The circumstances of that loss have been unclear to the wider family. And, when the old priest moves aside to allow a younger, less paternalistically-minded man to assist with business, the family’s relations with the Church change. What unfolds is a metaphor for the whole relationship between Filipinos and Christianity, a description of a desire to become the church’s faithful servants being exploited by raw power employed cynically to secure economic and political gain. Status, of course, is at the root of everything, and a poor peasant tends to be short of that particular commodity. There is a fracas and the family has to move. They flee south, joining forces with others who have nothing to lose. They run the gauntlet of the Spanish military police, the guardia civil, and they survive. But there are real trials and tribulation along the way. It is, of course, Rosales where they settle. It’s a town that provides opportunity in the shape of a plot to rent and another that can be claimed after clearing. Thus, with a new identity in a new location, the displaced family can create a new life. And, just as they start to discover this new lease of life, their nation claims release from Spanish domination and Americans arrive to take control. But initial euphoria gives way to further struggle as the new masters declare their intention to change the methods, but still to retain the control of a colonial ruler. And, just as the family fled to Rosales, to new opportunity, there emerges for Filipinos as a nation to need to seek a new future where Filipinos will have control over its own destiny. Thus Po-on brings us into the American era and the early years of the twentieth century: Po-on is historical fiction at its best, in that it brings history alive, alive in the lives of its characters.

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