I HAVE the earring of a “crazy” woman. After I lost a “sinubong” earring to a downtown snatcher in Cebu, the husband searched long for a replacement as the three-ball design, from old coins melted down, is hard to find.
An old woman sold an earring to him. Drinking with a group of men in the uplands of Cebu, she said she lost the first earring after she got drunk. Her companions told the husband she was so drunk, she forgot she sold that earring to buy liquor. She is crazy, gestured the men who drank the “tagay” round she bought them.
A man has two balls. A woman needs six, a “sinubong” trio dangling from each ear, for what’s in store for her.
In Dolores Stephens Feria’s essay, “The Patriarchy and the Filipina as Writer,” published in her book, “The Long Stag Party,” a sure sign of craziness in the 1800s was the obsession to write. Penury awaited men but when women showed symptoms of this lunacy, society buried them alive.
Leona Florentina is the “Sappho in Ilocos,” whose statue in the plaza fronting the Florentina mansion across the Vigan Cathedral is as serene as the “circumspect” history buttressing the public memory of the “mother of lyric poetry in Ciudad Fernandino,” the “third oldest Spanish settlement in the Philippines,” wrote Feria.
However, seeking the other Leona—“feminist, iconoclast, and descendant of the pre-Spanish free woman”—is “very difficult,” contended Feria. The University of the Philippines (UP) academic argued that the pre-Spanish free woman was the “repository of the imaginative,” nearly wiped out in Manila, the bastion of colonial patriarchy, but enduring in provincial areas where folk traditions lingered.
Daughter of one of Vigan’s wealthiest families, Leona married her cousin at 14 and gave birth to a son at 15. She discovered poetry at 10 and even when married, wrote all night for “poetry was her meat and drink”.
Her husband, the Alcalde Mayor, forced her to choose between him and poetry. She chose to write, reverted to her maiden name, and lived the rest of her days in a farm house. Nothing beyond faded anecdotes of a solitary figure on horseback or a drinker of “basi” spirits would have reached us if it were not for the efforts of Isabelo de los Reyes—revolutionary, founder of the Philippine Independent Church and labor movement, and son—to compile his late mother’s works, which were published in Paris and Madrid.
Recognition from the centers of the empire restored the shade of Leona the prodigal daughter into the bosom of Ciudad Fernandino. What would this early Filipina writer have made of her resurrection, she who was remembered by her son as saying: “He who bends too much ends by showing the buttocks.”
* First published in SunStar Cebu’s April 21, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata"