As the French revolution spilled over into Spain, persecution began. Independent thinking became dangerous. It was dangerous to have independent ideas. Censorship was tightened. Insinuation and intimidation was used to control people. And as his formal education under Jesuits ended Carlos’ impatience with narrow dogma and routine translated into restlessness and a passion for travel. So full of energy, he couldn’t stay put. He already strayed far away from home and the Castilian fields of his father. He already gave up living as a shepherd with a wife, children, dogs, and sheep.
After France declared war on Spain, to avoid the draft Carlos left Burgos, in the middle of the night, slamming shut forever one door in exchange for another. He left the Holy Rosary Seminary in the middle of the night and never looked back. With disdain for the French and, as he put it their enlightened despots, he fled Burgos well before the situation there became critical. He didn’t like the idea of going to war. He didn’t like the idea of fighting. He didn’t want to have anything to do with an army and being nomadic (a legitimate legacy of his) appealed to him. He chose a life of adventure. He chose a life of adventure over a regimental life and “sacrificed a means of existence,” because he didn’t want to raise sheep like his father.
He followed the Rio Arlanzon (shallow and full of weeds), with his head brimming with lines from “Poemade Mio de Cid,” lines he couldn’t get out of his head. Often he visited nearby San Pedro Cardena, an old Benedictine convent where the Cid took leave of his wife Dona Ximena. Like every proud Castilian, he knew the poem and its connection with Burgos.
“Poemade Mio de Cid” opens with exiled Cid’s entry into Burgos: “wives stand at windows, tears run from their eyes, so great was their sorrow,” so indeed great was Carlos’ connection with Burgos that after he left, he felt great sorrow. And yet, turning back would have caused him even greater grief.
His feelings were mixed. He was happy about gaining his freedom, yet he missed Burgos … missed it more than he ever thought he would. Missed many things about it. Missed many of his brothers and teachers. Burgos, the first capital of Castile, gave him many intellectual brothers: teachers, rebels, and artist universally combative; but he wanted or had to escape the draft: “the braver cavalier wears not a sword in Spain.” Yes, indeed, he had to run. Yes, he ran. Yes, he ran instead of being conscripted. He lacked money to buy his way out of it, so he would’ve been conscripted had he stayed. He chose to be free. He chose to be free instead of joining the army. In open fields, he found liberty. “For all those who go thus modestly and quietly is a very lion in the field.” Then, on the spur of the moment, he decided to tell his parents.
Carlos never located his father and mother. At Valladolid, instead, he found where Columbus died a broken and forgotten man. For sometime, Carlos lost his bearings and roamed from town to town. He didn’t know where he was going or where he would end up.
Roving allowed him to absorb Spain. He became a pilgrim. He became a pilgrim with one foot in gloom and darkness, gloom and darkness of the times. He walked through the gloom and darkness of the times and splendor of the countryside. Later on, in the Spanish colony of the Philippines, he told his sons about this. He told his sons about walking through the countryside of Spain and seeing splendor. It gave them a sense of their roots and Castile.
Memory of old cloisters and shrines, churches and old Mosques, of places he knew and indeed Bargos. Memories of school stuck with him. Of Jesuits. Of his parents. As a birthright, he clung to his memories just as he clung to his father’s values. His father believed in sobriety, obstinacy, and common sense. Carlos believed in sobriety and obstinacy and put his faith in common sense. And these qualities served him well.
He continued to learn. He didn’t need to be in a classroom to learn. He continued his education for the rest of his life. And while he practiced what he learned, he found nourishment in learning (tamdiu discendum est quamdiu vivas). And finally, he soaked up his surroundings.
He became conscious of a natural, universal order. He spent days thinking. He spent days thinking about how something … anything … everything fit into a universal order. And his elation over discovery led to song. Mountains, brooks, and morning dew gave him tunes. He bought a violin and learned to play it. Self-taught, he never delighted a sensitive ear, but it didn’t matter to him. His playing suited him and the “rustic” nature of his material. Playing unpopular music poorly never embarrassed him. Animals appreciated him. He drove animals with his music: played music to the clatter of a mule; the quick step of a donkey, and the slowness of cows and oxen. Nothing soft or yielding, he played in a coarse way suggested by what he saw around him.
He lacked a true vocation. He didn’t regret it, but he always regretted that he didn’t find his parents. Caught between his shepherd days and being a fugitive, he looked for obscurity and found it in the chill of the mountains. It was still better than being killed in combat. One day, he found himself at a hermitage, a sanctuary of a holy man, by a precipice and a natural pool. There was no reason to believe that this lonely place held a great secret; but he knew he stumbled upon a special man, a man of God and a disciple of Jesus. “Within reach,” preached the quaint man with a shepherd’s crook. Through poverty and obedience, the hermit claimed a direct link to God. Carlos, whose childhood was hard, and for whom a hermit’s life was appealing, however … he knew he couldn’t live in a cave long enough to do any good.
He had no explanation for his restlessness. He couldn’t tell the difference between an impulse and being drawn to something. Walking day and night, ignoring possible disaster, and afraid of getting caught, disgrace was never part of his vocabulary. Then as he headed for Madrid, indeed along the way, through fallow and seeded fields and barren land, up and down hills and across streams and rivers, most people took him for a provincial, a man of gentle birth, or a student, a poor manteistas and musician, who could ill afford the shabbiest inn. All the way from ancient Avila, over the mountains of Castile, through Soria, Foz, Oporta, then following the river Duero, placid and metallic Duero, and to Numancia, where there was little to see. Gaucy, Lagrono, Arenas, Alcala, and through high plains and rocks and wilderness, without streams or trees, roads with no inns, and everywhere a cold and dry land, a land of gloom and pain, where long, dark cloaks and scarves were necessity. All of it was glorious, but not all was, of course, glorious.Remember, “it was Castile that made Spain?” Silence of a plain, particularly under an August sun, when paths lost their flowers and where sheep napped in the nearest shade. Silent still, when snow came and settled on fields and roads: the heart and soul of every Castilian, silence and largely isolated. No huge cities other than Madrid.
Approaching Madrid, there were many things to see: arches, buildings and great churches; and, just as you approached the city, Segovian Bridge. Across it Carlos went, as he entered favored Madrid. Here, he got caught up in whirlwinds of dust and cesspools of garbage and smell of stench. Incessant traffic, streets filled with carriages, mules and people, it left little room for mistakes. Safety was on his mind. He was also tired, but Carlos couldn’t imagine any place better than this capital of “the Spains.”
Castilian streets were straight. They were open and wide and like Spain encouraged aloofness. Aloof, like the blue, snow-capped Sierra de Guadanama in the distance. No haste. No city had a more lively sense of idleness. And even the King recognized that he couldn’t prevent foreigners from residing in his capitol, or tourist from coming, those who simply came to enjoy an enchanting country and beautiful scenery.
Everyone came out at night. Each and every evening, hundreds of carriages paraded up and down streets, in strict order, amid vast throngs of people. But everyone wasn’t formal. For instance, nocturnal dancing and bathing nude in fountains gained popularity. And noisy behavior of young troublemakers and singing of indecent songs filled the air, disturbing prudes.
Crisscrossing the city, up and down long streets praised for their width and length, Carlos eventually stumbled upon Puerta del Sol. There, on a street corner, gathered the “lunatics,” so called because they proposed visionary projects. Often frivolous and fantastic, they were also filled with ideas about governing and organizing the country. These young people excited themselves. They excited themselves with ideas and had heated discussions about news of the French Revolution. They also glorified Spain’s past and criticized the present. Here, Carlos felt liberated and found companions who talked continuously. They talked continuously, but they smoked as much as they talked. They ate, drank and talked. And they formed a clique that owned a small corner of the plaza and therefore owned a big piece of Madrid.
Life on this street corner was invigorating. Especially so for Carlos, as he assumed a princely posture. Enjoying new status, he indulged in absurdities, which never failed to please people who noticed him. Brazen and swaggering provincials like Carlos were expected to show contempt. They were expected to show contempt and project self-importance. They were supposed to act like people owed them a living. To act the part, Carlos wore a bulky necktie, an embroidered waistcoat, with low-buckled shoes, and a brightly colored coat, which took most of his money. Then whenever he was ridiculed, he felt flattered.
Sometimes, Carlos invited himself to parties. He crashed parties in the best houses, homes of people who prided themselves on their good taste and impeccable manners. He shocked them with his bad manners and volunteered to play his violin. People accepted him because of his violin playing. It amused them. And he was tolerated because of his violin playing, and he was considered a provincial. He played his violin while they danced the contra and the minuet. He did this with pomposity and disdain and, while snorting, he intended to annoy everyone. Carlos enjoyed his victims’ caustic responses.
In Madrid, there were many young people like Carlos. All shared a code, a code that said they could “dance the fandango on top of anybody,” or “be so breezy as to give a passerby a severe cold.” There he was, with no better example of him than a monocled Captain at an opera, who loudly hums melodies, and regardless of the pitch, hums in the same monotone, and at the conclusion of each aria, applauds loudly, shouting “Bravo, bravo, bonissimo.” Again, Carlos was only tolerated because he was considered a provincial.
Carlos, then in search of glory, searched for an occupation in which he could lose himself.
Carlos gravitated towards adventurers and sailors, many of who recently returned from distant lands with incredible stories. He listened to their stories and took it all in. He heard them talk about treks and odysseys to places he never heard of before. He heard about people that he didn’t know existed, people like pigmies and headhunters but God only knew what was true and what was not. He heard about treasure seekers and men of God conquering new worlds. And some found gold … brought home gold and stories of adventure and gold. He listened to stories about conquistadors, men discovering new lands and looking for gold. Looking for gold, some of them found it.
Conceited, they sought fame and fortune. Opportunistic, there were few Magellans among them. But nothing prepared one for different climates and primitive conditions. Take his dear friend Don Pablo’s experiences in the jungles of the Philippines. For sheer adventure, take a cobra hunt, or an encounter with a caiman, “with enormous jaws, large enough to swallow a man and a canoe.” Or shooting iguanas and bats for dinner, a “savory and delicate meat.” But did they ever mention dysentery or tropical ulcers? No. Obviously they preferred to talk about getting decently drunk.
With stories of dangers and hardship, Carlos should’ve been duly warned. Undaunted and eager, he wasn’t intimidated. If he were intimidated, he wouldn’t have signed on with a ship outward bound for the Far East. In Cadiz, he signed on before the mast with a British ship outward bound for the Far East. At this point in his life, he reveled in naivete and a weird and wonderful sense of bravery and stupidity.
He felt uneasy about the old rotten ship and worried about it withstanding storms, but the old captain reassured him. Unfortunately, the old man didn’t instill confidence. He seemed shaky on his feet and seemed like he had no business running a ship. It also seemed obvious to Carlos that he lost respect and control of his men. He was too loose with them. He needed to be firm to earn their respect. He paid heavily for being too lax, having the opposite of a “taunt hand.” And he was shaky on his feet. He ate and lived alone and rarely left his cabin. He drank alone and was shaky on his feet. He didn’t make a show of himself. Like the ship, he seemed past his prime. Had he known anything about sailing, Carlos would’ve redirected his fears to the crew.
Too drunk to care, with their skins and bladders full of red-eyed gin, laughing sailors brought half-dressed women aboard. They brought half-dressed women aboard, and the captain didn’t care. Normally imprisoned like convicts, the crew made the most of their time in port. They drank and brought women aboard. Carlos wouldn’t understand their behavior until he had been at sea for months himself. With high tide, the boatswain through a speaker’s horn barked orders.
Farewell and adieu to all you ladies of Spain.
Farewell and adieu to you until next time.
Instead of hoist this, this, that or that other sail, the boatswain’s mate yelled only “make sail;” and the crew obliged in sad silence. Then instead of running across the Atlantic toward Veracruz, the ship sailed south, along the coast of North Africa. At the same time, monotony set in.
The beginning of the voyage was so uneventful that Carlos found himself searching for the slightest change. And he was given menial tasks.
Watches, even on Sundays, never varied. A ration of beef, reduced to a pound a week … a weekly half-pint of vinegar, for few of them liked to taste stale ship water … beans given sometimes instead of peas, rice instead of oatmeal or a biscuit, sugar instead of butter, and oil instead of cheese … this daily fair spelled monotony. Nothing fancy. There was nothing fancy to eat but it was palatable to sailors. And, if one wanted a gill of spirits … a gill of pure rum could be stretched with three gills of water, a little lemon acid, and a dash of sugar. Given how sailors drank, a gill amounted to nothing. Unless you’re talking about red-eye! Red-eye! But even a second gill of that stuff didn’t phase them. Most sailors had to drink several rations of spirits to feel a buzz.
Anything to forget drudgery, backbreaking drudgery, sore knees, kneeling, scrubbing, and swabbing. Anything to breakup monotony and forget where they were. And forget what they had to do. The same tasks over and over again … weaving ropes through rings and pulling block to and fro, pulling block to and fro on wet and sanded planking. Everyone expected to get hurt. Everyone expected pain. Everyone had to stay in shape. And everyone anticipated one happy hour of the day when they could drink and, when once or twice a week, Carlos performed dance tunes with his fiddle. Those not too drunk to dance would then skylark until the boatswain piped them all to dinner. Then, after a “verry fine passage,” and having no sooner rounded the Cape of Good Hope (having landed in Sadina Bay and added sheep to their diet), before they could furl all their sails, a severe gale came up from the northeast.
It continued with such force that all hands worked through the night. To keep the old ship before the wind took everyone. Old timers, who had been around the Cape many times and who had never gone around it without severe wind, later told the young guys that they never lived through anything like it. So much fury that being lashed to something was still dangerous.
Ordered to help, Carlos joined forty men trying to furl the main yard, until they abandoned the task to save themselves. Then, with the main yard partially in slings, the yardarms and the main topsail yard, all of it, blew away. Carlos tried hard then to temper his fear. He showed false courage and was surprised by how much he showed. He surprised himself. The landlubber somehow kept his balance and was of some use. The reception one received from a storm generally determined how helpless one felt. In this case, everyone expected to meet their Maker.
That the ship remained afloat was afterwards considered a miracle. And for a crew that generally debunked miracles, they stood in awe. Carlos earned “valor’s credentials,” his first credentials, his initiation and a tribute for any adventurer. But the ship’s log didn’t record his brave deeds. The ship’s log didn’t record his name. He didn’t get any recognition but it didn’t mattered to Carlos. It didn’t matter to him because he knew what he did.
Then about daylight, the wind calmed and the sea fell. At first, changes were tentative but marked a beginning of continued improvement. While everyone heaved great sighs, Carlos’ doubts about the ship’s sea-worthiness vanished. And his doubts about the captain also vanished. For repairs, they stopped at the nearest port. There Carlos joined blacksmiths, carpenters, sail makers, and sailors, with forging and making caps, cutting cable, and drawing yarns, making rope, and fitting rigging. There, Carlos learned a trade. He learned how to work with his hands. There, he felt a cohesiveness he hadn’t felt before. He also learned to not be quick to judge. It also helped hearing the captain joke about a “smart breeze” that tore them apart and then laugh about it. .
The experience reminded Carlos of how he and his parents and their sheep survived similar storms. They survived similar storm except it was on land and with ice and sleet. It was on those occasions, huddled around a small fire and wrapped in thick wool blankets that he learned to count. He learned to count by counting sheep. He practiced counting by counting sheep. He learned when his father asked, “How many sheep did we lose tonight?” “Carlos, how many?” his mother chimed in. Counting sheep, Carlos never got the same number twice. “None” was the only answer acceptable to his father. Zero.
Repairs took nearly six weeks and, with fine weather, everyone was more civil than they had ever been. They felt they accomplished something. And they had. When finished, the captain agreed to a celebration; but when drinking and singing started, he excused himself and went to his cabin to drink and celebrate alone. Was there something wrong with him drinking with his men? Why did he drink alone? Then it didn’t take long, with a gill in their bellies, for sailors to begin again to quarrel. And just as often, they excused their lack of manners by saying “there’s only one way and it’s my way.”
But while most of them drank until they fell down, two of them, a Dane and a German, went on deck to duke it out. Cursing and swearing, the two argued. “In hot climates, hell, tempers easily flair.” A Danish Catholic and a German Lutheran, in what started out as a hospitable and funny conversation, though muddled and stupefied, quickly degenerated into a plot of mutiny; but in lieu of mutiny, they fell asleep.
They dropped anchor at Kolachi-jo-Goth, Karachi, a village then, where a British Man of War waited. How it was arranged God only knew. Just when Carlos began to accept a ship straining at its seams and incessant dripping and accumulation of water that slopped about, there was suddenly more at stake.
Not to minimize anything. Not to downplay injustice, but the British considered impressing non-nationals, in their ports and on the high seas, to be perfectly legal. For compliance, they promised captives fair treatment, i.e., “full pay and a reward of grog and punch and opportunities to visit delightful islands such as Jamaica, where there was delicious living with plenty of rum and sugar.”
Grounded in Common Law, the right of impressing mariners for public service was considered a prerogative of the British Crown. Through many acts of Parliament, it was also founded on “immemorial usage, and was allowed for ages.” Still sweethearts cried and sailors complained. Stretchers and cudgels (such as wooden belaying pins) gave press-gangs additional authority.
Now Carlos preferred sleeping on deck in a hammock to a cramp private cabin. Cabins were cupboards, just large enough to hold a cot. It felt claustrophobic to him. He felt claustrophobic, and in fine weather, he preferred to sleep under the stars. He liked to sleep far aft on the main deck where it didn’t rock so much. He no longer got seasick, but he didn’t like being rocked to sleep. But on this dark and gloomy night, had he not slept inside, his life would have been permanently altered. He would have had to reconcile himself to “success in his Majesty’s Navy,” by making the best out of a very bad bargain.
As an advance party climbed from their boats up a ladder of battens nailed to the ship’s timbers, there were alarming shouts of “press gang!” A sentry saw them first but instead of firing, blew his whistle and ran. Even then there were rules to follow. Carlos didn’t know the rules, but there were rules to follow. There were rules that assured a captain that he would have a crew left, an agreement that said a press gang could only take a sensible number of men. Such was the English system; and a system in which no one was exempted. Not even someone from Castile.
So there wasn’t a moment for Carlos to lose. Nor was there time for him to think. And he didn’t know the rules, but somehow he knew to hide. No one told him what to do if a press gang came aboard, but he knew enough to hide. It was instinct that saved him. He negotiated ladders in the dark. He scampered down the main hatch in the dark. Meanwhile, a sentry rushed across the spar deck toward the main mast but, before he reach the quarter deck ladder, was caught and overpowered from behind, and taking over the ship began. There had to be a better way of procuring men than hitting them over the head.
Noiselessly, Carlos moved forward through confusion and darkness of the wardroom, then quickly outside, he avoided the quarter galleries. By this time, a body tumbling down a ladder blocked the main hatch, leading to the steerage. Not yet knowing where to hide, Carlos crawled like a rat and scampered through tight places. Around capstans, over cables and behind stanchions, and ever deeper into the ship’s bowels, far below the water line, deeper still into the vast belly known as the hole, which was filled at the time with foul air from a load of betel nut (use then for scarlet dye), he went.
There he hid all night. He hid all night and all next morning. He endured heat and foul air without knowing what else was going on. He hid while a press gang rounded up crewmembers (men he knew and would never see again). They also brought on board boxes and boxes of opium. It was kind of an exchange: opium for men though an exchange wasn’t necessary. Now the ship carried in addition to silver from Spain, opium from India, and with it the British East India Company hoped to build ongoing trade with China and Spain. In return, if every piece of this complicated scheme worked (complicated in the complicated world of 1794), Spain would get a load of silk, much prized since Spain was prohibited (by a tacit agreement with the British East India Company) to directly trade with China. And the scheme wouldn’t work if rules weren’t broken.
Carlos never knew why he was spared. He was glad it was a dark and gloomy, and he didn’t sleep on deck that evening. He didn’t know that the captain did him a favor by not entering his name into the muster book, so that when a press gang rounded up the crew, he was never missed.
After Carlos came out of hiding, and a press gang had chosen the “most able-bodied,” he valued his liberty more than ever. Thirteen men weren’t so lucky, but their impressment didn’t delay the ship’s departure.
Now bound for China, with pleasant weather, the run through the Strait of Malacca went rather quickly. At Sincompoo, or Singapore, Carlos looked through his glass at a tropical coast and saw coconut palms, jungle, and sifting sand engulfed by trees. He tried to forget dangers, or at least not be overwhelmed by them. Ready for an end to a long voyage, an end to interwoven days of ennui, hard work, hardships, and ease, he wrestled with a complex problem caused by of a decree. Western countries had to conduct business with China in Canton, while ships from Nanyang, like from Sulu, Siam, and Spanish Luzon, had to leave from Amoy, a problem which Carlos hadn’t solved before they were towed to an anchorage in the harbor of Canton. Carlos now wanted to go to the Spanish colony of the Philippines to get a taste of home. He was homesick and missed Castile.
The arrival of the Cultivator caught Hang merchants by surprise. They were unprepared. They were surprised and unprepared because the Spanish weren’t supposed to trade with them. And they lacked enough money to buy the opium. Silk wasn’t an even exchange. This they apologized for. But there were wealthy families in Amoy with good connections that had the 50,000 Spanish dollars needed. And thus, all at once, Carlos’ problem was solved. Now with the door open, they set sail for Amoy.
Greeted by rugged hills and an old walled city, barbarians sailed through a narrow passage into Amoy’s inner harbor. Junks of every kind caught the eye. Some were decorated with paper lanterns, silken streamers, and voluminous flags; others were war junks, filled with military stores, everything from huge matchlocks to bows and arrows. This spectacle caught Carlos’ imagination. He hadn’t seen anything like it. But peculiar and picturesque scenery interested him more. He couldn’t wait to explore the island of Amoy and small surrounding islands. He would be one of the first westerners to explore them.
An enormous rock, an extraordinary monument near the entrance to the harbor, attracted him first. People there believed the rock held their destiny. They believed that when it decayed the island would fall to a western enemy; or when it fell people of China would be taken into slavery. Curiosity pulled Carlos there. He couldn’t help but be curious. And curiosity also slowed him down. Inexperienced, young and impulsive, he ignored dangers that came from wandering around.
Almost immediately, Carlos ran into prejudice. This came particularly from gardeners, who looked like they’d spit on him. Over centuries, these gardeners achieved magic. They achieved it through patience with beautiful blooms and picturesque landscapes, but had little tolerance for a barbarian who knew little about their land and ways. Everywhere Carlos went, as peasants gathered around him, he met haughtiness, haughtiness, condescension, and rudeness. They felt his clothes. They tugged his clothes and touched him and took away his handbag and cap. Gawking seemed like a national pastime. It seemed like he came from another planet; but until they started throwing pebbles, they didn’t seem malicious.
A crowd followed Carlos closely. They followed him until they came to a spot beyond which they wouldn’t go. Focused on flowers and plants, Carlos largely ignored them and failed to immediately appreciate the significance of suddenly finding himself alone. Drawn toward a massive, granite rock, Carlos, from the summit, admired the beauty of the outer harbor and six islands, with a blue ocean beyond. Along a razor-thin line sea met an azure sky.
Magnificent was the view. It gave no hint of fears that swept the land, or how Chinese felt about foreigners. From Marco Polo’s time, in his entire romantic splendor, to many unhappy ventures with Hollanders and Englishmen, with their differences, with French, Portuguese, Japanese, and scores of merchants from Nanyang, edicts strictly prohibiting trade were often proclaimed. And it was understood that a license to do business could only come from the emperor. No wonder a lone Castilian attracted so much attention. No wonder he attracted so much suspicion and, particularly so, after he stood next to a ponderous rock, like a Twentieth Century tourist posing for a photograph. Judging from masonry work, residents of Amoy thought the giant monument stood in danger of falling. They knew decay had clearly set in. They understood erosion. But Carlos knew nothing of this. Of turmoil his trip to this shrine caused, also nothing.
From on top of the hill, in all directions, he saw banyan trees. Along a beach, he saw cultivated paddy and wheat. Elated with invigorating air and spectacular scenery, this neophyte never sensed that he was in danger or considered himself an intruder. Instead, intoxicated by a blaze of color likes of which he’d never seen before … shimmering reds, purples, yellows, and oranges, green, gold, and white, white of gardenias and shiny green leaves unfamiliar to him … he came down the hill in such a dream world that he didn’t notice that he luckily took a different path.
His Castilian pride never allowed him to accept defeat. If stopped, he would’ve claimed victory. Even surrender meant triumph to him, while victory could mean weakness had he thought about it. Freed by ignorance, he charged up and down hills. He would rather have died than seem intimidated. Meanwhile, word of the foreigner quickly spread throughout the countryside.
The main reason Carlos could move about had to do with a contradiction. It was a contradiction he would never have expected. He was surprised to find out that most people of this region were Roman Catholic. Amazingly, Christian missionaries came before him. Amazingly Christian missionaries taught ancestors of these peasants Roman law, that supreme and unshakable expression of justice. Had Carlos paid more intention, he would’ve seen evidence of it. Less evident were other similarities. If he paid more attention, he would’ve seen their cleanliness. And shouldn’t Carlos have recognized subtle niceties they showed each other and charity and humility often illustrated by their bowing? But he attributed his survival to himself. To him, it was just another example of how he succeeded when others failed. And his traipsing around alone again illustrated his naivete.
Any traveler to Amoy then soon learned that morals in a Christian sense had recently changed there (another example of a decaying rock). Murder and robbery were constant facts. A quarrelsome people, frequent disputes arose among them, which almost always ended in bloodshed. For safety, wealthy people lived behind thick walls. Behind thick walls comfort was found. Within those walls gardens were tastefully laid out and banyan trees offered shade. Carlos never knew what to stay away from, as wandered down many of narrow, dirty streets. He never knew what to stay away from in Amoy.
He found a place to sleep and do other things for a week. A place to sleep cost him five times more than it should have. Food was also expensive. With a room came a madam who fussed over him. To not please him would’ve been unthinkable. It was unthinkable while suspicion lurked behind her politeness. Wariness followed him wherever he went, from pension, in town, throughout the countryside. However, rather than seem ungracious, he accepted the madam’s hospitality, submitted himself completely, which came with an opium pipe, a sand-filled pillow, cups of green tea, and a young girl of peasant origin, who reeked with powder. This girl then took what she could from him.
Paying for his passage according to his weight in Mexican silver dollars, he left Amoy on a junk. Before then, however, he made a discovery that haunted him for as long as he lived.
An epitaph “Lived Well and Died Happy,” on one of the graves, in Spanish, seemed sacrilegious to Carlos. On a headstone it was almost obliterated by then. Yet it was not an unmarked grave of some forgotten soul. There was a name. There was a name on a headstone, which Carlos could barely read. It was a narrow plot that somehow didn’t seem commensurate with the missionary’s sacrifice. There was no mention of his accomplishments. Nothing about his home.
Carlos didn’t know anything about Christian missionaries, Christian missionaries to China, other than these graves. He knew nothing about the lives missionaries lived or their untiring work of good servants. He knew nothing about their dedication, faith, and unselfish acts of charity. He never knew about their zeal for serving people, zeal that never died. This missionary wore himself out serving people. And like in the Gospels, some seeds fell on fertile ground and some didn’t. Yet, the missionary died a lonely death far, far away from home. Or did he consider Amoy home?
There were better climates than Amoy for a sick man, but he couldn’t leave because his parishioners needed him. And when he was gone, there was no one to replace him. For a while he ran only a slight fever; but his work was too important for him to stop for a mere fever. He prayed hoping to get better. He prayed to get better. Trusting in God, he prayed and showed courage but as his fever and pain increased, spasms wracked his frame. Then death turned out to be a blessing. A blessing! He slipped away, having his life suddenly snatched from him.
Having stumbled upon a grave of a saint, Carlos stood there for a long time. In the stillness he couldn’t hide his sadness. He felt sad because he had an absurd feeling that he somehow knew this long dead countryman, and this allowed him to see into the future. It allowed him to see his future. And he realized that it was more than likely he would die far away from his native Spain; and, as a precaution, buried quickly, and in quicklime.
Eating peaches for immortality; and peaches and monkey livers and marrow from duck bones figured in the menu. Wasn’t Carlos at the mercy of the cook? Weren’t they all at the mercy of the cook? Just as he (Carlos) was at the mercy of the captain? And wasn’t the cook at the mercy of the kitchen god, and didn’t gods and cook demand a great deal of respect?
Carlos had just negotiated passage with a Shanghang trader and, before dark, boarded a junk outward bound for the Sulus. Entering an unfamiliar world, he found himself among gods, junkmen, and a cook, all of whom had their funny ways. A god of lice, a god of cockroaches, a god of small pox and so on, all had to be appeased before they could set sail. No one told Carlos about it. No one told him what to do. No one told him what to think. No one told him that gods had birthdays too.
Now, kitchen gods were notoriously talkative, and gave advice, good advice and bad advice, and concoctions the cook served generally nourished them as prescribed. As much as fire crackers, evil spirits disliked dried peas, and therefore could be run off with a serving of them. Rain showed that the god of war demanded attention. (There was only one god of war.) Give him sweet things, sticky sweetmeat of rice and sugar, nine courses to keep him happy. Gave him opium to make him sleepy; and shortly afterwards, rain stopped. Kuan Yin, goddess of Mercy, had also booked passage, and this guardian surely kept her promises. With a full moon, gods were expected to come out on deck.
No one made offerings more enthusiastically than their cook. The kitchen gods suggested that the cook prepare a large white cock, without blemishes or defect. The cook had to then burn paper and joss sticks, fine paper, which cost more than the cock. And, as a precaution and to not upset gods, the cook finally smeared cock’s blood on the junk’s bow and threw its carcass overboard.
Carlos didn’t quite know what to make of the show. Then he participated in wine drinking and opium smoking, and brought out his violin, and played it, reflecting on a full moon. He had been immediately installed in a cabin, that is to say a bunk fitted within two sliding doors. The captain had one too. However, Carlos preferred his old hammock, stretched out somewhere on deck, preferably forward. Junkmen slept wherever they wanted to, so Carlos paid a price for being treated special. It also meant that the captain shared his table … shared it with him with something that bordered on pomp. Most of the time, Carlos had no idea what they were eating but asking about food seemed awkward.
Hot tea before and after each meal possessed many virtues. More than food, it strengthened and relieved one’s sore and tired body. Carried from the galley by obedient boys, it was treasured more than food. In serving it they bestowed on a recipient honor. (Hot towels also came after each meal.) In fact, tea drinking, so cultivated and sophisticated, was developed into both an art and a science, a ritual that couldn’t be fully appreciated by Carlos. Everyone sipped tea very slowly to reap all of its benefits. Such tea! and picked early in the year before insects started their meddling. Savoring flavor of tea, while discussing intricacies of sipping it … how to sip it while smiling … with smiling, taking things quietly and unemotionally … quietly with friends, or influenced by smelling and tasting fine tea … free to drink it at different times of the day, in company or alone, while talking or with no need for conversation, or even conscious thought … such was the ritual of drinking tea.
Distributed around the deck, the crew ate and talked, and drank their tea. Then, the tenor of the conversation changed. Suddenly, the captain jumped to his feet and took charge of the vessel. This abruptness jarred Carlos. It was like being overwhelmed by a giant wave. It was time to go and, and to the beating of gongs and ear-splitting yells, to push off. The captain gave the orders. There was a simple explanation for the commotion: they hoped to please sea gods, and insure favorable breezes; and that the greater the racket, the more gods would listen.
A breeze rose quickly and carried them out of the outer harbor. For the last time Carlos saw the mighty rock that guarded the entrance, a rock that seemed on the verge of falling and a source of hostility. For about three hours, the helmsman navigated by the light of the moon; and with considerable interest, Carlos scanned a jagged coastline. Once they were in open waters, a smaller junk emerged from a dark cove and rendezvoused with them at a set place. The risk, if arrested, included harsh punishment for illegally taking human chattels and weapons on board. Men and women, guns and gunpowder, smuggled! Never before had Carlos witnessed smuggling. Spain and her dry plains and green, cool freshness (the flowers and the miniature mountains) of Amoy had divided his thoughts. But then, all of a sudden it all changed. And he began obsessing on bandits, and pirates, fascinating him and at the same time frightening him. Similar scenarios ..… recurring nightmares …. people killed.
Long before sunrise, all loading was accomplished. Within one day Carlos grew callous. Good men were often corrupted. Many good men fell into collusion with smugglers, while officials grew lax. So why would Carlos be different? It didn’t take long for him to close his eyes.
Everyone knew stories and respected and feared pirates, especially their daggers and krises. Subject of continual conversation, these daring marauders, waiting in the dark, were a real threat. They were considered dangerous, and the sign of one of their ships always created terror and confusion. They were considered cruel and dangerous. Those who lived to tell stories often exaggerated their cruelty. Cruelty bred cruelty. Cruelty bred cruelty and a thirst for revenge. Along with murder, there were unforgettable images of pirates plundering villages and towns, robbing, and capturing hundreds of men and women. Such cruelty! Such suffering! Only occasionally were pirates captured; and in the flesh and subdued, they never seemed so bloodthirsty. Appearances, however, weren’t to be believed!
Many vessels that officially were merchant ships plundered at sea. Not knowing Chinese, but intuitively and by using crude sign language, Carlos caught bits and pieces of these tales of horror. But with blue skies, sunny days, and a gentle breeze, he saw no enemy on the horizon.
Black flags signified danger. With excruciating clanging of gongs, foot movements denoted boarding a ship. Carlos couldn’t easily follow the plot. But he guessed who the villains were, naturally pirates. The amount of white paint applied to an actor’s face symbolized the degree of his character’s wickedness. Where on earth had this troop come from? It didn’t take long for Carlos to realize that these players were good, and he, like the crew, became engrossed in their play.
“Loyal and Filial to the End,” or also called “The Execution of Chi in Hung” (or sometimes “Chin Au’s Island”), the play began with a buccaneer named Chin Aun attacking the mainland with his band and robbing and slaying everyone in sight. A eunuch, by the name of Wang Chen, personally organized troops; and among recruits was one Chi’ in-Chi-lung, a noted military adventurer and tactician. Soon, pirates were practically wiped out; and their leader Chin Au surrendered. And as a result Wang Chin took Chi’ in-Chi-lung to Peking and appointed him commander-in-chief of all forces. Trumpets heralded the approach of cavalry; fireworks represented killing of people; and warriors wore hats decorated with peacock feathers.” No fighter represented by tumbling, whirling actors could just die. They stood on one leg, rushed to and fro, yelled and screeched. Yet, as baffling as the play seemed to Carlos, the Chinese junkmen anticipated each movement and knew all songs by heart, making it impossible for actors to change or leave anything out.
For over four hours, the elaborate play went on. Scenes, some involving one character, were well rehearsed. Scenes were also so arranged as to give those off stage time and liberty to roam the junk at will.
While captain and crew remained distracted, off-stage actors pillaged wearing apparel, cigars, pistols, and, from the captain, a few bottles of Veuve Clicquot Champagn, anything of value they could lay their hands on. They then nonchalantly hid stolen loot in their costume and prop trunks. Consequently, watching the play cost the crew more than they ever suspected. Afterwards, an appreciative audience even helped strike the stage and off-load the actor’s trunks onto a waiting boat. Almost all of the stolen property would find its way back to Canton and helped pay for voyages back to Britain and war-torn Europe.
Considering, Carlos felt lucky and had every reason to feel that way. With so many close calls, he became a seasoned traveler. He learned to accept what he didn’t have control over. By then he had traipsed half way around the world and learned he didn’t have to depend on anyone else. He liked to think he could make do with whatever and go wherever. It was the stuff adventure was made of.
What did loss of loot really amount to? Now, suppose they had all been murdered. Actually, not a knife was drawn or a shot fired; realizing it, and one has to say those thieving actors were far removed from the meanest pirates. Warrior-chiefs, Carlos had heard and believed, were different.
Approaching Malayan waters, free booters were to be feared. These pirates helped themselves and helped their Princes or Datus amass gold and silver, pieces of artillery, copper and beautiful women. But not universally. Some Datus maintained their status and wealth by encouraging free trade … trade with Chinese traders, exchanging tea, ceramics and silk for opium, tin and pepper. With hulls painted indigo for identification and protection, loaded junks sailed from Malaya to China on the southwest monsoon.
Further south, Dyaks collected human heads and would’ve loved to get their hands on a Spaniard. Dyaks were known as savages. They were known as brutal savages and made no effort to become civilized. (Actually, they had a gentle side to them.) They embraced piracy the same as Malay pirates and combined profit with opportunity to collect more heads. The captain wisely warned his men to keep a look out for pirates…Dyaks or Malay…that might be on the prowl. Certainly, he and his men knew the danger; everyone except perhaps Carlos did.
If they could steer clear of Malay pirates and Dyaks, they planned to sail right into Moroland, where they felt relatively safe. They planned to skirt Borneo and drop anchor near the Chinese pier in Jolo. Jolo would seem like home to them. They had been there often. It felt like home to them. It felt like home to them because of Chinese brokers who resided there and had control of trade. But pirates proved less troublesome than Moros, who were supposed to provide them with safe passage.
But nothing was as inexcusable as experienced seamen (well-versed in the laws of nature) ignoring early signs of a huge, circular storm. Nothing was more inexcusable than ignoring a falling barometer and increasing swells … swells coming toward them from the southeast … and a sun setting among high-banked clouds, which should have warned them of a major change. It was inexcusable that they chose to ignore something so obvious.
Carlos lost himself in his music and, as an old hand now, found pleasure in challenging swells from a high, flaring prow. Climbing as far forward as he could, he allowed spray to hit his weathered face. It became a ritual. Spray and wind invigorated him. It didn’t worry him, though his knowledge of the sea had increased.
With a slight wind or lashed by a strong gale, he marveled at how well the junk performed. He appreciated her exceptional seaworthiness. Although she appeared heavy and cumbersome (a large three-mast monster, 88 feet in length), in many ways, symbolically and by design, she was exceptionally seaworthy. She looked like a floating Imperial Palace. A Phoenix or firebird decorated her stern. Actually firebird was a misnomer, because attributes of the western bird didn’t appertain to the bird of Chinese mythology that graced the ship. Both bird and an effigy of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, guaranteed them a safe voyage. Hopefully the captain had also paid his yearly fee to the Malay Pirate Guild.
But Moro boats were faster. Even before a slight wind, they flew. Then, too, caught in a dead wind, Moro boats with slaves at oars was the fastest craft afloat. Nothing could outrun them. There was no place for a weakling in the Sultanate of Sulu.
During this time, Moros were at “peace” with their neighbors. And except for a bloody raid now and then and after severe Spanish defeats, Manila sought to establish trade with them. But some of them hated peace. Without jihad, there was less kris fodder and insufficient opportunity for bravery and honor.
Ignorant of the history of Moroland, Carlos entered these remote parts, on the edge of civilization and the Spanish Main. He didn’t realize that the Sulus had never been colonized. He thought Moroland was under the domain of Spain. And he never guessed, as a Spaniard with bronze skin, dark eyes and you-be-dammed sort of chin, that he wouldn’t be treated as an honored guest. Filled with good intentions, like so many Spaniards before him (but with duplicity and greed ingrained in him), he had shortcomings. He knew about Pizarro and Cortez and their successes. He knew about them and admired Conquistadors. Using them as an example, he felt extremely confident.
But Moros had no legend of Quetzalcoat. They had nothing to ease their suspicion, and in spite of a long and bloody history of Spanish aggression, there wouldn’t be a repeat of Peru and Mexico here. The Moro struggle would drag on for more than 320 years. It was a struggle for freedom and independence (and it’s still going on). They were never defeated. They lost battles but they were never defeated. They were never conquered or Christianized. They had the deepest, greatest zeal and love for Allah, and above all, under flying banners, were eager to defend their land and their faith. From the beginning, Jihad was a religious war.
This protracted struggle pitted them against an equally fanatical enemy. Their military prowess also matched that of Spaniards. Their savagery and guile … Well, ask any Spaniard in Manila about Moro raids. Try to surpass them or even match them. There was no one who could surpass their ferocity, when they would laugh at bullets and without regard for their wounds hurl themselves to their deaths. Bloodthirsty, yes; but not lacking in compassion.
Since early childhood Moro lads waited impatiently for fathers to give them krises. Everyone knew the meaning of this rite of passage. The kris was also a symbol, a symbol of nationalism and honor, and, in every boy’s case, a shield. Terrible as krises seemed to their enemies, there was also a belief among the Moros that this weapon gave the wearer special powers. It was easy to see why fathers wanted sons to have one, and why fathers by giving it was passing on a legacy, a legacy passed on from generation to generation, to conquer and live or be conquered and die.
Omar’s father was brutal and ruthless; and that was a side of him his son saw and wanted to copy. Those were traits that won battles. And, indeed, when up against land-grabbing infidels, Moros needed to win battles. They needed to win battles, and they were fighting to keep their land and their faith. And it was constantly on their minds, even when they weren’t fighting. . In some ways, it was their faith.
