WELL, I kept my teeth.
If I were mathematically inclined, I would figure out the exact rate at which I shed hair, sleep, pacifist outlook, everything except teeth and extra pounds these past weeks that I have been counting words, pages, and references, which in graduate studies, translate to tokens for passage in a realm for which claustrophobia seems like an insect’s affectionate nuzzle.
On the day I submitted the final sheaf of papers, I walked out of the campus and hit three bookstores with only one thing in mind: read anything without a footnote or a citation in the APA format.
Readers who remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale of Rappaccini’s daughter, a maiden raised on poison, know how the conceit ends: I bought more of the poison perhaps to test how much more I could take.
“The Devil in the Philippines” is not about contemporary strongmen. It is a translation of Isabelo de los Reyes’s “Ang Diablo sa Filipinas Ayon sa Nasasabi sa mga Casulatan Luma sa Kastila,” first serialized in 1886 in a Manila newspaper and then published in his first book, written when Isabelo was 23 years old.
In 2014, Anvil Publishing Inc. published “The Devil” to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of a “great Filipino and human being, ” according to Benedict Anderson, who, with Carlos Sardiña Galache and Ramon Guillermo, translated and annotated this edition.
Our heroes are all calcified. Yet, in “The Devil,” I re-view Don Belong, the “Father of Philippine Folklore Studies,” as a hero deserving of his own cult even though his writing was deflected away from himself and focused on subjects he thought Filipinos should be passionate about: prehistory that was not framed by the lens of colonizers; the essential narrative of the local and peripheral, which must not be equated with and be obliterated by the dominant discourse dictated by the Manila-centric; and most importantly, the lore of our ancestors that Spanish missionaries and our “educated” biases have downgraded as “superstitions”.
In spite of but also because of footnotes that run for a page or more, “The Devil” engrosses because of Don Belong’s tale of two men trying to get their hands on a magical book in a dead man’s renowned library, as well as the academic spadework and, heretically yes, the fun uniting the fellowship of, as described by Anderson, “three Filipinos, one Spaniard, one Indonesian, two Americans, and one happy old Irishman” solving the labyrinth to get to the nub of Don Belong’s tale of “demonio, demonito, and Diablo”.
As Don Belong recounts, God came with the conquistadores. So did the Devil.
Happily or unhappily for us, the Diablo has not yet decamped from our happy isles.
*First published in SunStar Cebu’s May 27, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”