My “Inventing a Hero” Day

I just read Glenn May’s “Inventing a Hero” and I enjoyed it so much, I’ve browsed over it before, I remember wanting to purchase it but not having enough money, I was still in college then, working at some food chain while studying. I passed on many books that I wanted to buy then, even now, great thing that those past titles can be found in libraries, they have been safely deposited for the future generation. Libraries are one of the greatest services that a government can offer its people, for me they’re like the modern day betamax tape renting shop.

No, I won’t attempt any critical book reviews here, I’ll leave it to those who make a living out of dispensing their criticisms, anyway the books has been around for almost a decade – the high and mighty doctors of history have already dissected the book – we already have our work cut out for us , whatever I say here would be just some personal thoughts I wanted to write down, nothing more.

Aside from the memories it brought me, I have sought to read the book in its entirety for years and since I’ve been a regular customer here in Singapore National Library, why not take the whole day reading it. You don’t need no special ID’s here, you’re free to browse, pick a spot and read the book of your choice. However, that’s all a foreign visitor could do. You could also borrow rare books but you would have pay for it and wait for days but you can’t take it out of course, only residents can do that.

Back to the book, it was a well researched project, no doubt about it. The author, I gather was criticized by the academes back home for his work, but you can’t put a good work down – unfortunately, the three main characters [EDSA, his son & Ago] is no longer with us, but I’m curious to find out what would have been their reaction to all of these, the brilliant Lleto has been included in the book also, with his “Pasyon and Revolution”, where he linked the movement to the millinarian Filipino tradition,  what he did, according to May, added to the myth of Bonifacio. In my opinion, May did the work of a true historian, he was not out to discredit anyone, his evidence can not be denied. i can’t find any fault in his argument, we should learn from his work.

The patriotism of Bonifacio is not in question, it never was but the motives behind the “reinventing” is. Behind this intentional move to present a sanitized Bonifacio is a nationalist agenda. The intention was good, after all nationalism are known for its three main objective; freedom, unity and building a nation – and during the Revolution and American years, there was  need to raise the consciousness of the Filipino, to arouse their patriotism, so that they’ll have a desire to fight for their freedom, but it kept us away from the truths that we ought to know about that critical phase of our nationhood]. The nationalist had taken upon themselves to contribute in this effort, through Bonifacio [and other historical inventions], since he’s the  “masa” type, which is what many Filipinos are during those days,he was perfect for the role. It was in May’s words, “trying to move nationalism from the elites back to the common people”. This is what they did, This is where all the alterations began – the political agenda of the men behind it knows exactly what they were doing, the recreation of Bonifacio is not an isolated case, we had the “Maragtas” of Monteclaro, the Kalantiaw and The Burgos novel, to name a few – and we have not seen the end of this, as long as historians put a political dimension on historical events, well continue to uncover more, its just a matter of time.

“What sense can we make of such willful, wholesale distortions of the historical record in the service of nationalism?”, May asking his reader but conceding that even he does not know the answer, but the obvious is that by having heroes, you have inspiring models that people can emulate, it’s the perfect tool! You’ll have inspired admirers like the militant youths that we see today, believing that Bonifacio was indeed the great plebeian, the literary master and the super patriot.

New documents has resurfaced, and I was told by a friend that Bonifacio was not born in Tondo but in Binondo, near the border – I have not seen anything yet but I would be least surprise if it turns out to be true, they had filled Bonifacio’s life with myths that I could no longer trust the information we have on him, since modern day historians primary source has been the doctored documents presented as original. Agoncillo’s book, considered by many as most authoritative is even questioned by his own student, Ocampo. Even his close associate, who co authored “History of the Filipino People” had some questions about his method, one thing’s for sure, he’s part of this whole nationalist movement that created a generation of historically mis educated Filipinos in the name of whatever political and social change he had in mind.