Since they were always in a state of war, even with long lulls, Omar, like his father, always assumed he’d be a warrior. Starting with sticks at an early age, he was trained by his father to become one. Traditionally, at puberty a boy received his first kris, and at puberty Omar received one. The earlier puberty arrived the better, and for Omar puberty arrived early. But it took more than training and a weapon to make a mighty warrior. A true test came only during a Moro’s first raid, during an assault and hand to hand combat. To die was considered a privilege, with each boy eager to display his valor. As a result, even young boys fought well, equally well on foot, on board enemy ships, or in water, for they swam like fish and dove like dolphins. However, it was wrong to assume that they were indifferent to bloodshed.
Don’t forget that this was a dangerous age. Whether you were a Spaniard or a Moro, in Manila or in the Sulus, or aggressive or defensive, dangerous situations arose all the time. So to say to Carlos stay home would have been like saying, stop living. What often really mattered was not what motivated you … adventure, ideals, land, religion, pearls, gold…. Nor outcomes, but long term implications of specific events. Neither Carlos or Omar knew they were set on a collision course, which determined their future, showed their true character, and gave both of them obligations that neither one of them wanted.
It continued to rain. The spirits’ brew churned. It signaled an approaching storm. It signaled a big storm. A very big storm. Very dark. Very dark, it was a perfect night for a raid. It was a perfect night for a raid, except for a storm. Normally, Mahmud wouldn’t have ignored ominous clouds as conditions worsened. Soon towering waves became an overwhelming fact … that and the fear of death.
Three hours out … at a mooring in Sulu shallows … wind observed and danger forecasted, but Mahmud ignored it. Mahmud knew what was about to happen, yet he ignored signs. (He wasn’t only one who ignored them.) He knew the risk; he knew the signs, the risks, and lived the risks before. He knew the risks, but what could he do? Reciprocity for evil. Dance.
How easily they could’ve died. After a stage was set, they could’ve died. After a stage was set, it was easy for Landing to get herself born; but how hard was it for her mother, while her father could’ve perished dancing and fighting the aswang?
But Landing was conceived at the right time. Her parents were ready, both ready and their blood agreed. They were ready at the same time, the right time, as if she could’ve stopped her husband. No apologies. He had rights. She had few. He had rights, and they offended no one; no, not anyone that they could recall, and the intercession of a shaman assured she’d get pregnant. A midwife came to help. A midwife came to help, but after a long time and still no birth, discouraged by a storm, neither midwife or any other family member stayed, for everyone knew what was at stake. Mahmud, a wasted man, knew. He understood what was at stake; but had to give his attention to fighting off the aswang. Allah’s will or witchcraft?
It would be a girl because his wife had a soft, round belly. A girl! Too bad, a girl! Too bad it wasn’t a boy.
More than anything, Mahmud believed, no one disagreed, that his wife was raped by an aswang, for the natural push of the birth halted just as a big storm hit. Somehow his wife did something wrong, but what it was eluded him. Confusing, or was it? Because she sometimes teased him, making a fuss over nothing, playfully accusing him of being pregnant, because he craved the same foods she did.
There wasn’t much he could do. He knew the aswang, what he suspected to be the work of the aswang, an aswang with an appetite for babies in the womb. However, there was no creature/spirit (something Mahmud didn’t know) that could interrupt Landing’s birth. In a dark corner of a vinta, under what was left of a nipa roof, her hour came. Associated with a big storm, the aswang struck with its thread-like tongue, and still her hour came.
Assuming he would’ve been willing, presuming he could help her, in those final moments his willingness seemed diminished. She nearly lost consciousness, bled. Her man had to help her push. Cloth twisted into a rope hung from the mast helped her work. How much pain could she stand? How much pain? How much could she endure before it was over? What would it take to prove that she could live through it? With her legs doubled and bent, she lay on a bamboo pallet, inches above a riving ocean. She rived with it. Riving finally expedited a birth.
Awang pushed air around … pulled it inward and controlled dropping pressure, creating unwanted conditions. Mahmud danced imitating storms he knew before. He danced and danced imitating this storm. He danced until he collapsed. He then threw Mexican silver dollars overboard, silver dollars he couldn’t afford, and waved yellow and white cloths. He called on magic. He called on magic to exorcise a spirit that confused the sea and gave him a girl. Exhausted, out of luck, with a birth of a child, a birth of a girl and facing possibility of death racked havoc on his body and soul. Then a lullaby confronted effects of wind and rain, though no thunder was heard above the roar of the storm. “Sleep my child sleep,” sang an exhausted mother. Now angry with Mahmud and over his inaccessibility, and hoping to calm the baby, she sang louder. At least, afterwards he collected the placenta in a coconut shell and washed his hands. At least, he was some help.
Wind blew steadily from the southwest. He heave-to to port tack as wind veered. Difficulty came from wind not following rules. At times, thrown to his hands and knees. On his knees Mahmud begged, begged with the spirit that there would be enough give and take in rigging and lashings (a miracle) to give them a chance. Mahmud knew their lives depended on it, and he knew their lives depended on him.
Exhausted, the new mother held her baby tightly to her bosom. She zeroed in on her child. With her shredded sorong, she lashed herself and her baby to the mast. She knew the mast would float. She knew it would outlast everything. Lightning struck, and she knew it was the scorn of the witches.
Overtaken, in the direct path of a big storm, swept into its center, Muhmud followed instinct and heave-to on a starboard tack and tried to stay in the most comfortable position relative to wind and sea. The storm’s Fury taught him some cold lessons, the same lessons it taught every mariner. Shamans, local Merlins, plotted in advance of the storm’s course, while Muhmud never lost his bearings. Having lived all of his life on those waters, he knew at all times where he was in proximity to surrounding islands.
Punishment for land and island villages too. People killed by flying timbers. Knocked from their feet by surging waters. All classes, all ages die. There was no way to get out of the way. And there was no way to get the news out.
With a sea alive with an enemy, how dangerous was a little wind and rain?
Not unlike his parents weathering winters in Spain, Carlos seemed impervious to sudden squalls. He wore his old Shepherds long coat, which kept him partially dry. Even assuming from past experience that he knew why sails were quickly doused, how could he have predicted that he and Omar would come so close to sharing the same watery grave?
Keep in mind that Moros preferred death to defeat. Keep in mind that if success was accompanied by the death of many Moros then it was an acceptable price to pay. Bolstered by prayer, they hurled themselves into the fray and for that reason, they were feared, respected, and vilified.
A diversionary noise distracted the watch. Wild cries caught everyone off guard. “Moros! Moros!” Caught napping, the junk’s crew gave up. Incapacitated, those, who only moments before were sleeping, froze. Only a few fired weapons. The killing hardly seemed justified. A combined force of the raid and storm brought death, death, and more death. How much was enough? Whereas, under direction of the Sultan of Sulu (commissioned as part of his armed forces), continually needled by a lull in their war with Manila, needing to keep an edge, with a license to plunder and kill Moros quickly carried out their work. Results were obvious.
Rain continued to fall in torrents. Except for the storm, more would’ve survived. These Moros, though decent at home, took all the booty and slaves they could. More was better. More loot and slaves a man took the more he was honored.
From the beginning, Carlos thought he would die; while for Omar, danger hadn’t weighed on him yet. After assessing his predicament, the Castilian saw the Moro warrior twirling his kris.
Now the kris was one of the best offensive weapons developed by man. Its wavy cutting edge inflicted terrible rusty wounds that never healed. Its offset handle gave it leverage enough to cleave a man in two with a single stroke. A coat of mail fashioned of plates of carabao horn and fastened with lengths of brass wire made warriors even more formidable. With their armor and their sharp weapons, no adequate defense against Sulu warriors had yet been developed.
When he lunged at his foe with a sharp knife, a frightened Carlos only grazed Omar. The aimlessness of the attack threw attacker off balance, causing him to fall. An experienced warrior would’ve then hacked the Spaniard to pieces. Instead, Omar stood there and laughed.
“‘His recompense shall be Hell, forever shall he abide in it,'” Omar remembered saying from the Koran. Not that this raid should be confused with a pirate’s raid or jihad. Carlos then kicked Omar as hard as he could. He kicked him where it hurt most. The Moro was then unable to fight. On his first raid, with disgrace imminent, he would’ve continued to fight had he not been in so much pain. To be overwhelmed by a mere mortal was a disgrace.
Surprised by his courage, as before shown on the cold wild plains of Spain, Carlos defended himself and proved himself equal to an inexperienced Omar. But clearly danger wasn’t over. In darkness and among tattered yards and retaining tackle, the Castilian scrambled for another place to hide.
Carlos’ survival came down to an uncommon closeness of sultry air, which caused Moro warriors not to be as thorough as they normally were. Carlos survived because of Omar’s inexperience and an approaching typhoon. In their rush, raiders failed to search the junk completely for survivors or their own men.
As the sun rose, Carlos looked around for other survivors. He looked around and didn’t at first see any other survivors. Apparently overlooked, or left for dead, he felt no pain from a nasty cut. As he looked around, he felt no pain. He didn’t realize that he was hurt. A quick survey of the junk spoke of carnage; but he was hardly in shape to worry about anyone else’s fate. A rising sun soon disappeared into the onslaught of a typhoon.
From a breathless calm to a clash of sea, sudden change stupefied him. Without direction or a crew to help, what chance did he have? When water knocked him down and his instincts took over … while faced with the prospect of being tossed overboard, he realized that there was yes! One other survivor. Yes! There was one other survivor. Somehow Omar got left behind and now clung to spars and rigging. Two enemies were survivors.
Facing such a storm, no boat promised protection. With little more than a will to live, little else kept them alive. Wind tore into them. Waves soaked them. Omar needed both hands to hang on. During a temporary lull that marked the storm’s eye, Carlos discovered that he had somehow got his hands on Omar’s kris. And on deck, Carlos and Omar crawled on all fours instinctively toward each other.
No longer could they stand. Shaking, they looked at each other. They looked for answers … for explanations. Why had they been spared? Besides the fury of a typhoon (which grew again as the storm’s eye passed over them), Omar also dreaded his own kris and sensed his own ineptness. He sensed his weakness. They both felt weak from a beating, a memory of which they’d forever share and would later come back to them whenever they boarded a boat. It was a nauseating reminder.
With impartiality, rain and wind, and circulation of a depression, further wrecked the disabled junk; its blooded deck, bowing and dipping, cleansed by salt water.
In a state no warrior ought to have been in, Omar clung to Carlos. They both expected to die. Darkness, weeping, gnashing of teeth, they expected to die. Wind became a metaphor, a metaphor for God’s and Allah’s wrath. A circular wind, on the backside of the storm, unmatched, thrashed a wooden hull and tore loose her jabs and sails, splintering her masts level with the bowsprit. Throughout this, they couldn’t see beyond a few feet. They clung to each other like they were brothers after they gave up hope. Salt spray stung their eyes and penetrated their mouths. Hopelessly vomiting from an intake of too much salt water and afraid of drowning, they clung to each other though they were still enemies.
“Holy, infinite and merciful Mary,” Carlos prayed. Lacking deep faith and not used to praying, the Castillian asked for help anyway. If he survived, he promised Mary that he’d avoid past sins and imagined being rescued from the deep sea like Jonah by a big fish.
Omar ascended with Jacob up a ladder into bright heaven. Allah seized him, shook him, as the young Moro tried to get hold of himself. Did he actually see Muhammad and Jacob’s ladder? Perhaps. Perhaps because of a storm, Omar had a vision.
Death at sea then seemed fitting and certain. Omar prepared himself for such a journey before he ever became a warrior. His parents prepared him for it. They prepared him for it by plotting a voyage on an imaginary map, a course for him to paradise. A voyage he expected to take one day, a voyage that took him beyond death. They called him. But he lost his weapon, his kris, his sword and shield. Without his kris what would happen to him? What would happen to him if he lived? What would happen to him if he had no booty or captive slaves on which to build his life? As far as Omar was concerned, an attempt to circumvent Chinese brokers failed. He was a failure. At a young age, he was a failure. All he ever wanted was a good life, and now he was a failure. Now he stood at Eden’s gate, wet and cold and stripped of everything.
Tilting and pounding worsened … then grief over irretrievable loss. Too frightened for panic. Thank goodness there were no witnesses. Any attempted bravery would’ve surely meant his death. Too weak, he found himself on a wild, violent day clinging to his enemy. Chinese junks came every year to their land with silk and other merchandise and most of them they let come and go without harming them. Only occasionally did they raid them, and on this one, a Moro warrior’s first one, without booty or slaves, Omar had nothing to show for it. He could wish for no greater shame. Thus, ascent into heaven, which was promised to Omar, was delayed.
What Omar feared most happened: after piracy, simple justice. Pirates, warriors, or bandits (whatever you choose to call them), in the wake of a mighty storm … and with all their booty and slaves, all of them perished when their vessels capsized.
Meanwhile, puzzled, and frightened, Carlos and Omar were wary of each other. A whole world separated them. They had nothing in common, yet events and feelings and a quirk of fate linked them. They were now stranded, together stranded. They were stranded together on a wreck. Cold and soaked, neither one moved nor spoke; but both of them sought some sign of reprieve. It was like more than a century of quarrels and conflicts were distilled down to this one event. Each a survivor, each … would each feel compelled to settle old scores? Desperate, they feared the same things. The same things. If they survived, would they fight each other? Or was there something not yet defined happening? Was there something not yet defined that they could rely on? What could they rely on? Allah or God, or an incantation that would end with the death of one of them? Or would they be thankful to be alive and have courage enough to help each other?
When he could again, Carlos stood erect. Had Omar a gun then, he would’ve shot him. The Spaniard asked the Moro in Spanish if he were seriously hurt and, receiving no reply, backed off. Some things were comprehensible: other things were not. Bleeding, Carlos’ arm felt like it would fall off. Not knowing if a lull would last, they seemed paralyzed. Omar mistook his rival’s hesitation for weakness. He waited for a right moment to attack him. Rather than risk cordiality, Carlos respected Omar’s tenacity in silence and wisely kept his distance. Besides exhaustion truly set in.
Any sign of emotion or pain would’ve represented weakness; while a nod of the head, which was more courtesy than enemies normally shared, purchased a few moments. Had they known each other’s language, they would’ve discovered then what they later did. They would’ve discovered that they had a lot in common. They would’ve found out that they shared curiosity that went beyond orchids and weapons.
While Carlos sat too exhausted to move, Omar combed the boat for a replacement for his kris. As he looked he discovered for himself the odious remains of slaughter. It sickened him. It was, indeed, sickening. Frustrated and lost, he stumbled down the hatch into cabins of horror, where he finally came across the captain’s musket (a small caliber, with a touchhole large enough to fit in a ten-penny nail). Only, he couldn’t find any dry powder.
Up until then he had only now and then played with firearms; and powder he found was as wet as he was. But he wasted no time. Later, he would be obligated to repay a thousand-fold the cost of his haste.
As an inexperienced young man, he couldn’t have foreseen the consequences of the next few minutes. If he were older, he would’ve known more about internal debt. Until then, honor to him was limited to bravery. As a Moro warrior, battle wounds were also considered honorable. So, therefore, unwounded, he hadn’t yet proved himself.
As he reached the deck again, Omar increased his determination. He came from a brave nation, brave on land and sea, and he couldn’t live without honor. But now, he had wind and rain to contend with again. Remembering how he failed before, he cocked the captain’s musket and pointed it at his enemy. Carlos knew not why the weapon failed to fire or why he was spared again; but in comparison with what followed, getting shot would’ve seemed minor to him. Anyway, he, then with a burst of energy, heaved Omar’s prized kris overboard.
Remember Carlos was Catholic in name-only and never indulged in confession. To ask for mercy he felt was for old and dying people. To him, people saw God’s love only on sunny days but at other times feared Him. To him people prayed only when they needed something. But something strange was happening to him.
Brought to his knees, Carlos then confessed his sins and asked for absolution. Raising his voice over the storm, he also promised, if he lived, he would present himself to the nearest friar. Seeking a link with the Almighty, he doubted his personal pleas would be heard. He doubted that it would do any good and desperately sought a sign of acceptance, but there was none. Had he been too passionate? Had he not been passionate enough? Had he been too linked with sin? He was a sinner. He knew he was a sinner. Was he too removed from church? He didn’t go to church. Was he too removed from church, from home and up bringing, and a hermit in a cave? Why hadn’t he repressed passions such as dancing the bolero and the fandango, or gambling with dice or cards, playing for money with the sleight-of-hand of an artist?
Carlos’ dramatic gestures stopped Omar in his tracks. For throwing his kris overboard, he cursed his enemy in the name of Allah. He cursed him about which he’d later smiled and smiled n spite of humiliation. Both of them felt contempt for each other. Yet both seemed charmed by something, which seemed to neutralize their contempt. Omar’s suffering somehow struck an accord with Carlos, and vice versa.
Like barnacles, they hung on for hours and hours. Somehow they found strength for it, strength of giants given the intensity of the storm. Then a set time came for the Moro to pray. He prayed to Mecca.
So Omar faced west, knelt on his knees, touched his nose to wet planking, and prayed. In cold and wet, and with riving swells, he didn’t forget to pray. He didn’t forget his prayers. He knew them by heart. So let him be thankful that he could still pray.
Racked with pain from a cut on his arm, Carlos became ill. He had swallowed too much salt water. It made him really sick; and his convulsions matched the storm’s fury. But in spite of it, he hung on. As for the junk, some of her seams split open, and she leaked dangerously.
Some eight hours earlier, and traveling about thirteen miles per hour (there would be many accounts of this storm), Tay-Fung (typhoon), moving north and counter-clock wise, missed Mindanao but took a swipe at the Sulus. In its wake villages were leveled, leaving nipa scattered everywhere. Everything was inundated. Everything was inundated with mud and water. It was a freak storm. Islands no longer looked green and beautiful. On land survivors assembled, some in mosques (which generally withstood storms better than homes) and others in market places (which were totally destroyed) and took a head count. Like survivors everywhere, they were determined to rebuild.
Thank God! Rudderless, adrift, and with no rigging and decking Carlos and Omar clung to wreckage that finally ended up on a reef. Wreckage stayed there until it finally broke apart. Carlos and Omar faced a long, dark, wet night. They faced a long, dark, wet night as atmospheric pressure rose, and wind and sea finally subsided. Any change offered encouragement. Being alive at dawn was viewed as a good sign. They became unexpectedly close. Was it a curse?
Except for cracked lips, a swollen tongue, a bloody arm, exhaustion, hunger, and thirst, Carlos was no worse for wear. Except for some of the same things, Omar was no worse for wear. Later they acknowledge that it could’ve been far worse.
Finally, calm. Except for a few patches of cirrus and scattered showers. Welcome doldrums and, for some people, monotony, but for Mahmud a chance to rest. With his line set and baited with stingray, Mahmud used a calm peaceful sea to clear his head. Too much happened. Too much. Too much to take in all at once. An emerald-green sea, untroubled now, spoke to the sea gypsy of a deep channel where sharks waited for his foot long hooks. Finally falling asleep in waters long haunted by pirates, between islands and moorings, shallows and deep channels, a proud gypsy, with no house on shore, still fished and lived, lived now with a wife and a child, a girl, lived mostly away from everyone. Mahmud, a sea gypsy, with a wife and her rhythmic chants and songs, and their new daughter named Landing, lost nothing but time in the doldrums. He needed sleep.
Very light and variable winds made sailing again possible.
He was so poor. And a birth of a girl meant he would become poorer, generations of poor, poorer still.
He had to keep roaming the seas. To seek a house on shore would’ve been in vain; or so he thought. It would’ve been in vain because gypsies who settled in villages still lived on the sea in houses built on stilts. The sea was dirty there. They relied on a cleansing tide there, and at low tide it got muddy and sloppy. All he saw was village waste and stagnant water and in his mind it represented ruin, chaos and filth.
He blamed his wife. He blamed her for everything that went wrong. He blamed her for giving him a girl. Now appeal of blaming her grew stronger and strange. She did it to him. She was to blame, but instead of talking to her, he stewed. His anger did not stop there. To him, giving him a girl was such a bad crime that for a while he pretended that she didn’t exist. Mother didn’t exist except when he wanted sex, or until he could get her pregnant again … count on fertility, and hope next time she gave him a boy. Girl didn’t exist because he pretended she didn’t.
Normally, he had few complaints. Muhmud considered himself deserving. But would fate and opportunity ever lead them out of poverty? Quite obviously, an answer lay inside his wife’s womb. He dreamed. He dreamed of having a son. And in this dream he recognized the woman he married, married without smiles. Smiles were forbidden. Smiles would jinks everything. He didn’t look into her face, a face beautified with rice powder. To look into her face would jinks everything. And he wouldn’t smile again until she gave him a son.
After a short while convector modified air to such an extent, one might say significantly, that a resulting shower woke him. Though equatorial dampness turned everything quickly into mold, it actually was refreshing. Lying on his back, letting drops pelt his face, Mahmud laughed. Yes, he laughed but wouldn’t smile. Or he tried not to smile. He laughed and tried not to smile. He thought that he just might stay poor, because poverty gave him freedom, for sure it did.
With swollen eyes, mother cooked over a wood fire near the stern. As she sang, fish and casava simmered; fish and casava made a meal, cooked with as little wood as possible. As expected, she carried on her usual work and sang, mocking her husband’s anger. She gave birth to an infant of the wrong sex, not that it mattered to her. Weaning would be the same. Sometimes it was painful. It was sometimes so painful that when baby sucked mother resented it. Both she and her husband had work to do. They had specific jobs to do; and he couldn’t help her with cooking or breast-feeding; so mother carried tiny Landing everywhere, tucked belly to belly, in a blanket sling. Hungry and restless, infant grew to want her milk, grew to insist on milk and easily found a tit. Mother became use to it and knew the child’s survival depended on how successfully she produced milk.
When it rained, it never got cooler. With cooking, days were very hot, and an extra body, tied tightly to her, made her even hotter. So that was how it was; mother cooked as her daughter sucked, snacked before meals were prepared and sucked before there was true milk.
Very sweet was mother’s voice, finally filled with peacefulness. She sang of sea, sky, wind, and fire. She sang of sustenance. She sang for fertility. She asked for fertility as she sang. Sun bleached her hair. Wind blew it out of place. She went about her chores nursing and singing to a beat of imagined gongs, gongs gone wild, music for her child and man, trying to convince herself that he still cared. Music medicine in language of spirits. If he only looked at her. If he only showed he cared. She sang of their courtship … more tomorrow, more the day after … a ballad of love and hope for her baby. When her umbilical cord falls off, Landing’s ears would have to be pierced. Bride’s parents consented and groom promised to make their daughter happy. She wondered when Mahmud would play again, dance again, shout and clap … talk of love until he became red faced … again embrace her and make love with wild abandonment. Gradually strain resided, as she sang her songs. Singing provided relief. She wondered when he would make her happy. When would he smile again?
She sang, and as her song flowed over gentle swells, Mahmud caught a shark for Landing, her first shark. He would later tell his daughter proudly of that capture. “And I sang too. Your mother joined me in the same song.”
Come shark, show us your kris, slice water like a brave fish.
Come, come, I am waiting … squatting in a position you’ll come to.
The shark came … our song answered.
“Your mother then flung her arms wide, tossed her dark hair out of her face, and howled because she knew then, I think, that you would only bring us miraculous luck.”
And what luck! Landing came out of a gypsy family, and it was a great day when she married a young Datu. Or was it more than luck?
Loss of his violin hit Carlos hard. But there was plenty of unspoiled rice wine for a joyous rescue. Their survival called for a celebration. It called for drinking and toasting, which given their situation might seem premature, but it didn’t contradict Carlos’ idea of dying well. Dying well was all that mattered then because they couldn’t see how they would be rescued. They couldn’t see the future. They didn’t see a future. Right then was no time to worry about the future or about moderation. There was always absolution. There was always forgiveness. So drink, drink, drink and get drunk. A young man, of humble origins, more then than ever before, he recognized the certainty of death. Death came to everyone. It was only a matter of timing. More than ever before he recognized the certainty of death, which made him value life more. Sing about love and sex. Sing about sin. Sing about sinning with a prostitute, and if so, what did it matter?
Omar refused to drink.
Still Carlos thought that he made progress. Yet there was little to celebrate about. So just drink to get drunk. Drink, drink, drink! Neither one understood the other. Omar only knew Spain as an enemy, nothing more. He knew nothing about how Spaniards viewed the world. And he was faced with a fair-skinned man, who spoke only Spanish. So, when Carlos started singing (in Spanish), Omar didn’t know what he was singing about … didn’t know that he was singing about love. Love of a prostitute. It was an old song. And it didn’t matter that it was about a prostitute. Omar’s own song, if he had sung one, would’ve been an epic narrative about pirate-kings and not of women.
Women to Carlos were either mothers or whores. For in his class there were apparent contradictions, contradictions that challenged ideas about honor, chastity and honor when virginity or fidelity weren’t prized. Flirting and sex before marriage were normal while marriage meant a dowry. Carlos wasn’t interested in a dowry. He wasn’t interested in marriage, or else he wouldn’t have become an adventurer.
Again, in his mind, a link between love and marriage didn’t exist. On the contrary, from the days of his youth, he preferred to dance, play his violin, and sleep with gypsy women. He was often the first to discredit mutual, tender love that unites. He rejected examples set by his parents; wanting nothing to do with love in sermons and theological tracks, or a kind of love that kept his father and mother together. He liked gypsy women because they set no value on virginity. He pictured himself a man of the world like Casanova who no longer went to confession. So naturally he frequented brothels of Madrid where women or girls were dressed to entice. Madrid in those days had its share of rebel politicians, heretics, prostitutes, syphilitics and alcoholics.
In contrast, Omar grew up with a slave girl, a slave girl who became like a sister. His mother provided him with a slave as a playmate. From an early age, a slave, this playmate-helper, cradled him when he couldn’t sleep and ran with him through narrow passages of his home. This was a case of them being thrown together. Her beauty … complimented by close fitted waistcoats of fine muslin, with skin the color of weak tea … showed why she was prized. But just as her mother grew unattractive as a captive, Omar’s slave’s desirability, like polish, lost its luster. Familiarity got in the way of love.
By then the Sultan’s interest in trading actually lessened, just as Jolo’s standing as a market place increased. Slave trade thrived there, and one could buy from the Chinese pier pepper and spices from the Moluccas, diamonds, and rubies from Ceylon. No doubt it was why the town was razed more than once. Though this was true, no outside power ruled Sulu, not even the Spanish, until the advent of the steam powered gun ship. Moro bravery in battle and their obstinate passive resistance in peace baffled the Spanish; and perhaps contempt of their Christianized neighbors stemmed from this obstinacy.
Some things European, however, were valued. Before Carlos, Omar and his slave could already dance a tolerable minuet. Critically, Carlos often watched Omar wearing heavy slippers “go down” during a country-dance. Eventually, his violin playing gave him an easy in. He never had an easy out. Before Carlos Bisayan slaves played music, however, only for the privileged.
Ultimately, Omar never repaid his slave for all she did for him. He didn’t have to repay her. In general, she submitted to his will and moods and behaved in a taciturn manner, which signified his authority. As he grew older, he noticed her breasts. They were miniature then, but still distinctive. He thought her breasts were beautiful. Blinded by her face, again color of weak tea, he found joy in the afternoon from looking at her and paying attention to new feelings. For Omar, she sang from her heart. She sang, when it should be remembered she lacked a voice of her own. She was a slave, so she didn’t have a voice of her own. As a slave, she would die without him. She grew old and ugly and died without him.
O aging jealousy! How often, in succeeding years, would she close her eyes in pain? How often would she sing, not as she once sung of joys, joy, joy of lying in her young master’s lap, but complaining in song? Of his being absent? Their years together were so short. So, so short. A curse she sung about often. She sang it with the same meter and rhyme continuously. Her curse was that she truly loved him. She truly loved him, and it was something he couldn’t comprehend. It was something he couldn’t comprehend while he juggled more than one wife. Still he used her for his most extreme lust. Might she mean more to him. Might they talk, sing, ride together, she with short stirrups, wearing her hair clubbed atop in Chinese fashion. Full of regrets or perhaps not, but knowing that they hadn’t gotten enough out of their time together. Might she be of comfort to him during days of darkness, or may they find each other at the time of Judgement: one final time.
Blue water, blue skies, and extremely calm. Laughing more than dancing and singing, with the storm finally gone; and as the sea family drifted slowly toward wreckage, or what was left of a stuck junk, Mahmud thought about mysteries of capricious spirits that filled the cosmos, spirits he counted on to protect his family. He honored elements and earth that rewarded him with a daughter. Yes, even a daughter. My how he changed his mind about it since he caught a big shark. Before holding Landing, he chanted an Arabic prayer of thanksgiving.
Soon after dawn, when he could assess the carnage, Carlos started writing a personal history of events. “Thus we cruised in good order and with a great deal of hope. Now there is blood on the transom….” As Carlos wrote, Omar resisted scratching, stood itching as long as he could. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he knew that a disposal of the dead had to begin. He didn’t like this grisly task. He didn’t like it but knew of no other way to avoid itching. He knew itching was an outward sign of contagion. To prevent contagion, he had to drag and then push all the bodies overboard. And he couldn’t count on Carlos because their relationship hadn’t progressed far enough. Itching, which Omar linked to decay, decay of dead people but was actually attributed to a crab-like insect. Sulfur easily could’ve taken care of it. But they didn’t have easy access to sulfur. He didn’t know where the dispensary was.
Up until then, dazed from a punishing storm, Omar hadn’t wanted to take care of the bodies. Not wanting to take care of the bodies, he waited for Carlos’ lead or, for some another sign, such as itching.
In so vast an area, it might seem improbable that a gypsy family just happened upon a wrecked junk. It seemed improbable given such a vast area, but Mahmud plied and regularly fished here. He often fished reefs near here. He considered these reefs his private fishing ground.
Confronted with this evil (this wreckage), Mahmud looked for an explanation. And there was only one explanation that made sense to him. Some one somewhere offended spirits and he knew in his heart that somewhere spirits were unhappy. Confronted with evil, he knew in his heart that evil struck a junk and that evil could also strike him and his family. And he knew that by helping potentially survivors he could upset spirits, even if they saved lives. There could always be bad spirits lingering around, for certain spirits were bad and were offended by good and, aroused by jealousy, destroyed good-doers. Muhmud was, therefore, always cautious. He was always cautious and circumspect because he knew he couldn’t live without offending some spirit.
No doubt the junk frightened his wife too. As a precaution, she prayed “Da Gi musung” (begging “Please don’t take revenge”), and wished she had a pure white chicken to kill. If she had a pure white chicken, she would’ve offered it to spirits. She would’ve offered it with special spices and incense. She worried and was worried about dead people, some she knew and some she didn’t. She worried believing that people after death could direct retribution upon someone. She tried to think of people she might have offended. She tried to reach those people and apologize. Impartial retribution also existed. So she was in a no win situation. She couldn’t cover all the bases. And since the natural world insisted on equilibrium, goodness was always offset by something bad. So she immediately knew they were in a fix.
Praying that bad spirits wouldn’t overlook them, Mahmud joined his wife in a long chant. As a new father, he certainly didn’t want anything to happen to Landing. Parenthood was a big responsibility, which he took seriously, but he had to be careful not to make too big a fuss over his daughter. He didn’t want to offend a spirit in that way. He didn’t want to offend spirits in any way.
His wife busied herself. She didn’t wait for her husband to begin a discussion. She thought she knew him, so they didn’t have to discuss anything. Even after their romance faded the two of them learned to tolerate one another and, at times, shared genuine, deep, mutual affection. But she was never quite sure how to approach him. She still wasn’t quite sure what would set him off. She knew him, but she didn’t. She knew impatience was one of his better traits, which she counterbalanced with her own patience. She had more patience than he did. She had more patience than she would’ve had had they lived on land, within a community and if she weren’t threatened by supernatural personalities. So why talk about it? Why talk? Why talk anymore than they had to? Why talk anymore about evil spirits? They knew evil spirits existed. They knew evil spirits were all around them. But evil spirits or not, she knew she couldn’t stop her husband. She knew him and knew she couldn’t stop him. He wouldn’t listen. Having lived with him all of her adult life, she knew he wouldn’t listen to her. And she could tell he had already made up his mind and that talking about it wouldn’t do any good.
She never openly disagreed with him. She also knew nothing could keep them perfectly safe. She however learned to trust Mahmud’s instincts. She didn’t trust him. Yet she trusted his instincts and, as a dutiful wife, went about her business cooking, preparing cassava and fish, and gathering firewood from beaches and a variety of edibles from reefs. She gathered firewood from beaches and edibles from reefs without taking her eye off the wreckage. They tried to go about their business without thinking of the wreckage. During some of their more intimate moments, they fished together and together shared care of their daughter. All the while they tried to forget the wreckage.
Carlos cried “sharks!” when he saw a single black fin. It was ominous this shark lured by scent of human blood. Sweating the Spaniard had nothing to fear but hated to see bodies of people he knew further mutilated and consumed. As he feared, a single shark foretold a feeding frenzy by many sharks. Watching in horror sharks ate men he knew, Carlos saw Omar dive over the side and yelled to him “dogfish! dogfish!” He didn’t know if the Moro saw the sharks and expected to see him attacked, as he swam.
A great swimmer, Omar swam without panic, something sharks seemed to respect. Omar seemed to know this, as he swam. Or the huge fish were too busy tearing into flesh of lifeless bait to pay attention to Omar. Carlos couldn’t believe it. His prejudice against sharks went back to his mother reading the Bible to him. He took the Bible literally. He remembered Leviticus 11: 9-12 and detested sharks. Shark’s scales differed markedly from scales of other fish. In contrast, Omar’s people lived with sharks. They readily ate shark. Seeing Omar spared, Carlos thought that he might’ve been wrong about sharks and that they somehow recognized and respected a higher authority.
While praying for Omar’s soul (imagine it), Carlos grasped a charm he found. A tiny hand-fashioned trinket made from black stone provided him with solace. He looked for guidance and solace. Common, the charm guaranteed a measure of comfort. Now, Carlos knew that what he was doing bordered on hypocrisy and that he ran a risk of losing his baptism. Admittedly, up until then, he had forgotten his faith. As a participant of Madrid’s society, he frequented parties, without feeling guilty, parties that frequently featured parodies of New Testament stories. After which, lights were turned out and women were urged to let themselves go. Men and women, married and single, merchants and artisans, soldiers, clergy, all participated. They all participated so what was considered proper or improper became blurred. So back to a charm, a trinket made from black stone: though Carlos thought he was about to die, he didn’t wish to give God an excuse to take him. So for the rest of the morning, he finished (though struggling with each body) feeding sharks. A task Omar started.
For posterity, in his journal, he recorded each burial, with a name of each person when he could come up with it. Later in the afternoon, spent and desiccated, he lay on deck. He lay on deck and forgot about Omar, but remembered that he forgot something else. Without consecrated host or a priest, he then prayed for the souls of the dead, and it was something given all of his exertion.
Numbness superseded misery and terror and was all he thought about. On his back, too sore to move and afraid of more pain, he heard a revival of a Chinese junk filled with life, including banging of gongs. While hearing this confused him, these hallucinations (call them hallucinations for lack of a better term) momentarily reassured him. He had just landed dumbstruck between Yin and Yang. Yin signified darkness, water, and sharks, as opposed to yang of birth, light, and earth.
Alone in a brutal, strange world, he never intended to be in such a place. To die then and there, in poverty (having lost everything) and in misery (still wet and covered with blood), yes, perhaps even more, having a sense that he had come to an end; that he was at that very moment facing his final destiny. Setting aside misery and terror (which in any case made a good story), he still wouldn’t have wanted to live a different life; but right then, he couldn’t think. Right then he couldn’t think, but in the future, in a play perhaps, a black pennant would represent a storm, a mighty storm, and ghosts of junkmen would wear black cloth over their heads.
During moments of consciousness, he knew Omar wouldn’t have much a chance to reach land and feared the worse. But after all he went through, why did he care? While, in the end, having shared so much, when they finally saw each other again, he put his arms around Omar’s neck and cried.
For the rest of the day, he had few lucid moments. His dreams ranged from being stranded in a snowstorm to being carried in a sedan chair. He always thought that he would eventually return to Spain. Now he wasn’t so sure. He remembered a graveyard in Amoy. But before thinking far ahead, he needed to concentrate on how to get out of his present predicament.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t drunk any water. He had no idea how much water his body needed. After all the diarrhea and vomiting, he suffered from dehydration. He should’ve known better. How could he have ignored thirst? With his tongue swollen, his skin was also blistered.
Fresh water tanks luckily weren’t compromised. No brim, only same ol’ staleness. Given his swollen tongue, it was remarkable that he could drink at all. That his stomach accepted water was also a good sign, and especially since Chinese people believed the stomach controlled all systems of the body. Carlos took his own pulse. A soft, superficial throbbing pulse meant sunstroke; a superficial and thready one indicated fatigue through overwork; and a superficial and scattered beat warned of exhaustion to the point of collapsing. His slow pulse signified weakness and a deep and hidden occasional beat was due to vomiting and diarrhea, but a sudden spike would’ve been really dangerous. Carlos discovered that drinking water at that critical moment was better than finding the elixir of life, and better than chamomile or certain mushrooms or gold, silver, jade, or preparations of mercury, or a host of other herbs and metals that were suppose to help him achieve immortality. He had been truly tested and it served him well.
So painful and raw was his face that he went looking for the dispensary, which sat next to a small altar to the god of healing. Attached to a medicine chest were written prescriptions and a prayer that said, “Great are the virtues of the ancients. May merciful gods drive away disease, protect our bodies, and grant us peace.” He smashed a lock to the case, however more forcibly than necessary. Faced with shelves filled with blue and white porcelain jars, containing liquids, principally tonics, and smaller jars, with octagonal based caps packed with seeds and plants of the most expensive kinds, he didn’t know where to start. All of the jars looked the same except for their size. In his weak state, he couldn’t afford to play it safe. He first looked for plasters, so commonly used on the temples to reduce headaches. Why hesitate, for he needed a soothing ointment. Rhubarb, he chose a gelatin made from rhubarb, which he smeared all over his face, and recognized root of ginseng (a well-labeled cure-all), a piece of which he placed into his mouth. As sweet gelatin cooled his face and ginseng calmed him, Carlos’ desperation lifted.
Remarkably feeling like a human being again, he explored the captain’s cabin and, when night finally came, he slept in the captain’s bed. It must’ve been near noon the next day before he woke up. Still in the superbly carved ebony bed, he remembered the odor of death with revulsion. He still felt weary. Unable to clearly delineate what happened, he sat up, tried to stand, but his legs couldn’t support him.
“Suppose instead of being little better than a stowaway, I …. Lord knows where Castilians stand, and no law besides … Suppose I became the captain of this wreck.” Why not! Hadn’t he clearly inherited the junk? Wasn’t he the only survivor? Why not wear the captain’s best hat and yellow uniform (a color chosen to symbolize a tiger)? “The enemy had better sharpen their krises;” and, before long, self-flattery worked magic.
Oh, my! Far from the melancholy town of Burgos, gone were school days, yet his enlightenment continued in spite of backwardness. Long gone was a world of a shepherd. He had experienced opium and women and judged each for himself. As far as possible, he imagined the utilitarian benefits of everything around him, discerned each thing’s magic, and began to decipher it all. Back at the medicine chest, he carefully opened each jar, noted the difference of each substance and by using all of his senses became acquainted with what was in each jar. . He didn’t shrink from testing artemisia Moxa, or common mugwort. Like with all substances, he used a fingertip and couldn’t believe it burned. He them dared to place a dab on his arm; and as it ignited like fire, a blister came. All of this helped him forget his sunburn.
Omar grew up in and around the sea. He learned to swim before he could walk, learned from playing in water. He was made to swim. When he turned thirteen, his father took him far out to sea, out of sight of shore, and in spite of Omar’s fear, made him swim home. He not only had to swim well but also became an expert at it. Failure to become an expert would’ve been humiliating and impossible for him. All along, he gained self-confidence. With Allah’s help, he gained endurance and learned to appreciate the power of concentration and discipline. Learned to swim when he felt ill and when his nose and throat bled. Learned he had to keep swimming or else drown. That was how he mastered fear, and he had to do it before he became a warrior. So that was why Omar felt invincible and thought he could swim any distance.
Attracted to the reefs, his fishing grounds, thinking of catching skipjack, stingray and, most of all, shark, Mahmud felt as if luck had turned in his favor. And he had every reason to feel lucky. He told his wife that he decided to bypass trouble, bypass the wreckage, or so he said; and whether on his own he would’ve changed his mind we’ll never known.
He spent much of the day mending his fishing gear. As he worked and the day wore on, his wife held their daughter and sung magical songs. At some point, she decided their houseboat needed purified; but before she could finish the ritual, she saw a sight she couldn’t believe. Suddenly, a crisis! She grabbed her husband’s arm in panic, and pointed to what his keen eyes had already seen. After some time, they made Omar out; but it wasn’t until the swimmer was but a few yards away that they both realized that he was human. No ritual worked. He was human. They couldn’t believe he was human. A human swimming in open ocean: it never dawned on them that he came from the wreckage.
Calm, Mahmud squatted. It was like catching a big fish. Fishing always calmed him. Excited, he ignored his wife and helped Omar. It was the biggest fish he ever caught. Accordingly he thought he was forced into helping Omar, and as soon as he helped him he became responsible for him.
Mahmud only wanted peace. He didn’t want anything else. And he didn’t want to upset anyone, and most of all he didn’t want to upset any spirit that wasn’t already upset. He knew what the dangers were, and he didn’t want to make it worse by upsetting a spirit. Now he had a child to protect. Now that he had a child to protect, he weighed his obligations. He should’ve weighed his obligations more carefully than he did.
While he helped Omar, his wife threw sticks at him. She threw sticks at Omar because she thought he was an evil spirit. Up until then, Landing was a happy baby. Suddenly, she cried and couldn’t be pacified. Her mother recognized a known culprit, who annoyed and frightened babies. Naturally she tried to protect her child. Horrified, Mahumd laughed out of nervousness.
Omar dove under the houseboat, only to reappear after the mad woman thought she chased him away. The ritualistic manner in which she repeated Arabic words for water, earth, and vegetation didn’t helped. She grew up with magic, married with magic, gave birth with magic, and now she tried to use magic to protect herself and her child. Stepping in front of her, Mahmud gave Omar a hand and pulled him out of the water.
To Omar, waiting for an auspicious moon seemed like a waste of time, while Mahmud thought only ignorant people ignored the heavens. Mahmud’s disgrace was his inability to please and trouble his wife caused. Omar was direct, while Mahmud apologized for his small boat and for a mess that didn’t exist.
Obviously, class distinctions mattered. Class distinctions mattered and the two classes hadn’t had much contact. How delicate interpersonal relationships were. Awkwardness came with self-consciousness; and Omar seemed to become more and more rude. He was shivering out of exhaustion and seemed rude. How was he supposed to react? He was exhausted. How were they supposed to react? They came from different worlds. Pamper the young man and forgive his rudeness? Intentional or not, slight offences seemed huge. The slightest miscue or wrong intonation actually physically hurt.
For the rest of the day, Mahmud ignored Omar and fished without success. Was Mahmud cursed? Was he cursed for saving Omar? He hadn’t made up his mind about it, and he hadn’t made up his mind what to do next yet.
Mahmud needed no barb on his hooks. As thick as a man’s fore finger was his line, and with a trace, a three-foot length of plaited hair from his wife, was the only way he knew to fish. He fished for shark, as has been said, with long wooden hooks. For centuries these fisherman fished with long wooden hooks. These special hooks were good luck for fishermen and bad luck for sharks and luck depended on these hooks, but now Muhmud felt threatened; and didn’t know why. He wanted only to be left alone. The smoothest possible sea was all he ever asked for. And an occasional shark. Now he had taken on an extra burden.
Carlos, son of a shepherd, from a region of Burgos, decided that he would alter his identity and granted himself a degree from the Royal Coleglo de Madrid. Time had come for him to take a social position worthy of the highest respect. No longer would he be constrained by his lack of nobility.
A good many others led the way by engaging in the same deception, making themselves a little better or richer than they were and boasting of being a son of someone. At decisive moments, other men of peasant stock assumed positions and used them as springboards; and Carlos, since childhood, could be counted among those who poisoned themselves with envy. Now he pictured himself a benevolent and shrewd conquistador. After the pains he went through, all the trouble, who knew the difference? Think of all the pains he went to, all the trouble, and all for what?
If he returned to Madrid, as a hidalgo or a son of somebody (as he often dreamed), he would have seen that for the most part his personal epic wouldn’t impressed many people. It wouldn’t impress countesses and princes, fellow hidalgos and caballeros, the very people he wanted to notice him. He wouldn’t be impressive because there were too many people like him trying to impress others. And it would be true even though during his many years in the Sulus he did many great things.
Thus, he turned himself into a hidalgo. And from there, he supposedly entered the Royal Colegio and later the Guards Corps. Intelligent and well educated, he had friends at court and, as he fondly told it, he had patronage of marquises and dukes. Therefore, inspiring envy and hostility, he chose to leave Spain. Carlos was actually ignorant of day to day trappings of the Spanish court, even publicized intrigue and scandal. According to him, if he remained in Madrid, he would’ve been bestowed favors and titles and said he hoped oneday to regain prestige he once had.
At first only a speck on the horizon, which he finally saw and watched grow, a sailing boat representing life to him. It was of ancient shell construction, with a bamboo mask, and rigged with a rectangular lug sail. It had outrigger booms amidships, a nipa covering blown to shreds, and a bamboo slat floor.
Thus he readied himself for guests; and thus in appropriate attire, not to mention a beautiful Kumbley & Brum of London flintlock pistol with carved ivory grips and bas-relief brass engraving (all of which he found in the captain’s wardrobe), he set a captain’s table (raiders had missed all of this and more because of a huge storm). Just as he discovered riches of the boat’s dispensary, he soon stumbled upon many other surprises.
Even though the junk was of modest size and comparatively not a treasure ship, she carried besides her bulky cargoes of gunpowder, poison, cotton and tobacco, secret stashes that defied explanation. Looking around, Carlos found elegant tableware and fancy linen. Everywhere he looked, he discovered treasure, like a wine decanter with a swan-shaped handle, as fragile and pretty as he imagined his mother could’ve been had she not spent all her time outdoors. Sweetmeats, nuts, and honey (the captain’s secret stash, no doubt), which raised questions why he and crew lived on fish, rice, bean broth and maggots. Such a good life the captain lived. Such a good life … it brought back memories of Burgos, where a few people wore fine linen and rode pure bred horses and, as he supposed, were happier than the masses. Truth about his childhood and how it compared with a hidalgo’s life added bile to his stomach. Erroneous perception of persecution haunted him. Picture him in the captain’s cabin, his eyes deep-set beneath heavy brows, driven to introspection. Though he felt threatened again, he moved from there calmly and deliberately.
In comparison, Omar’s self-portrait came from listening to tales of Alexander the Great (the Lord of All Asia) and Sinbad’s battle with forty thieves. He found courage from deep within his imagination. Imprinted in his brain were these stories. It was like he participated in the great Macedonian’s march to Egypt or in Sinbad’s close call with a sea monster and, through stories and traditions, he was groomed for heroism. When it came to competition, the Moro should’ve had the edge.
Wealth … wearing jewels and silks meant nothing to Omar. Slaves mothered him. Whenever he chewed a pungent mixture of betel leaf, areca nut and gambier, a cup bearer held a purple glass up to his lips and wiped his brow. Dressed in rich silks, red and green, and a bright turban, he grew up on sweetmeats, almond paste, and fresh fruit. His mother was a peacock lady. For the harem, she put on a tail and a head of a vividly colored peacock and, while waddling gaunt-toed and with hunching gorgeous shoulders sweetly clucked and warbled.
But were their troubles over, or were they just beginning? Were Carlos’ and Omar’s troubles over, or were they just beginning? Against his better judgement, Carlos decided to risk everything.
Such a hideous dream, failure. Meanwhile, Omar climbed onboard and slithered along a slippery, slanting deck. He ignored logic. Instead of searching for a kris or some other weapon, he decided to rely instead on his strength. Remember Carlos overwhelmed him before but Omar now had the advantage of quickness and surprise. As he caught his breath, he listened for his enemy and felt shame over having lost the last fight. “And say not of those who are slain in the fight for religion of God, that they are dead; yea, they are living, but ye do not understand.”
Clearly Omar wasn’t in this by himself. He had Allah and the Koran on his side. Though blinded, and forgetting about all loot that could be his …. silk, skeins of raw yellow silk, the finest yellow and white silk cloth, silver ribbons, and silk stockings in chest up chest and not ruined … instead he thought of “paradise and a beautiful virgin with large dark eyes, like pearls hidden in their shells, in recompense.”
This vision, this vision alone, drove him to the hatch. This vision, this vision alone, made him run. Then he tripped and stumbled down stairs and made too much noise. May he yet be called to reason! He looked for courage. He looked for any sign of courage as dictated by Allah. Or perhaps more accurately, he wanted to avoid lose of face. And to be true to this idea it was more honorable to let an enemy cut him to pieces than to live with shame.
Then, in his best form and the most gracious manner, while cherishing the moment, Carlos offered Omar a seat at the captain’s table. He offered Omar and Mahmud seats at the captain’s table. Imagine sweet meats, nuts, and honey… Omar never understood the Spaniard’s words, but he understood his gesture and knew he was hungry.
The bride received a gift from the groom, given to her as a gesture of love. Now a marriage ceremony could proceed. Now a mingling of two households could take place. As hoped, she was a virgin (as virgins were prized, for it was thought virgins made more devoted wives). She was a Catholic; and there were mitigating circumstances for why she and her parents weren’t Muslims.
As her parents did, she worked for a master who was tolerant and wise and who hadn’t tried to convert them to Islam. Unspoken was a fear of fornication … a fear of fornication if a wedding wasn’t forthcoming. Felicia was a slave. Felicia now also became a slave of her husband (a slave of two masters) and would never deny him favors. “Accept the least from me cheerfully and gratefully, and my love for you shall be everlasting. Argue not with me, when I am overcome with anger. Beat me not, beat instead a tambourine, for you do not know what is to come thereafter,” were promises that were never meant to be broken.
Was she unable to give herself freely to a husband as long as she served two masters? Or, after slavery, could she ever be happy as a slave of her husband? His insensitivity led to resentment.
While he ordered her about, he never subjugated her. Felicia of the late seventeen hundreds, if she lived in the 1960s, would’ve been labeled passive aggressive. The problem with Carlos was that he treated marriage as a civil contract rather than a religious institution, and he suffered an attack of nerves when he said, “I do.” Omar gave him the following advice: “Fear God, fear God in the matter of women.” And “they’ll be weak partners.” In the presence of witnesses, Felicia was given to Carlos, but he wouldn’t accept her without offering to marry her. Had he grown old-fashioned? Had he become respectable? Why did he insist on marrying her when he didn’t have to? But at the time, she (deep in recesses of her mind) knew it was wrong, still she agreed.
Some months after the wedding, Felicia found herself embroiled in a more desperate form of frenzy. Now “free,” she was told to oversee their servants (slaves). She immediately fell into depression over having lost her parents, who were still slaves, and now under her.
For some time after winning Felicia, Carlos struggled over his own loss of freedom. He predicted how he would handle it. Before then, however, he distinguished himself. For he participated in defense of Jolo when the Dutch attacked. By then, he felt he had a debt to repay. That was how he earned a stake in the Sulus. That was how he earned a place, as he became more and more obsessed with soldiering. It was also why he fought Sulus’ enemies anyway and everywhere he could.
But he never forgot that he was a Spaniard.
So his lack of patriotism had nothing to do with him becoming a traitor.
To survive his marriage, Carlos pretended that there was nothing wrong with him. To survive his marriage he escaped into decadence. Decadence offered him an escape. So he wasn’t old fashion but manufactured excuses for contaminating himself when he didn’t have to. When he could, he sneaked off to the Chinese Pier, where he knew he could find opium and women. Opium and women, as in enjoying two Chinese whores at a time (one for his feet, the other for his head, mercy), “harping back to a primordial time before man had an inflated brain and a soul and could ascend to heaven.” In this way, he reclaimed his sense of adventure. Unafraid of risks, he reclaimed his sense of adventure. And he thought this made him more of a man. What man didn’t love opium and women? Moral men were desperate. Desperate men were dangerous.
To look more like an explorer, soldier, and mercenary, he let his beard grow. Then recklessly, he faced malaria and dysentery. He dueled with these diseases and almost lost his life. But God saved him. He then volunteered for each major raid; and that was how he first saw Manila.
Now he was a mercenary and was a menace to the Spanish colony. Soon there was a price on his head. There was no knife of his that wasn’t dyed red, henna red, or swamps without corpses by the time he left them. Upon his return to Jolo, he was hailed a hero. Yet he was far from finished.
Most men of Aguilar’s force assigned to Real Fuerza de Nuestra Senora del Pilar de Zaragoza (Zamboanga) were in the same predicament as Carlos. Native and Spanish soldiers manned the garrison. Most of them were far away from home and were mercenaries. Practice dictated that troops from one province had to fight or police a different one. Everywhere they went outside garrisons, in the countryside or in towns, there were daily reminders that they didn’t belong. They were foreigners and remained foreigners and were never allowed to forget it. So these troops took it out on people. They were cruel and picked on people. They were after compensation and often compensation involved cruelty. They became over zealous, and their zealousness involved searches, pilferage, and other forms of savagery. All this, however, for the rank and file led to a less than desirable situation.
There were gloomy days in the tropics, when they grew tired of listening to their superiors go on and on about sacrifice. Normally, this was something sacred to Spaniards, but by then, given how far most of them were from home it was like a slap in the face. And for most it was sacrosanct to homesickness. Duty was supposed to bring them honor, and as Catholics, it supposedly meant they were on a crusade. But their situation was far from holy.
As soldiers, their heroics should have been recorded. Their bravery during a British bombardment should’ve been remembered. They should’ve been heralded for repelling a strong attack. They deserved recognition. They deserved more recognition than they got. Few of them got promotions or medals and all of them who lived long enough had to wait for pensions. They wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. They would demand recognition and pensions. They wouldn’t take prisoners. Taking prisoners only complicated their lives. When appropriate, condolences were sent to their mothers and their wives. For some of them, lack of recognition cut to the bone.
But they changed, when duty called for them to police Sulu. They blockaded the Strait of Basilan. They were less than an hour away from Basilan; and for those who most feared Moros … all those who couldn’t sleep … all those who tossed and turned, it was too close. So they blockaded Basilan. Some said they didn’t have a choice because they were at war. They were fighting Britain, while they tried to disrupt Moro slave trade. So it was a war on two fronts that they were faced with. And it was all very complicated.
But unhappily for the Spanish the pendulum swung in favor of the Sultan of Sulu, and this swing was partially due to Carlos. It stemmed from Carlos’s heroism, when he fought on the side of Moros, as they faced Holland in defense of Basilan and Jolo. Even back then, Juramentado (or running amok) was institutionalized. But initially Carlos didn’t know about this tactic: a practice of going crazy during battle, which meant death or glory for the warrior.
Spared explanations, Carlos was both amazed and horrified when he first witnessed running amok. Moros who ran amok went to their deaths believing that Allah honored them for it, honor whereas defeat meant dishonor. Moros who died running amok were promised eternity in Paradise with 72 virgins. (Carlos also preferred virgins.) You could almost see them up there with virgins. No doubt Moros running amok caused nightmares, nightmares and loss of sleep. Yet they found courage to fight.
Carlos played on his heroism. As a Spaniard, he wasn’t expected to fight Dutch invaders. His Spanish comrades expected him to join them and fight British invaders. They were at war with Britain and considered Holland an ally. They didn’t expect him to fight for the Moro cause and fight Britain and Holland. They knew he didn’t have to. But they didn’t know he felt obligated fight for the Moros. Though he had to, he used Omar’s sense of reciprocity to his advantage.
Soldiers, it seemed, after fighting off British invaders, had to then turn their attention back to Moros. Moros were always a headache. And knowledge of other campaigns and outrages didn’t make it easier. They knew what Moros were capable of. So given a choice, would they have gone to the Sulus? Even when victory meant sacking and burning a place, would they have gone? They weren’t eager to go. Even when victory meant booty, they weren’t eager to go. But they were trained to obey orders and this guided their thinking.
And in his case, with a taste for action, Carlos surprised himself. See, by then Jolo was his home. Those who thought that he would be loyal to his country were wrong because of reciprocity and because Jolo was home, and Felicia, for some strange reason, didn’t try to influence him. Even with her husband possibly facing charges of treason, she never expressed her opinion. And she was never asked for her opinion either.
It wasn’t surprising that Carlos took long solitary walks. With his eyes down, down to the ground, he often ventured way beyond the edge of town. He took long walks around the island and went where Mahmud refused to go. He went by himself because he never believed native superstitions and never sought help from shamans. Why should he care if his dead relatives were out to get him? They were dead. They couldn’t hurt him because they were dead.
Now honor and his reputation were paramount for him. He wasn’t about to live with shame. For God’s sake, he wasn’t about to run and hide. And in all probability, on that particular morning, he was thinking about death. As for death, everyone there was personally familiar with it.
What it taught; why life was short, too short! It was a fact that life was short, too short, that fact alone gave a reason for risking everything. Two towers (and not gates) guarded the entrance to the town. Heavy rains had washed much of the mortar from the chinks between the stones, but there was no reason for thinking that the towers were about to fall. Up until then they had withstood too much for them to fall. The towers were certainly symbols of the Sultan’s strength. This was what Carlos thought about, as he surveyed his situation. But he never sought answers; his mind only posed questions.
Omar had a choice of weapons, but in close combat, he trusted his barong more than anything else. Fashioned somewhat like a meat cleaver it was capable of lopping off a head with one swish. Some Moros preferred a straight kris, used for cutting and thrusting but, when they wanted to get really messy, they picked up a wavy, double-edged serpent kris. Omar generally liked clean cuts and quick results. Barongs, highly tempered and always sharp, were designed for it. Omar considered barongs to be the perfect weapon Surprisingly, however, although he always carried a weapon, he rarely used one.
Unfamiliar with traditions as set forth in the Hidajah (or Guidance), Felicia watched her husband shave his eyebrows. This was her first introduction to jihad. (And it showed how sheltered she was.) And here it should be explained that (as during later years of Spanish conquest) Holy war was just evolving into using heroic acts of single individuals running amok (howling through streets of towns and villages, leaving death in their wake). Instead, battle then was waged by bands of men, bands of men dying sometimes needlessly but with great enthusiasm. Only this new form of warfare violated strict tenets of Islam. The Koran clearly states that before a jihad can be waged an enemy must be warned: “Say to unbelievers, if they desist their belief, what is now past shall be forgiven them.” And again in Verse 60: “God loveth not the treacherous.” Nothing in Felicia’s childhood (or anything taught by Christianity) prepared her for what she witnessed.
The Moro placed his hand on the Koran before a slave cut his hair. Then he was bathed from head to toe and had his teeth cleaned and nails trimmed before he took a solemn oath. Things were done in a prescribed order, just in case. He needed to get ready for the road to paradise, a road always traveled with valor and devotion. To give him strength, they bounded his waist tightly, and his genitals they bounded tightly with cords. Now he was ready for martyrdom. Ready for “terrors of a desert journey,” and if killed, his final reward as a juramentado: “a paradise filled with beautiful virgins with dark eyes, like pearls hidden in their shells.” Could he wait? Or would he have to prove himself? When riddled with bullets, could he remain on his feet to do more killing? And who else would want to share his fervor? In Jolo then, the answer was almost everyone because this was a period when war was carried on out of revenge and when one person’s zeal played off of someone else’s.
Landing not far from Real Fuerza de Nuestra Senora del Pilar de Zaragoza, the Moro chose to attack much like a tiger in the middle of the night. No one saw him land. His body was agile, his movements were rapid, and he had enough lungpower to hold his breath under water for a long time. His perceptions were quick. They were quick, and he was audacious and was among the bravest of the brave. Zamboanga had virtually shut down for the night. No one was about or else he would’ve been seen and recognized as a threat. Now he looked for a target. He looked for someone or where he could hide until morning or when the market opened and when and where he could do the most damage. Where he could recklessly dart at an enemy with his kris or snatch someone else’s gun and fight with weapons in each hand; and that perhaps would’ve been how it would’ve ended had he not been thrown a curve.
A korporal shouldn’t have been out at that hour. He should’ve been asleep in the garrison and not coming back after being delayed by a sweet maid. Lacking sleep, he still had no complaints, though he would have to sneak back in before roll call. But the Moro seized him and flayed him from his forehead to his ankles. The Moro grabbed him and wrecked his vengeance by piercing the korporal’s body all over with his kris. Such ferociousness came from within him.
Then a sentry saw him. He would’ve expected right then a bullet, and one was fired at him. When a shot was heard, all officers, other personnel, and governor were awakened and angry.
As expected, a shot at that hour, like reveille, didn’t need an explanation. Everyone in the garrison knew the meaning of a shot, or an attack for that was what they all mistakenly assumed was happening. Whereupon, they all drew their pistols and sabers and, counting on experience, confidently manned their posts. Even before they knew what was going on, they fired smooth-bored cannons.
Now, with his initial success, the Moro began to believe he lived a charmed life and, correspondingly, became more swashbuckling.
Filled with adrenaline, the sentry who saw the Moro stood up to the enemy: that is to say, with his bayonet ready he took a defensive stance. Well and good, but then, during the next few seconds, the wrong man seemed to run amok. How he ran straight for the Moro made it seem like the sentry contrived his own death.
Two or three weeks later, on a Sunday morning and not to be confused with Friday’s call to prayer, when most of the troops went to Mass, the garrison was still in shock. Then about midway through that afternoon, a beautiful young maid, who after changing professions found work in the fort as a domestic, entered the quarters of an officer to clean it. Everything had gone as planned. Everything had gone as planned for her, but leaving a nunnery already contradicted her nature. Now her heart was torn apart. She felt great grief and with it a loss of faith. Now she was the one who lost her korporal. She was the one he had been with him the night he was killed. But her mood dramatically changed when in walked the officer, who she instantly recognized.
But he walked right by her without acknowledging her. She hadn’t anticipated this and hadn’t anticipated getting caught in his room. His self-absorption stemmed from the stress the garrison was under. From an early age, she had only lived with sculptured saints and human angels, so she didn’t fully understanding.
From morning until night, prayer had regulated her life, and she always found peace in the evening when she heard Angelus bells. Old quiet shadows of a nunnery once were more important to her than air, sun and rain. Indeed, before she met her korporal, she knew little about blackness that overtook souls. But she quickly learned that even good people weren’t immune. In the army, rank meant privilege, and as a former nun and a bride of Christ, the role of servant wasn’t totally foreign to the young maid.
However, the officer’s pretensions were so great that she recoiled when he commanded her to unlace his boots. (She hadn’t noticed that he didn’t have use of his right arm or that he was right-handed.) By then, he’d stripped off his shirt. He stripped off his shirt, which made her feel even more uncomfortable. Adding to tension was her belief that he knew her identity. She also thought he knew about her relationship with the dead korporal. Due to her experiences with men, she thought he would’ve been more interest in other parts of her anatomy than her face and should’ve run from the room.
But without a doubt, something she hadn’t anticipated grabbed her attention. When he took off his shirt, she saw that he’d recently been wounded. Wounds from a kris were generally terrible. A sinuous blade had caught the muscle of his right shoulder but somehow he avoided further injury. He should’ve been dead. He should’ve died, and both he and the young maid knew it. By his stealth (or was it a miracle), he got off a shot in time to finally stop the Moro. And there was no question in the young maid’s mind that God was involved. In terms of the officer, since he’d been touched by the point of a kris and had only sustained simple bodily harm, from then on he thought he lived a charmed life. Mattered settled: it would take a silver bullet to kill him.
With dull, vacant eyes, young Carlos looked old. Noticing his master’s edginess, a slave brought him more opium. He had to have more opium. He craved opium and was addicted to it. It was a lulling and seducing ritual. It was a seducing ritual that consumed more and more of his time. Felicia couldn’t help him. No one could help him. Only with opium and other women did he find what he desired.
But what about Felicia? While her husband was revered, she saw through his pretensions … saw his flaws. She saw what he didn’t want her to see. She was honest. She knew she couldn’t help him. She was honest and faced what other people tried to ignore. She knew Carlos better than any one else did, and she didn’t like what she saw. She despised what she saw. She despised her husband. She knew first hand how he vacillated and was impaired, even impotent. He was no longer the same person she married. He drank too much, smoked too much, and Felicia wondered if other women ever told him the truth. She wondered how he satisfied other women when he was impotent. She wondered how he managed it. She knew the affects of opium. She didn’t have to wonder. She saw how it affected him.
Felicia was the stronger of the two. She had always been stronger, superior, but custom held her back. She had to bow or defer to him. She was expected to bow or defer to him. Custom dictated it. For a long time she hid her strengths especially her intelligence.
So Felicia wasn’t satisfied. She wasn’t satisfied with a box that Carlos tried to place her in. She didn’t like being controlled by him. No box would hold her. She resented him, resented it, and resented a strict division of labor he tried to impose. She may not have had education. She may not have had his experience, but she thought that she should’ve been given a kris of her own and, if necessary, been allowed to fight along side him.
She never liked his whoring or abuse. She didn’t know why she tolerated it. No, no, it wasn’t that she didn’t know why she tolerated it. It was that she didn’t know what she could do about it. So, for a while at least, she refused to get pregnant. Now who was fooling whom here? Either he couldn’t manage it, or he could. Who was fooling whom? Or had she found a way to get his goat? How she finally got pregnant, he never knew. Or maybe he wasn’t honest with himself. So his problems became narrowly focused and reduced. Blame it on opium. Opium was easy to blame. Meanwhile, why she didn’t get pregnant was argued far and wide, and speculation over the problem occupied women and amused men. This caused Carlos to have doubts about himself, but he never admitted it. Then who was fooling whom?
But rather than praying to the Virgin, or waiting for nature to take its course, Carlos sought a remedy or a cure. After some prodding by Omar, he decided to take Felicia to a shaman. Desperate one early morning, the couple crept out of Jolo in search of a particular mediator, a shaman. According to his reputation, this shaman was connected with a cosmological world that included malevolent pany a-en and capricious but kind diwata.
Visible only to shamans, pany a-en and diwata inhabited specific trees and rocks and places. Only through intercession (and when ill people hadn’t angered spirits by, for instance, yelling at trees or throwing rocks at bees), then and only then by singing and dancing could a shaman enter into a trance and appeal to pany a-en and diwata for assistance. If successful, according to popular belief, he or she would then be cured. Carlos hoped the ritual would work for Felicia, though he was skeptical. Felicia hoped it would work for Carlos. Clearly out of his realm, Carlos hoped for a double miracle, not only to have an offending object drawn out of Felicia’s uterus but also have her obstinacy tamed. He also planned to ask Felicia’s spirit to forgive them both. His only prayer was then that this shaman had the authority and power to intercede. Felicia just prayed that something would work. When it didn’t, she ran.
Two aspects of evil now plagued Felicia: insects and leeches, both were blood sucking and pesky. Mud another impediment. Mud and water, mud and roots, ankle deep mud and sharp roots, but more fatiguing was fear, fear that increased with each step and intensified as the day drugged on.
Had she made a mistake? Had she gone berserk or simply walked off the face of the earth?
Trudging, slipping, falling, soaking wet and miserable as she climbed a volcano, hoping to find refuge inside it … visibility limited … surrounded by gigantic trees, dark eyes, branches laced together creating an impenetrable canopy. Extreme humidity and heat played a role in limiting Felicia’s energy. Though she certainly should’ve been used to it. How much farther did she have to go? Where could she find shelter? Would she reach the top before dark?
Her situation seemed desperate. Pushed to her limit: panditas say that one’s punishment consists of hell on earth. If you talk too much, your mouth will hurt. If you’re jealous, cruel, or treacherous, your heart will break. If you’re a murderer or a thief, you’ll lose your hands … a murderer both hands. She was being punished for unspecified sins. But she offered no excuse for a tarnished soul. Felicia would never offer an excuse for a tarnished soul. She would never give in. All she had to do was make the next few kilometers. All she had to do was reach the top before dark.
“Good souls wait in the air, evil ones in the mud.” Too often she fell into a bad case of funk. Apparently, she lived on an unhealthy island. Apparently, it was unhealthy because far too many people suffered from fever and had their faces and necks covered with evil brown spots, a sure sign of malarial poisoning. She had cuts on her feet, which in the tropics meant ulcers. She couldn’t keep sandals on her feet so she had cuts on them. She could’ve easily stayed where she was; but instead she moved forward. She couldn’t stop because she had to reach the top before dark. She couldn’t stop because she was searching for a rescuer. Yes, a rescuer. And she knew there was a God, one God, and believed her earthly misery was only temporary. So she had to reach the top before dark.
Surely, she knew penance would eventually end … everything ended … and she’d get to heaven. In this vain she tackled hardships of a trail. In this vain she tackled mud and roots … a balancing feat of crossing streams on a pair of bamboo poles and almost slipping off. How could anyone glorify falling into pea-green soup? Or face a boar? Or a gaiter where one surely waited for her? Or rats, ants and snakes? She expected rats, ants, and snakes. She tied all of those possibilities into being tested.
Then something profound happened. Out of nowhere came an idea. Suddenly she started thinking of how she could’ve save herself had she lived in Noah’s time and how she would’ve gotten into an ark when a flood came. Gulping, she saw herself turned into a big, beautiful bird. A Sulu hornbill, perhaps, which traveled with a mate or in a small noisy group. Yes, a Sulu hornbill. (They hadn’t been killed off then.) And as a hornbill, she could exist in the tops of trees where there was sunlight and be closer to God. Yes! Yes, closer to God! No, no one could stay up there forever. But as a hornbill, it would be a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, there were always limitations and sustaining flight at such heights takes practice.
But to have even a little relief had great value. It freed Felicia, at least momentarily. It helped her hear wind in trees. Helped her appreciate rain. Caught sight of a rare axis deer, brought to the island by man, so she saw something that few people ever saw. She remembered, as a little girl, finding two tiny fawns in a bush; fawns she caught and carried back to her village one under each arm; fawns she raised and would instantly come when she called them.
All this was shattered when she then found herself in imminent danger. Horror of horrors, what occurred next was that her odor disturbed an old boar, a tremendous and very gray sow, as gray as a badger and the biggest one Felicia ever saw. In spite of her own odor, she smelled Felicia. Then with grunts, a curled back, erect bristles, menacing tusks, and foam flying from her jaws, the sow charged. When courage then failed her, Felicia ran.
What followed dispelled Felicia’s belief that God always sided with humans. Indeed, she blamed God, when blame belonged elsewhere. She didn’t blame herself for running when a nearsighted hog only responded to her running. If she hadn’t ran the pig would’ve simply wandered off. Boars were normally wary of humans, and this boar wasn’t an exception.
Felicia couldn’t resist looking back. Could she escape? Could she run fast enough? Could she run fast enough down a narrow trail? Could she run fast enough down a narrow trail even though she ran down hill? The boar terrified her when she charged. What Felicia saw horrified her … a charging boar. Was it a mistake for her to look back? But before Felicia could scream, or implore for Divine mercy, or do anything more than run, the old sow swerved and dove into thick undergrowth.
Not too far from there, thank God, but unknown to Felicia, was a clearing by a river, where she could wait for a banca to take her back to a swamp and then to the sea and eventually to town. She had been there before and had read this river’s various moods. As such, this river was hardly a highway. But generally, a cove in which this river flowed offered opportunities for pirates and smugglers. Once Felicia reached this river, she was guaranteed a measure of safety.
Felicia was then racing with the sun, which gained speed as it fell. She entered mangrove-bushes; hills there were cones, as she skirted the volcano to reach the river. She needed to hurry. She needed to hurry to reach the river before dark. She needed to run, but running was almost impossible. Bleeding, she made a bandage by tearing a strip from one of her loose, full sleeves. Red saliva from betel nut drooled from her mouth. Betel nut took her mind off pain somewhat.
She didn’t know what to expect in mangroves after dark. She had never been in mangroves after dark. She didn’t know if she could keep going after dark. She was afraid of dark and she kept falling because of a slippery path. The path went through mangroves and roots and mud made it even more difficult. At frequent intervals logs obstructed a neglected trail. But Felicia didn’t panic. She rarely panicked and learned her lesson from her encounter with a boar. At this point, she concentrated on effort. But she hadn’t planned for emergencies. She hadn’t planned for emergencies. She hadn’t planned. She hadn’t planned to take off in this way. She hadn’t planned period, and she was soaked in rain. She was soaked and cold. She hadn’t prepared for rain. And had a close call too and recognized how close she came to being gored by a boar. And now alone and desperate, alone and desperate, there was no one to help her. And where was her God? Yes, she got to the point of asking where was her God.
Utterly fatigued and eyes burning, Felicia sought direction, a sign, something, anything. She had no protection, no weapon, no gun, no kris, nothing. She thought of building a fire and spending a night in the mangroves, but she didn’t have what she needed. All she had were memories of plagues of that day: bites, cuts, leeches, gnats and a vicious old boar. Luckily, there weren’t any tigers. Exhausted, crying, and feeling helpless, and for the first time in her life feeling contemptuous of God; yet burning deep within her was a defiant will to survive.
Stumped, disoriented, and almost out of daylight, she had gone too far to turn back. Facing slippery footing and futility of continuing she waged a personal battle. She had had enough … enough flagellation for one day, and perhaps for a lifetime, but for what purpose?
Some years later, after she miraculously bore not one but two sons, after a long life she looked back on this day with a smile, a day made more memorable by this nightmare. For as she stumbled, nasty roots continued to cut her feet. And mangroves, as travelers through them know, can be unforgiving; and even by trail, at times, can become impenetrable. Rain soaked clothes quickly turn a steamy day into a shivering night. All of this Felicia learned … learned the hard way. But her scars became trophies. She didn’t know how far she had come or how far she had to go, and darkness was soon to overtake her ..
A fruit bat dove at her face. She wasn’t sure that it was a bat. A hornbill startled her. Just as suddenly, night sounds surrounded her. Because of those sounds and a memory of a boar, she stepped up her pace.
Since it had been hours since she last saw other humans, she never expected to be rescued or that there were other people nearby. Almost hidden by mangroves and built over water and along rivers, families lived in houses built on stilts. These houses were somewhat peculiar to Felicia. In this remote area, people protected their livestock at night by herding their chickens, cows and buffaloes into cages also built on stilts. (By law swine weren’t allowed on the island, which meant Chinese had to kill pigs secretly.)
But how close were mountaineers who took every opportunity to rob them of their livestock and property? Surely, they had traps set. Surely they dug deep wells for taking prisoners, so that anyone approaching their houses had better watch out. Mountaineers were not much regarded. “Corta Cabesas,” or “decapitators,” as Spaniards called them; so Felicia had them to fear too. And besides that who would now rescue her from the pestilential fire of a volcano when it erupted, which in a zealot’s mind justified anything? Was the volcano about to erupt? There were signs.
“If you want to conquer your enemies and be restored to your realm, convert to the law of Jesus Christ by any means.” Any daredevil scheme seemed worth it. Not even St. Loyola presented such a fervent case, such a vote for Christianity, as pandita of panditas. Or having been baptized, you’ll always be a Christian, and with great courage, and dedication defy rationality. All that, but it didn’t work for Felicia, as she held her mother-of-pearl rosary. Acceptance would’ve meant victory for Franciscans, an order still trying to establish a foothold in the Philippines.
“May she be forgiven and not always be separated from God.” Would she place her faith in existence of souls or power of shamans? There wasn’t a shaman close to where she was then. And where was Felicia, who was in this mess because Moros carried her off into slavery? Captured Muslims were also chained and branded by Christians. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for priests to engage in military action. Some of this Felicia was certainly aware of, though she was sheltered from most atrocities. It was however clear that she hadn’t come to conclusions about religion that satisfied her. So she waited for inner dictamen to guide her.
It was almost dark and obviously not a good time for Te Deum. It wasn’t a good time or a good place for Te Deum. Nor was she in a good place for Vespers. Her anxiety, at this point, left her openly blaming God and herself.
Her first inkling that she could be in for more trouble came more from a feeling than anything else. Because of what she had already been through that day, she was remarkably alert, or shall we say jumpy. She was jumpy and any sound startled her. She tried to be brave. She did her best to be brave. And wasn’t this what bravery was all about? Naturally, she decided she wouldn’t sleep and that she’d keep walking for as long as she could. She couldn’t imagine herself sleeping on the ground. Walk until she dropped, if it came to it.
Now, she listened to warnings of birds, birds of various sorts, some more reliable than others. She believed that if she scared up a bird she there were enemies around. But it was then pitch dark, and there were no birds so she had no warning.
Friends or enemies? There were headhunters, for God’s sake, on neighboring Borneo. Or were they friends who would share their sirih and betel nut? Felicia had no way of knowing. All she knew was that she didn’t want die and knew she had no way of protecting herself. What she feared most had happened to others in that region. She knew the details. She had heard of the crimes: the burning of houses, the destroying of property, the crushing of every good seed.
Far from passing time with gay flowers and gilding misery with baubles and trinkets, Felicia thought about her husband. She thought of Carlos and about how he moved out of slavery and became a slave owner. She wondered how he did it. And she knew right then that she had fallen from grace and well below standards set by St. Joseph. She felt wretched. She felt wretched and felt like she had become a wretched example of humanity. She felt alone.
Before she heard them, she saw torches of two men and a woman. With their light, mangrove-shrubs created strange shapes, such as faces too big to hang a body on, or faces unlike any she had seen before. She was surrounded. She felt trapped. Were they people? Were they spirits? One of them was a chief, and they seemed as tame as a dog, a cow, or a buffalo. So, after feeling confused and not sure what she was seeing, Felicia was surprised by a sudden change of fortune.
Three people emerged, and Felicia knew they were mountaineers. Mountaineers were considered Christian, Christian like she was. They were Christians who were driven into the hills, or chose the hills over captivity. They remained independent and defended their liberty both against Moros and Spaniards. They were mountain people, who were apt to run away as stay and fight; and to them any restraint was irksome. Nothing could entice them to live in town. No temptation was strong enough. Felicia now ran into three of them, and fortunately they were friendly.
They kept coming, walking quickly and nimbly balancing awkward loads, probably products they gathered, such as birds’ nests, resins, wax, and honey. Mild mannered, tractable, hospitable, they were far from being a menace … like they were accused of being. They were peaceful. That was why they were apt to run away as stay and fight. So then why were mountaineers feared? Why? Why weren’t they recognized for their true character?
Though taught that they couldn’t trust Moros or Spaniards, mountaineers were easy to get along with. They were straightforward, and one would think, easily cheated. But it wasn’t the case. They were also supposedly intellectually limited, but it wasn’t the case either … intellectually limited because they counted with their fingers, and their toes; and few seemed clever enough to count beyond twenty and had to record each twenty by making a knot on a string. Inexplicably, mountaineer women sensed the intent and temper of strangers … particularly these two women. This helped them negotiate their way out of almost any situation. There seemed to be truth in an adage about kindness and compassion and that compassion and kindness were impossible to hide. But Felicia didn’t believe it because she learned early on that there was no way of telling a good person from a bad one. She hadn’t learned how to look into someone’s heart. But in this case, in her dealings with these primitive people, and on their turf, people who obviously enjoyed the fruits of their labor and abundance thereof, even a forced smile went a long way.
This wasn’t a time for rash or hasty moves. This wasn’t a place for coyness. A misunderstanding could easily erupt. Careful. Could she trust them? Smile. Try to smile. If Felicia were killed, she would’ve died as other great women died. She would’ve died having lived. She would’ve died after taking decisive action. However dying wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t necessary that day; and all of them gained something from smiling and polite courtesies.
Mountaineers knew how they were viewed, but they were proud, a proud people, having avoided slavery. They succeeded, when other Christians failed. They succeeded and should’ve been admired for it. They succeeded without going to war but instead found refuge in mountains. They lived in small groups. They no longer lived in communities but still managed to live like humans. However, there were disagreements over just how human they were.
Though unintentionally, these three mountaineers made it clear that they weren’t willing to help Felicia. This angered her. Desperate before, she became even more so. As frightened as she was, give her credit for not giving up. The first one was too quick for Felicia to grab him. If she thought of it, she could’ve offered them a bobble or a trinket and haggled over a price and been annoyed by it. By then she was shivering. She was cold, wet and cold, and her long dark hair was matted with mud. She started the day with her hair fastened back with long gold pins, and remarkably they were still in place.
Felicia tried to show that she could be a friend rather than an enemy. When she failed, she started to cry. But tears only confused the two men, who considered crying a weakness. By the same token, it confirmed to the woman that women of Europe were weak. Obviously, she had no direct knowledge of European women. She never met a European woman before. She had never been close enough to one to notice that some of them, like Felicia, had skin the color of weak tea. Telling her that Felicia wasn’t European would’ve been useless. To see a muddy, wounded, and bedraggled woman out there was so novel and incomprehensible to them that they thought they happened upon a witch (a bride of mangrove-swamps, a “womunungod”) and looked around for dogs, cats, and pigs.
Late and with their destination in mind, they were in a hurry. Yet they were curious. Gawked. Gawked. They gawked and kept their distance. But they were close enough for a naturally shy mountaineer woman to inspect Felicia and by gesturing (an indication that she didn’t expect Felicia to know her dialect) ask for her gold hairpins. Without a word, Felicia gave them up. The woman immediately then used her new possessions to pin her hair back.
It still took the four of them two hours more to reach where the mountaineers lived. Torches and being with other people made it easier for Felicia, though she still stumbled over logs and roots. With nothing to say, and perhaps with no real affinity with them (language wasn’t a big barrier), she tried to keep up. As best as she could, she tried to keep up while stumbling over logs and roots. She had a hard time because she was also exhausted. So for better or worse, she gave over her fate to them.
Their manner convinced Felicia that they wouldn’t hurt her. Gradually, her confidence grew. As it happened, Felicia wondered if their roles were reversed how responsive she would be? Would she treat mountaineers with kindness or in haste not take the time?