The only men that questions our standard history lessons [the Agoncillo inspired Philippine history] are those who were outside his influential sphere, for many Agoncillo historians, however, his works presents the true story behind the major historical events of the Filipino but historians like, Joaquin, Gomez-Rivera, Schumacher and mostly foreign scholars are the voices that has been outstanding in correcting his historical inaccuracies. Decades of nationalist schooldominated the historcial establishment, however, had already damaged our historical text, the orthodoxy is widespread and accepted nationwide.

The “plebeian” moniker is undeserved, but this reputation worked for Bonifacio so I doubt it if he’ll contest this name. The only reason I see why people try to keep the recreated version of Bonifacio is that it makes them feel good that someone like them made a difference, that a poor and uneducated made the revolution and that it belong to the “masa” not to the rich hero’s, it could be inspiring that the person who started the revolution is a common Filipino [I like the idea myself its so dramatic], not the ilustrado and certainly not someone belonging to the propertied gentry, it’s like our peoples illusion that Erap Estrada is maka-masa because he had humble beginning when in fact this man has never tasted poverty all his life, he belongs to a rich Pagsanjan family.

Bonifacio is not the bolo guy in the red pants that monuments, paintings and books tells us, in fact he prefers the pistol – his only picture in our possesion is  taken during his first wedding – and he was wearing an americana with a matching tie. He lost both of his parents at an early age, it could have been hard for him and his siblings, but a glimpse at his activity during his adult life would show us his status in the society he’s part of, and its revealing. If there is anything poor about him is that he never had a good education later in life [unlike the highly educated hero’s] but what he lacked in formal training he compensated in reading books, as Valenzuela wrote in his memoir, Andres was so into reading that he sometimes skips his sleeping hours. The biographers of Bonifacio tell us that he had in his collection, titles like: The Wandering Jews, Rizals Novel’s and literature about the French revolution. We could never know how they were able to tell what’s on Bonifacio’s shelves, but if it was true that he had these titles, he read them in Spanish [Rizal’s novel was all in Spanish], this clearly debunks that stupid Rizal movie [with montano playing Pepe] where he was portrayed having difficulty reading, he’s certainly not a stupid man, Katipunan is a testament of his genius in organization. He had a elementary education, it was in a private school, the medium of instruction is Spanish, and this should settle whether he spoke Spanish or not [add to this are his maternal relatives which are Spaniards].

How could someone be in the bottom of the society then, when he had been inducted as a Mason, he had been a member of La Liga which brought him rubbing elbows with the ilustrado society, he had been elected supremo when in that group there were professionals, rich, educated and experienced leaders than him and finally, how could he court a daughter of a government official if he was a nobody? – I could go on and on but the simple point that I’m trying to make is that, we had in our historical books – broadsheet editorial like sections, creations of the imagination,  what have we done to this man?

I end this little commentary with Glen May’s words:”Old myths die hard…if it serves vital ideological and political functions.”


3 responses to “My “Inventing a Hero” Day

  • tabula

    When “first world” producers of knowledge of indigenous peoples claim to offer the “truth” or the credible representation of people of color inhabiting colonized, “postcolonial,” or neocolonial regions and internal dependencies, shouldn’t we stop and ask what is going on — who is speaking, to whom, and for what purpose? There are no pure languages of inquiry where traces or resonances of the intonation, words, idioms, and tones of the Others cannot be found.

    -E. San Juan

  • tabula

    “When “first world” producers of knowledge of indigenous peoples claim to offer the “truth” or the credible representation of people of color inhabiting colonized, “postcolonial,” or neocolonial regions and internal dependencies, shouldn’t we stop and ask what is going on — who is speaking, to whom, and for what purpose? There are no pure languages of inquiry where traces or resonances of the intonation, words, idioms, and tones of the Others cannot be found.”

  • A message from Jim « With one’s past…

    […] A message from Jim Posted on December 8, 2009 by De AnDA I received an email from Jim Richardson, a British historian who made extensive studies in the history of Filipino revolution and the country’s communist party. I don’t know him personally but I’ve read his book “Komunista: the Philippine radical left”. I wanted to share his email because it was meant to be a comment on my post about American historian May and his criticism on how Filipino historians invented  Bonifacio. […]

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