“Cajur!” the front man warned each time he came upon a hazard and each in succession cried “Cajur” as he or she reached it. They put Felicia in the middle. It made sense to put her in the middle because she didn’t know where she was going. She didn’t know where they were taking so she was glad to be in the middle. There she could hold onto the load of the man in front of her and the woman behind her could help her when she fell down. Then also occasionally, because of his bare feet, the man in front sang out “tinik (thorns).”
By then, Carlos knew Felicia went missing. Because of his enemies (which increased as his prestige and wealth grew), he wasn’t free to look for her on his own. Carlos couldn’t go anywhere without bodyguards and having food tasted before he ate it in a sense meant he ate only leftovers. He didn’t like these restrictions, these precautions. These restrictions and precautions added to his despondency. It also meant that he couldn’t search for his wife on his own, and it frustrated him. It frustrated him because he considered what was going on between them a private matter. Initially she wasn’t missed. Initially no one thought she would take off. It wasn’t safe for a woman to take off, so she wouldn’t do it, and she wasn’t missed. But Felicia went missing, and it was half a day after she went missing before anyone starting looking for her. And no one knew how she got away, though people knew even rich and powerful men couldn’t always control their wives.
After Jolo became a free port, Carlos’ prestige and wealth increased, and he became wealthy and influential by acting as a powerbroker between the British East India Company and the Sultan. But it took more than prestige and wealth to satisfy him. He wanted power. And as he saw it, he deserved it … deserved everything and nothing seemed farfetched to him. He could become a rajah, or so he thought. If he played his cards right, he could become a rajah … though he had no intentions of challenging Omar. (It is noteworthy here to mention that this superceded the era of James Brook, the White Rajah of nearby Sarawak, by more than forty years.) He also wasn’t opposed to having more than one wife and allowed his eyes to roam as far as the sultan’s daughters, thinking it would help him achieve his goals. Naturally Felicia wouldn’t tolerate it. Carlos couldn’t keep harmony in his home. Felicia wouldn’t tolerate many things. However, it showed how ambitious he was.
Felicia was never asked about her feelings. She was never consulted about how she felt about her husband’s ambition. She however saw something else. She saw his flaws.
Overlooked, she more and less went her own way. She grew use to this freedom. She grew use to be ignored and residence of Jolo were used to it too. It was her comings and goings then that gave her enough freedom to leave town without being notice. She didn’t have to sneak out of town. She simply wasn’t noticed when she left.
If she were valued as much as a slave, or her husband’s gold and silver, Carlos would’ve missed her sooner. By then, he hardly spoke to his wife and spent more time with whores. Opium and whores took up most his time. Indeed, on the very day she went missing, he didn’t miss his wife until late in the day, because he didn’t spend the night with her. Using acceptable terminology, he “dallied” with a new slave, a slave with skin as white as his. “Dallied” was a polite way to say it. If he acted like a loving husband, chances were she wouldn’t have ran. Or perhaps she wouldn’t have gotten such a head start and his men might’ve caught her before dark.
His dallying also involved opium. He didn’t consider opium dangerous. He didn’t see how it caused confusion, sapped his energy, and led to procrastination. Never ending phantoms, darkness at noon that turned broad daylight into a fog and it continued regressively for most of the day. He thought he could beat the drug. Then he passed out, and it wasn’t until late afternoon that he was with it enough to realize Felicia had gone missing.
Finally somewhere. A clearing with a nipa hut. Graves, nearby, bore witness to a much larger population in former days. The mountaineers knew exactly where they were, while Felicia only knew they stopped.
Here there were many kinds of lightening bugs, some of great brilliance, and many times were described as green lanterns. Most noticeable, huge butterflies, at that moment compensated Felicia for hardship. After all she went through, she recognized a gift. It was a magical moment. It was a moment she always remembered. At such times demons disappear and fears find a resting-place. The mountaineers also found inspiration. From it they felt sure they would never lose … never get sick … never get sick, become enfeebled or old. Let nature defeat their efforts to grow padi. Let rapids tip over their bancas. Let the most terrible calamity occur, yet they knew it wouldn’t destroy them. And they knew they couldn’t lose.
Felicia then saw a meteor show. A sign from heaven was so graciously afforded her. And she heard voices call her name.
It could’ve been transformational, if she were a young girl. But instead she came close to becoming a corpse or a very old woman at a young age. True transformation, she believed, only came from repentance, for scripture says, “those who repent, regardless of their sins, shall live.”
No, it wasn’t home. It couldn’t be home but a hut on stilts still provided a roof and a floor made of bamboo slats made a bed. For the first time in her life, Felicia slept between strangers. Still she slept well because she was exhausted. She slept well even though she ached. At least she was safe. She slept between strangers but was safe … safe from wild beast, though there were no tigers. But clearly there were other risks. As she climbed a ladder to enter the hut, she knew those risk. But taking risks liberated her. She didn’t know these people. She didn’t know what they planned to do to you. She didn’t know for sure that she was safe. Already she tasted a plain breakfast … already she had a plan and had an excuse to get back into her home.
In a clearing hidden in a mangrove swamp, a clearing so constricted that a spear could be tossed across it, surrounded by sleeping mountaineers, Felicia saw that she was strong and that her strength didn’t come from mysterious spirits or belief in God, but actually from within herself. And if she expected to ever walk down golden streets in heaven, she knew then that she would have to get herself there. She would have to weave a ladder, like Jacob’s ladder. Weave it from lupi.
like fiber of lupi
pineapple leaf placed on a board on the ground
held with her toes and scrapped with a potsherd; not with a
sharp fractured edge but with the blunt side
scraped again and scraped back,
drawing it to its full length
washed and dried in the sun; and afterwards combed with a
suitable comb, like for women’s hair
It was in this crude manner that treads for celebrated “nipis de pina” were made, and experts all agreed that it was the finest cloth in the world.
Still a fresh young face could appear at any time. Strong, hostile feelings arose, harbored sentiments, overwhelming and strong. See why Felicia developed an entrepreneurial sense and eventually became man of the house. Slowly, but surely, she got an upper hand. Clever, good at bargaining, trading and managing, with the British or anyone else, she took advantage of being neglected, and over time seized control of her husband’s business. It was the only way she survived. It was the only way she regained her husband’s attention. It was the only way. He needed her. She saved his business.
When Felicia finally woke up, she found herself feeling happy and alone in the hut. Mountaineers and Felicia weren’t found, weren’t seen unless they wanted to be. That morning she settled for plain food: red pepper paste, a bean like a lima bean but bigger, and rice.
Tan frequently quoted Confucius. “Only the Yellow Emperor and Confucius could distinguish dreams from reality, and they were unfortunately dead.”
Beautiful, certainly. Luxuriant black hair, and large dark eyes, passionate eyes, and soft long tresses. Shapely, not tall, but well built. Felicia’s beauty caught Tan’s eye, and for more than one reason, he fell for her. And it didn’t take long for Felicia to take advantage of it. By then she’d grown apt at exploiting weaknesses. And by then Carlos wasn’t in position to object. He couldn’t object. She controlled him, she controlled everything of his, and everyone spoke of Felicia when they meant him. Which raised eyebrows at his expense. Yes, everyone saw what was going on. But Carlos felt resigned. He had already turned over his abacus to her and felt resigned. Keys to his treasury followed.
Carlos despised work. This pleased Felicia. It pleased her because it made him vulnerable. It also allowed her to scheme and gain an upper hand. You can be sure that she toyed with the idea of poisoning him. She thought about getting rid of him. It would be easy and no one would blame her. She actually went as far as acquiring corrosive mercuric chloride. By then she knew she didn’t need him, and no one would blame her.
Did she anticipate Tan’s arrival? Did she have anything to do with it? She dealt with many Chinese traders. Business required it. And some were handsome and half-caste too. Then what made Tan special?
At first she didn’t intend to be disloyal to her husband. Her curiosity, of course, was interpreted as flirtatious and immodest. Now then, card playing became their chief vice. Felicia’s and Tan’s vice. Card playing. They played cards for hours on end. They played a number of different card games, spending days and nights at a card table. It seemed a good way to pass time. They enjoyed it. And time passed quickly. Time passed quickly because they enjoyed playing cards and enjoyed each other; but for a busy trader, for a busy businesswoman when competition was so keen? They clearly enjoyed each other, and smoking, everybody smoked and played cards.
As for preliminaries, if equal cards were drawn, both had to draw again. Let’s stress, had Carlos once objected, their card playing would’ve stopped. It would’ve stopped because traders depended on goodwill. It would’ve stopped because Tan’s business depended on keeping Carlos happy. Even when card playing was a pretax for spending time with Felicia, no objections were ever raised.
Playing with a Spanish deck, preferable to a French one, to draw again a Peruvian worshipping a rising sun or Bacchus dancing in a suit of “bastos,” always appealed to Tan’s sensibility more than Napolean dressed like Juluis Ceasar. Those long afternoons no doubt shortened by intensity … intensity of card games hooked Tan, hooked him before he realized it. And Felicia used card playing as bait.
But card playing had less to do with Felicia than she thought. It had more to do with challenge … challenges … like challenge of bargaining and learning from Tan … like his willingness to endure a loss for a major gain. He learned from his mother how to win by losing and learn to be pleasant … how to turn it on to win something. His mother passed on her Chinese genes and her business sense and she taught him to always be willing to the walk with a load on his shoulder-pole. Soon he was turning small profits into big ones. Necessity didn’t bring him to Felicia’s doorstep.
Tan couldn’t have been a better companion. Now Felicia was addicted to cigars, tobacco rolled into lengths of four, or five, or six inches, more or less about as thick as a thumb or slightly less. He brought her only the best tobacco. As an astute trader, and equally good at cards, he could sometimes afford to lose. In fact, he expected to lose at cards, since he often found himself distracted. She was beautiful and outgoing; but did it mean she would let him have his way?
She woke him up with, “Four.” “How much?” Tan playfully snapped, “Forty-one, or thereabouts.” And that was how things went, except were they ever equal? “Quantriene, damn French.” “Bueno.” “I almost have a tierce.” “Bacchus!” “Napolean!” “Prove it!” Which one of them suggested that they play with a mixed deck … cards from French and Spanish decks?
The Tan clan originally came from Fukien, by junk southward from trouble in that southern region of China to trouble in warmer waters. “This tropical inferno,” as described in their letters, “with nothing but poisonous snakes, forest spirits, and shoeless aborigines … jungles, swamps, and rivers,” as advertised, “belligerent and hostile.” Imagine letters filled again and again with complaints .. complaints about mosquitoes and fever … complaints about harshness of life in an alien world .. and life without company of Chinese women. Imagine enduring mistrust that came from profits, profits from exchange of Chinese silk and tea for birds nest, wax, camphor, mother of pearl, and tortoise shell. Imagine a state of tension that easily triggered violence … violence that strengthened determination and resilience. As a consequence the Tan clan was determined and resilient.
Well known for its pirates, southern Fukien province, where most Chinese traders came from, refused to accept outside rule. Each village was prepared to fight and fought with its neighbors. Trouble was endemic. Lawlessness prevailed. Therefore, all the Tans could hope for at home was feuding and fighting.
They lived in a state of anarchy. There was also a possibility of getting captured and sold overseas as coolies. To avoid it, most of the Tan clan fled Fukien but forever remained attached, at least in spirit, to their homeland. Devotion to autumn and frost covered fields and little groves of old trees with red earth all around showed an irrevocable commitment to their moorings. To respect parents and morn them properly, they sent their corpses back to China.
But overseas the clan couldn’t stay together. Economic necessity dispersed them, but interlocking loyalty between members of the same dialect group turned unrelated men into brothers. In that way the Tan clan grew.
But Tan shared characteristics of two worlds, contributing equally to good looks and industriousness. He also had a flair for hauteur, so in spite of a law that dictated dress his top hat and (in the style of the day) knee length caisa do chino shirts made him a trendsetter. He looked nobler than his grandfather, who wore a mandatory pigtail; that was until his grandfather adopted Christianity.
By then, Tan acquired a leisure house. It sat near the Chinese pier. As if in defiance of gods, it had an impressive ornamental gate and sat near the Chinese pier. After passing through an ornamental gate, one came to a lovely garden. Obviously, there was a close connection between garden and dwelling: a garden with its birds, trees, and flowers. White-eared-brown doves flew about. And second floor rooms gave him a grand view of the Sulu Sea, misty blue and green on the horizon. This setting captivated Tan as much as the red earth of Fukien held his grandfather’s affection. His imagination was as near as Tan ever got to China.
But his tentacles reached that far. By anyone’s standard he was very successful and could afford to pamper himself. On display in his house, besides an assortment of pottery, lacquer, enamels, screens and embroideries, were several hangings of calligraphy. But there were those who thought he only worshiped money; and it was an impression that gained wider acceptance as he grew wealthier.
Actually, he felt unaffected by wealth. He made money only for two reasons: power and prestige. If he simply were a Jew of the East (so called around the world and hated the same way as real Jews), and found ecstasy in a piglet skewered in the shape of a butterfly or saliva of swallows cooked in a delicately flavored soup, would he be better off? Had he stuck to a lucrative barter trade, with profit on each end, he would’ve been wealthy enough. But by also lending money, investing in boats, goods, and supplies, he grabbed even more for himself.
All this in a Muslim world, the Muslim world of Jolo: where Carlos could easily divorce Felicia. But it had to be a “Triple divorce,” according to the Koran. The Arabic word “Marratan,” meaning in English “two times,” however, confused him and seemed contradictory to him. Carlos could instigate dissolution of his marriage himself, since his honor and shame were involved. He enjoyed absolute power over his wife, but divorcing her at will was a misconception. For the Prophet warned, “Divorce shakes the throne of God.” And also cautioned, “Curse of God rests on him who repudiates his wife capriciously.” Grounds for divorce had to be solid, such as an absence of intercourse or infidelity. But this jealous husband saw what he wanted to see and found grounds in his wife’s immodest behavior, as she played cards and flirted with Tan.
So Carlos went to see a cleric; a lay person couldn’t interpret complicated laws. Was it “Marratan” (two times), or three? Could he merely say, “you’re divorced, divorced, divorced” and void his marriage? Hardly! First off, it had to be three (not two) divorces, on three separate occasions: simply repeating words only emphasized them and never constituted separate divorces. And scholars argued over various interpretations and showed no tolerance for each other’s opinion. The Prophet explained what Allah intended: that three different divorces should be given in three different periods of purity. In other words, it was wrong to divorce a woman during her menses.
This news sent Carlos scrambling. What did he know about his wife’s cycle? What if he gave one of the divorces during her menses? They never talked about her period. And then suppose she withheld this information? Fooled him? So he consulted another cleric. Now, after showing clear intentions, he ended up pronouncing a divorce to Felicia not three times but four: the first made void by her period. A quarrel seemed required, even if the law said three divorces made the split final. But Felicia held true to her Catholic faith and wouldn’t let him divorce her.
Confessing that he was living in sin with a native woman, Tan’s father bribed a church official to not alter his baptism certificate or his marriage license. He lived in sin with a native woman because he couldn’t bring his wife with him. When he first came to the Sulus, the chino trader couldn’t bring his wife with him. He couldn’t afford it nor had the opportunity. For his wedding he bought a gold-painted palanquin and on it, under a huge umbrella, his bride rode. He didn’t think anyone deserved more attention than she did, and that was how it was suppose to be on their wedding day. She however detested pretension. She preferred to walk or ride a horse, but Tan’s father wouldn’t hear of it. She would’ve preferred to go with him to the Sulus than ride in a gold-painted palanquin on their wedding day. To him, she was very beautiful, but more importantly, she was intelligent. So he eventually sent for her, but though he sent for his wife, he didn’t give up his native woman.
Had Tan’s mother not married when she did she would’ve been considered a mui tsai, or literally a domestic drudge. Later she had to prod her husband to keep him going. He preferred to play fan-tan or mahjong to running his business. In contrast, she possessed gumption and energy. There was little doubt that Tan’s mother greatly influenced her son. There was little doubt that her refusal to live in a tradition way inspired Tan. She inspired in many ways, and if she hadn’t been who she was he wouldn’t have become a commercial whiz.
She could’ve been a slave. She could’ve ended up pushing a load on a pier or washing other people’s clothing. Later Tan glamorized what his mother overcame. She could’ve been a slave but because of gumption and energy she didn’t. Tan told stories about her courage, drive, and grit, while ignoring the fact that she would’ve been a slave had she not married his dad. Tan never knew why his dad married her … why he didn’t make him one of his concubines. But it worked out. It was a good choice. She knew how to make money grow, and she lived to see her son not only gain great wealth but also command the loyalty of men and control a syndicate.
As she listened to Tan talk about his mother, did Felicia see herself in her? Did Felicia recognize herself? They were the same in many ways. Both knew how to make money grow. And they shared other things, other things that weren’t so flattering. Both mirrored melancholy. Both brooded, and yearned for acts of tenderness. Both suffered rejection and never liked feeling rejected. “Youth doesn’t come again,” they cried and, to themselves, promised they’d always win. Sadly, Carlos was no longer enamored with Felicia’s fine complexion or her long hair. And from the very pillow and bed where his parents once found delight, Tan heard his mother crying.
Tan’s experiences as a boy made him a sympathetic listener. Life was unbearable for Felicia, so she appreciated someone who listened to her, someone who listened to her woes. And Tan was a good listener, good and sympathetic. And without a son and stuck with an absent husband, Felicia had plenty to complain about. And she was looking for an escape. But what was Tan looking for? And did he find what he was looking for in Felicia? All one can say now is his timing was perfect. And as a successful and well-known trader, Tan had the right credentials. .
As a boy, Tan often found himself at the Chinese pier. This row of houses and shops began at the lowest point of Tulay delta and stretched straight out into the sea. From the outset, at the pier Tan was exposed to business finagling. He soon became a participant. As he worked the pier, and joined crowds around fan-tan mats and watched players turn up aces and sixes, Tan learned when to run and when to stay. He became pier smart, as in street smart, or savvy. And he learned to recognize a con. And he got along well with skippers. He needed to get along well with skippers to avoid getting kidnapped and sold. A smart and strong boy like him would’ve brought someone a great deal of money.
His mother couldn’t have chosen better pabulum for him. Already known as little man, Tan smoked like a big man. Known as little man, he never had a childhood. But as for pirates, cockroaches and scum of the earth, all those gold-jawed gentlemen who came through Jolo then, Tan pretty well knew them all. And pondering their lives, it struck him that these bandits weren’t so bad. This perspective certainly helped him.
In those days, Jolo’s wall had five gates, two of which lay on the northwest or sea front, one at the foot of the pier, and the other close to it. Boats brought silk, amber, silver, scented woods, and porcelain from China and Japan; gold dust, wax, dyes, saltpeter, slaves, and food stuffs from Luzon, Bisayas, and Mindanao; gunpowder, cannon, brass, copper, iron, rubies, and diamonds from Malacca and Brunei; and pepper and spices from Java, Moluccas, and Celebes. By then, Jolo had a population of a city and was, without exception, the richest and foremost settlement in the Philippines. As a hub of commerce, Jolo, with the exception of Brunei, was without a rival in Southeast Asia. And Tan found himself prospering and in the middle of it. .
Chinese customs died hard. Tan’s mother adopted many of these and felt equally comfortable among saints or sinners. Contrary to expectations, she made enough money to launch her son. In so doing, she gained respect. But being married to a chino wasn’t easy. Still she felt life exonerated her. She wouldn’t bow to anyone. But though a modern woman, she lit joss sticks to please her husband’s deities, exploded firecrackers to frighten his devils, and prayed to his god to satisfy him. A menacing figure dominated the entrance of her home. Without fanfare, she bowed in front of this altar. She wouldn’t bow to anyone, but she bowed in front of this altar. And she never went to Mass.
A chino, Tan couldn’t have cared less. And true sons and daughters of Spain felt superior to Chinos. While, as full of contradictions as his mother, stretched between a strong sense (as a Chino) of inferiority and superiority, Tan felt reverberations from having Chino blood in him. Still he demanded respect. Then still people sometimes said things that hurt him. He tried to let it not hurt him. Maybe he tried too hard. And maybe it was why he became such an astute businessman. As an astute businessman, he rarely had to deal with questions such as, “Who is he?” Everyone knew him. Still when someone asked: “Oh, a velle, velle rich man” was often the answer they got. Some said he got his start from gambling at fan-tan.
Like Felicia, Tan felt that he had to always win, always. It didn’t matter how, but he always had to. Then as he bought friends and affected manners, first as a trader in the hinterland and then as a man of influence in and around prosperous Jolo, he earned a name for himself.
Tan hated Spanish people. He hated Spanish people and Spanish government, particularly Spanish friars, who were eager to convert Chinos. So he didn’t think it was wrong to steal from them. Why not steal from them when they found a theological basis for oppression? When they insisted on repudiation of Chino customs, even though friars based their assumptions on deep convictions? It got to him that they considered Chinos backward.
Rumors of trouble and rumors of an invasion, dreadful rumors, rumors that the Spanish were coming were still simply rumors. And if random killings seemed no longer impressive, and no one talked about them anymore, then business went on as usual. At the same time Tan believed he could buy his own safety. For after all, he was a friend of SultanMohammed Budderdoo. A friend of the Sultan? Yes, yes, the Sultan’s friend. To gain the Sultan’s friendship, he sold himself with warmth and friendship and small cups of tea, tobacco, opium, and more tea. And pampered with rings and bracelets and chances to win at fan-tan or mahjong.
Then too living on the periphery of an empire had its disadvantages. In those days Manila was a world away from anywhere. It was on the periphery of an empire and half way around the world from Spain … half way around the world from their king. And there were no steamships, and this was before radio and telegraph, so being on the periphery was a disadvantage. But it also gave certain people advantages, as some people took advantage of other people. It also meant it took a long time for news from Spain to reach Manila. And Spaniards in Manila had to wait and were used to waiting … waiting for instructions, waiting for orders, waiting for letters, waiting for news, waiting for everything. So they didn’t hear about the restoration of their king until May the following year and almost a year after he regained his crown.
Though this was Manila and not Madrid; living in Intramuros made it easy to feel like a Spaniard. Intramuros, home away from home … they made it as Spanish as possible. They made it like cities back home by building streets straight, lighting them with gas and paving them with cobblestones. They built two-story houses and plazas and gave streets and plazas familiar names like Aduna street and Plaza de Armas. They did everything they could to make it like home because they didn’t want feel homesick. Plaza de Armas, who could forget Plaza de Armas where government did its business, where government made an impression with its palace and city hall, treasury and arsenal, and where Rome raised its cathedral. So far away from home yet they created a little Serville. Later it would be called Pearl of the Orient. But life there could also be uncertain. Uncertainty, it was something they all agreed on: life in Manila was uncertain.
So they felt they needed thick walls (walls of varying thickness and height, with six gates and drawbridges and a deep moat). Living among scurrilous neighbors, surrounded by neighbors who were a threat, neighbors who thought nothing of cutting their throats, they could ill afford to underestimate risks. They could ill afford to be unprepared. They could ill afford to let down their guard, and this wouldn’t change for a number of lifetimes. It had always been that way, and it looked like it wouldn’t change. They could look back 250 years to when their forefathers first started building those walls and decided they needed a fortress for protection against a vicious pirate named Lim Fung. Yes, with its 5,200 artillery and 10,000 foot soldiers, Intramuros along with Fort Santiago seemed impregnable. But even with all this and, for good reason, they still felt uncertain and unsafe
Equally for aliens and Spanish citizens, even when rushed, they had what seemed like unlimited time on their hands. Most everyone played by rules and those who didn’t weren’t accepted. They played by rules and honored niceties of society. They dressed and spoke (“si us plau”) the part. They dressed and spoke like Spaniards back home did. When in truth (even when forced by Royal decree to forget their heritage), they were proud Galicians, Castilians, or Catalons (not just Spaniards). However, they were obliged to call themselves Spaniards, an obligation they were never allowed to forget. Sticking a finger in the air, they proclaimed, “We belong to Spain, not this mosquito hole!”
The governor general watched for his enemies from his splendid palace. He looked through wide windows and felt all of his enemies should be shot. “Shoot them all!” though he didn’t actually say it. He didn’t need to. “Shoot them!” Yes, shoot them. And their capital error? They opposed him and had they chosen to fight him, he would’ve killed them. Or his soldiers would. Always grave … always fearing the worse, never sure who traitors were, he held the reigns of power. He was brutal. He had to be brutal to hold the reigns of power. If he hadn’t been brutal, he wouldn’t have been given the job. He wouldn’t have been appointed governor general. He was brutal, and his word was law. His word was law because they lived on the periphery of an empire. He was law because the king lived far away … half way around the world. “Court-martial them all!” Judge, jury, executioner, he enjoyed power he had. He enjoyed his position. He enjoyed sending people to prison. He controlled prisons. He controlled lives … controlled lives of prisoners at Fort Santiago. When he wanted to, he set prisoners free and replaced them with his captains.
Every morning, with his eyeglass, he counted ships in the bay. He wanted to know who they were and who came and went. He found amusement in counting and each day delighted in seeing what business winds brought to his colony … his colony. You could be sure that before any profits were made he received a cut. This ritual often came after a night of vice, a night of gambling or spent with whores, who undoubtedly found scars from wounds made with sharp blades. Scars won in battle. Scars, trophies of victory or defeat? Scars were scars when impressing women. It did matter how he got them.
Often fired at when he was younger; sometimes with a barrel pointed straight at his head; struck by a ball, shot by a bandit: whores listened to him while some made the error of yawning. He enjoyed agreeable and lively conversation. Agreeable, lively conversation was a particular gift of French ladies. He loved French ladies. He loved to talk. He loved to talk to French ladies. He could expound on any subject. However, his favorite topics were his own exploits.
And instead of dancing quadrilles night after night, besides whoring, he often invited gentleman to sit around card tables to gamble and talk. “In the year of our king’s disgrace,” he told them he found courage enough to fight singly a formidable foe. Supposedly, a buffalo attacked him. When a buffalo attacked, he avoided getting gored by nimbly using his cape. Then, with his right hand, he grabbed it by its tail and, with his knife, stabbed it in the heart. Talking about his younger days and heroic acts was better than getting lost in platitudes.
All ships that entered Manila Bay fell under his domain. They were his, or he acted like they were, and it gave him a great sense of power. But this morning, he started shivering. He started shivering and felt weak. Shivering, he felt like he lost his power. It was like a cold enemy entered the room, and a tropical cold forced him to close his shutters. He knew then that his chances of surviving much longer in those climes were indeed slim. He trembled. He shivered and trembled. Mysteriously and suddenly many of his predecessors died, so he was afraid of dying. Some found madness instead. Was he going mad? He kept watching, armed and watching, waiting for a sneeze.
Providence found him that morning fearful of air he breathed. A friend of his just died from poison in the same air and it alone. This and shivering, after inspecting the Magallones, made him to shut his shutters. The Magallones sailed under the king’s flag.
An epidemic terrified Manila, while north winds couldn’t be trusted. Everyone knew that north winds, always cold in Manila, made Europeans sick. The governor general knew that if he bathed while north winds were blowing he’d probably get sick and die. But what he really feared was cholera.
In his palace, surrounded by his men, he should’ve felt safe. But he understood the wild, barbarous, and capricious nature of a disloyal constituency, particularly savage Moros. Their brutality annoyed him. Their brutality matched his.
Archbishop Romero barged past two guards, two officers, and into the large apartment filled with imperfect light. Archbishop Romero never stood on ceremony. On occasions he was blunt. Only on occasions of religious observance did he give way to pomp. Generally courteous the old man, by legal authority, was Guardian of the Faith and shared with the governor general a great deal of responsibility. He actually had more authority, more clout, since his clout came from God. On this particular morning, he used his clout to barge past two guards. No stranger there, he acknowledged with great respect that he knew he caught his His Excellency at a very inconvenient time. Any time before noon was inconvenient, and he knew it was inconvenient. No doubt his friend demonstrated his displeasure, and his frown grew as he listened to news from Madrid.
He spoke with rapid breath. The governor general impatiently listened and heard words before comprehending their true meaning. It should’ve been good news. He listened to what should’ve been good news, clinging to every word like his life depended on it. He understood the significance of what happened. And as he listened, he plotted his next move.
Everywhere he looked he saw plotters and assassins. Everyone remembered the massacre. When he used them himself, he viewed assassins as sportsmen.
How could he have stopped the butchering? Attackers came in the dead of night, madmen devoted to a cause, assassins everyone. One good thing though: all victims were French. All those beautiful French women, women and children, men, women, and children slain … all French. They also had their houses pillaged and/or destroyed. What good were their houses to them? Friends of his, the governor general regretted their deaths, or he regretted losing pleasures and entertainment they brought him. Diversions they were … pleasurable and entertaining diversions … though filled with hypocrisy and deceit.
The governor general knew what was at stake. He knew stakes were high. He also knew a need for decisive action: need for intrigue, need for new alliances, new friends and new relationships. He prayed people would forget when he became governor general whose boy he was; and that he rose to the governor’s post while a Frenchman ruled. Killings had already begun.
The news gave him stomach cramps. Of course, he’d have to give a long speech: “Gone are our masters!” delivered from his balcony to an Intramuros mob. And pay tribute to Bonaparte with a eulogy: “he was a dictator.” With Bonaparte in exile, the governor general knew he needed to watch what he said.
Unfortunately, there were traitors on all sides. “And of all kings of the world, there was only one king he loved, only one king he followed.” Still, known for treachery, El Rey Ferdinand seemed a miserable choice when compared to Bonapart. The governor general disguised his true feelings, lest he exposed himself. And he clapped when he finished hearing the good news from Madrid.
When he first entered, Archbishop Romero remembered the governor general liked protocol, so catching His Very Illustrious Lordship half-dressed and obviously vulnerable was a triumph. Catching him off-balanced was a triumph. With him off-balanced, he had a better chance of getting his way. And they had a lot to do, as they planned for the installation of King Ferdinand’s portrait.
Besides a Pontifical Mass and Te Deum at the Cathedral, there would be banquets, camedras and bullfights for the masses. Archbishop Romero would negotiate with His Excellency, negotiate the amount of alms distributed, a respectable amount tossed to the poor. No need to rob the treasury for the poor, so a respectable amount would do. “In the name of his august Sovereign, carried to the stars, as coins bearing the stamp of the monarch are flung into the crowds.”
Now with the world turned up side down again, (there being an obvious connection between killings of French men, women, and children and an arrival of the king’s portrait) merry making was appropriate. The Magallenes, an official carrier, sailed from Cadiz with the portrait but without a royal decree or instructions, not a word, about what to do with the French. As unjust as they were, killing Frenchmen now seemed justifiable, as news of events in Madrid unleashed rage and joy in Manila. Rage and joy went together.
The governor general felt betrayed. He felt trapped and betrayed and in danger. He knew his situation, knew what would happen if he didn’t act. He knew he aligned himself too closely with French people while French people held all the cards. Now the Spanish king was restored, Bonaparte was in exile, and his world was turned upside down again. Why did these things happen? Why did these happen to him, he wondered. Luckily he lived on the periphery of an empire. He knew now he had to act decisively, decisively and quickly. He knew he had to cut off former French friends. He knew he could no longer associate with them and knew he had to suspect them again. They couldn’t be trusted. It was like before when they couldn’t trusted. They were too happy. They own too much of Manila. They were wealthy and own too much of Manila. He should never have let his guard down.
Yet it made him feel sad. He knew what he had to do, but it made him sad. French people who made it to his capital brought with them a touch of home. They arrived in groves and were already numerous. “A share of French wealth doesn’t hurt anyone,” he said. He presented his case in this way.
As long as he ruled through the Cortes, Bonaparte’s decisions seemed even-handed. This was how the governor general rationalized his past loyalty. As governor general, he now treated French people the same as other foreigners. All groups deserved protection, even foreigners. And poor people too. “Poor people deserve your attention as much as rich people,” Archbishop Romero reminded him. And kept reminding him. Rice people shouldn’t be given privileges. They can afford them themselves.
But the old fart didn’t fully understand his dilemma. There were always those who wouldn’t forget. There were always those who remembered how he gave preference to French people when French people were in power. Because of complexities he may not have understood (let’s give him slack), he switched loyalty and toasted the wrong man. Over the years he frequently raised his glass and cheered Bonaparte. And nightly, he gorged on endless courses of French food and dozens of fine French wines. He lived well; too well, but from then on, no more French food. It made him sad, but no more French food. It made him sad. He would miss those years. From then on, no more French food, no more flirting with French women. But he grieved whenever he sopped stew with ordinary bread and drank carafes of Spanish wine. Yes, he knew what he had to do. Yes, he knew what he had to reject. It was suddenly wrong for him to picture himself a connoisseur of anything French.
Thugs saw to it, hired men, no doubt. In one night, searching for loot, criminals mounted raids and killed even children. Murder men, women, and children. But why appear indignant, when he should’ve been applauding? Why not applaud? How could he explain his indignation over a few deaths of a few Frenchmen? But there was no need for recklessness. There was no need. “Ah, life indeed wasn’t a picnic,” he said, knowing he lived on borrowed time. He never underestimated strength of his enemies. He wouldn’t make it easy for them.
He strengthened his resolve against thugs. Recruited another brigade. He acted like he was in charge, but he couldn’t always be on guard. He knew that there were some people who wanted to hack him to pieces and knew they were a determined lot.
He and Archbishop Romero agreed. He had to give the oration of his life. He had to give a great oration. He didn’t have a choice. From his balcony, he praised their beloved monarch and spoke in glowing terms of his Majesty’s restoration. From deep within his heart, he spoke and spoke like he had never hidden his obvious loyalty. And he saw his audience’s joyful response. He saw how they ate it up and felt relieved. Then why not lie? Some people in the audience knew he was lying, some people knew him, but why not lie? He didn’t have anything to lose. Tomorrow he could be shot or poisoned.
With his last bottle of Beaujolais, His High Excellency, the Captain General Governor, for his Catholic Majesty, of the Philippine Islands (permit him his titles; for it reminded him of his responsibilities and of his enemies who were then enemies of Spain) drank himself into oblivion. Listening to his slurred speech, one could feel his frustration. One could sense his feelings of helplessness. At least, the French were civilized. They shared Christianity and disposed of the same emperor. Didn’t they dispose of Bonaparte? Wasn’t Bonaparte in exile? The governor general still planned to one day retire in Paris, where he could live with considerable ease. Just off the Champs-Elysees and possibly marry a French woman.
Foiled again, he now had to make peace with a race of bird’s nest collectors. He also saw that he had to enter with his navy into the nucleus of all the piratical hordes of the seas. To do this, he strengthened his navy with two additional pilot boats and three transport brigs.
And don’t forget the French. After Chinese trade and possession of a port, what were they up to? Frequent appearances of English, Dutch and French ships called for action. But how could he know how strong his enemies were? How could know how strong Spain’s enemies were? How could he know how strong Spain was? Or know who was friend or who was foe? Or know the lay of the land … shores, principal islands, chief strongholds or headquarters of all players? There were too many islands. And distances were too great, and did mattered. He wasn’t sure what mattered anymore. It would be only a matter of time before former friends—French friends–bought the island of Basilan and from the shores of Basilan one could see Zamboanga.
Britain schemed and challenged Holland. Restored Dutch sought to exclude British trade, and Britain signed precautionary treaties with Moro bastards! Manila had two schooners, two junks, and one transport schooner along with additional pilot boats and three transport brigs.
Should a line be drawn somewhere on a map? But with Britain in Singapore, Portugal in Malacca, and Spain in Manila, where would you draw a line? Then when Britain conceded Bencoolen to Holland in exchange for Holland’s withdrawal from India, they all agreed to draw a line at the Equator. Ah, makings of a headache, more reasons to drink.
As Spanish administrator, he barely maintained a D. As military leader, he didn’t know where to begin. “Bad news!” and with it the governor general smashed his fist into a thick oak table. “Find me someone, a spy; for God’s sake we need to send someone! A spy! A spy and a subordinate to go to Amoy, Batavia, Singapore, Jolo, and Turtle Island. We need a spy to find out what’s going on.”
For the time being, he forgot politeness and Paris. He just learned Paris bought Basilan. How could Paris buy Basilan without dealing with him? Constantly worried … constant worry Paris, a worry that dogged him the rest of his life. He pressed Archbishop Romero for ideas. He needed to find out what was going on. Who could he trust? Could he trust anyone? Who could he send? He asked Achbishop Romero about whom could he send. A friar? Yes, a friar. Someone incorruptible. “No pygmy. A Spaniard, of standing, who loved his country?” Who would Archbishop Romero recommend? A toast to this unknown individual, someone they trusted and on whose information they could launch more expeditions.
This agent would have to abandon family. If he were not a friar, he would have to forget a betrothal, and sacrifice marriage for his country. So they needed a friar. And someone willing to leave the confines of Christianity and journey into a brutal, pagan world, though admittedly Muslims weren’t pagan. (In light of recent violence and ever-present intrigue, Manila was anything but paradise.) As for bargaining chips… tinsel, glass beads, shinning mirrors, and other trinkets of society; as long as he could pack them into a trunk, their man could take a few of those things with him.
Sulu was notorious then for its brutality. To that no Spanish civil servant could directly speak. They didn’t really know because the breed never went there. Nor could their man prepare himself by reading. So he could only rely on hearsay, or his imagination before getting there. And before getting there, he imagined the worse. But what could really get him? What could really get him killed? Savages? Savages or suffocating heat? Suffocating heat, burning sun or alcohol? Or a combination? There was a saying then: only Englishmen and mad dogs go out in midday sun. Possibly, he would contract congestion of the brain. He would possibly have to live with excruciating symptoms or delusions of someone poisoning him.
He’d speak gibberish if his mind went. If his mind went, you’d see a face with features contracted and eyes gone wild. Caused by what? Sun, soil, or a notion that he could keep up with natives? Pardon folly, folly of all Spaniards, for thinking they could make a fortune in the tropics.
They thought long and hard about what business would take him to Moroland. Would his business be real? It would have to be real. Could a young man possibly enrich himself fabulously, and eat and drink well while serving his king in Jolo or Turtle Island, and so far away from an office in Manila where profiteering was expected? Maybe he’d get lucky and he would adapt … adapt to Moroland too. Maybe he’d get lucky and get wealthy. Maybe he’d get rich enough to hire servants (not slaves!) to remove his shoes for him and fan him, so he wouldn’t miss home so much. Maybe. Who knew? Who knew what events would bring an enterprising young man, someone not confounded by a foreign language? It was important to find someone fluent in languages. And who knew the local dialect. Who knew … but whom? They also needed someone who looked the part. A Moro … a ferocious looking Moro. There had to be a Moro who was a human being, someone who could be won over; and who was filled with Christian ideals.
The two Casitlians looked at each other and thought the same thoughts. Where, in Heaven, were they going to find such a fool? Someone diligent, a stickler for details who they could trust? Preferably a Castilian. A Castilian, who looked like a Moro. Forget it! A Castilian who was willingly to seek his livelihood in the Sulus and prosper by turning an unforgiving situation into gold. A stubborn fool who could win an enemy’s trust. A native of Spain, who’d remain loyal to the crown. They would test his loyalty. How else would they know if they found the right man?
But where to find him? Was there a poor clerk in their offices who would give up coming in at eight in the morning and leaving at one in the afternoon after earning a wage? Or a chief who came in a carriage at ten o’clock and left before twelve? No, right off hand they couldn’t think of anyone. No, none. None of their friends or subordinates who were used to reading newspapers while smoking would give up their desks. And who could blame them? So they doubted that they would find the right person among their countrymen, anyone who had been in Manila for any length of time, anyone who would give up perks and go. No, not anyone use to closing offices when summer became violent, when work was reduced to talking and gesturing in shade and used to fleeing to wine shops or strolling about. Considering everything, Archbishop Romero and the governor general figured there was no perfect answer, no perfect person, and that they would have to settle for someone right off a ship. Or they could send a defrock friar. But there weren’t many of the latter around because they usually died young, died in front a firing squad.
Further reports made this situation urgent. Bleak and gloomy news seemed very gloomy indeed. Sultan Mohammed Budderdoo died. Raiders took 1,000 natives prisoner. Moros fell upon isolated towns, destroyed pueblos and took many captives. Then raided adjacent coasts. What a disaster!
The last of the Beaujolois made the governor general more melancholy. And he seemed farther from Paris than ever. Paris, where streets seemed never ending; where streets were straight and wide; and where there were shops and stores everywhere.
“Find those thuds and shoot them!” he shouted.
April came, May, June. Carlos turned her out. Sultan Mohammed Budderdoo had just died. Carlos turned her out, and Felicia never wanted to be a slave, never wanted to be her husband’s slave; but, as a divorced woman, she stood under a darker cloud. Tossed aside, tossed out, Felicia now had to rely on her own resources. And she hoped she could still count on Tan.
Her move involved children. They followed her as she carried luggage down to the Chinese pier, where with Tan’s help she expected to find a place to live. Running around her, children didn’t mean to be cruel but didn’t fully understand her predicament. They didn’t mean to be cruel and didn’t understand, yet they made it difficult for her. Carlos was nowhere in sight. He didn’t help her. Instead he convinced Omar to go hunting with him.
Having gained status and acting like a minor Datu, Carlos spent much of his time (when he wasn’t dazed from opium) cultivating friends and allies and, because of their shared experiences (their first encounter and surviving a typhoon together), he knew he could count on Omar. Still he was careful. He knew he could count on Omar, but he didn’t want to cross him. As a Spaniard in Jolo, he knew his situation was tenuous, even perilous. He had to watch his back. He had to have friends, so maintaining a close relationship with Omar was essential. And such a delicate affair kept Carlos on his toes. And, on this day, of all days, hunting together seemed a good way to nurture their bond, a bond they both valued, a bond and obligation they both felt. With bodyguards, the two friends struck out early in the morning, first on horseback, then on foot, with rifles ready, ready. They were ready to enjoy themselves. They were ready to kill as many birds as possible. In triumph, at the end of a long, successful day, they brought their feathered trophies home.
When Felicia and her entourage reached the Chinese Pier, she found that everyone was waiting for her. (Or it seemed like everyone.) Sadly and slowly, she walked through a crowd. She hadn’t anticipated so much attention. Here were Chino merchants and traders. Also here were Moro women, who were fond of bright colors, scarlet and green being their favorites. Many of them she knew. And many of them acknowledged her sorrow. It was like many of them shared her fate. Not far from there was a slave market and all the horrors of separation and loss: profit for some, loss for others. Luckily, it wasn’t where she was headed.
As she slowly walked through a crowd, she luckily had an address and a place to go. Once again she came to a pivotal point in her life, and once again she was in control. Though filled with heavy emotions and unavoidable pain, she was in control. She held head up. Though she was in pain, she held her head up and preserved her dignity. Somehow she maintained her composure.
Brown Moro boys dove off the planked walkway and swam in brown water. They tried to get her attention. As she watched them, she could focus on something else other than uncertainties. They got her attention for a moment, and it was enough to distract her. And thanks to her resolve, she survived this. She survived because she was secure in herself and possessed unbridled spirit. At last, she could be herself. No longer restricted by Carlos, she could be herself.
Even adults pushed each other. Their numbers filled the pier. For more than five years, this woman had been a celebrity. Her husband and this woman were celebrities, so she drew a crowd. Her husband gave her status. Now she was on her own. And everyone could see she was on her own. Everyone could see he threw her out. As a wife of a member of the Sultan’s inner circle, she enjoyed many perks, perks of royalty, privileges these people could only imagine. Now she was one of them.
Call on Jesus. “O great preserver, almighty one, God the compassionate, who art alone shielder from all harm, protector from evil, bountiful and generous.” Help her enter this unfamiliar world, filled with temptations, temptations of the flesh. Call on Jesus to give her strength. Help her avoid gluttony and the use of opium; protect her from neurotic patterns of self-abuse.
A Catholic, Carlos struggled (as Adam struggled) not to sin. Divorce wasn’t easy for him either. Divorce was never easy. He wanted to think that he wouldn’t miss Felicia, wanted to think he didn’t need her, and that he could run his home without her. He certainly hoped his misfortune would end when he divorced her. However, events didn’t bear it out. He came to realize how much he depended on Felicia. He didn’t immediately realize how much he depended on her, but he eventually realized he threw away his greatest asset.
As with all illusions, early dreams of love evaporated. And it was impossible to turn back the clock. But Felicia knew she could take care of herself; and as far happiness? She’d have to wait and see.
She found the right door. Knocked. They let her in. Tan set it up for her. She naively believed that any love she found wouldn’t be centered on her body. Her plan hadn’t called for exploitation. Exploitation. Having been exploited before, she worked to make certain that it didn’t happen again.
Felicia learned that most women in her new home came as slaves to Jolo from Christian Visaya and Manila but were officially freed. Tan freed them. He freed them when he didn’t have to. Long before Felicia came, Tan opened his pleasure house. But he was different from other brothel owners.
Saddled with contempt for his customers (something women who worked for him agreed with), he encouraged faked orgasms. He encouraged fooling customers. Called Blossoms, his barrio girls played games as well as prostitutes anywhere, but they faked orgasms, faked everything. And Tan scripted it.
First sit customers down to pots of hot tea … spiked tea … but not overly spiked. Ingratitude was considered ugly, a fact when one was sober. But coyness was seductive and part of a game. It didn’t matter when customers were drunk. None of it mattered when customers were drunk. One came to admire merchandise. From stiff-backed, carved chairs one could admire merchandise, breathing in anticipation but one never expected to find eagerness in Tan’s establishment. Loud giggling upstairs teased the uninitiated. Teasing was all right. And now as Tan’s madam descended a well-worn stairway with her crew in tow, a voice within Felicia said, “Brave girls they are, and nothing can take away their beauty. In spite of leering, nothing could take away their beauty.” Their laughter made music. Then as they walked upstairs, Felicia said, “They’re in control. Thanks to Tan, they’re in control.”
To those who have never visited Tan’s brothel, where for a price you get a small room with an immense bed, a place smelling of tobacco and cheap soap, and a guaranteed rash, it might seem strange to find a woman like Felicia there. But in those days divorced women in Jolo didn’t have many choices. She knew from the start that divorced women didn’t have choices. She also learned to wear a mask. Like all other women there she wore a mask of a painted manikin. And she learned to fake orgasms. To hide true feelings in this dream world, with its magnificent red pillows and temple-like decor, Felicia always wore a mask. But she still felt disappointed, and particularly disappointed with Tan, as she struggle day by day to keep from becoming a commodity.
Felicia wanted more from her next lover than she ever got from her ex-husband. She craved tenderness, which she never got enough of. She loved to be touched in a tender way. She hated roughness. She was like must women. Most women loved to be touch in a tender way. But other women in the brothel unfortunately gossiped about her, and Felicia soon felt like she simply exchanged one bad situation for another. Only now she had to be wary because she generated jealousy, and it continued to grow.
More than anything else, Felicia didn’t want upset Tan. She couldn’t afford to upset him. She couldn’t afford to because she didn’t have any other place to go. She couldn’t go back to Carlos, though she still loved him. She often thought about Carlos. How could she not think about him? How could she still love Carlos after what he did to her? Carlos divorced her, hadn’t he? There wasn’t anything she could do about it when he divorced her, was there? Did she have a choice? And she knew where Tan’s love lay, and it wasn’t with her. So where did it leave Felicia?
Actually Felicia knew very little about Tan. She knew nothing about his more shadowy activities. She didn’t know about his dealings with Britain and Holland and his trips to Zamboanga, a short hop by boat even then. Trips to Basilan, a shorter hop. She knew he was a successful Chinese trader but didn’t know that he represented a piratical establishment and exchanged guns and powder for slaves and opium. He was not only responsible for crimes against Manila, and hence Spain, but he also ran a vast web of trade and exchange that not only exploited tropical resources but also humans. She didn’t know that he was considered a criminal in other parts of the world and had a price on his head in other parts of the world. Then, with hundreds of vessels calling on Jolo every year, why did Tan ever leave the island? Why did he risk everything by being involved in even more shadowy activities?
A knock at the door at that hour only meant trouble. Using darkness, Spanish agents came ashore and singled out one person. They moved quickly. They had to move quickly. They had to move quickly because they wanted to keep their identity hidden. They knew where they were going. They wanted to keep their identity hidden and to surprise Tan. He wasn’t hard to find. An impressive ornamental gate gave him away.
Even at that hour Tan didn’t anticipate trouble when he heard a knock on his door, nor did he anticipate trouble when he opened it. He often conducted business with foreigners in the middle of the night, so seeing three Spanish gentlemen standing there didn’t alarm him. He acted like he expected them. He could’ve expected them. Or he just got careless. Maybe he got careless or was tricked. Thought he enjoyed immunity. Where were his bodyguards?
Tan answered the door in bare feet and a knee-length camisa de china shirt. He was confused by how serious his intruders were. He didn’t know these men, so that also confused him. What did they want? And why had they come at such a ridiculous hour? He wasn’t expecting anyone. And where were his bodyguards? It confused him. He waited, half expecting a ridiculous sermon, but to his consternation, they placed him in chains. Where were his bodyguards? In shock he tried to resist. Where were his bodyguards? Where was his army of men? He should’ve been guarded. Make no mistake he was confused. Surely there was some mistake. Then before he could say anything, they silenced him and had him out the door without anyone witnessing it.
Without being charged, Tan soon found himself sitting in a cell in Zamboanga. They made a public spectacle of him. They made a public spectacle of him by parading him down the main wharf, a wharf he knew so well, and shuffled him over to Fort Pilar. There in leg irons he waited to be transfer to Fort Santiago. Brutality he endured, God blessed him.
Unlike many of his friends, who mounted white horses for their ride to paradise, Tan died less honorably. He was Chinese and was treated like a coolie. He was kicked like a coolie. He should’ve been given respect but wasn’t, but instead was treated like a coolie. He wasn’t a Moro warrior, was never considered one and lacked fiery passion that drove many of his friends. He was Chinese, but was just as much against Spanish rule as any juramentado. But there was a difference, a big difference. The only thing that made the war against the infidel his war was Manila’s attempted to stop slave trading. Slave trading was his most profitable business, and it was why he risked his life for the Moro cause. It was the only reason. And no virgins awaited him in Manila or no guaranteed Paradise either.
“When ye encounter unbelievers, strike off their heads until ye have made a great slaughter among them.” It was also recorded that death in the field guaranteed in Paradise “a gift of virgins, reclining on couches with linings of brocade, virgins not whores, with retiring glances whom no man hath touched before them.” Felicia in a perfumed garden … except he knew Felicia wasn’t a virgin.
A brig was regularly sent to Zamboanga to provide the town with protection. It was how Manila relieved anxiety that naturally existed in Zamboango … relieved anxiety of Christians living there. Living in an outpost, established to check Moros, Chistian residents of Zamboango naturally feared attacks. But what more could be done? Send only one brig? What more could be done? There were disparaging opinions about it. And someone needed to be blamed. And the handiest person to blame was the governor general. So pathetic with promises, and eloquent with words, it was easy to blame the governor general. It was easy to blame him for each pirate raid and had been throughout all years of conflict.
Woes obviously came from evil. Not only did Christians think this, but Moros also believed it. Each side believed many of the same things. Both sides believed weaknesses they saw in the other side stemmed from basic errors and blunders of faith. For Moros success of the kris proved the point. By this sword again, with a cutting blade equal in every way to swords made from the finest steel of Toledo, they established integrity, and when there were no other foes, they fought each other. Yes, they fought each other. Moros fought each other because they loved combat and were eager and considered it a privilege to die … something Christians never understood.
It seemed unjust and sad, sad indeed, that Tan’s pleading amounted to nothing. He would’ve sworn allegiance to the yellow and scarlet Spanish flag, he would’ve said anything if it ‘d done any good. But his pleading didn’t get him anywhere. None of his questions were answered. And he knew his fate, but he still begged for his life. In those days even petty crimes were punished by death. Before reform, they still lived under an inquisition system, under which an accused person rarely got a chance to exonerate him or herself. There was no such thing as a fair trial.
Besides suffering physically, Tan missed Jolo. He missed his pleasure house, and he surprisingly missed Felicia. And the farther away he was from her the more he missed her. He missed her, really missed her and felt he could somehow communicate with her. In darkness, darkness of his cell, he imagined he could see her. He could picture her, remembered her complexion color of weak tea and her long hair hanging down over her bare breast.
A toothache tortured him. It hurt him indeed as much as indignity. He never got used to being a prisoner. Did people ever get used to it? A black devil, a barbarous savage pirate and second cousin to an orangutan was dragged along with him. Where were his friends? Where were his former customers? Where were they? He looked for them in a crowd as he was dragged to a waiting brig. He had friends in Zamboanga, supposed friends. He had friends nearby, who knew escape routes, and had faster boats. Where were they? Why didn’t they help him? Why couldn’t he escape? Then what kind of justice could he expect, when a raid was considered a war, and he was considered a war criminal?
Chained by his neck, by his neck and his hands and his feet to a plank in a hull, he preferred isolation of night to confusion of day. He preferred it when he could dream of Felicia; for he now needed her, any part of her. He was treated like a coolie. He was treated like a slave, like a slave, a dog. During daylight, sailors tormented him, calling him “queer, cuckold, thief, traitor, dog.” Besides him, they mistreated native porters, who were needed to load cargo and stores. He felt their sore backs and tired muscles, which came from manual labor Spaniards wouldn’t do. Simple farmers and fishermen, mainly from Luzon, were turned in slave. He was part of the slave trade and knew about slaves and now he was treated like a slave. Tan shook, shook with anger, approached madness, as he relived his mother’s struggle
Tentatively Tan spoke, when he did. Already on edge, as soon as he spoke, he knew he made a mistake. But waiting any longer was intolerable.
Delirium set in. With delirium he said things he shouldn’t have. Thirst overcame him. Fear. Torture. When tortured, he confessed and gave names. Was he careless and incriminated a friend? A friend? A lover! Had Felicia been arrested, tortured, and raped? Then, fear of an assassin, sent by either side. He saw a cold icy face, a face of a warrior, with a kris in his hand, and with one swish! He wished….
He lost control of his life. And as a chino, a non-Christian, nothing he said or did increased or lessened his punishment. A code existed … a code existed on paper, but the governor general could act like God and get away with it. And he cultivated a relationship with executioners. Forget bailiffs! Forget judges and constables; whereas, under a guise of preserving society, the governor general frequently suspended THE CODE. And he could do it and get away with it because his authority came directly from the king and from God. Power corrupted courts, so it was easy for him to weaken them.
Still, even the governor general couldn’t ignore a Christian practice of giving condemned people a chance for reconciliation (but levity and sanctity often only added anxiety) and an opportunity to repent. In theory, facing a firing squad or a garrote freed a repented soul from his or her body, and it allowed souls to fly away free of stain and sin. Free then from stain and sin, souls could then to be with God, God who was full of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness. This made a relationship between prisoner and executioner solid, while placing it on a foundation of gratitude.
Here was when indispensable brothers of Peace and Charity cajoled and hammered their convicted charges with undying love and the love of the Virgin. Reportedly, in most cases in Manila, with no reprieve in sight, suffering increased proportionately to the amount of care and concern a condemned man received. His suffering increased when his only reward was the loss of life. And feeling abandoned and rejected by God, as passions rose, many were driven farther away by this. Rarest of men were convicts who waited calmly through those last hours of badgering.
The pirate cursed, as Tan also cursed pain of a toothache, while contempt for each other eventual distracted them. Their conversation also helped, as the pirate recalled good times with opium and women. He spoke of having an English lady: “Her face was too round, and she had no color in her cheeks; her eyes were too blue, too round; she was too tall and too plump.” He said she satisfied him greatly, “not like Portuguese wenches, with coarse, wooly black hair, dingy black skin, and flat noses half the width of their faces.” He praised the virtue of white skin and blond hair. As Tan listened, he thought about Felicia and sadly knew he’d never see her again.
And often news from Manila reached Jolo by way of Batavia. A Dutch-Language Indonesian newspaper reprinted a story about the fate of a Chinese trader from Jolo, which was big news in Sulu. Up until then no one really knew what happened to Tan. There was only speculation, most of it wrong. With help, Felicia kept his businesses going.
Tears were always hard for Felicia, though Tan’s house without him seemed empty. He left instructions that if anything were to happen to him that Felicia and his mother were to assume control of his businesses. This floored both of them and threw them together in a way they hadn’t anticipated. (Explanations for Tan’s decision were forever lost with him. Felicia was not related. They weren’t married, and she hadn’t been at the pleasure house long. But since chinos were lumped together with mulatos, pardos, morenos, negros, mestizos, and zambaigos, and property rights for these groups were loose, Tan’s property (including slaves) would’ve been pretty much up for grabs.)
A sudden change in her fortune woke Felicia up and got her going. Tan disappeared without a sign of a struggle. No one knew he was in danger. No one in Jolo knew he was a wanted man. No one knew all his activities. Who knew he had ticked the wrong people off? Felicia certainly wasn’t prepared for what happened; neither was she prepared for what was to come.
After she read a newspaper account of Tan’s arrest, she packed a few garments, a second pair of shoes, cosmetic resin, and for Tan, “The Book of Poetry referred to with approval by Confucius.” She was a picture of a lovely lady, saddened by a great tragedy; within a frame of black hair, her face was now sunken and pale; and her eyes, normally so beautiful and radiant, were filled with tears and fear. She went to Carlos in this state, and it took some doing before he agreed to go with her to Manila.
Though she wouldn’t take her best jewels (to her they were simply ornaments), they needed as much money, gold, and silver they could safely carry. All they knew was what they picked up from a newspaper article. By then Tan was a prisoner in Fort Santiago in Manila. Anything concerning the chino trader beyond that she refused to think about.
Tan enjoyed talking about Spanish cruelty (indicative of how much they talked); so she imagined what was in store for him. Even so, she was better off not knowing about the deprivation and torture Tan endured. Less she knew the better. She hadn’t given up hope: but information was very sketchy, and it seemed like an eternity before she got anymore.
A trickle of liberalism reached the Philippines with Ferdinand VII’s portrait. So short a triumph, chaos and order alternated as royalists and liberals came in and out of power. Occasions of laughter, of tears, pomp and pathos. Who didn’t remember sticks used by friars, blows, and victims, whose punishment didn’t achieve anything? Pomp and pathos, tears and laughter.
To the garrote, vile garrote! Because of liberalism, Tan had a right to a trial; but because of royalist, his trial turned into mockery … a trial of mockery. Before a small crowd, a permanent court-martial sentenced him to death. For conspiracy he was sentenced to death. Conspiracy didn’t always bring death, but in Tan’s case it did. The deciding factor was the governor general’s decision “to adopt swift, vigorous, and exemplary measures.” The governor general wanted to set an example. He wanted to make an example out of Tan. And to make matters worse, he and his predecessors feared Moro retribution and feared anyone from the Sulus because of brutality shown during raids and revolts. Because Tan was from Jolo and not a Christian, there was no public clamor for a pardon for Tan. This left it up to the accused, though futile, to beg for mercy.
Facing death, Tan wrote the governor general. He petitioned the governor general, but red tape held up his plea; and, by the time of trial, it had never reached his Excellency. Also, after a verdict, while he still stood in front of judges, Tan publicly cursed the Code that set a penalty and cursed trumped-up evidence and blindness of the court.
Liberals were beginning to speak out. There was an outcry, but unfortunately, judging from crowds attracted to executions and from how people pushed to get within a few feet of killing platforms, liberals were clearly in the minority. Therefore, the burden of executioners fell not only on executioners, the governor general and judges, but also on everyone who witnessed the spectacles. Fiesta-loving Manila made the most of them. They made the most of them by turning them into circuses. Only liberals deplored executions.
And everything had to be done properly. After a verdict was handed down (written under the letterhead and seal of a permanent court-martial) a certified copy of the sentence was forwarded to the governor general for his signature. The governor general had to approve it. Though a verdict was pre-determined, there had to be an appearance of propriety. There had to be an appearance that Tan was given a fair trial: “having examined everything, and with the conclusion of a defense offered by the lawyer of the accused (what lawyer?), the court condemns him by unanimous vote. The penalty shall be death by garrote for his fully proven participation in acts of treason.” A traitor! Tan never considered himself a traitor. As far as he was concerned, he did what he had to do. He was a businessman who did what he had to do.
A military assessor, meanwhile, according to law, examined said sentencing document, found it lawful, and set Tan’s execution post haste.
Behind a heavy iron grate, Tan thought he might suffocate, subdued by such a thought, not so much by limited air, but by thinking that somehow he might cheat the garrote. If they wanted to suffocate him, they could do it without taking him to court. (When it rained, other prisoners died. When it flooded, other prisoners drowned, drowned like rats in an infamous water cell.) Incessant dripping and consumptive dampness illustrated his plight; but strangely he wasn’t thinking of himself. If he drowned, he would escape the garrote, but he wasn’t thinking of himself.
He listened for coughing or rustling of someone else, another prisoner condemned as he was condemned. He called out. He called out and heard an echo, an echo, echo on top of echo from one barrel-shaped cell to the next. It was an empty, hollow sound. Sorrowfully, he saw Felicia on a ship, bound for Manila. No! He wouldn’t want her to be there. He wouldn’t want her to see …
Already awake before sunrise, by then clean after ablution and given the Lord’s prayer, they dressed him in a white robe. Then he was dragged up dungeon steps and, on his own, allowed to stumble into morning light. The First Regiment was already mustered. The First Regiment was ready to escort their first prisoner of the day.
Between soldiers, assisted by two monks of Misericodia, walking past barracks towards the primary gate, the first thing Tan saw were functionaries in grave-clothes, loose gray hooded robes that came down to the ground. Tan remembered other events just as solemn and less solemn fiestas when tens of thousands of rockets were fired. (He had seen executions before.) To fully appreciate the affect that this gathering had on Tan, you’d have to have seen it, seen men, women, and children parading with lit candles and, at intervals, with images of the Savior, the Virgin, and Saints, chanting, “Santo Maria, Madre de Dios, ora pro nobis!” Tan heard chants of monks again, a monk for each arm, comforting or exhorting him, pleading and giving him one last chance.
It happened to be December 29, 1815. Tan knew nothing about King Ferdinand’s gift to the people of Manila. He knew nothing about the king’s restoration and the installation his portrait. He didn’t know because he was preoccupied.
He was astonished by the scene outside the prison, an old stone bulwark call La Fueza de Santiago. His notoriety astonished him. How people came out … how street were lined with people astonished him. How streets were decorated also astonished him. It confused him and astonished him. Columns, such as found in Rome (except made of wood and imitating white marble, with edges decorated in bronze). In every plaza, planters filled with flowers and artificial gardens with fruit bearing trees. And every house had a fresh coat of white wash (alabaster, representing love, loyalty, justice, fortitude, virtue, and fertility), and houses were decorated with banners and streamers, and no longer appeared neglected. It all astonished him.
On top of it being Christmas, loyal Spanish subjects of Manila had not yet fully recovered from the formal installation of a royal portrait. They hadn’t quite recovered from months of banquets and dances surrounding his majesty’s birthday and restoration. Yet fiesta-loving Manila came out once more. Thousands came out to see a wretch die.
It wasn’t exactly the same though. There wasn’t the same pomp and circumstances afforded the king’s portrait. Not exactly; but there was a procession. There was a procession with similar crowds dressed the same. The same decorations … like was said, decorations from the installation were still up. They were on the same buildings, buildings restored and white washed: the governor general’s palace and the Cathedral adorned with banners and flamers; nothing was taken down.
But differences between the possessions were apparent. The king’s portrait was carried on a float fashioned from a carriage. Tan was forced to walk. And crowds weren’t shouting, “Long live the king” for Tan. Drums but no music. No Te Deum sung or band music. Drums! No band music played, nor hymns composed for this day. Drums! The king’s portrait was taken from the Cathedral to the Ayuntamiento (city hall), where the public could file by and see it up close. No organized dancing, or lavish refreshments. Drums and a vile garrote!
On reaching the Cathedral, Tan thought of China, which he couldn’t really claim. All Chinese considered China home. All Chinese wanted to be buried in China, but Tan was treated like a coolie, a coolie and a traitor. Coolies and traitors didn’t get decent burials. Because of this, he was dumped in a common grave. He felt sad over having never met his dad. For all he knew his dad was standing in the crowd. He was thankful his mother was spared. For all he knew his dad was standing in crowd applauding over getting rid of another roach. He might be applauding because success in Manila depended on loyalty to the throne. In front of the Archbishop’s palace, Tan cut off his emotions. He cut off his emotions and adopted a ridged posture. His ridged posture clearly represented a final defiant act. With nothing to lose and nothing to gain, he was defiant.
Thrust forward by momentum, Tan saw fixed bayonets. He walked directly in front of the executioner, both of them behind cavalry and a priest carrying the sacred banner of the church, embroidered in black and gold. Already the mood of the crowd had changed. Already they were mournfully silent. And, as the procession entered the heart of Intramuros, an old, walled city, monks set a tone with prayers.
The distance they went, between Fort Santiago and the Luneta, was not great. He hadn’t been through those streets before and didn’t know the way. Few natives lived there, only servants and their families. Streets there were so narrow that people had to stand flat against walls. Streets were so narrow that they stood on top of each other. But stationed about fifty paces a part sentinels had only dogs and servants to contend with. They had only dogs and servants to contend with because Spanish aristocrats peered from balconies. Intramuros lacked the hustle and bustle of Binondo, a suburb across the river. It lacked the noise of Binondo, noise of hemp-presses, warehouses, brick works, tinsmiths, lithographers, printers, shippers, noise of a river bank and canal system, with gangs of half-clad coolies, chinos lugging bales of hemp or tobacco and water buffaloes dragging carts filled with loads of moist and almost black raw sugar. As opposed to a mercantile town, Intramuros as a military town seemed subdued, and guaranteed for most of the route, there wasn’t any shoving.
All government offices were located there. And before the possession reached Saint Lucy’s gate, with its portcullis and drawbridge (in those days drawbridges were raised every night at one o’clock, woe be tardy residents), a bone-tired woman, a coquettish maid, tripped and splashed wastewater over a balcony. “Between world and Heaven, a sudden shower!” Exhausted by a succession of dances and balls and more intimate reunions, another execution meant nothing to her. “Struggling with destiny, tinged with gloomy clouds, as heavens opened up.” Too late to avoid a drenching, a furious monk broke rank and cursed her.
The procession slowly passed by an old palace where the governor general resided. During this last hour of Tan’s life, which to avoid heat had to end before 9 A.M., he was the main character of a sold-out opera. Brought to the steps of a platform, he watched the executioner take his place. Tan was told about the major prop: a collar of iron, its hinged front piece, and its back piece attached to a big screw, which operated like an ordinary letterpress. This one had a stout pin to pierce his spine.
Standing on the steps of the Ayuntamiento were various Spanish officials. Tan knew which man was the governor general. He knew the governor general from the way he was dressed. And he knew which one he was by the way others stood around. He could also see that his Excellency wasn’t paying attention. He was more interested in politicking. This very street was the recent scene of a much more regal occasion. Tan obviously missed it. It was up those very steps that they toted the king’s portrait. They toted it up while it sat on a velvet throne (like the king himself), had its own guard, and was followed by an assemblage of Spanish Coat arms, a pair of carved lions, and a globe, which had to be lugged into the building in pieces.
Recently, this street also saw artillery fire, artillery fire and a violent discharge of muskets after a foolish lieutenant proclaimed himself Emperor. His regiment joined him. They joined him in revolt after he proclaimed himself Emperor. It didn’t last long. It didn’t last long because of narrow streets. Though insurgents placed two cannons at each intersection, they never gained an advantage because of narrow streets. After only three hours it was all over. They all surrendered and were subsequently executed. This example of quick justice served as a warning, but in some circles, it had the opposite effect.
Picturesque and venerable, these useless but solid walls were in some places eighty feet thick. Moss and earthquakes weakened a lop-sided triangle so it wouldn’t withstand a bombardment. An additional defense was a wide, deep, and carefully plastered moat. But for decades this ditch filled up with mud, garbage, and a rank growth of vegetation. And Spaniards feared this foul, noxious cesspool, feared cholera and were afraid to fill it in or get in there and clean it out.
Not more than a mile or so beyond the moat and over a drawbridge, outside Intramuros and down a fine promenade, Tan turned inward again. Normally here streamed thousands of Manila’s countless carts and carriages. Now they were jockeying for a parking place. Including lepers and other beggars, those on foot had been assembling for some time. All were dressed in their Sunday best. And Tan certainly knew why they came. He knew why they gathered here. Why more and more continued to gather and a crowd continued to grow. They all came for one thing. They came to witness an execution. They all came to beautiful Luneta to see him garroted. Here thousands of people frequently came to enjoy sea breezes and listen to Spanish marches. Now they were there to witness a garroting.
Tan walked among Philistines. He walked, now impatient to get there. Shouts of “Mastiff!” “Mixed-blood mongrel” mingled with prayers of monks. Nothing in the ritual approached a degree of humiliation. Nothing approached the seriousness of thinking that there was a relative there. Tan sensed that someone he knew was there. He hoped it wasn’t his mother. He hoped it wasn’t Felicia. He hoped and dreaded the thought. But he knew that the surest way to success with Philistines was to play along … to obey and sing the same song, or when his majesty shouted, “play,” bands must strike up a tune and play a tune again to the rhythm of a subjugating shuffle. “Advance and kneel!” and everyone had to advance and kneel. No one could disobey. “Bow to the ground and rise.” “San kwel Kekow,” kneeling and nine times bowing head to the ground. Tan knew that in the present crowd, there were many Philistines who wanted to get their hooks in him.
What if his mother were in the crowd? Or was speaking directly to him? Speaking directly as a wandering spirit? He saw her pretty features. He saw her pretty face. She was still pretty to him. He naturally saluted her … respectfully saluted her … and paid homage by bowing and knew there was “but one sun in heaven. He knew there was only one sun in heaven, and it gave him warmth and life and nothing ever dim its rays. He then knew for certain that heaven couldn’t have two suns or earth two emperors. Truly wisdom from the Celestial Empire had become indispensable to him.
Up thirteen steps priests climbed and stood and waited for an executioner and a pardoned traitor. Up thirteen steps climbed an executioner and stood and waited for a pardoned traitor. Up thirteen steps climbed a pardoned traitor. All were equally charged to defend a crown. And all were dressed accordingly. Unassisted Tan climbed, as he acquiesced to his fate. “Respectful, remarkably he remained respectful. Circumspect and respectful, remarkably he remained respectful. Remarkable for foreign scum. Remarkable for a coolie. And his long strides showed that he hadn’t knuckled under.
“Convolutions of love interwoven over time,” to think of Felicia in those final moments seemed, well, remarkable. He taught her how to make proper tea. Grief could bring her ruin. At least, his grief wouldn’t be prolonged. In silence, therefore, he climbed the last steps.
Then, he was fastened to a seat attached to a post and waited for the turn of a screw. How many turns of a screw would it take? Would it happen slowly, or would it happen fast? It happened very fast. With sparkling eyes, she sensed his desire but never guessed his heart. For other men, even Carlos, Felicia had been a rake’s dream.
So Felicia saw him locked to a post. She saw a white, motionless figure locked to a post and watched as an executioner twisted a screw. Knowing who it was … knowing it was Tan, Felicia prayed for mercy. She prayed for mercy and that death would quickly come. A part of her wished she hadn’t come and hadn’t been part of this spectacle, during which each person jostled for a better view. She cried, while she watched a priest hold a crucifix in one hand and sprinkle Tan with holy water. Tan’s palms were tied together, as if he were praying. She cried, while she watched an executioner twist a screw. She had to force herself to watch, as she sobbed, so much so that those near her moved away. She didn’t want to watch, but forced herself. She couldn’t believe it was happening but saw that it was. She watched as a prison official give a signal, signaled with his sword, and watched an executioner give a screw a violent twist. When his back snapped, a slight forward movement of Tan’s bare feet went all but unnoticed.
Felicia stood at the edge of a killing field. Nothing ever upset her more. The ritual seemed misplaced, like a curtain fell between the world and God. By the time it was over, Felicia knew that somehow she would avenge Tan’s death.
She approached the platform, until a soldier stopped her. A script called for Tan’s body to be left out in the hot sun until noon. She stood there the entire time. She stood there until they removed Tan’s body.
After a long voyage, perilous in those days, Felicia arrived in Manila. She knew no one in Manila and hadn’t met anyone she trusted. On the ship, only the captain befriended her. He directed his crew to leave her alone. He considered her his, and she encouraged it. So he gave her a cabin that rivaled his. She requested it and paid top dollar for it. Most of the time Felicia wore a chemisette of pineapple fiber, finer than the finest cambri and as transparent as a veil. It wasn’t practical, but she saw the affect it had on the captain. She saw the affect it had on the crew. Still she wore it. She saw the affect it had and knew what she was doing. She saw how eyes became buttery and melting with desire. She saw the affect she had on him. She saw the affect it had on all of the men. She used men in this way. It was something she cultivated but kept in reserve. It was like having money in a bank.
With her baggage taken care of, she navigated a crowded gangway. She came back for her baggage once she found a place. And as she hurried and hoped she wasn’t too late, she took a cascas (sitting in a hen-coop-like compartment) up the Pasig river for a mile or more to the great pier-bridge (or the Punte de Espana), opposite low and dingy warehouses. She was in the heart of the European business district. Her search took her into the heart of European business district. Her search took her all over the city; but she didn’t know how close she came to Tan. She didn’t know how close she came, as she passed Fort Santiago. She didn’t know that she came within a few hundred yards of Tan. She didn’t know that he was held in the fort. Nor did she immediately learn anything about him.
Meanwhile, Tan slept in irons and on wet straw. By then he was imprisoned in an underground dungeon; and his dreams were limited to nightmares: “thorns and prickles, biting dogs and crows and vultures and was damned and constantly obliged to ascend and descend a tree armed with sharp thorns, and drink putrid gore.” Because of these nightmares, he rarely slept.
How long was he held in this hell? “Dong Kanus-a ka man moyaya?” Or, “Friend, when will you set me free?” Tan endured red-hot rocks. This was when he broke down, pleaded for mercy, and prayed for beatings to stop. This was he confessed.
With its old stone walls and antiquated cannons, this black hole, as a symbol of oppression and repression, had long been part of the nation’s consciousness. In the future other countries would take the place of Spaniards. Other countries would use the fort. Other countries would use it for a prison. But collective voices of martyrs like Tan’s were never suppressed.
But sometimes the future promised a respite. This time, corresponding with Felicia’s arrival, there were reasons for feeling optimistic. There were reasons to celebrate and reasons to think that people might not be fooling themselves.
Decorations were beautiful. They turned sadness into something splendid and brought pride back to the city. It didn’t matter that most of the trimmings were artificial, that most flowers were made of paper. For a short while people forgot that with the end of the galleon trade that it was also the end of a long history with Mexico. They temporarily forgot about loss trade. They temporarily forgot uncertainties that came with having to rely on different people, and a new government, as Spain tightened it reign, so festivities couldn’t have come at a better time.
As a start, a new governor general was appointed. Out with the old and in with the new, and the new man wanted to make sure everyone became involved. Out with the old and in with the new, the new man had a new agenda but like the old man it was his agenda. So some things never changed, and an example had to do with time and energy. Organizing and preparation still consumed more time and energy and was more elaborate than actual events. But the show went on, just as such events were needed. They all needed them, and each time people of Manila were given an excuse to dance and drink (not that they needed one) and for a short while they forgot how powerless they were.
Felicia heard a band play. North of the Pasig, she saw that commerce of freer Binondo had slowed. She saw that fewer people were doing business, and people were drinking and dancing. Shops of Swiss and Berliners, English emporiums and German chemists, and offices of Spanish physicians and Spanish tobacco dealers were all closed for the celebration. Instead, streets were packed. Instead, people were drinking and dancing. And there were flowers everywhere. As a spectacle, nothing rivaled it. And in spite of rain, they shouted, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” and they considered themselves lucky to be living in such a great age. Felicia couldn’t join in this celebration because she had nothing to celebrate about. She couldn’t celebrate or at least not until Tan was granted clemency.
The voyage took too long. Maybe it was too late. Agitated, Felicia couldn’t get Tan out of her mind. By coming to Manila she risked a great deal, and now she didn’t know where to start. Felicia also never recognized that the way Tan treated her bordered on cruelty. This she never saw. He treated her better than Carlos did, so she never saw it. Far from the powder and paint of the “singsong” house, she was hard and unyielding in her purpose. She was unyielding in her purpose for a person who didn’t treat her very well and who was truly a mercenary. Bowing to money, Tan charged high prices for his adopted daughters and sold information he got from them. He was a traitor. Treason came naturally to him.
A few days after the Balls of Monjigangas (which were theater acts staged by Chinese actors, honoring and recreating the journey of the Portrait) and facing execution, Tan finally took responsibility for his crime. However, he wouldn’t go as far as repudiating his sins and saving himself. That part of the opera Felicia missed.
She got her bag yanked out of her hands. She didn’t have energy enough to chase after the thief. Then caught by darkness, and caught without a place to stay, she wandered from Binondo to Intramuras, and from Intramuras back to Binondo, then walked down a promenade, where each evening Spaniards and foreigners came looking for amorous intrigue. She worried about becoming conspicuous. She did stand out. She couldn’t help but stand out before she found a place to stay.
To stay out of trouble, Felicia had to maintain a favorable dossier and become friends with gobernadorcillos, friar-curates and other principals of the city. To stay out of trouble and stay in the city she had to pursue a legitimate occupation. And to get an endorsement of a friar, she attended mass.
Felicia found a room just off of San Jose de Trazzo Street. San Jose de Trazzo Street was filled with flesh peddlers and had the biggest choice of prostitutes in Manila. But many men who picked up women there were filthy; and diseases were always a worry. Unlike men who visited Tan’s “singsong” house back in Jolo, men here were filthy and disease was a worry. But this “new cholera” didn’t come from dirt, fleas or rodents. This “new cholera” was spreading throughout the city and was considered one of the major social ills of the age. It was spreading and creating havoc and panic, and it continued to spread until authorities rattled their sabers.
Anyone new to the capital had to petition the governor general’s office for a credula. This was a document and a form of registration that listed a person’s address and profession. People needed to carry a credula at all times. They needed a credula to keep from getting arrested as an indocumentado. Then too anyone with the right credentials …. an array of documents, decorated with expansive seals … .in spite of their true character and identity, could pass for a person of integrity. Since Felicia entered Manila (hence the country) illegally, she had to find someone to forge papers for her. A neighborly tendera provided this service.
Desperate, Felicia stood inside the governor general’s palace, unsure which of two staircases to take. The two staircases were indistinguishable, so she didn’t know which to take, or where each went. She didn’t know where she was going, but she had to speak to someone, preferably someone at the top. Without disguising her frustration, she chose the one to the right.
Indeed, her anguish and frustration grew, as days went by. Each blind lead magnified a sense of panic. And as allusions evaporated, she became painfully aware of her own limitations.
She finally decided to go to the palace and plead Tan’s case. It was a big step for her. It would’ve been a big step for anyone. It was a big step because she didn’t know how things worked. She didn’t know where to start and knew nothing about protocol and went up stairs that led to His Excellency’s apartment. Instead of going to his office, she went directly to His Excellency’s apartment. On the second floor, she had to face a senor captain. Someone of a lessor rank wouldn’t do. Someone of lessor rank wouldn’t have been stationed there. Blindly, she climbed the stairs for it took all of her attention; and the Senor Captain wasn’t paying attention like he should’ve been; or before he could react, the door to the main apartment sprung open.
Then and there Felicia came face to face with two people, male and female. And Felicia guessed that the man was no less a dignitary than the governor general. She guessed it. She guessed it from the senor captain’s reaction that it was the governor general. How she got so close to the governor general and quite by accident came within a few feet of her goal she never knew. But the sight of lechery she recognized, and it stopped her. It stopped her instead of the senor captain because she recognized lechery, lechery with a prostitute. And she hadn’t anticipated seeing the governor general with a prostitute.
Alarm propelled Senor Captain forward. He couldn’t have anticipated what happened. With his job on the line, he had only a second to react.
There was no retreat for Felicia or the governor general, the governor general with his friendly escort. Another tendera; or was she a consturera, a ladandera, or a cigarerra? By forgery or by misrepresentation, she could have been any of those. Felicia shouldn’t have been surprised. It shouldn’t have surprised her. Given her experience in Jolo, it shouldn’t have. But shouldn’t the governor general be governing instead of whoring, or more specifically be looking into Tan’s case? She stared (“leered” would be more accurate).
An elderly gentleman, a long time aid who knew when to appear and disappear, intervened and offered his services as ombudsman. Downstairs, therefore, they went, which gave Felicia some encouragement. He looked like he knew what he was doing and that he would clear all obstacles. He looked like he was in charge, and it seemed like she would now avoid long waits and red tape, etc.. It seemed like he was very helpful. A stop at the administrator’s office, into which the two stepped, where upon her nodding escort scratched off what was apparently an order.
And thus, on a day that marked a beginning of a long nightmare, began her ride on a bureaucratic merry-go-round. An administrator glanced hastily at a note handed to him, and picked out the word “particular,” which changed what would’ve otherwise been an “order” into a personal request. Hence the “order” wasn’t worth the paper that it was written on. Without an “order,” an administrator could sit on any request and, saying he was sorry, he told Felicia to take a seat. She remained hopeful when he told her to take a seat. He then told her that he was sorry but he could only honor requests written on official paper. Therefore, she had to sit and wait her turn; but he unfortunately didn’t tell her that her business fell outside his jurisdiction. He could’ve told her this before he had her sit down, so she sat there a long time before someone did. By then it was getting near the end of the day, and she was no longer trying to put forth a brave face. And only then, after she had grown tired of sitting, did an administrator, graciously and in rather a pedestrian manner, directed her to the Archbishop.
With good reason the Archbishop had been on her original list of contacts, for there were times when the head cleric acted as the head of state. There were certain matters that fell under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop, and there were certain matters the governor general took care of, but it wasn’t clear who was in charge of what. This priest or padre, a polished, scholarly and adroit prelate-politician wheeled a great deal of influence and power. This was clear. But Felicia didn’t know that he could have any governor general recalled, and it wasn’t made clear that this was what made this prelate an ex-officio notary, whose attestation legalized, among many other things, executions. So any order signed by him commanded respect. To be sent to the Archbishop filled Felicia with some hope, particularly since she didn’t know how he really felt. She didn’t know that he didn’t think instruments of death and torture weren’t used enough, machines that were preserved in convents since the early days of the Holy Inquisition.
Felicia didn’t know when to get off the merry-go-round. She didn’t know when to say enough was enough or when she was taken for a ride. By Felicia’s own account, she said she felt awkward crossing the thrown room in the palace of the Archbishop and on attaining entry to his Reverence’s chamber. Of many things they talked about (from birds of Mindanoa to Philippine literature, over sherry which seemed to warm the cockles of his heart) nothing caught Felicia more off guard, and unfortunately reflected his bias, than his question: “young lady, aren’t you too inexperienced for politics?” For she didn’t see past his warmness and that he wouldn’t offer any more than friendly advice. At any rate, he listened to Felicia. At least he listened, and that was more than other officials did; but it was after she finished that he told her that civil magistrates weren’t answerable to him, so he rarely got involved in judicial matters.
The whole time they drank Spanish sherry. Now the Archbishop knew Spanish sherry too well. Even in its weakest form Spanish sherry was too strong for the uninitiated but in small doses, it could be sipped continuously and, with a cigar, made for a pleasant half-hour, the half-hour he gave Felicia. An audience with the Archbishop, in itself, was unusual, when one normally was turned away with words such as “impossible,” “next week,” or “he’s ill;” so her experience with the Archbishop wasn’t a total disappointment. He gave her a few suggestions (very definite ideas).
The commandant had to make sure that she wasn’t a threat and that she really had the Archbishop’s blessing. She went to the Commandant more than once.
With each stop she lost precious time. She knew she was losing time, but not how precious it was. The amount of time she lost at each stop depended on the official. It seemed like policy varied from official to official. But at both palaces, even with native clerks and clerics, and those who refused to budge without an order, she was treated with courtesy, which she became less inclined to reciprocate.
Meanwhile, newspapers ran stories about Tan. Otherwise she would’ve missed his execution. Because of newspapers and hype she didn’t miss it. But she wasn’t prepared for the way Tan died. Nothing prepared her for the way he died or prepared her for the spectacle. Spending so much of her strength going from office to office, she didn’t have much in her. Literally, as a consolation, death seemed preferable. If she could’ve, she would have exchanged her life for Tan’s.
Even with garroting, he died with dignity. This she saw, as she gazed at the white motionless figure. And a band played its best. This she saw as a band played its best and she asked herself, “Was his crime some horrible deed?” Most people didn’t know. Most people didn’t know his crime. Most of them only knew he was being executed. Jeweled Spanish ladies stood up in their carriages and waved their handkerchiefs, but they didn’t know what he did. In that day and age, enthusiasm, indeed applause and cheers, along with music at executions, wasn’t considered vulgar. Tan’s execution brought people out for a much bigger celebration; but Felicia couldn’t participate in it.
Felicia recognized a face, as she walked home. It was a pretty face of a woman among many women practicing their profession on the sidewalks of San Jose de Trazzo Street. She had seen this face before, and she knew where she saw it. Both of them knew where they saw each other and because of it became friends.
Maria came from the provinces. Since she came from the provinces, she didn’t have many choices. Yet she chose to leave the provinces and come to Manila. And coming from the provinces led to her downfall.
Her downfall cost her, but she also profited from it. And as a fallen woman, she was able to rise to the top of her profession. She knew what to do, knew how to do it and became a professional. She was sought after and rose to the top of her profession because she learned tricks of the trade. She learned to use fantasy, flattery, and exaggeration. Using fantasy, Maria created a new persona. Using flattery, she made men feel good, and she used exaggeration to give them pleasure. She was in the pleasure business and never shied from it. She assumed a persona of a fox spirit, an extremely beautiful and seductive temptress, who loved to prey on old men who wanted to be treated like novices. For their benefit she specialized in inversion or sex with a woman on top, another example, as she was fond of saying, of “a world turned upside down.” She also impressed old men by treating them like boys.
At first Marie didn’t pay attention to a rash that went away and came back. She didn’t pay attention until it came back. It didn’t itch or hurt, so she didn’t pay attention to it at first. She didn’t pay attention until rough, reddish brown spots appeared on both palms and she got a fever. She knew she was sick when she got a fever and her lymph glands began to swell. She was also tired and her muscles ached. Her muscles shouldn’t have ached because she didn’t do physical labor.
In her business, she couldn’t afford such grief. In her business, she had to always maintain a clean bill of health. She had to appear healthy. She couldn’t afford to have a rash and spots on her hands. She couldn’t afford blemishes.
People knew then where rashes and spots like she had came from, or thought they did. People knew and knew it came from sex. Then who? Which bastard was it? Who? When? When and who? But she knew that she had no one but herself to blame. Still Maria wanted to know who the bastard was.
Maria and Felicia placed each other. They knew where they saw each other. They knew when and where and the circumstances. They knew it was in the governor general’s palace. Maria was picked out of a crowd and taken to His Eminence’s apartment. She probably had syphilis before then. When she was taken to the governor general, she knew and covered up blemishes as best she could.
Each evening, the governor general sent for a whore. He would say, “I want Yu Chi or Wildfowl again,” each a professional, who brought with them novelties. He looked for perversions, such as “grandes cocottes,” straight from Paris, or something that was done in carriages at Longchamps. Yu Chi and Wildfowl reached the top of their profession by providing novelties, and it certainly wasn’t surprising that the governor general returned to them. But once, when Yu Chi or Wildfowl were unavailable, he said, “O good lord … get Casanova and tell him to get me a true whore, a cigarilla.” Maria’s ano then told the governor general’s man that he had “a naughty little thing.” He could only hope that governor general would be delighted with. Maria. He could only hope he found Maria’s voice charming and hoped he loved her seductive manners. And he had nothing to fear because Maria knew how to reduce men to putty.
Felicia somehow knew that the governor general wouldn’t get away with Tan’s murder. She somehow knew it, or hoped he would be punished. She wasn’t religious but thought God would punish him. God worked in mysteries ways, or maybe in the governor general’s case it wasn’t mysterious. Felicia learned through Maria that he was infected and that Maria knew because she saw a rash around his penis. A rash around his penis … they laughed about it, though it wasn’t a laughing matter. And she recognized it because it looked like a rash she had. But who infected him? And it wasn’t long before the horrible consequences were widely known.
After he became infected the governor general (at the time Jose Pinggol) became furious with prostitutes. He was furious when he should’ve only been angry with himself. Around this time venereal diseases were on the rise in Manila and Jose Pinggol blamed prostitutes. An epidemic of venereal diseases caused great concern and led to closer surveillance of prostitutes. There was an increased awareness of syphilis, and this awareness meant that syphilis couldn’t be ignored, while no bacteriologist had yet identified the spring-like and beautiful helical shaped Treponena Pallidum under a microscope.
Around this time, Jose Pinggol, who was soon replaced and who unlike his successor came from Spain rather than Mexico, agonized over his rashes. He knew something was wrong. He knew something was wrong and knew what it was. He knew something was wrong, terribly wrong, and knew he needed to see a physician, preferably a Spaniard with a Naval Surgeon’s Diploma. Accordingly, when contagion showed up in his mouth, he assumed it was from kissing. And perhaps if he had only syphilitic lesions in his mouth, he could’ve blamed his cook, for mixing his spoon with ones she used for tasting. Or on the ear, from kissing and biting. But, given a hundred different possibilities, there was only one explanation for rashes on his penis.
Now to have an upright citizen, a maker of laws and regulations, infected was a sign of how contaminated society was. The governor general, therefore, believed that rules had to change and that protecting the public from debauchery and syphilis fell to him. But deporting prostitutes wasn’t a solution. Deporting prostitutes to Mindanoa, Palawan, and the Sulus never curbed syphilis in Manila. But then, not knowing it wouldn’t work, a desperate Jose Pinggol gave each governadorcillo forty-eight hours to furnish information about each suspect. They were then ordered to find out whether these women were included on a list of taxpayers, whether they had previous encounters with the law, and whether they were known prostitutes. Into the Hospital de San Juan de Dios went infected women (never mind infected men), while other prostitutes were incarcerated in the Carcel de Bilibid. Procedure required an accused woman to be detained and subjected to hard labor appropriate to her sex. Then deportation!
For poor Jose, mercury (bugbear) was prescribed. Yes, mercury, and goodbye to his teeth, goodbye to his hair, and his bones gave way (yet mercury was regarded as remedy par excellence for syphilis). He was losing his hair anyway, losing it from syphilis. In mercury, more than syphilis, in a cure more than disease (consider here the revenge Felicia sought), for nothing harmed him more than mercury, inflaming his mouth and a hundred other disasters, such as ulceration, gangrene, severe lesions of bones; numerous visceral afflictions, especially nephritis; phthisis and nephritis; stricture of the rectum; nervous phenomena, such as tremors, pains, apoplexy, paralysis,. hebritude, epilepsy and insanity.
In Hospital de San Juan Dios, Maria longed to communicate with her friends, longed to communicate with friends among them Felicia. She was sent to the hospital, where she recuperated among groans and shrieks of mad women and other prostitutes. Her expediente also showed she suffered excommunication. There were many women who deserved excommunication and deserved it more than she did. Murderers or who themselves cut off their husband’s heads deserved it more. Since when were prostitution or lust crimes? You didn’t see men deported. Maria was deported, and a gap between who she was and who she wanted to be remained.
Often, Felicia felt consoled by a “living” Tan. His words came to her in intervals. His words came to her in intervals especially at night. At any moment she expected to see him. Then she would wakeup with a start and relive his execution. She also dreamed of returning to Jolo…to spirals of incense and clicks of divination chips in her own home (previously Tan’s). Maybe they would smoke opium, maybe not. Dreaming offered her an escape.
As for Maria … well, any prostitute, regardless of her past and her status could be redeemed with a good name by marrying someone. It didn’t matter if a husband were chosen by lottery. A mere contract sufficed. Her past didn’t matter as long as she was married. Meanwhile, deported to Zamboanga, Maria’s marriage was prearranged by the Archbishop, and her new husband met her at the pier. Neither one knew what the other looked like. There was no way she could reject a fresh start.
And as for Felicia … well, she definitely wanted Carlos back. She needed Carlos, deserved his attentiveness, and allowed him to think that he was boss. She considered herself lucky and thought that she couldn’t have found a better mate. She needed a husband after her experiences in Manila.
This was paradise to him, paradise: volcanic islands of coral and sand. Only he hadn’t intended to stay. He thought he would find his fortune in Manila, but his and Omar’s lives crossed. Fate intervened, and their lives crossed. And as the years went by, Carlos depended on a relationship with the sultan, or more accurately with the sultan’s son Omar.
In spite of their differences, Omar and Carlos’ friendship endured. Their lives crossed and death and survival forged it. Considering how much hostility existed between Moros and Christians (Spaniards were Christians, and Muslims mistrusted Christians and vise versa) they should’ve hated each other. They should’ve hated each other but instead they shared each other’s secrets and enjoyed the same things. They both were fond of card playing and horseback riding; though Omar could ride better than Carlos. Omar often took Carlos shooting. They took to the hills and hunted in the forest. They wandered together without regard for time, and if they had a whole day, they took a full day. They went to all parts of the island and islands and were gone for days at a time. Seldom a day went by that they didn’t see each other. Familiar with each other’s opinions and troubles, Carlos and Omar treated each other like brothers.
Sometimes, while smoking, they shared dreams. “Whomsoever God will, he leads astray.” In a dream, and for some capricious reason, “Landing was cut to pieces, just like slicing a citrus.” Landing was grown by then. Omar identified the kris used as his. “Her mouth was filled with saliva, and she was prepared to spit. After I stopped her, I washed her feet; but her last words were inaudible.”
Some of their treks took them great distances. They went great distances because they enjoyed good health and could ride and swim all day. They scrambled around Omar’s domain … much of it untouched. They climbed hills, hills that came down to beaches, and surveyed an unending scene, a magnificent scene that bore evidence of God’s influence.
In time, in an attempt to get ready for his enemies and with Carlos’ help, Omar fortified his stockade. The two friends declared their loyalty even when faced with a Spanish enemy. Instead of using weapons, they joined hands and remained cheerful and hospitable and were in the center of things. Later, when he looked back on his friendship with Omar, Carlos recognized how lucky he was.
Now Omar gave Carlos land for a hacienda, where he could live in peace and raise a family. And on top of a cliff, three hundred feet above a small white coral beach, he built an imposing house. It sat near an open field slashed out of mangrove. Up and down a slippery path, Carlos hauled luxuries over red clay for his house. From his veranda, he looked out over treetops. He enjoyed sitting on his veranda in a rocking chair looking out over his land.
With a huge house and luxuries, Carlos could act like a grandee. He enjoyed being a grandee who owned a piece of an island. He had every reason to be pleased. He had come a long way and had every reason to be pleased. He acted like a grandee, a self-delusion grandee who delighted in furniture from Portuguese Malacca, a gilded bed and a sculptured, antique table. He wore shirts of fine cloth; and his choice of furniture included a cedar chest, a mirror with a mother-of-pearl frame, and a German writing desk. Year after year, rewarded by his friend, he ruled his own domain and acted like a grandee. As opposed to his humble birth, he occupied a dizzy eyrie, a little Spain. He occupied a little Spain in Sulu where he cultivated and raised maize, sugar, and livestock, and where he fought troops of birds and monkeys. In those days, the spaciousness of his home, with its large bedrooms and drawing room, incarnated loneliness. Then let him drink and be merry. Then let him enjoy Sooloo’s spell.
The relationship between man and space in Spain was very enduring and different from what Carlos experienced in Sulu. To compensate, he cleared land for a small pasture. Memory of sheep was too ingrained in him for him to ignore, so he imported a few sheep. He missed bullfights and fishing for black clown fish. Black clown fish swam in streams from Santander to Galicia. Switching from eating wheat and barley to eating rice proved difficult. Without bread, he initially left the table hungry. He clearly missed Old Castile, (the region of Medina and Valladolid) where as a boy he herded sheep.
But what made him stay? Within four or five months, after being ransomed, and becoming more and more an atubang, or a kind of alter ego to Omar, Carlos marked out his course. He marked out his course, and his determination was unshakable.
One day Omar surprised Carlos with a gift of a wife, a wife who possessed every quality needed to make a man happy and who became the mother of his two boys. Omar appeared one day with Felicia and presented her to Carlos. The couple initially seemed happy.
“This is a wife that I give you. Be a good husband and treat her well;” and to Felicia, “this is your husband, be faithful to him.” Let it, therefore, be known, that powers of love acted as a balm and helped cure Carlos of homesickness. Concerning his loyalty, there were several different schools of thought, but the most common one was that he’d one day go back home to Spain. And he’d leave Sulu a richer man than when he came.
We often see men not born into nobility fight and suffer and kill to become lords. In Spain, these hidalgos dominated towns and occupied posts of regidor, conseller, or veinticuatro. From this same cloth came most conquistadors, men such as Cortes and Pizarro, such as Garcia Paredes, or Orellana, great explorers, predators, and adventurers who created the Spanish Empire. Most of these men were obsessed with power and wealth. Did this describe Carlos? Providence indeed favored him. As he prospered, he lived a life of luxury, life of a grandee and in a way granted to no other Spaniard in Sulu..
If it hadn’t been for Omar, Carlos would’ve remained a slave. He would’ve first been a domestic slave and then an entertainer. It if hadn’t been for Omar, he wouldn’t have had any of the luxuries he came to enjoy. He would’ve remained a slave and as a slave he wouldn’t have any luxuries. But as a slave, he would’ve been valued for his musical talent. The future datu and his family got great pleasure from listening to Carlos play his violin.
Whenever he found an excuse, Omar rode over to Carlos’ hacienda to offer his opinions about running the place. He liked to give his opinion about everything, everything from planting to raising livestock. This included raising oxen and buffalo and even sheep. And Carlos accepted his opinions … if not always happily, he at least listened to what Omar had to say. And Carlos kept Omar interested by teaching him cards and social games, and songs and dances of Spain. Then this led to the first tertulias or evening parties in Sulu.
Never before could guests drop in whenever they chose and leave whenever it suited them. As guests entered, Omar always greeted them with his grand vizier and his family; but after that formality, they could talk with whomever. Now the only excuse they needed for a party was a desire for a good time. This informality fundamentally and permanently altered a class system and ultimately made Omar more vulnerable. The main problem with these parties lay in their seductiveness.
Foreign excesses and criticism and fire foreign excesses drew from militant and god-fearing Muslims jarred and divided the community. Those who attended Omar’s parties chose to ignore an ethical moral code that was planted deep within their consciousness. But in reality these strictures were challenged within the palace before Carlos came. Now it was put on public display.
Here is a brief summary of palace crimes. Gambling and opium use in excess. Playing for money gave way to playing blind man’s bluff. And other games … other games and not only games but singing with a guitar or a violin. The largest group of guest always gathered around Carlos and his music. To build a case against Carlos was reason enough for exposing these excesses. But Omar stood behind Carlos, so Omar was accused of gamboling with an enemy, a treasonous act.
In a burdensome way, indebtedness kept Carlos on the island. An alternative to slavery was some other form of obligation, which continued to bind him to Omar. But their bond went much deeper than any debt. With their long friendship and all of their handholding (culturally approved there), their friendship seemed almost intimate. They had influence over each other. They influenced each other greatly, as Moro and Castilian shared a belief in the infallibility of destiny.
Concerning this bond, Carlos always credited it to how they first met and that one of them could’ve killed the other. Unfortunately, some people considered Omar’s friendship with Carlos a weakness and his unwillingness to confront the Spanish a weakness too. Omar’s father, on the other hand, eclipsed him. Omar’s father was known as a reformist and he eclipsed his son in statue, though his impact wasn’t as significant.
Treachery and pirates haunted reefs and shallow green seas. Ghosts of those murdered certainly lived and invoked images of something sinister. These old stories never died.
Before Landing’s first recollection, her father settled the family in a village built over the sea. Their house showed off Mahmud’s newfound wealth. Other boat-dwellers followed suit and built houses there too, but Mahmud’s metamorphosis was never completed.
But by the time Landing married Omar, her father was a leader of his kindred group. He secured this status by erecting the first Bajau mosque in the area. Mahmud supposedly found Spanish treasure, from which his gold, jade, and silver, etc came from. One day he mysteriously arrived with a captured Castilian slave and accompanied by Omar, his future son-in-law.
As Mahmud looked on with disbelief, the Spaniard gave the Chinese wreck to him. As he gave him the wreck, Carlos held out his hands to show that he had nothing in them. At that point, he didn’t know whether or not Omar was armed, or whether or not the two men formed an alliance. So Carlos surrendered without knowing what the Moros would do or where they would take him. He was courageously silly and didn’t know where they would take him, and he certainly didn’t what he achieved by giving up the wrecked junk. He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t see the consequences. How could he have seen the consequences? He couldn’t see the future. And what sort of man would take his chances and surrender when he didn’t have to?
But it worked out because the three men needed each other. And Mahmud should be praised for his navigation ability. He could predict a storm and find his way by observing wind and water. By simply dipping a finger in the sea, he could tell when they would get where they were going. May he continue to find guidance from sea and sky and rely more on instinct than on spirits he found everywhere around him. He used stars and knew each island. Omar marveled at how little Carlos knew about sailing.
Similar to a window shade, Mahmud unrolled an enormous sail from two poles. As he hauled up the top boon, his wife reduced dead weight by lifting it. This was done with the greatest amount of efficiency. While this was done, Landing asked to be fed. This journey, as well as the rescue, forever linked these three men. Called “utang na loob” or internal debt, it was a debt that could never be measured or repaid.
As they sailed north parallel of 5’ degrees 46′, north and near meridian 120 degrees 46′ east, between and close to islands with names such as Tonkil, Balangingi, Simisa, Tatlan, Bukytwa, Balim, and Bangalow, Mahmud fished from his boat. He still fished though he had a destination. He continued to fish while great tides of conflict swirled around them. Especially then, with piracy and competition between nations such as Britain, Holland, and Portugal, and the greater threat of Spain.
Then they came close enough to hear a gun announce morning. Then moments of tranquility. Fire set to one of many vintas signaled the start of a raid. “Hay Moros en la cosa” were dreadful cries that meant an attack had begun. As Carlos, Mahmud, and Carlos watched, hundreds of Moros climbed aboard a surrounded Spanish ship. The three were unarmed, and thus shied away. Across Sibutu passage, passed Bangao, Tawi Tawi, Siasi, on to Jolo they sailed.
For Omar, it seemed an eternity. For Landing, it was a bigger tragedy. He missed her, particularly missed this wife. They no longer slept together, nor did he see his daughter. Saving face became a big issue, perhaps bigger than anything else. Saving face caused his biggest problems.
He couldn’t be blamed for why his wife Landing and their daughter Raise couldn’t live in his palace. He couldn’t be blamed; yet he blamed himself. He clearly wanted to forget their last night together, a cold, wet moonless night. There was no colder cold than being cold in the tropics.
Raise was accustomed to sleeping between her parents. She wouldn’t settle down unless she slept between her parents, and even then it was torture. Omar did his best. He tried to endure it, and he endured his daughter’s fits for as long as he could. And he endured them longer than expected. The big girl jerked and stirred and kept them awake. She kept them awake night after night all night long. She couldn’t be pacified, and he attributed it to a curse. Spirits were definitely at work. Omar attributed his daughter’s problem to a curse, a curse of betrayal. And at the same time his father’s mantel seemed to be crumbling piece by piece.
The girl’s jerking had always been a problem. Then Raise’s gibberish and gesturing got worse. It was rather difficult to describe. Omar had never seen anything like it. But call her tormented, not unclean. He couldn’t think of her as being unclean. He couldn’t think of his daughter being unclean. But because of a stigma attached to Raise’s problem, no one (not even one’s own slaves) besides her mother would take care of her.
Stigma! Conceivably started by a false rumor! Stigma! Conceivably caused by a false rumor! Someone heard that Raise’s likeness was seen on the body of a pig. When dogs avoided Raise, people’s suspicions were confirmed. And for a devout Muslim, there was no greater insult, no greater accusation that people could make than they saw your likeness on the body of pig. They didn’t eat pork. They didn’t touch pigs. Pigs were dirty. Worrying about when someone would again see his daughter’s likeness cavorting through the woods, Omar only survived a stigma and stopped rumors by separating himself from two people he loved most. Caught somewhere between his palace at the foot of a mountain slope, and a small house built over the sea at the end of a long boardwalk, Omar gazed from an open window with a broken heart.
Remember Omar was the sultan’s son. And by this time he was very powerful and respected and enjoyed privileges peculiar to Sulu royalty. He was powerful and respected but it was still doubtful that he could survive the stigma of having an unclean daughter. He had to do something and wanted more. But he had to wait until he became sultan.
His daughter danced to a rhythm that came from back when all men were infidels. Raise danced and danced and she was very beautiful. Some people thought she was seductive when she danced, too seductive when she danced and called her a whore. The negative affect of watching Raise dance naked (for they couldn’t keep clothes on her) swallowed up any pride Omar had for her. It swallowed any pride he felt over having sired such a beautiful girl; so he was sexually drawn into an abyss. Whore! He sired a whore. A whore! It rang his brain. Whore!
Here was an answer to his dreams, an escape from his woes. Here was happiness, happiness he sometimes held in his arms. When she swayed to the motion of the tide, bamboo slats creaked.
Who could see into her heart? Who could see inside her? Who could distinguish her soul from trash? Who? Try to interpret her dreams! Who could say for sure what was going on? Who could say what was going on inside her? What was it like being cut to pieces with a kris-voice? With a swish of a kris?
She heard a scolding devil. He heard her scream. She screamed, and it became quite clear that it was directed at him. “Raise, Raise!” pleaded her father.
Voices accused her of being pregnant. She heard voices. She heard voices that accused her of being pregnant with a belly full of fish and hope of pardon disappeared into shadows.
She couldn’t carry any more guilt. Guilt, guilty! Ordinarily you’d expect her to hide truth from world. Instead, she announced her pregnancy through her nakedness. She danced and announced her pregnancy. And an innermost force that binds earth to the sun and guides its course controlled her too. Thus filled with sexual desire, her father looked at her as she danced and danced … danced naked. And he saw she was indeed pregnant.
Or did she simply find shelter in the beat while she danced and had no other motive? Sometimes, prostrate, her four limbs became snakes and worms, and evil spirits transformed her body into a riving ocean. She returned to the sea. She swam in the sea every day, while destructive forces were activated, as her father screamed, “whore!”
But she substituted gibberish for words. Omar saw his daughter’s face and tried to make sense out of the incomprehensible. Raise would start moving and lose control. She also became vicious and violent, a cycle incorporating dance, progressive motion, self-perpetuating. Feeling both empty and full, she frustrated and infuriated her father, and driven by light and darkness, Raise exhausted herself
She broke into sobs. At first feelings of unreality filled her with such anxiety that she broke into sobs. She broke into sobs and wouldn’t talk about it. She didn’t dare talk Then recurring nightmares led to panic; and she wouldn’t talk about it, and connected with this phenomenon were feelings of persecution and imprisonment. Walls (white washed with a mixture of coral) reflected brilliant, harsh light: equatorial starkness and blinding light augmented fear.
If asked, Landing preferred to think of her daughter in terms of being sickly. Where madness was totally unacceptable, sickly children (if exorcised) were pitied. Whereas, Raise lived more and more in a world filled with voices and noises that seemed detached from any source.
Then, one night, as wind howled and grew mournful and stronger, there was a sequence of melancholia, a maudlin sense normal to adjusting to a life forsaken by Allah. Wind added to Raises’ turmoil and encouraged her to laugh and dance. Like groaning trees and from dreams, she expressed herself with a kind of energy that accompanied mania. Then exposed without a guardian spirit, she became intoxicated with movement. She flew through the air, fighting giants and monsters. No one knew why, in addition to mania, she became aggressive. And she flew into a rage and recognized her father less and less, and at this point, she revealed hostility and a brutal side to her nature. But to her it was like entering an empty envelope. And when she was most troubled, her parents blamed themselves.
Having disparaged, Omar retreated and followed a predictable pattern. This led him into a fog of opium, which was a solitary path. He turned to opium. And it was the only way he withstood anger and pity he directed toward himself. By then, he never left his palace. He had opium brought to him. Omar was reduced to a straw mat and turned to smoking fancy grade candu, spiked with betel quid, at a strength great enough to kill a dozen carabaos. Candu. Francy grade candu. But he couldn’t totally obliterate images of a mad house, from which he was trying to escape.
Some suspected Landing, for her features could be traced back to her pagan boat and her roots, traits that pegged her as an outcast. People never understood what Omar saw in her.
Raise danced like her grandfather and placed her soul (in the shape of a miniature human being) on a wall. All her parents could do was try to restrain her.
For Raise, staying alive was a struggle. Entangled in a ritual state of multiples and mutilation, in her mind her father carried a magical sword. She heard whining and pitiful voices say, “whore.” She heard real voices cry “whore!” Yes, her father carried a magical sword, and she heard him say, I’ll slice you up like I would a citrus!” And this finally was blamed on her father’s rejection of her.
She laughed for no reason. She said things that didn’t make sense. And in her eyes you could see spite and mischief; and sometimes she looked as old as an old hag.
So much was a puzzle. It was a mystery. Such things were always mysterious and attributed to spirits … curses and spirits. Landing did all she could do. She did all she could do for Raise. She did all she could do about the situation. But she gave her husband a girl and faced rejection because of it. And the world seemed out of balance, with bad deeds outweighing good ones, and with hell as an ultimate and final form of retribution. Here was a sense of failure that came with a birth, a birth of a girl, a girl who was different from the norm. She lived by different rules, though rules changed and were unfair. It was bad enough that she was a girl.
“…… solely and simply because,” he said with great difficulty. “….solely and simply” (with moisture under his eye lids) “because I lost it.”
Landing witnessed it. Bruises said it all.
Omar saw murder in his daughter’s piggy eyes. Swine! His religion prohibited eating pork. Swine! Whore! He feared koko spirits that lived in strangler fig trees and distrusted the forest. Though to equate him with his enemies was impossible. He didn’t use to distrust the forest.
She suddenly fell to her knees and kissed her father’s feet. This was a travesty, a travesty to him. It bewildered him. Bewildered, and pulling her up, he left marks around her neck. He wanted to kill her. He wanted to strangle her.
She heard poisoned words and, extra vigilant, continued to raise her head like a cobra ready to strike. Then her spittle mixed with his tears. That was a final blow. He wanted to strangle her.
Some people thought that Raise deserved what she got. Some people thought she deserved a beating. This worried Omar, and he felt pain in his chest and thought he was dying. He blamed it on Raise and worried about what people thought.
Specific corners of the sea were etched in Landing’s brain. When she looked at the open sea through her window, she recalled her mother’s songs,
“Sleep my child, sleep, for your mother is tired.” Now she was tired, worn out. And at the same time she remembered spring tides of a full moon, when seas spilled over normally exposed reefs and big fish were then attracted by an abundance of small ones. From sunset to sunrise, all through the night, she sat in her one-room house, a prisoner, not thinking of herself as distinct from a dancer, a dancer, her daughter. As a harbinger, most neighbors shunned Landing and her daughter, while some threw rocks onto her roof. These circumstances forced Landing to become more and more reclusive. Old friends stayed away, some using their families for an excuse. Others were legitimately too busy.
O frustrated, angry, and jealous mother. O frustrated angry woman who witnessed shenanigans of a robber. If only her husband had done more … done more than yell and alert his bodyguards. That night a baby cried in her womb. Actually the night belonged to bats and witches and not to the sleepless. Only shadows were seen because of darkness. That was when a shaman ordered a tree cut down. Only Landing saw the culprit and knew when a thief entered her body and attempted to kill her baby.
Omar conjured up images of happiness. He tried to reject criticism. He tried to close his ears. He closed his eyes and tried to close his ears. But he didn’t expect to find happiness whenever he took a pea-size ball of candu out of a heavy betel box and warmed it with a small oil lamp. Nor did he expect to find it lying on an opium bench. He never expected to find it. He never expected to find happiness again. And he blamed his heavy smoking on his taste for pungent, bitter opium with lemon extract. He loved opium. He loved to smoke it, though it didn’t bring him happiness.
For a short while he may have fooled himself. Illusions were possible until drugs wore off, and he ended up staring at the ceiling. Entertainment, such as being fed sugar by hand and amusing himself by blowing silk handkerchiefs into the air, sometimes helped. He also found amusement in something as frivolous as watching rabbits mate.
Let us enter a paradise Omar’s parents (particularly his mother) bequeathed him. Omar had everything a young man would ever want and more and could acquire almost anything he didn’t have. Those who entered this world of teak floors and lattice blinds ran a risk of never being satisfied again. One glimpse of this paradise was all it took. Bear in mind, Omar was the sultan’s son, and in line to become sultan, and had a right to comfort and luxury.
His greatest supporter was naturally his mother. Naturally his mother doted over him. Omar was her darling. She loved him. All through childhood, she smothered him. She arranged everything. She did everything she could for him: from orchestrating his meals to making sure his bed was just right: with cushions embroidered with pearls, with flowers, fruits, and rich wood, with birds in cages, and providing him with anything you could imagine. She wanted him to become a poet but he preferred to spend his time walking on stilts through knee-deep water.
It was his mother’s idea to dress him in rich silks, predominantly reds and greens; and once again he dressed up, dressed to the hilt and armed with his kris. Once again he stepped across a small courtyard to his mother’s chamber (also on piles) and presented himself. There he found her isolating herself. With him, he brought mango, flowing silk, and a small gold box, so that he could be her darling again. Yes, or else she would’ve felt hurt; and he, guilty. Having been distracted by Landing for so long, he didn’t know how his mother would react. She didn’t understand why he chose Landing. Of all the young girls he could’ve had, why did he choose Landing?
As he hurried up broad wooden steps, through a narrow passage past her bodyguards, he knew his mother could be quite pleasant. Being in meant to him being with his mother. Naturally, he turned to her, along with opium, in times of crisis or when he wanted to forget sorrow. Now his mother re-packed the box he brought her with grape-green silk, taken out in protest, which clearly signified their falling out.
Other contents of the small box: tow, and a bit of coverlet, a broken pair of scissors and a pocket looking glass, pleased her and said for him, “I’ve been so unhappy to have displeased you. Pardon me that fault or command me to die. I am ready to sacrifice my life out of love and obedience.” Again restored to her eminence by his gift, she knew the meaning of the contents of the box, for she taught her son this language. She tutored him as she had all his concubines, giving each a specialty.
A thousand April tricks, tricks he knew worked, tricks for when he felt fragile, tricks guaranteed to delight and reduced him to vermilion and gilt. When Omar entered his harem, he knew he was handed paradise but found little pleasure in it.
Wrestling with the lure of beauty, cheerful humor and graceful beauty, noses turned up, mouths and teeth perfect, it always made him ponder the imponderable. Yes, the imponderable, which led him to question what he saw in his wife. What did he see in Landing? What did he see in her when he had a harem? When he had a harem and had his choice of young girls? He knew Landing as a baby and grew to love her, but could he explain it? Could he explain the imponderable? Though he had his choice of young girls, in his heart choosing favorites came down to choosing one, when randomly and idly he teased and played with them all. He couldn’t explain his feelings for Landing. He couldn’t explain why he loved her more than any one else.
Yet all things change. Nothing remains the same. This same Omar, who once rejected his harem, entered it again. He tried to please his mother again. He tried to please her by entering his harem again and hated himself for it. And hated himself … hated himself for adopting traditions and pleasures that were rightfully his, pleasures which if it hadn’t been for Landing he might’ve accepted without remorse. Condemn him, if you want, but first compare him to Spanish Dons, and realized in those days that there were few saints.
Flowery language, like silk, created within him resentment. He laughed and said “you kill me by laughing,” and, therefore, misled his mother. But this was not so bad and in no way gave a clue as to how he really felt: disorder that came from loss. She handed him peppercorn, a little parchment of velvet, a small splinter from a box, and another piece of cloth, which was tattered. He looked at these items carefully, searching for meaning. He found none.
Worth a sultan’s ransom, a personal slave, bathed him and did things that she naturally expected would arouse him. He wasn’t aroused, and the more she did the less he responded. She tried more things, but nothing aroused him. Nothing aroused him, and all her preconceived ideas about how he would react were shattered. Her feelings didn’t mean anything to him. She meant nothing to him. And while adjusting a cushion just so and sharing candu (for his every whim was catered to), he listened with sadness to an instrument similar to a xylophone.
He lay there and listened, listened in paradise, to sweet laughter of women, women he knew since they were girls; and the more he looked into their faces (lean, nice, oval), the less sense he made of it. He lacked words to ask for what he wanted. For him, it helped that she chose to play CAT, a familiar game; and in order to catch a cat, he couldn’t flinch, or respond, as she explored his body from his toes to his head with her tongue. This time it was easy. This time he didn’t flinch or respond.
The first deaths went unnoticed. They went unnoticed because they were Chinese coolies, who worked around the Chinese pier. It went unnoticed until it became pandemic. Flotillas of junks landed at the pier every year, because Jolo was a major port, so it took more coolies than people could count to take care of business. This pandemic was traced back to China and Indian but no one knew then that water they drank transmitted it. They didn’t realize that they had water, water everywhere but not a drop to safely drink.
And as future Sultan, Omar grappled with omens. He consulted shamans and grappled with omens. Starting with the most brilliant sunset he ever saw, it was the beginning of a long, cold winter. It signaled a long, cold winter. For the tropics, it was a long cold winter. That year they didn’t see the sun at all, or hardly at all. And they never saw anything like it, and they considered it an ill omen. They heard about a tremendous volcano eruption, a volcano that erupted not very far away from them, but they didn’t realize that they were seeing the effects of it. It was a bad omen, and more and more people were dying because of an epidemic.
Until he hired a dwarf to run his hacienda, Carlos had little free time. Only thirty-three inches high from his tasseled fez to the tip of his toes, this dwarf was a magician and the exact opposite of a stereotypical, unshaven, drunken slave driver. He was short, yes very short. The top of his absurd little head hardly reached a normal man’s waistline; but somehow he had what was needed to run a hacienda. Somehow he knew how to manage slaves.
With an overseer, Carlos got to town more often and spent more time with Felicia. It was from her that he first heard about people dying without an explanation. How people died scared her. They were sick one day and dead the next. She was alarmed because they were sick one day and died the next. Now more and more people were getting sick and dying and there was no explanation for it except that it was coming from the Chinese pier. The sultan’s first reaction was to close the pier and then thought better of it. Shamans thought it had to do with a long, cold winter.
Worry not about Omar’s impotence, or whether or not he was becoming too dependent on Carlos. Worrying instead of thinking of how to solve problems and who could solve them. Start thinking like a sultan.
It was easy to see why Omar turned to Carlos. As a corregimiento, though this imaginative and energetic shepherd never had medical training, he didn’t let it stop him. On his own, Carlos decided that an answer lay in quarantine. All sick people had to be quarantined, and everyone who came in contact with a dead person had to also be quarantined. Then every time someone cooperated Carlos gave them large rations of tobacco and buyo. (Buyo was a wad of betel leaf with a piece of areca nut, slaked with lime for chewing.) Bribing people with tobacco and buyo worked.
The Sultan’s palace and the Kuta (fort) sat along the lower left bank of the River Bawang,. On nearby land, and on both sides of the river sprung up a settlement, with the principal part of Jolo built over a shoal and a beach at the head of a bay. Carlos suggested filling in low spots and eliminating cesspools that collected in them. He suggested closing open sewers, cleaning streets, and lining them with double rows of arbol de fuego (fire trees), ylang ylang, and acacia, which when grown filtered bad air. He thought filth and bad air were culprits, and he was partially correct. People weren’t dying in vast numbers elsewhere on the island.
Omar put Carlos in charge of the project. At some point they realized that they hadn’t been able to contain the disease to the pier. Carlos recognized this dilemma first. He recognized it after Moros began coming down with the disease. Typical of Spaniards, Carlos worked hard and accepted each challenge. After power himself, he seized the opportunity to assert his will. As a result, and with success he became more and more powerful.
For some years, Carlos failed to see how much influence he could have. Flawed or not, perhaps influenced by lovers of Spanish queens such as Goday, or a vapid fop named Mallo (who rose to the highest rank in a few months), or men of business, both of Spain and her colonies, Carlos knew his success required an endorsement by Omar. Everything depended on Omar. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how hard he worked, or competent he was, Carlos needed Omar. He needed Omar to advance and was never satisfied and always had to accomplish more. But from his perspective, ego was his worse enemy, so he relied on Omar. At the end of each day, he never looked at his accomplishments but only at how much more there was to do. There was always more he wanted to accomplish. Carlos, therefore, seemed condemned to one form of slavery or another. And as for the sultan’s son, though he owed Carlos considerably, he never allowed his friend to enter into his complete confidence.
Until Felicia became ill, that was the upshot of the situation. Until she had to be quarantined it was where matters stood. All they knew to do for cholera then was to quarantine people. And many critics didn’t see quarantine as a solution. It was easy for those who had no investment in the project to condemn it. It was easy to say it wouldn’t work because it didn’t completely work. This then gave an opportunity to ridicule Omar. They ridiculed Omar and blasted Carlos. Luckily, they underestimated Carlos’ resolve. Perhaps his lack of formal training gave him an advantage. It gave him an advantage because he didn’t know enough to question his plan. But as disease gained momentum, Carlos wondered if he miscalculated. And it wasn’t clear whether Omar could survive a loss of face. For a while it looked like they would lose the battle.
Around this time, Carlos lived through one of the saddest chapters of his life. His love for his wife had grown and literally changed his existence. It changed everything for him. As he fondly said, if duty ever made him forget her again then he’d forsake his duty. He regretted divorcing her, hurting her, and regretted that he gave into his vices. Then came added pressure … pressure of pregnancy. And nothing made him more sensitive to her needs than the idea that she was carrying a son of his. The idea that she might be carrying a daughter never occurred to him. You saw it with his first born. All signs told him it was a boy. A second birth was supposed to been easier than the first one; but, if it were true, when the possibility of joy was so high, how could it have caused so much anxiety and so many tears? How could everything go so wrong?
Too frequently, death accompanied birth and too frequently it took healthy women. Sometimes stars weren’t aligned right, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. Carlos wasn’t ignorant of dangers his wife faced and with cholera around never felt immune to tragedy. He hadn’t let other calamities stop him; but then, he had never before experience such a great loss. But most people thought his loss should’ve been softened by the survival of another healthy boy.
So happiness disappeared. Memories compounded grief. Jaime was a healthy boy, while his mother’s condition shifted from bad to worse. Instead of rejoicing over birth, the birth of another son, Carlos sat helplessly around. There wasn’t anything he could do. Not one thing!
He faced an evil known to everyone. Everyone faced it some time in their life. There were no remedies. Nothing to prescribe or administer. Omar, however, came forward and prayed for his friend’s wife’s recovery by repeating ninety-nine different names for Allah. But Carlos placed no faith in prayer. He appreciated his friend, but by then he lost his faith and was hit by an evil ache.
His loss of his senses worried those around him. Oblivious, Felicia said, “Love and faith will preserve us.” But in less than ten days, he found himself separated from a woman he loved, the only woman he truly loved, and he realized that he squandered so much of his love. He wasted so much of it. Toward the end, she saw his face altered by grief and mistakenly thought that something terrible happened to her baby.
While showing no concern for herself, she was torn from him. Near the end he brought their sons to her, and she held the fruit of their union in her arms. Unfortunately, Falicia died too soon. She died young, which was too soon. And despair overcame Carlos. He also grieved for his two sons. They lost their mother. Their mother was no more. What a cruel association: one of the happiest moments of his life remembered as one of the saddest.
Compared to Catholics, who bragged of faith and healing, Carlos felt inferior and needed something to calm him. Providence deprived him of his wife. This time it wasn’t divorce that deprived him. So why not blame Providence? Through such valleys there were no easy routes. Through such valleys there was often no escape. In vain, Omar tried to comfort Carlos.
It was unclear what Carlos would do. Alarmingly, tears ceased, and he didn’t find words to express his grief. And in his grief, he forgot his boys and his mind spun in another direction. They had to tear his wife’s body from his arms, not that he thought he could hold her forever, but he hoped he could. He was overcome with grief, deep grief. Before they mend broken hearts must bleed until they refuse to bleed anymore.
Living through a hell such as this would drive anyone crazy. He could very well have used a knife on himself. Suicide as an option, whether an act of courage or cowardice, or a crime, let the reader decide. Carlos double-locked the door. But he forced himself out of the present and chose the future and found relief and, therefore, life. He lived.
A few words here about native priests and prejudice. There were native men who aspired for the priesthood. There were those who avoided physical labor in order to labor quietly in the Lord’s vineyard. That alone seemed alluring. It would’ve been more alluring except Filipino priests bore the brunt of a great deal of prejudice. Yes, prejudice, and it ranged from the most subtle to the most blatant forms of prejudice. Objects of scorn and jokes, the majority of them were considered uncultured, though they had great advantages, and the greatest was an education at a seminary.
Generally Spaniards viewed Indios as weak and built their colonial system around this bias. And they thought elevating natives spiritually and politically was a duty and viewed priests of color privileged. By Royal decree, the king himself supported this. He supported it and called parish priests throughout his colonies vigilant shepherds. His Pre-eminence, the Archbishop, gave them a far greater mission. Throughout the land they became his eyes and ears.
All priests were called to be true apostles and selfless men and, as great servants of God, played an indispensable role of converting uncivilized people. If in the process, they happened to stumble upon useful intelligence, no one faulted them for passing on the information. With the re-establishment of Fort Pilar in Zamboanga, the Recollects also built and ran a mission, and one of the Filipino priests who served this periphery post was B. D. Bartholome Saquinsin, a Tagalog.
Spanish archives slight Father Bartholome. Nothing about his life but cold, hard facts was recorded. You can’t read his letters. Hardly anything written of his survived. Yet he often wrote long detailed descriptions because writing was an accomplishment of his. Along with writing skills, he possessed a keen eye. Throughout his life, if anything connected him with those in high positions, it was this, for these skills were very useful.
Even as a confidante of the Archbishop, and with his ordination and a second degree in letters, Bartholome still faced ridicule. Supposedly under his robe there lived a man who preferred to go naked. It didn’t matter that he was one of the most capable men around and that he focused on nothing but becoming more competent. Notably, and to his dismay, the Archbishop himself ordered him to Zamboanga. His assignment was distressing, almost as distressing as being neglected. He was an ambitious man, and there was nothing worse for an ambitious man than being neglected. And not only was he neglected but his importance was overlooked. Yet what he did for Spain in Zamboanga was immeasurable.
How should he have been justly rewarded? How should he have been rewarded for what he did? Undoubtedly to win the Archbishop’s favor, Father Bartholome gathered information Manila needed. He wrote to the Archbishop: “to you who have been my most unassailable mentor; nay, my priest from who I took my Holy Orders, ever afterwards I have been a privileged person, always indebted to you father. Since this place and the surrounding islands are of no consequences, my staying here can be of no value to you or my country. If I am wrong, command me to be silent. Neither in Zamboanga or Jolo is there an honest man. Forgive me for judging, but as you know, I have often sinned in this way. However, both Jolo and Zamboanga cry for laws, or at least for salvation. In general, people here either have killed someone or are thinking about it. Of late, if I learned anything, it has been that you have to always keep your eyes open, keep an eye on your back, or that the battle for souls must include the use of weapons. We are far from making real headway here, but local headmen clandestinely come and drink wine with me. At my insistence, we now and again talk about the overriding power of God. In return for favors, I have been told by one of our sources that Alimud Din recently ceded a part of North Borneo, the part lying between Cape Inarstang and the River Frimanis to England. How can he do this when this country doesn’t belong to him?”
For more than two centuries, Moros successfully resisted Spanish penetration, and Father Bartholome didn’t see it changing. As he tried to explain in his letters, what worked in the rest of the Philippines apparently wouldn’t work in the Sulus. “Their sense of good and bad is different from ours and is not to be confused with our sense of right and wrong, or hypocrisy in a modern sense.” He talked openly about the feebleness of their mission and constantly grappled with his failings. Perhaps, as a way of redeeming himself, he dedicated almost all of his intellect, while risking life and limb, to the fast and devious business of spying.
The Archbishop and the governor general sent him to Zamboanga to pave way for the overthrow of the devil’s tyranny. Recruited the same as any soldier, Father Bartholome was forced to live in exile. Forced, forced to live there. Forced to live there, Father Bartholome didn’t like Zamboango. It was too far away from Manila for him. And he hated obscurity. Zamboango was an obscure, more obscure than Jolo. Instead of returning to Manila for a coveted position, he lived in obscurity. Feeling useless, he waited for a decisive battle that never came.
Left in this spiritless state, he turned to amusement. His rationale for risking damnation was that it was already too late. As a merchant of Byzantine intrigue, he had to mix. As a merchant of Byzantine intrigue and a priest, he had to take risks. He was used to risk. So he risked damnation and said rather proudly, “as long as it advances the cause, I’ll do whatever it takes.” Forgetting one’s conscious gives a person an advantage. It gave Father Bartholome advantages. He subscribed to the viewpoint that risks were necessary, and it gave him an advantage. He expected spying to be dangerous, yet he pushed his luck. But as great as his personal bravery was, he felt like a coward. He never stood up to the Archbishop.
Feeling as if he wasted his education and was wasting his life, he felt he deserved titles such as operario y lengua (worker and linguist). He was once intimate with seminarians, with their asceticism and Abbots rules (and not to mention the gold reredos, the beautified choir and the enriched sacristy of the Manila Cathedral) and felt angry over having been dismissed by the very men he most respected.
Suddenly, in the name of Almighty Allah, Teteng attacked Zamboanga; and other Sulus ravaged the Visayas. Then from a recurring prophetic theme, written while in hiding, Father Bartholome chronicled words of a local datu, “what does it matter if at first the Castilians are successful? That only means the loss of a year’s harvest.” Scouring coasts and attacking coasters had long been a strategy of Moros. Their idea was to hit and run. Even before Spain made war, and before Father Bartholome’s time, the Sulus intended to retaliate. They used pirates to retaliate; and only through a great loss of blood did Spain regain Zamboanga. But if it hadn’t been for encroachment of rivals such as England and Holland, Spain might not have sent battleships.
Could it be that a native priest would allow himself to become a vassal of war? Could it be? He never received an academic post he wanted, but he was instead sent into obscurity and hostility and accomplished more in Zamboanga than would’ve been possible for him in Manila. There he would’ve surely languished under harassment and restrictions of the Archbishop, a man known for his severity. In Zamboanga, he was on his own. And where previous missionaries failed, or resigned themselves to failure, Father Bartholome succeeded. He succeeded in ways he never expected. And in spite of constant danger, he gathered information that dispelled the crown’s belief that the region was united. He wrote of perennial rivalries and chronic inter-tribal wars that would have made individual sultanates relatively easy to conquer. He was wrong, of course. He always stressed that a pacified region would bring increased commerce, but he never expected that it would include prostitutes.
It was then not surprising that Father Bartholome felt especially irked by the Archbishop’s request that he help find husbands for some of Manila’s exiled prostitutes.
As subsequent events showed, this added duty brought him an invaluable contact. At the time, Father Bartholome often met boats and performed weddings on the wharf. He often arranged marriages between former prostitutes and Christian gentlemen. Recently widowed, Carlos Martinez thought he’d find a Christian woman to raise his boys, and Father Bartholome helped him settle on one who was arrested and detained at the Carcel de Bilibid in Manila.
Word of available women spread throughout the islands; and all Carlos had to do (or so it seemed) was to travel to Zamboanga and ask for a bride. But Father Bartholome had more in mind than matchmaking and did all he could to impress the Castilian.
Carlos found himself unable to resist the priest’s friendship. As arrangements for a wedding were made, they each inquired about the other. As Carlos listened to the father talk about living in Manila, he realized how much he missed Spain. Thus, in this sharing and, more or less matching each other intellectually, they each satisfied a need. Each needed a forum and found it in each other, which brought them almost instantly under each other’s spell.
The honor guard and attendants, who came for Landing and her parents, were all armed and, by virtue of their rank, proud Moros. These proud Moros, who had never been sent on such a mission before, seemed out of place. As they marched, they drew a huge, curious crowd. They drew a huge crowd, and excitement was contagious. Landing, as the object of this attention, was faced with a dilemma. Should she show emotion, or should she properly restrain herself?
Later as a bride, she masked her face with mock sorrow. Her mother deserved credit for teaching her simple etiquette. After a formal invitation, elaborately written by Omar’s father, the honored guests were escorted by an Honor Guard to the sultan’s audience chamber, which looked similar to an English barn. They were escorted through a huge crowd. In his audience chamber, at the head of a large table covered with a green cloth, sat the sultan, with his latest wife, Omar’s mother. Everyone was dressed in bright patadyongs. As Landing refused to look at the young man who would soon become her husband, a more colorful scene couldn’t have been imagined.
The sultan gave a gracious reception speech. He formally introduced his family, including a beaming Omar, who knew he approved of Landing. She, on the other hand, pretended like she never saw him before. She wasn’t merely pretty but really beautiful. By this time, she had been groomed, a conscious re-creation that made Omar’s image of himself possible. She was groomed for him, specifically him, and taught how to meet his needs. She was taught well and was expected to show unending devotion and unrequited love. And taught to be pliant and submissive, pliant and submissive and have no desires of her own. On cue she acted timid. On cue, she hid her feelings, her feelings of awe. She was judged, judge by high standards, judged already, judged in this way since childhood. She would be judged in this way in the future.
Going back to her earliest memories, besides lullabies, there were ballads, tenes-tenes, which expressed her mother’s hope for her. These songs, sung to her when she was most impressionable, gave assurance that “if she stayed strong, her boat would never sink.” Expressions of emotions and values, those words established certain standards. These words told her to be strong and noble. She had to be strong and noble, humble and modest to the point of self-effacement. But Omar only had to be himself. And she had to please him, whereas he had to only please himself.
Before the families met, a bride price was paid and a wedding was set. Everyone expected it to be splendid. Everyone expected it to be the best wedding ever. And, as part of a payment for a young woman of rare beauty, and surely someone sought by many suitors, the groom’s uncle gave Mahmud a maligai, a miniature bamboo hut filled with pastries symbolizing Omar’s parents’ consent. A maligai was certainly necessary. Omar’s parents’ consent was necessary. And certain matters of business were necessary, such as a bride price, so these matters were negotiated and completed by relatives.
Standing erect together, the girl’s parents felt very proud. But Mahmud’s eyes gave him away. His face showed that he’d been exposed to sun and marine air and that he didn’t belong inside. In contrast, wedding guests bowed with slavish gestures.
The groom worshiped his bride passionately. It seemed like he always worshipped her. So contrary to tradition … he may have blown it, but contrary to tradition, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Maybe, because he couldn’t keep his eyes off her, he offended someone, maybe. Maybe he offended someone, and it was a reason for his troubles. Maybe it was because someone then sought to harm the couple. Surely, certain spirits were offended … offended by his happiness, and it was a reason for his troubles. Then after the ceremony, everyone (except for those who couldn’t get seats and form a semicircle around the table) sat and ate; and then, Mahmud and his family returned home accompanied by clanging gongs.
As they were leaving, Carlos presented Landing with several cuttings of the rare Phalaeanopsis Schilleriana, orchids which he cultivated himself. Much later, after the bride became a mother and trouble with her child began, she saw her dreams die in much the same way orchids die. Her husband’s expressionless face then convinced her that he had become a stranger.
For the wedding, Landing’s hair was trimmed into bangs and her eyebrows shaped into triangles. With her face covered with chalk except for a black rectangle traced over her forehead, she naturally felt anxious. Her white silk shirt, adorned with gold chains and pins, was very elegant, and it made her happy. Yes, she would make her husband happy, look after his children, and give them all a joyful life. Yet she felt anxious, and maybe it was a source of trouble. But since the wedding proceeded without anything extraordinary happening, such as her bright blue sarong untying itself, she became satisfied with the deal her uncle made
At the wedding, to ensure happiness and wellbeing, all traditions were strictly followed. During all of it, Landing concentrated on sorrow and pretended to love Omar, and only expressed her commitment and happiness afterwards. This was tradition … tradition like a shaman singling out a strand of her hair, blowing on it three times, and pouring salt water over her head … salt water, water from the sea poured over her head. This was also tradition. She winced as it trickled into her eyes and burned a little; but it was just part of it? While the shaman did his best … while he did his best to ward off sickness and misfortune, he reminded Landing of her obligation to honor the spirits of her ancestors. If she didn’t, he claimed he couldn’t be responsible, or could always say she never honored them enough. Shouldn’t she have worshiped Allah more and listened to panditas more? No, no because mischief had already occurred.
A very bright gal, with a genius for organization, Landing would’ve made a great Sultana and been a driving force to be reckoned with. She could’ve been a driving force behind her husband’s throne. And if she could’ve said what she thought … maybe if she had spoken her innermost thoughts, she would’ve told him that he couldn’t control her. She would’ve told him that she wouldn’t remain subservient. Maybe she should’ve warned him, and maybe it was their biggest problem. But she never opposed her husband. However, on the day she and Raise disappeared, he thought she had.
Now on to Raises’ dancing and how her mother accused herself and hated her husband. Remember broken promises, unrealized dreams, but Landing knew that there were many men worse than her husband, many who did more than run from their problems. Her mind rarely rested.
Raise and her mother, the latter out of desperation, withdrew more and more from the world. Greatly diminished, their world also became distorted and was by and large confined to one room. But the two didn’t have an intimate relationship. Raise maybe never had an intimate relationship with anyone, except her grandfather. Laughing when weeping was more appropriate, Raise was immune to her mother’s pain and suffering.
Landing had no choice. She wasn’t given a choice. She had to abide by her husband’s wishes. She never had a chance and was never given a choice, as day after day, month after month, year after year, through dry season and monsoon, beginning when her daughter became a young lady and ending soon after she took to walking on water, Landing had to remain vigilant. She didn’t have a choice but to remain vigilant. She had to make sure Raise didn’t hurt herself. She had to make sure Raise didn’t hurt anyone else.
Let Omar not forget them. Let him remember who beget whom and who came from Adam’s rib. Dodging reefs and risking doldrums, legend had his ancestors coming to Sulu by sailing seas in a vase. Yes, he came from royal stock. Then, let him sleep with concubines and take other wives, but never let him forget Landing. He couldn’t forget Landing. He couldn’t forget Raise. They both haunted him. And don’t think he ignored her … ignored them. On the contrary, he had them watched all the time.
But where was Raise? “On a typical tropical day, it was hot, and when it was raining, it was cold.” This was the extent of her awareness.
On the other hand, Landing certainly knew, as everyone did, that she needed to have half of her work finished by ten o’clock in the morning, for with clock-like regularity during monsoons rains came in the afternoon and the rest of the year afternoons were too hot to do anything. She remembered sharing an early meal, with cooking fires everywhere and faces slipping in and out of the glow of a fire. She remembered singing and being content whether they caught shark or not. She yearned for those days. Through doors and windows she watched the sea; and for much of the time this view was her only contact with the outside world.
What they experienced surely must be familiar to anyone associated with mental illness, but it was evident that Landing and Omar didn’t understand their predicament (nor did villagers, or shamans who claimed they did). They didn’t understand. No one did. The only thing they could attribute their predicament to was the work of something supernatural. So Omar and Landing didn’t blame each other. They blamed something supernatural.
Landing had no reason to think that her situation would change. She lost all hope of it changing. Not getting sleep … unable to sleep because of Raise … unable to sleep because worrying, she put up with Raise’s biting and hair pulling. For obvious reasons, she was unable to sleep and she fell ill. And why were they ostracized? And why was this onerous task only hers? Most people thought all the trouble began and ended with Landing and not with Omar, who as a man was only guilty of exercising his rights. It was obviously Landing’s fault. Indeed, she was so guilty that she was also accused of sexual immorality. Sexually immoral, she obviously fell into depravity and debauchery, which paradoxically were entitlements men enjoyed.
So they lived separately. Because of Raise, they lived separately: she and Raise in a house built over the shoal and he in his father’s palace; the separation was accepted. The separation was expected. Started, therefore, with a thief in the night; then ended with a wife who so obviously cuckolded her husband, you could point in either direction, follow public opinion or not; but you couldn’t deny that punishment was justified.
Landing couldn’t always be on her toes, and her daughter sometimes escaped. When Raise escaped, the barefoot young woman fortunately didn’t like to run through the village, but instead preferred to dance and sing on reefs. She danced out there and appeared, as people said, “to dance on water.”
There were two Bajau boys, playing in water on stilts, who witnessed everything. These two boys had different versions of what they saw, but it didn’t make any difference. Neighbors also watched from walkways that connected houses, walkways built on stilts with boards so haphazardly thrown across scaffolding that it was a wonder that children didn’t fall into the sea.
Let’s set the scene. These waters were shallow and filled with many coral reefs, waters as varicolored as any coral sea. Place lovely Raise on a reef that ran from Landing’s house and was exposed at low tide. This one had a smooth worn path on the top of it and, at this time of day, was slightly covered with water. Imagine a young lady out there, carelessly stepping, as she was apt to do whenever she escaped from her mother. Having lived all of her life around water, Raise had no fear of the sea.
When Landing realized her daughter had escaped, she saw a way out for herself. Then before she ran outside, she grabbed an armful of Raise’s nicest scarves, batik sarongs and silver ribbons and set them on fire with an oil lamp. She lit them with an oil lamp. And then along with her neighbors, she watched the flames grow into a conflagration and finally said goodbye to her prison.
Farewell to houses, balconies, open porches, walls and floors. Farewell to neighbors and labyrinths of walkways that connect them. Farewell to unhappiness and loneliness! Farewell to an absent husband and an extended family. Hello open waters.
Carlos noticed her sad passionate eyes and her thick black hair tied in a bun on top of her small head. He stared at her like an idiot and immediately declared himself passionately in love. Particularly in Spain, men were like that. Particularly in Spain men fell in love, passionately in love in a spit second. Spanish men were passionate. Maybe it would’ve been better had he given it a little more thought. Maybe he should’ve gotten to know her first. As Carlos explained, “I had to love you, but then I couldn’t help myself. You are beautiful.” How charming the Castilian was, so extremely French.
Throughout their marriage, Carlos increasingly worried over the meaning of marrying a prostitute. Though the church sanctioned it he increasingly worried about it. During the day he questioned why he married a whore. At night she satisfied him. Hot and cold, happy and sad, these feelings were never resolved. And concurrent with this were signs that she was less enamored with him than he was with her, something he hoped would change. And Sonja understood this and was resigned to it.
Notwithstanding Sonja’s unsavory past, her new husband offered her a second chance, and before long Carlos turned more and more of managing the hacienda over to her, turned it over to her and took it away from a baffled and defrauded overseer. Once again she became a hostess, but this time she enjoyed privileges, privileges of the upper class. Only she showed more boldness and less shyness and talked more freely than most women back in Spain.
Sonja now added to her list of duties step-mother, so that it was clear as a person, as a help-mate, a manager, and mother, Sonja played not only diverse but crucial roles. She became not only metaphorically but literally the best man of the hacienda. And this meant from day to day, in public or not, she refused to assume a subordinate role. She displayed her assertive nature.
And Carlos never objected. He never said anything and never felt she overstepped her bounds. She easily merged her interests with his, freeing him for other things. Indeed, it gave him more time for business in town.
Joy of success and marriage seemed to alter his perspective. Rewarded with opulence, the sultan gave him a carriage-and-four for his stables. This pleased him more than the initial land grant. And now that he had a carriage-and-four fit for a sultan, he could be seen and was seen in the best light. Sometimes, it seemed, or so he said, as if he were living someone else’s life. Sometimes he pinched himself. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. And he and Omar spent more and more time together.
But all the health and happiness he enjoyed was more tenuous than he ever imagined. How could he have known it? He didn’t a clue. He didn’t see it coming. He was never told about plots against him. And if he were told, would he have acknowledged them? Instead he preferred to bury his head in the sand. He was living a life he couldn’t have imagined. He had faith in a friend and didn’t realize that there wasn’t much his friend could do. He didn’t realize it. And he didn’t realize that clothed in white robes and crowned with white turbans, with their teeth cleaned, nails cut, eyebrows shaved, and genitals bound, juramentados were a real threat. He didn’t realize that they were a real threat to him. No one warned him. Having the ear of the sultan didn’t automatically give him a charm. Having the ear of the sultan didn’t mean he would be warned. With enough pearls to recompense most men for a lifetime, he rode around a carriage-and-four fit for sultan. He was enjoying his life and thought he lived a charmed life.
He was a good husband and a good father. He was good. He was good, but he was also jealous of his wife’s honor, which in spite of her past wasn’t tarnished. He was responsible for it. He was responsible for his wife’s honor yet he was jealous of it. There couldn’t have been any doubt that he loved her, just as he loved playing cards and playing his violin. Carlos was, when in love, loving, but as any human did, he had a secret side. Let’s leave his secret side because it should remain secret. Then for more than thirty years he survived in the Sulus; and during all that time he maintained friendships.
Throughout his life, Carlos was either filled with courage or naivete. This is mentioned in the context of a eulogy. For generations after his death he was remembered for what amounted to exaggerations. For generations his family cherished these anecdotes. His fighting an alligator was their favorite. What some equated with fighting asuangs, others properly dismissed as fiction. There were many stories about him.
Having built stone forts in Zamboanga and on Basilan, the Spanish government obviously felt threatened. They had reasons to feel threatened so after England’s and Holland’s stint in Sulu, Manila once again tried to subjugate the archipelago.
After several years of contact, Carlos confessed that he liked Father Bartholome. He liked him, enjoyed his company and felt stimulated each time he saw him. Carlos still felt a connection with the Catholic Church, and Father Bartholome became his connection. And he often wondered where he’d be had he joined the priesthood. Would he be anything like Father Bartholome? Had he entered an Order would he be like Father Bartholomene and make a great servant of God? Indeed, regardless how long he lived in the Sulus, Carlos could never have been or have the status of a datu, but had he joined the priesthood, he felt sure he could’ve made bishop.
Though neither one knew it at first, he and Father Bartholome also shared more than a passing interest in science. Both loved beauty and diversity found in nature. However, both were pulled away from this love by demands placed on them. They were brought together by shared interests and pulled away by demands placed on them.
Omar heard his friend talk about Father Bartholome, which piqued Omar’s curiosity. Carlos told him that Father Bartholome was a very unhappy Indio, who felt disenchanted with the archbishop. This was the same Father Bartholome he met in Zamboanga and arranged his marriage and baptized his sons. Carlos went on to explain (and this was crucial) that this priest could be trusted because he wasn’t a son of a Spaniard. And since he wasn’t a son of a Spaniard, Father Bartholome faced scorn back in Manila, scorn for “his lack of capacity” and for “dragging down his race” as well.
And much of what Carlos said about Father Bartholome rang true. Ominously, Omar never questioned why his friend wanted him to meet the priest, why he wanted them to know each other. Omar never questioned why he wanted them to meet. It should be noted that Father Bartholome described Carlos in a letter to the Archbishop as a “dull-looking man, with a vacant stare, produced (he supposed) by sin, or more specifically, by too free use of opium.”
Father Bartholome knew that peace in the Sulus couldn’t last forever. He knew it would surely dissolve; and without an end, hostilities would begin again. Caught in the middle of events, Carlos and Father Bartholome were thrown together by the same events, and they both felt obligated to serve the same king. Obligated to the same king, they shared similar interest. And after they began working together, they used a code to keep their activities secret.
Carlos’ notes to Father Bartholome contained detailed descriptions and vast lists of plants, plants divided into categories based on habitat, such as rice, vegetables, weeds, sampaguita, jade vine, boat lily, etc. Often they were arranged in a specific order to convey a message, other times not.
For many years, when Carlos wanted to quickly survey the port and village, he climbed a nearby volcano. Climbing up a steep slope, he knew the trail well and knew how to reach the top in the shortest amount of time. Then puffing up it would be one breathless spy. Coming out from under a canopy of trees, while stepping over roots, he’d follow a deer path a little farther and reach then a cairn that marked the top. From there he could survey the entire port.
Forgetting risks, here Carlos felt relatively safe. But as he gained more confidence, lo and behold stakes became still higher. Then once again, Carlos rose to the occasion. Then time and time again, he misused his position as a trustworthy friend. Then, again, up went the ante. With the same dedication and attention to detail, he served two masters. In the beginning, the information he gave was chiefly geographical.
With a perfect view; his spy glass reduced the view from the top to a magnified circle, which on that day brought into focus, as Brother Bartholome predicted, what became a frequently occurrence. Dutch? A lone schooner. Dutch? A lone schooner, it wasn’t flying a flag. No, British! So once again confirmation of what the governor general most feared.
The Spanish regime recognized how serious the situation was and made every effort to strengthen its fleet. Without Father Bartholome’s information and assessment, this effort wouldn’t have been made. And because the relationship they established, Farther Bartholome felt he could trust Carlos. However, from the beginning, Carlos shrank from giving personal information about Omar. But events that day fell into a different category.
Sitting under the sultan’s own manual punkah and sipping whiskey water, Sir George Porter was something to behold. Boldly dealing in fabrics, silk and gorgram, paper, paper fans, silk stockings and ivory, and bragging about the village of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles, and his queen, Her Royal Highness Victoria, he went on and on with wondrous detail. He seemed like he would never stop. He talked about Raffles spending his last pound on a swamp, a swamp where he envisioned a splendid city. “Along the river, the Esplanade was a better place to build a house than over a swamp, or living in roomah rackits, as somebody called rickety tenements, or raft houses, and keeping the rift-raft away from the Polo Club. Streets of Singapore are lighted; for the first time in Asia, there are a few lamps, with a single glass in front, so this light is of little use. And Mr. Purvis’ godown got broken into!” Sir George noted every detail. He noted every detail and saw the bright side of the worse storms. Was he exaggerating? Yes, a little bit. Wherever he landed….in Jolo, Bencoolen, Calcutta, or Malacca….he spread the gospel of the Tiger Club, Flint Street and Battery Road, of gambling and Freemasonry, while exaggerating a little bit. Taking there his station under the sultan’s punkah, he obviously didn’t fear Spain.
Bordering on the sublime, the exotic exposure of white skin displayed by a Victorian-gowned pair astonished everyone. The display tantalized men who literally believed in a paradise filled with beautiful damsels. So close and within easy reach, the Houris from the Koran “with large dark eyes, like pearls hidden in their shells,” came alive. Their imagination supplied the rest. They engaged in holy wars in order to obtain such a dream, but here was something better than dying a martyr’s death. And these virgins arrived aboard a British schooner.
Exposed to every licentious eye, the folds of their snowy, white bosoms were held by stays cut low and round. It was more appropriate for evening than morning; but being half way around the world from home and dashers of England’s (to use a haughty word) haut monde, the two women didn’t have to fear criticism. That was, assuming they never heard or understood native jeers, “Whores! Whores!” These jeers, so intensely coarse, were alternated with words of adoration and awe. So strikingly incongruent, it flattered the two. They had no idea they were owed an apology.
For weeks, they were cooped up in stuffy quarters. Since they were the only two women on board, Sir George limited their movement. He limited their movements because he knew Amelia reveled in attention, while her maid only felt safe in their cabin. Amelia’s actions often bewildered her servant. However, differences between them fluctuated from day to day. They played this game where either one could find the slightest excuse for a headache or, on a whim, wear rouge. But it was Amelia who pushed up her breast. It was Amelia who had specially built stays to push up her breast.
Native outriggers with green, yellow, and red striped sails circled the schooner. From everywhere came sons of Sulu. For a few silver coins even the most civilized forgot restraint. To get a glimpse of Amelia men forgot restraint, forgot themselves, made fool of themselves, forgot themselves and acted like fools. Amelia pandered them and caused pandemonium by throwing Mexican silver dollars overboard. She appeased begging and prompted a brawl, as several men dove for a single coin. Each time a diver surfaced with one of her coins, Amelia clapped, laughed and clapped, and one didn’t know if she was laughing at them or laughed because they made her happy. She enjoyed the show and expressed her delight by clapping, muffled by tanned leather gloves. Some part of her yearned for this, because her high spirited nature matched her wildest dreams.
While she waited for her bay Sugar to be lowered into an open boat, Amelia amused herself at the expense of a crowd. As she stood there, the expanse of her vision was filled with smiling, gawking people. They surged forward and followed her by the hundreds, old and young by generations. And as the pace of the day quickened, her agitation grew; her temper shortened. All day long she and her maid continued to provoke susceptibilities. Those who were too old to play as spectators criticized the performers.
Even before leaving England, Amelia knew of Moro fire, and the corsairs of the East. She, however, never intended to go to the Sulus, nor thought that she would be welcomed with such unabashed enthusiasm. Once a true Christian, she wanted to serve God. She first traveled to China to place a Testament into as many worthy hands as possible. But once in China, journeying over potholes and ruts, she never felt at ease with what she was doing. She never felt at ease with what she was doing or what she saw. And causes of shock rested in her soul. Then as she got use to the shocking, the shocking wretchedness (as one can get used to anything), she became lonely. Generally, compared to England, China was cold. It was a cold country. To her China was a cold country. To her, it was also twisted and grotesque; and straining sinews of Chinese cities gave little cause for rejoicing. It was cold.
And China tested her faith. Throughout the Middle Kingdom, along unevenly paved streets, here and there, she ran across gambling houses and opium dens. But there was a greater test of faith. No one pretended that preaching the gospel where it was forbidden was safe. Missionaries in China risked their lives. In some places, their mere presence disturbed the equilibrium of wind and water and brought disaster to a community. From altars everywhere rose smoke from incense. These early missionaries lived with dangers and inconvenience to which superstition of their neighbors subjected them.
To Amelia, China was incomprehensible, cold and incomprehensible. And spreading the light of the Gospel in a cold and dark place seemed impossible to her. Though often gentle and patient, even veterans of the mission field couldn’t mask their disappointment. Trials marked their faces. They were often faced with darkness in a cold country, and so thick and black it was that they couldn’t enjoy sunshine. No one failed to be awed by the fact that China had a population of 400,000,000 then. And for a population that huge, there were only a half dozen missionaries. And the idea of this contributed to Amelia’s feelings of inadequacy. So she quickly realized that she didn’t belong in mission work, a calling in China marked by persecution, bloodshed, and martyrdom. Terrified by customs, by manners, by barriers she faced, she decided she would rather live with bandits and buccaneers than continue her work.
So she garnered all her courage and strength, and gathered all her things (a few comforts from her homeland that all missionaries took with them), and fled by mule cart, wheelbarrow, sedan chair, etc to Guangzhou and Canton. By then streets swarming with people exhausted her. She was stared at, hooted at, grinned at by coolies and rickshaw pullers, shaggy dogs, and dirty children. She fled dead cats, decayed fish, and rotten cabbage. And there were always beggars laying in wait for her. And her presence created a circus. She lived in a fish bowl. She hated living in a fish bowl. She was worshipped; she was mauled. She hated it. But she soon ran into other foreigners and felt relieved.
Then bumping into an English sea captain saved her life. A sea captain saved her life, a man who chose the sea over a wife and who preferred wicked and abandoned women. The young missionary naturally smote him. He was smitten by her. Then giving her tobacco for which she was overjoyed, he fixed his affections on her. This led to a free berth on a ship as comfortable and well appointed as any boat in the east.
Arrangements Sir George thus made with Amelia were bold. It was out of character for him. He normally shied away from religious women. He preferred wicked and abandoned women. He amazed himself and felt amazed that Amelia also seemed attracted to him. There soon came a rush of feelings that resulted in a partnership. It left him not so much in love as surprised. He hadn’t expected to find a soul mate. And under her corset, brickramming and bone stiffening that generally came with tight lacing, he found a soft and yielding waist. Entered then into his life a waist as nature intended. Waists he knew before were as hard as a whalebone. But here was a woman who not only looked like she came out of a fashion book but was not as you would expected, not one of those dear kind silly thoughtless loving lovely fools. Therefore she was worthy of his attention. And he was willing to give her anything; but she never appreciated him enough. Sometimes he complained; other times he exploded with rage.
Her mass of hair, her tiny waist, and her high heels, etc., soon became part of his life. Stays that most women wore and dresses with laces in the back gave him fits and dispelled a laughable notion that he had nimble fingers. He often gave up. He gave up in order to survive and hired a lady’s maid from Singapore. Here was someone to keep Amelia company. She quickly became part of the family, one big happy family.
Sir George honored Amelia and pledged his fidelity; but she was realistic and believed that fidelity among married sailors was impossible. Rather than his heart, she asked for a share of his business. As far as Sir George was concern, while at sea (and as far from home as possible) he could pledge anything and not lose a thing.
Amelia was proud of Sir George and glad she never felt that he brought her on board merely for his amusement. She was useful, useful to him. She made sure she was useful. She had an accurate picture of colonial problems. She believed that it was Britain’s duty to possess colonies and to see that the tropics, ruled by whites, were given the best possible government. Anthropological and ethnological facts interested her. She knew how to read and write and loved to teach. Practically speaking, she kept a diary, listened well, and preceded to write about what she saw and heard. Few details escaped her. At the same time, her appearance was beguiling. As for Sir George, he fully intended to one day take her back to England and make her his lawful wife.
Once away from Jolo, she had an opportunity to write an explanation why she shed so many tears over the loss of her horse. Truthfully, a replacement the sultan gave her didn’t help. Her grief was still intense, very intense. In her diary she also wrote about her grief, grief for a horse. She also wrote “pantaloons, waistcoats, jackets, sashes and turbans men of Jolo wore …. gaudy, showy, embroidered, and otherwise ornamented …skin-tight below the knees, and loose above.” Somehow her impressions reached London.
With Spanish blood flowing through his veins, Carlos found it impossible to remain impartial. There was no accord between passions he felt for his country and obligations he shared with Omar. It was a major conflict. It was a conflict that often haunted him. It did increasingly so as the first embassies arrived from Singapore. Perhaps, naively he thought he could serve two masters.
Carlos thought he needed to warn Manila (through Father Bartholome) about the coziness that existed between the British sea captain and the sultan. The relationship between the two seemed stronger than Carlos ever thought possible. This relationship was built on commerce. It was built on an exchange of firearms for sea slugs, bird’s nest, and mother of pearl. Carlos saw this buildup of arms, and it particularly disturbed him.
Amelia knew Sugar needed exercise. The horse was coped up too long. Sugar needed exercise and Amelia needed fresh air. Since there was time enough to explore the island, she thought it would be nice to go for a ride. In front of her stretched the same scene Carlos saw from on top of the volcano. There was the same sea with extensive reefs and the same village full of excited activity. Except for volcanoes and a few hills, the island was only a few feet above sea level. So in her mind, Amelia was back in Singapore and not so much because of business. No one saw her thoughts shift back and forth … back and forth, to and from Jolo and Singapore. Jolo and Singapore were similar in many ways. Both were islands, with mangrove, pasture, and gardens. Only Jolo was busier than Singapore. Only in Singapore she liked to ride early mornings and race with Sir George.
Six good men and strong Manila hemp, treaded through large blocks, lowered Sugar over the side. As they lowered the horse, Amelia gazed in her lover’s direction and said to herself, “It won’t take more than a day, and we’ll see how profitable a connection we can make. I’ll only go for a short ride. A short ride and maybe I’ll meet a compatible soul. Ah, the promise of wind in my hair and fresh water from a spring.” She watched and, as her spirited animal fought a hoisting sling, perhaps she recognized her own high-spirited nature. Yes, she was high-spirited … Sir George called her spunky … and she wanted to leave an imprint on everything she touched. She was still the same woman who gave up her native England and suffered from having been cooped up too long. Like Sugar she had been cooped up too long.
After what for the horse was a short distance, she followed for a change a carriage lane, “ascending to the heavens” until she and Sugar came upon a huge house built of hewn stone. Imagine her surprise: a huge house built of hewn stone. At first glance an abstraction caught perhaps in a painting she saw of Spain. She expected something else. She expected another house of bamboo and nipa palm. And then not more than a few yards in front of her, suddenly as if by enchantment, a woman stepped into the lane. Each was startled and then fascinated. That was how Amelia and Sonja met.
So captivated by each other that they didn’t utter a word. Then Sonja asked in her best English, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” She waited; but Amelia out waited her. Amelia didn’t say anything. And Sonja’s surprise was impossible to describe, impossible, but yet not entirely surprising. Not since Manila had she seen a European woman. Her islands had such a bad reputation that European women didn’t go there. Her islands had such a reputation that no civilized woman willingly exposed herself to thousands of dangers they thought were there.
And Sonja remembered lamplight shame she endured in Manila. For that reason, Sonja normally wouldn’t approach a woman like Amelia. But the tables were now turned. Sonja’s status had changed. She had changed. She no longer endured shame. Sometimes she felt different, and other times she didn’t. Most of the time she felt different and a great deal older. Regardless how she felt, custom dictated that she show hospitality to strangers.
When Amelia got off Sugar, she detected a change in Sonja’s demeanor. Here perhaps was a compatible soul, she thought. Amelia apologized for her small house and said that she didn’t know when her husband would be back. Then she led Amelia up the lane to her home.
To thus be exposed, beginning with servants, hospitality, and food, Amelia began to feel rather foolish. An abundance of household linen (perhaps German), fine Spanish silver, and British dishes … plates, cups, forks, spoons, saltshakers, flagons, all this glassware was apparently used as everyday table service and all of it suggested a luxurious lifestyle, a lifestyle that boggled the English woman’s mind. She later wrote, “I was surprised to see an elegance I didn’t expect to find on a small island so far away from Europe.” Her astonishment increased as she was shown through Sonja’s home and met two stepsons, who looked more Castilian than Asian.
It would be an unforgettable day. It would be an unforgettable day full of surprises and lessons, excuses and accusations. The friendliness of people was unforgettable. Sonja’s hospitality was unforgettable. Amelia enjoyed her ride. It was good to get some air. Both horse and woman needed fresh air and no excuse to run and race. As an oddity herself in a remote part of Asia, Amelia never expected to find a Spanish hacienda. Yes, the day was full of surprises. She hadn’t expected to find a compatible soul. She looked for one but hadn’t expected to find one. She wasn’t prepared for huge crowds either, though she should’ve been prepared after he experience in China. As a white woman, she stood out, and she should’ve anticipated crowds of people. There might’ve been a different outcome had there been a way to hold back curious crowds.
Amelia missed the spaciousness of the Esplanade of Singapore with its avenue of trees. Sugar needed to run. She was cooped up too long and needed to run. Had Amelia been riding in a carriage maybe there wouldn’t have been a tragedy.
Crowds of children running to catch another glimpse of her or touch her skin, innumerable children, it was China all over again. There she was, “a delicate, strange lovely thing,” trapped before she could turn her horse around, surrounded by smiling and good humored faces.
In character, full of romantic notions, but honestly, in essence, lost and afraid, she ended up feeling betrayed. She ended up thinking that her female form and fair features betrayed her. Maybe, had she been stronger, and if children hadn’t ventured so close. Heavens! No excuses! Heavens! Excuses! And, with hideous screams, a skittish animal cavorted; and horse or crowd trampled to death a child. The death of a child! How tragic!
Shock reverberated throughout the town. Shock reverberated throughout the island. “Farewell!” and again farewell Sugar; and yet again, when Sir. George fired a shot that put an end to Amelia’s horse. “Farewell!” Farewell. Maybe it explained why Amelia sobbed so much.
And Carlos’ cryptographic message to Father Bartholome contained a list of flowers found in England and Singapore.
Now there came a point when Omar began asking his friend about Christianity. He wanted to know about Christianity. And he insisted on straightforward answers. He sought answers though his own religion provided them. Then he asked himself which was the true religion. Omar always suspected that his brothers were railroaded into accepting Spain’s religion, so he wanted to know for himself what was so attractive. He wanted to know for himself, and it was why he had Carlos explain Christian doctrine as it was commonly but often erroneously taught. After Sonja came into his life, Carlos began practicing catechism, as it was practiced around the world. After he met Father Bartholome he began practicing catechism. And with the loss of Landing and Raise (his love for them never died), Omar was thrown off balance and began looking for something to console him.
A very obscure path to Christianity’s door, but once opened there was a straight path through a trackless forest. The religion also promised a refuge. And because of his status, Omar had more freedom than most Moros. Yet listening to Carlos ultimately placed him in great peril.
There were aspects of Christianity Carlos knew nothing about. So he couldn’t answer all of his friend’s questions: such as why repentance and participating in the Eucharist required a priest. Omar looked for answers that only could be found in seminaries of Manila.
But don’t think Carlos was overjoyed about his close friend going to Manila. He knew there would be dangers involved and cautioned his friend. Imagine his agitation, his worry and his torment. Imagine what it felt like … what it felt like if something were to happen to Omar in Manila. What it felt like as a trap was set. Imagine guilt. Imagine what it felt like. In this case, it hurt more because it involved a close friend.
Meanwhile, Omar after a long delay was finally temporarily installed in a house in Intramuros. Except for Carlos’ oldest son and a few bodyguards, Omar foolishly left behind his retinue. He believed in Carlos, and when Carlos sent his oldest son to be with him in Manila, it reinforced his trust. His faith in his friend was then complete. He was taught that there was nothing worse than betrayal and this explained Omar’s naivete. It seemed to him crucial to see what was behind Christianity and if he could find from the church what he was looking for.
Omar kept his motives to himself. Wholeheartedly and with pomp and honor due a prince, he was publicly received in the hall of the Audiencia. Wholeheartedly, after showered with presents, which included chains of gold, fine garments, precious gems, and gold canes, steps were taken for his public conversion. Nevertheless, the governor general seemed very anxious. He seemed anxious for Omar’s conversion while entertained doubts about Omar’s sincerity. He fretted and debated with himself over this and finally decided that Omar was worth more in prison than running around free. Omar was a prize catch, a prize catch he hadn’t expected and realized that he was worth more in prison than running around free. He thought that he could probably exchange Omar for at least five hundred Christian slaves.
The charges were simply absurd but were accepted as fact by the Archbishop. Incarcerated in Fort Santiago, Omar expected no clemency. He realized he made a mistake and expected no clemency. He realized he made a mistake when he found himself incarcerated in Fort Santiago. The charges were absurd. They were trumped up, but he couldn’t refute them. Circumstantial, they said he refused to pray in a Christian form and only twice attended Mass. Then no one was surprised that he still prayed three times a day to Allah. How could he be a Christian and pray to Allah? Less circumstantial, but no less damning, they found in his home more Muslim books than Christian ones. Yet he read Pope Paul III’s Bull, altitudo divini consilii (1537), that declared that a man’s legitimate wife was his first one, which probably confused and saddened him. Whether or not he accepted a literal interpretation of the Holy See’s dictum that “the right of choice only applied when some one’s first wife disappeared or refused baptism” was never known.
Omar’s imprisonment was humiliating. It was, therefore, not surprising that during this period the Sulus saw a great increase in revengeful behavior.
Hearing “Los Juramentados!” naturally brought fear and thoughts of death. Shouting in Arabic, “La ilaha il-la’ l-lahu!” each juramentado hoped to kill at least one Christian before he found a martyr’s death.
The nation Sooloo, home of the makdumin (makdum Arabic singular for Muslim traders) before the age of pirates, even before the Islamic era, began in earnest some six centuries ago. More than three hundred years before Magellan, songs and poetry… epics of Sooloo…told of greatness. This was before the Spanish came and before Sufi wanderers! Were the first seeds sown in the deserts of Arabia and carried eastward by winds? What did the Moros hear? What did the Spaniards want? And, through centuries, who kept score? We know what each side said. We know that each side said the other side was evil and false. To a fault, they were equally right and wrong. It was a classic example of intolerance. That you should burn and destroy Christian homes was ironically similar to a doctrine that said Christians alone were good.
From both places Sonja shared faults of both Christians and Muslims. This she never openly acknowledged, but while living in Jolo, she gave herself over to the Moro cause. She actually reached the conclusion that Jesus Christ called by Moros Isa was not the Son of God, but none the less was great and good. She changed by the time she reached Jolo. By the time she landed in Jolo, she was exhausted by losses and entered exile chained to circumstances. Without her new family and a connection with the Sulu Sultanate, she would’ve been totally lost.
When the island slept, sounds carried great distances. They carried a great distance, so they had to be muffled by stealth. At that hour, Carlos often tried to sneak out of bed; but his movements almost always woke the woman next to him.
As a rule, he waited until he thought Sonja was asleep. He knew imprudence could ruin them. As a precaution, he always used sympathetic inks and paper, which over time didn’t leave legible traces. He always used sympathetic inks and paper when he communicated with Father Bartholome. Over time he and the priest established a protocol for critical information, a protocol along with their cryptography of flowers and plants.
Father Bartholome persuaded him to risk everything. Devoted to his family, adopted by Omar, for him to compromise may have seemed stupid. But as a royalist at heart, he felt he owed it to his king. In darkness, he emerged no better than an insignificant rake. Corrupted, he never suspected that his own wife represented a major risk. Having said this, his spying amounted to no more than one turn of a pitchfork in an anthill. Did he then, as his sons argued, simply lose his bearings? Was he innocent of out right treason and made up most information he sent to Manila?
From bed Sonja watched her husband pace. Her suspicions were confirmed when she learned that her husband somehow persuaded Omar to go to Manila. She thought Omar faced certain death in Manila and knew what she had to do. Still she sobbed and said half to herself and half to him, “Tell me it’s not true.”
With almost a whisper and trembling, she asked, “Carlos, what are we going to do?”
Carlos didn’t hear her or ignored her. He said to himself, “Whether she knows or finds out later, it doesn’t matter.” It didn’t matter. He knew he was on an impossible road.
He thought a great deal about death and made it clear what he wanted written on his tombstone: “Aqui se acaba el gozo de los injustos (here ends pleasure of the unjust).” In the end, he believed that he would survive and that purgatory for him would be short. Glad was he to hear his wife ask mercy for him. She asked him for mercy, demonstrating her love by asking it. She demonstrated her love in many ways.
Turning to her, he said, “You don’t really know me. You can’t know me, really know me. I’m from Castile, a hilly country with inclement weather and harsh terrain. It is a hilly country and a land of sheep. It’s a place that someone from the tropics might mistake for a desert. A shepherd I am, and from pirate stock too, good stock, a warrior, and a herdsman, who will guard his territory and fight his neighbors over sheep and goats. Ask, therefore, who I am and learn about evil’s eye, story of Cain and Able, and discover why I’m a conquistador. I am a conquistador ”
“But Sonja don’t be fooled. You could easily be fooled but don’t be. Omar and I are the same. We are the same, driven by the same forces. We’re both creatures of passion and action. We’re driven by the same passions. He knows risks. We’ve faced risks. We’ve faced risks together and (trust me) regardless what happens we know we’re headed to a far happier place. Now, my dear, find your own way and, in spite of not having testicles, cultivate courage and the strength to carry on.”
But Sonja needed no urging. By then she had recovered from the shock of finding herself married to a traitor. Standing next to him, she felt like stabbing him. She felt like stabbing him and answered him by saying, “Excuse me.” And Carlos, as he kissed her forehead, said, “Sonja, when I’m gone watch over our sons, and cry not for me, cry not for I’m not looking forward to heaven.”
Sonja’s act of defiance gave her the same authority her husband had before his disgrace and provided her the sultan’s protection. The sultan protected her in spite of her husband’s betrayal. A proud and respected convert, she remained a Moslem crusader. She remained a Moslem crusader long after her husband’s death. From the verandah of her hilltop home to her dealings in town, she displayed a sense of urgency. She felt urgency, though she suffered greatly.
Into the harbor sailed a schooner carrying an anxious son. Not until he saw his father and delivered the news could he relax and sleep again. This marked the end of an extremely long journey for him.
During what should’ve been a happy reunion, in the safety of the big house, Carlos’ namesake spoke of Omar’s fate. Looking out from a huge hacienda, with a spectacular view of the tiny white beach reflecting harsh sunlight, he saw how his news upset everyone. His story included his trying to break into Fort Santiago, by saying that he was one of Omar’s sons.
Sonja sat through her stepson’s story, and woe, then rose and said, “Excuse me, I have a headache.” The day she feared came. The day she most feared came. The hour she knew would come arrived. It arrived, and destiny left nothing to chance.
It was not so much her husband’s betrayal as a accumulation of anger that drove her. To clarify her feelings even more, by then, surreptitiously she embraced jihad. But Sonja also felt great sorrow. From her days in Manila, she knew Fort Santiago and a killing field known as the Luneta.
Then without undue haste, she excused herself. She excused her and announced that she was going to town to comfort women related to Omar. She knew all the women related to Omar. But straight to a mosque she ran, while passing on the word about Omar and pleading for calm. She feared the worse. She feared the worse and knew what would follow. She tried to stop the momentum. Once she set it motion, she tried to stop it.
But a pandita got in her way. He got in her way, and to her surprise accused her husband. He was right to accuse him but wasn’t certain. He wasn’t certain but had to accuse someone. He pointed a finger at Sonja, and her defense of Carlos simply was weak. Before she said anything, she saw her stepson Jaime standing near the rear of the room. A lack of an expression on the young man’s face said that he disapproved. He disapproved of her, which was evident.
In vain, Sonja looked for sympathy. Horrified, Jaime turned and ran from the mosque. In vain, he searched for an explanation that was not there.
Then the Imam asked Sonja directly, “O daughter, why are you here?” Rebuked, she then left. Rebuked, she didn’t know what direction to take.
Almost immediately, permission was granted for a youth to become a juramentado. Banded together for Holy war, candidates were given instructions and organized by the Imam. Immediately, prayers were offered. Everyone prayed. Each candidate placed his hand on the Koran and repeated: “Jumanji kami hatunam ing karmi ini magsabil karna sing tuhan.” (“We covenant with God that we will wage this holy war, for it is of God.)
The chosen one’s body was carefully washed; his teeth were cleaned and nails were trimmed. He listened while the Imam preached, “This is a warrior of Allah, and he must now muster valor and devotion and take an oath in preparation for the road to Paradise.” The juramentado responded to the Imam and frenzied religious excitement and gripped his polished weapon, as if he might turn it on himself, the only alternative left to him for failure. His family watched and rejoiced in sadness. They rejoiced in sadness, knowing that he’d soon be waiting for them in Paradise.
With his genitals bound tightly with cords, the juramentado crept into an unfamiliar house. With his kris unsheathe, he ran from room to room, shouting, “La ilahi il-la’l-lahu.” “There is no God but Allah.”
“Oh yes, yes, yes, come on bastard.” was a challenge from Carlos.
Immediately, within easy reach, the juramentado charged the Castilian. Then within seconds after hearing yelling, Sonja came out of darkness and fired point blank and the mortified rendered thanks to God that the ball and wadding went through the young man’s heart. That day a jaramentado ascended into paradise alone. Thanks then to Sonja the family was able to escape to a schooner, bound for safety.
Sonja placed Carlos on a schooner while she sought sanctuary in the sultan’s palace. It was the hardest thing she ever had to do, but she knew she couldn’t return to Manila. She didn’t have a choice. Carlos couldn’t remain in Jolo, and she couldn’t return to Manila. And Carlos felt drawn to Manila because of Omar situation. He felt guilty and felt drawn to Manila because of it. And Sonja sought sanctuary in the sultan’s palace knowing that she wouldn’t be turned away.
This family, then separated from each other and from their beloved hacienda, was pulled in two directions. They suffered. They were torn apart, and wounds were opened that no one foresaw. Unfortunately, in Jolo, the name Martinez became associated with traitor and the next Spanish expedition.
Jaime never understood what happened. He never understood why his family was torn apart. He didn’t have all the facts so didn’t understand. He saw what happened to Jolo and what happened to his family and saw how his family’s fate and the town’s fate were intertwined. He heard stories but no one put it together for him. So he lived with questions unanswered and through extended periods of violence … violence and separation. He saw Spanish men level Jolo more than once and then rebuild it more than once. They rebuilt it and tried to turn it into a Spanish town. They widened streets, filled in the shoal, and created a fort and a plaza. By the time they finished, if he were able to return Jaime wouldn’t recognize the place. He often wondered if the hacienda survived. He also wondered what happened to his stepmother.
Jaime looked to B. D. Bartholome for guidance. Though he didn’t know about their spying, he knew the priest and his father were friends. Jaime had a great deal to overcome. Living in Manila, he overcame suspicions that came from being from Sooloo. It helped that he was half-Spanish. It didn’t hurt that he loved the queen and had clearly inherited his father’s love for her. And he and Father Bartholome went to great lengths to prove their loyalty.
Very few indeed, and possibly none of the priests in Mindanao were in any specific danger. Compared to other ecclesiastics, they were considered less of a threat. They were considered less of a threat because they were considered less Spanish. Besides they were needed. They were needed because strengthening the church was essential.
A papal delegation to the Spanish crown, the Patronato Real, presented a one-sided view of the Philippines. To them these islands were essentially a mission; and strengthening the church was essential because any threat to the faith represented a threat to Spanish authority. Political developments in Spain solidified this mentality. Opposition to Queen Isabela at home fueled fears in Manila.
While attending San Carlos Seminary in Manila, Jaime established himself as a brilliant student and a devoted member of the Catholic faith. He went on to obtain his ordination and his conquio or licenses to hear confessions. Still he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a priest. He agonized over it. He prayed and agonized over it. No one agonized over it more deeply or more frequently than he did. He couldn’t forget his past. He wondered what happened to the family’s home and his stepmother.
Among Jaime’s many memories of home, there was one he would never forget. A memory he never forgot. Often on moonlit nights, when there was no other sound but quiet waves, borne on wind, he walked along the bay alone and heard distant songs. Painfully these simple lyrics brought it all home.
Changing, shifting winds
Do not forget me.
A smooth sea.
Sailing the Sulu Sea
Peaceful and perfect.
Now comes the southwest monsoon.
It is a good wind.
You blow the waves….and my heart, into a
With unleashed passions, Jaime lost sight of God. While sometimes in a more traditional sense he followed rituals of the church and sometimes regained what he lost, ore often though wind songs nailed him to a cross he bore.
For many years, he fought this. For many years it was hard, and he fought this. Especially when he was alone at night, when he walked alone at night along the bay, he heard wind songs … wind songs that beckoned him. He often caught himself dreaming of Jolo and heard wind songs that beckoned him. He dreamed of Jolo and felt a connection that went beyond what you would’ve expected. He felt a connection before he moved to Zamboanga. He always felt a connection but he couldn’t go back to Jolo because of who he was … because his name was Martinez. To get as close as he could to where he couldn’t go he moved to Zamboanga. And the move corresponded with his fall from grace, and in consultation with B. D. Bartholome he decided to leave the priesthood. They came to the same conclusion and decided that Jamie could best serve God through matrimony.
Jamie named his first son after his father; and this child was given a double surname, that of his father and his mother, with the latter coming last. One must know the custom of naming a child, and know that instead of Narrasid, he carried on the lineage of the Martinez clan. And through long narrative ballads, Carlos Martinez Narrasid never let the story and tragedy of his Spanish grandparents die.
Bonifacio’s call to arms shook Manila, but few people in Zamboanga paid attention to it. Thus Spanish officers in the fort were caught off guard by a rash of killings. The uprising that followed forever disrupted the old regime.
Nevertheless, we see Carlos Martinez Narrasid entering Ateneo, a Jesuit college in Manila. (Remember his father attended San Carlos Seminary, not Ateneo.) Carlos Martinez Narrasid was not only accepted into the college but his individual conduct was acceptable. Acceptable meant that he dressed in the Spanish tradition, spoke Spanish and ate Spanish food, as did Spanish families throughout the colony. After such scrutiny, which according to liberal thinking bordered on degradation, he stayed away from set courses, courses that emphasized a glorious Hispanic tradition. This meant that he didn’t take courses like “Discovery and Civilization of the Philippines,” “The Conquest of Granada,” “The Glories of the Spanish Main,” and “The Crusades.” Instead he read (and endlessly discussed) each issue of “La Salidaridad,” a journal edited in Spain by a handful of subversives. Spanish friars published their own quarterly that opposed these radical views. This was a time when the masses supposedly paid no heed to politics. This was a time when the masses were supposedly incapacitated by ignorance and laziness, and were supposedly a primitive, spoiled, happy lot. They were supposedly spoiled and happy and indolent do to a cheap and easy lifestyle that came from living in the tropics.
Until they were shocked by violence, friars held onto their notions. And oh, what a hero Rizal was! Martyred! If he hadn’t been innocent, he couldn’t have been martyred. Happily for the insurrection, he sacrificed his life and died as only Rizal could. Guiltless and fearlessly facing a firing squad, the hero dressed in a black European suit refused a blindfold. What person in the colony, on either side, could have remained untouched by the martyrdom of Rizal? It was a beautiful day. He wouldn’t kneel. It was a beautiful day and he wouldn’t kneel and refused a blindfold. The Remingtons of the 70th shot him as a traitor. And that was when young Carlos Martinez Narrasid became a Freemason.
How ennobling it was to belong to a lodge when the government ordered the arrest of all its members. How ennobling it was to be a Mason when the government ordered the arrest of all Masons. According to police reports and local intelligence, there existed a vast Masonic network. Here, there, and everywhere, there were cells and committees. And Masons were part of a secret lodge. And the lodge was a clever and shrewd guise for conspiring against the regime! So the government ordered the arrest of all Masons. But just as Bonifacio used Masonry, he also quietly but tirelessly worked the masses.
The masses, whose huts didn’t seem worth searching and who could scarcely write their names, joined the Katipunan. Though it may seem strange, it took the government more than four years to discover Bonifacio’s activities and the Katipunan. Personal interest and that only, at first, kept Carlos safely in the confines of Ateneo. But after Rizal’s execution, he joined the Masons and quickly gained prominence in the shadowy world of the insurrection, first against Spain and then America.
With all of their might, they fought in the chivalrous tradition of ancient times. Without fear and without reproach, they were called upon to rise above general disorder and passion. It gave young men such as Carlos a chance to become a hero. It couldn’t have come at a better time for him.
Early on Americans seemed like they would help Filipinos regain their inalienable rights. Everyone thought Mr. Aguinaldo had a solid agreement with the Yanks and thousands in each province took on Spanish forces. Carlos was among them, but unfortunately the siege of Manila stalled because Aguinaldo refused to assume command. This opened the door for General Merritts.
Feeling a sense of duty, Carlos set aside his studies. He boarded a ferry for the port of Cavite, where wrecks of the Spanish fleet were objects of great interest. (One of them still bore on a strip of canvas with the legible words “Remember the ‘Maine!'”) Here Admiral Dewey was handed keys to an empire. Here he found a fleet he was ordered to remove.
Dewey was loved by Americans without exception and saluted with hallelujahs and a few words, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “My Country, ’tis of Thee.” There soon appeared Dewey cigars, Deweyville, Deweyburg, and Deweytown. There was a flood of baby boys named Dewey. Girls sang of him, ladies admired him, and widows loved him. And from a ferry, Carlos saw this extraordinary man. He was sitting under an awning on the quarterdeck of his command ship, a revenue cutter. “He was the man in white sitting alone on the McCulloch!”
Finally a word about the Spanish surrender of Manila and how Americans forced them to surrender without firing a shot. Only Americans benefited from a pre-arranged deal. It all went as planned. Dewey gave a signal; the governor general then hoisted a white flag, and American troops marched into Manila before Filipinos could. All of which explained why Carlos exploded when he heard about it.
Like him, many Filipinos felt America’s behavior called for hostilities. However, General Aguinaldo, who enjoyed great popularity and in some ways acted like a dictator, seemed shy and deferred to his advisors.
Carlos never met Don Emilio. Such an honor was impossible since he went to work for Americans at the Cavite Naval Yard. Although seemingly kindly disposed toward his employer …. docile, amiable, and intelligent … during this time, Carlos was evasive. He re-enacted the part his grandfather played in Sulu. But deserved the admiration and thanks of their countrymen.
Then one Sunday Carlos saw headlines of an American newspaper: “Women Slain in Moro Slaughter.” It stopped him cold. Those headlines stopped him cold. But instead of blaming Gen. Leonard Wood and responsible men of the U. S. Army, he examined himself. It was required of him. The facts required it of him. The facts left him numb; so he quit his job and returned to Zamboanga. (He would’ve gone on to Jolo, if he could’ve.) He was convinced that truth about the incident was never told and that injustices that existed before the insurrection were still there.
While extolling heroism of the American troops, the newspaper article omitted gruesome details of ” a splendid victory.” “Impossible to tell the sexes apart during the fierce battle on top of Mount Dajo. Six hundred men, women, and children gunned down along the rim of the caldera.” As interminable variations of the story came out of Jolo, those images of frightened, crying, small children clinging to their mothers …. Carlos couldn’t forget that these were children of Sooloo. The list of the dead included brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts …
Jose (a great great grandson of Carlos) offered 50,000 pesos for his ancestor’s estate. The first 10,000 pesos went to the Japanese Military Mission on Basilan simply for the privilege of moving his whole family to Jolo. The balance he paid in cash. He luckily had that much cash, but was closed mouth about why he had so much. He was thankful he had it and looked forwarded to a view of a tiny beach that was so familiar to his great great grandfather. But, as soon as he arrived in Jolo and before he did anything else he introduced himself to a turbaned sultan and his advisers.
As a young man, the sultan made trouble for Americans; otherwise he wouldn’t have secured peace and order. Naturally he also made trouble for the Japanese, so he couldn’t be accused of being a collaborator. In defiance Sultan Cali Kiran preserved royal rituals, such as wearing a royal kris; and during a time when positions such as advisers and interpreters were up for sale, he refused to bow with every step. But by the time Jose arrived in Jolo, the dividing line between collaborator and guerrilla was erased and people were carrying on their lives as best they could.
Cali’s belief system (a great great grandson of Omar) was naturally tied to Sulu traditions of bravery and resistance; but due to the enemy’s strength, he knew his limitations. He knew what he could do and what he couldn’t do … what he could do and get away with. But Juramentados remained active (as they were against Spain and America) and gained an early respect of Japanese conquers. Japanese soldiers recognized them and respected them. They recognized them because Juramentados were like kamikaze pilots. Their frenzy was allied in many respects to kamikaze pilots. But by then, panditas’ call for a jihad had failed and many Muslim leaders were killed or confined to quarters, or sent off to concentration camps. Then too, once the Japanese controlled the island, what good was open resistance?
It must not be assumed that Cali’s open dealings with authorities made him a collaborator. Just because he worked with the Japanese didn’t make him one. One of the most devout and patriotic Muslims, Cali took personal pride in having risked his life in the defense of the island. He risked his life defending the island, but rather than die in a blaze of glory, he chose to live to fight another day.
To acquire the hacienda Jose not only went to the Japanese, but also did so knowing that he would be labeled a sympathizer because of it. Rumors could then lead to reprisals. He took a chance by going to the Japanese, but he considered it worth it. He considered the hacienda rightfully his anyway. Complicating things was also a guerrilla attitude toward private property. Jose always maintained that he had a right to the hacienda, so he felt he never violated a declaration made by guerrillas that “transfer of ownership of real properties during this period of emergency was illegal.” But it seemed reprehensible to Jose that he had to pay off the Japanese.
The Japanese acted like they were gods, a nation of gods, a nation of Samurai ruled by a divine emperor. In reality, there were a variety of impressions of the invader, ranging from a hate-seared narrative about hordes of barbarians armed with modern implements of destruction to liberators. There also were voices of doom and those who were jittery, and those who complained accomplished very little, if anything, because diatribes seldom helped. The rise of stoolies or hirelings happened early on, clearly making innocent people shiver.
Jose was never proven to be a stoolie, but after the war suspicions surfaced that carried over to his sons, dirt that initially came from his great great grandfather. People unfortunately believed the dirt. Throughout the war, even when everyone seemed most jittery, nothing came to light to resolve questions that were raised. No records existed. There was no proof against Jose. There was nothing that showed he was a puppet, or anything that showed that he was the same as his great great grandfather. Yet dirt stuck to his face.
No one told Cali that until freed from the United States that his country was still paying a price for having been freed from Spain. No one told him the price they were paying. No one had to tell him the price they were paying to the Japanese. No one had to tell him. He saw it with his own eyes. He saw their brutality.
Among Moros, the question over who was the greatest warrior inevitably arose. Who was the greatest? Who was the bravest? Who was the fiercest? Who could hurl five spears at once? Or who could cut the best, who stabbed the hardest, and who could throw a spear farther than anyone else? Sometimes they fought among themselves but not all of them. And why would the weakest fight when the strongest did? Was it simply a way of testing strength and sharpening skills, or was it more than a test? Was it to see who would lead them?
Among the Japanese, there were questions about what happened to their men who wandered off and never returned. What happened to their men when they were caught out after dark and why on the island there were many more women than there were men?
First, Cali gave Jose one of the exquisite old violins Jose’s ancestor played. His family, Cali said, kept this authentic European instrument, because the sultan’s own great great grandfather treasured it. The violin represented an emotional link between the two families. Music identified long nights of dancing when the musical repertoire was traditionally European. This was recalled by both of them, memory of songs and magical chants (lullabies still sung) that heralded the birth of a sea gypsy’s child.
“My daughter I sing a song of sleep to you.”
“I am weary, but still I hold you in a sling.”
“Sleep, like a bird, my child.”
“Sleep while I sing.”
The two families’ burial plots were so close to each other (as per arrangements made long ago) that they too would one day be buried a few feet apart, Cali’s grave with unmarked stones positioned at his feet and his head. Jose looked for his great, great grandmother Sonja’s grave, but never found it. Was she buried in an unmarked grave? Had she converted? Cali and Jose recalled bittersweet, half-pleasant, half-sad tunes, mournful and plaintive that were familiar to both of them.
“I don’t like you mother.”
“You won’t give me sweets.”
“Other children have good mothers who are kind.”
“But my mother does not like me.”
“And often she will not let me play with friends.”
“I am angry at you father.”
“You are not my friend and there upon your grave I sit….”
“I sit and sing to you.”
Their connection extended beyond what was customarily expected and had absolutely nothing to do with law or the Japanese. Even in infancy, they stood opposed to each other. At an early age, they were taught their responsibilities. Even then, they knew of a shameful stain. Jose asked Cali what he knew, what he knew about what happened to his great great grandmother Sonja. Cali said he knew nothing.
Their progenitors had been close friends, and yet Cali said he didn’t know what happened to Jose’s great, great grandmother. Songs were passed down and sung frequently, and yet he said he didn’t know what happened to her. Dirt was passed on, but what did he know about it? What was he not saying? These songs were piercing and ingrained. These songs told a story. In conflict with their sense of loyalty, these songs were about petty wrongs, insults that over the years were magnified. These songs were about treason, treason and obligation. Cali heard these songs over and over again, which meant that he couldn’t get them out of his brain. His orientation, as with the rest of the community, led him to judge Jose harshly, whereas if this were Manila perhaps they could’ve been close friends.
A gurgling fountain in the patio gave them a sense of privacy; but still they proceeded carefully. Perhaps this was an unnecessary precaution, since all patriots laughed at and threw insults at the Japanese. It was okay to call their kimonos pajamas and say they looked like monkeys. Probably Cali’s advisors understood the game and that the sultan played it in order to save face. So his advisors turned the other way when he bowed and scraped, and most apologetically bowed down almost to the ground, while saying, “Thank you. Thank you. You are a great and honorable gentleman, a very great and honorable gentleman,” when on cue Jose spat. In that way they both impeached power of their masters; but with a possibility of betrayal and not living through the war, they then laughed like schoolboys. From the moment Cali and Jose met, they sized each other up. Were their impression correct?
Over good food and cigarettes, polite questions about the state of each other’s health and family, etc., etc….. The uncertainty of the times was on both of their minds. We were now at the end of 1943; and by then Cali had a collection of gramophones, radios, and other toys. He had a particular penchant for clocks. Perhaps more than silver and gold, he loved old clocks; anything that ticked and was mechanically intricate caught his fancy. However, he was not a great prognosticator.
They bowed to the Japanese. Woe betide the Japanese. They couldn’t blame the Japanese for anything. All crimes committed by the Japanese were ascribed to locals. The Japanese were not to blame. There were atrocities that the Japanese hid, which made the situation grimmer than it seemed.
Neither man could have been satisfied. Neither man could’ve been happy. Nether man could’ve been happy with the way things were and unfolded, and all they hoped for was that they wouldn’t be judged too harshly. At length, dessert arrived, which was a signal for entertainment. The occasion seemed paradoxical because the music came from Spain and prayers Jose repeated were repeated in Latin, while Cali heard something else:
Cali heard a barking dog, so he slowly came out of the
He did know the Japanese were near.
Cali’s brother saw the Japanese and told Cali they should run
However, Cali told his brother the Japanese were American
soldiers who would not harm them.
Then Cali saw that they were Japanese.
Cali’s brother loaded his rifle and began firing at the
Cali’s brother was killed and taken to Batu-Batu.
Jose listened to the accused sultan sing of his remorse. Sea gypsies sang this particular type of tenes-tenes. But shocked by the text of the song and that the lyrics came out of his mouth Cali abruptly stopped. Then he whispered to Jose that he was on the mend and praised all those who were still fighting the Japanese. Much to his regret, he imagined Jose knew of his duplicity or expected he would soon be exposed.
Jose then suggested that they play cards, so they played cards through the night. They played cards through the night, and long before either one of them grew tired, they started whispering about their great cause. At first Cali didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t know how to respond and turned on the radio before he did. Then together they listened to the radio: Jose, Cali, and Tokyo Rose. The truth! Speak the truth! Jose, Cali, and Tokyo Rose. The Imperial Army invaded their island, held their town and their port, but not the countryside. By then those who stole the town made peace with these two men and remarkably they still sung. They could still sing, and it was remarkable. But so could many others.
Then as though a blindfold were removed, Jose bowed. It didn’t matter then how he framed it he bowed or whatever his response was, he knew he was in danger, but by the time dawn broke, he finally felt free enough to make fun of the Japanese. As he and Cali listened to the radio, listened to Tokyo Rose, and heard about victory after victory, heard songs of victors and heard clicking of heels, the two men bowed and bowed and toasted samurai, kamakazis, those brave officers of the Divine Emperor’s army, toasted assassins and murderers of unarmed citizens and tormentors and violators of women and children. Too obvious, and apparently recognizing the meaning of their buffoonery, they saw themselves in each other.
They played their parts well. Might they might place bullets in their heads. They might’ve been better off if they placed bullets in their heads. Please! Please! A weakness perhaps. It showed a weakness perhaps that they didn’t do it … that they didn’t put bullets in their heads. Instead it show Cali’s culpability. Because of his culpability, Cali had even more dirt on his face. Just as Jose had, he lost his maratabat (face). In the process he became a very, very small man, a very, very small man indeed. But what then were the sultan’s options?
Jose downplayed what separated them. He tried to overlook his great great grandfather’s indiscretion; but on this magnificent morning, obviously it hadn’t been forgotten. On this magnificent morning, his great great grandfather’s treason wasn’t overlooked. Both of them saw it, recognized it, took it personally; but exhausted Jose just wanted to get back to his hacienda. By then he wasn’t interested in anything else. And it seemed to Cali like Jose accepted his hospitality a little too readily. It made him suspicious. Remembering treason, it made him suspicious. By welcoming Jose he extended a long, on-gong insult. And more clearly than his guest he saw his disgrace.
As a boy, Victor Martinez had run of the hacienda, the whole estate, which was untouched by war, something that couldn’t be said for its occupants. He had run of the hacienda, and he wasn’t quite three when the hacienda and estate was bequeathed to him. Left an orphan, Victor was left in the care of an angel.
The Martinez clan was considered wealthy, and they were wealthy by local standards. They benefited from connections in Jolo and the Chinese Pier. There were those on the Chinese Pier who knew his family. There were those who benefited from a connection with his family. The Martinez clan also benefited from their relationship with the sultan, though their relationship with the sultan was complicated. Copra gum brought in most of their income, and they did well for a while. But a critical moment came when they were warned of doom and they didn’t listen to doomsayers. Doom, maybe if they listened they might’ve avoided doom. Then one night … disguised as a fish vendor, one of Omar’s great-grandsons then a guerrilla fighter entered the hacienda and massacred the occupants with a machine gun. Somehow he missed Victor. Japanese soldiers gave chase, but the murderer faded into the foliage and somehow got off the island.
Victor then was raised simply but responsibly. His blind caregiver wouldn’t let him cry, knowing there were reasons for his crying. He wouldn’t let him cry because he thought it would make a man of him. His aging blind caretaker contented himself, knowing that Victor owned a hacienda and land, and with land one had prestige and privileges. His caretaker knew he had an inside track. He would always have an inside track. With an inside track, who knew for sure but Victor could become a Catholic cleric or a public servant.
With so much of his prestige tied to land, the young heir became a target. His family was already a target, but now he became a target of communist. When choosing sides in politics, young men often followed the lead of their parents. Sometimes, as Victor did, they had to choose between two worlds. One only had to enter their home to understand how proud the Martinez family was of their Spanish ancestry. Castilian was still spoken there. And along with an allegiance to Spain, Victor formed a prejudice against communism. He enjoyed his privileges too much to join the communist party, but, instead, having plenty to lose (and everything to gain) he joined the Philippine Constabulary. And there wasn’t anything to keep him from becoming a captain.
In light of corruption, corruption that plagued a captain, this rank gave Victor many opportunities to increase his wealth. With a smile, a friendly lift of an eyebrow, a pat on the back, or a squeeze of an arm, when a sour look, harsh words or open disagreement could lead to blows, an exchange of money took place. And after an exchange and a handshake, another shipment of goods would safely reach its destination. Most men in the constabulary earned a second paycheck by doing the same thing.
At all times the parties were agreeable. Deals hinged on the right words. And since deals hinged on the right words and confrontation wasn’t allowed, they spent most of their time engaged in polite and respectful conversation. Then while business of the day seemed secondary, results were generally positive. Everyone watched each other. While everyone watched each other, everyone watched the tone of his or her voice. Bluntness was frowned upon and was considered a sign of ill breeding:
“Ang marahang pangungusap sa puso ‘y makalulunas
(A gentle manner of speaking sooths the heart)
Ang salitang matatamis sa puso ‘y nakaakit nagpapalubog ng
(Sweet words win the heart and dispel anger.)
Thus Victor learned to preserve harmony and good feelings. Harsh tones were resented; and even menial workers resented it. So important was pakakisama, or giving in, that Victor had to be careful. Whereas his own culture called for him to be direct and forceful, he learned to use a go-between. He would agree and often acted more Filipino than any native. He was still considered a Spaniard. He would always be considered a Spaniard. It didn’t matter that he was born in Sulu and had never been to Spain. He was considered a Spaniard.
Civil servants were accused of spreading capitalist viruses, something communists abhorred. This placed Victor on a collision course with a new enemy. While Ysmael considered the Muslim Independence Movement a dream come true and believed the creation of an Islamic republic would increase his stature. This meant that while Ysmael had an eye on the future, he was also interested in turning the clock back. He envisioned himself sitting on the family throne and thought he would make a strong, liberal ruler.
Until then, life had been easy for Ismael. He could’ve continued to live in luxury and safety. Yes, he could’ve chosen to live a life of luxury and safety. Here the word agad (meaning follow) came into play. A rough translation of the word also means obey. In Ysmael’s case, he was required to obey his father, and it was his father who got him a job with a world class smuggler. He didn’t need to work, but his father insisted that he get a job … a job with Crockett, a world class smuggler. From his very first day on the job, there was no record of Ysmale’s activities, any record of him carrying a rifle. His father saw to it.
By 1972 it wasn’t safe to travel around the Sulus. To travel by boat from Zamboaga to Sitangia was dangerous for outsiders. It wasn’t safe because of the Moro struggle. But this harbinger of trouble didn’t cause Crockett to change his wedding or his honeymoon plans.
It had only been six months since Crockett met his bride-to-be on top of Borneo’s highest mountain. He met Penny on top of Borneo’s highest mountain and knew when he met her he met an equally adventurous person. Before he met Penny, his life resembled a free-for-all, or more like a swashbuckling romance. Here was an example of another conquistador, and he didn’t appreciate the comparison. He didn’t appreciate what he had. He didn’t appreciate what it cost him to hang onto what he had. He also didn’t understand why so many natives were driven by rage. Much of his time was spent facing rage. Too often he was caught in crossfire. Before he was very old he escaped various assassination attempts.
Even with a father who loved him, poor Ysmael was too often reduced to a patsy. He was reduced to a patsy and never regained face. Victor suffered too. He suffered from feelings associated with hell; and this misery fed his hatred for Ysmael. Without a resolution Victor faced his own destruction. This rift was sad, considering Carlos and Omar had been such great friends.
This feud seemed so disproportionately huge in comparison with the insult that started it, an insult that Ysmael knew next to nothing about. If he had known about his connection with gypsies, he might’ve listened more carefully to their songs.
“My daughter, I sing a song of sleep to you.
I am weary, but still I swing your cradle.”
Or was it a foolish attempt by a mother to keep her daughter from dancing?
“You are a beautiful child, but you are also a fickled child;
If I should die, you probably would not cry for me.”
He’d always wanted to know more about a gypsy girl he’d only heard about. Why did she dance? Ysmael concocted a story about a rumor spread by an evil spirit. He wasn’t far off, for without a doubt an evil spirit caused all of their problems. The words of a gypsy song, which fit the best, were:
“I am angry at you.
You are not my friend.
I will sail away from here,
And I won’t see you anymore.”
Words scarcely worth repeating, a tenes-tenes sung over and over again.
The upshot of all this was that Ysmael, without a throne, had to carry his great, great grandfather’s burden, retain all of his great, great, grandfather’s shame and without an inheritance that should have been his.
Per agreement, the constabulary focused its attention on small fishing boats, while they knew they wouldn’t find the bulk of contraband there. These fishermen had always been targets of police and pirates. Scattered over thousands of square miles, these families were necessarily and stoically caught in the middle of conflict. These were stormy times, filled with confusion. Whether from children or women or men, blood was continually spilled.
As a follower of Rome, Victor pretended indifference when faced with uncertainty. He was as devout as any conquistador who planted a cross beside the flag of the Spanish crown. As part of a minority, he prayed at an altar of his church and participated in baptism, holy matrimony, the Eucharist, and absolution. He accepted old laws and protection offered by them; but as an official, he also was a man of questionable character. As an official, he participated in daily larceny. While trying to enjoy as many of the good things, true things and the beautiful things left to him by his family, he forgot to live by teachings of his faith.
When he sat at his desk in front of a flag of the republic, Victor represented Manila. He knew right from wrong, yet when there was a choice he often chose larceny. He sat there comfortably, acting more and more as if he ran the whole province. He acted and lived like a sort of king, but he chose his words carefully. He had to choose his words carefully while he watched his back. He now chose his words carefully, while he kept his eyes on his audience. Need we speak of his ambition? He was ambitious, and he wanted to become even more powerful. Victor equated himself with God, though he had to watch his back and pay homage to the sultan. Little else concerned him, except how to become richer and more powerful. Yet he was aware that he could become victim of a sudden shift of fate. Cronies of his, who were there and saw everything, watched Ysmael escape and lose much of his esteem.
For Ysmael when he fled in exile to Sandakan, it was equivalent to being tied up in a gunnysack and dumped into the drink. But he quickly gained Crockett’s respect and trust. And Crockett gave him broad responsibilities. This seemed unfortunate to many people including Victor, but it gave him a position where he could keep track of the ebb and flow of events. He got his inspiration from the Koran. The Word was precise: “to have died as a juramentado was to step into paradise.” To him exile was like death, but it wasn’t paradise. After his exile and altered circumstances, he was publicly exonerated. He got his maratabat back, but remained a fugitive. As long as Victor was in charge he remained a fugitive.
And let us bear in mind always that conflict in Sulu continues to this day, and Crockett’s and Penny’s honeymoon cruise from Zamboanga to Sitangia was risky at best: kidnapping had become by then a familiar story for Sulu. This it was that made kidnapping of Crockett and Penny inevitable. But unknown to the kidnappers, Crockett had a connection to the sultan through Ysmael, and lived in Sabah as a sort of king, so the kidnappers chose to kidnap the wrong couple. And besides this, they singled them out because of the color of their skin. Maybe they were hoping for ransom, and certainly the sultan through Ysmael could have provided it. In years past, because she was an American and a woman, an American woman, Penny would’ve been safe and Crockett could’ve used his influence. In years past, they would’ve been left alone. For a man’s station in life once meant something, like where he came from and who his family knew; but with each generation, old ties were weakened. It was only with a few exceptions that friendships remained solid, obligations were honored, and families were united and torn apart by something that was in existence for generations … something stronger than any individual, but the kidnappers were young and weren’t aware that this existed in this case and that they chose the wrong couple. Then it came down to what Victor would do about it?