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February 05, 2007



Very interesting, thanks for that.


too little attention has been paid to the philippine impact on colonized peoples in the region. not just with the revolution, but beyond.

when my grandmother went to batavia (today's jakarta) in 1937, the dutch governor-general had her shadowed and she had to sneak out of her hotel in the middle of the night, to have a secret meeting with indonesian women working for independence. filipino politicians harbored the indonesian socialist tan malaka in the 20s. apparently mahatma gandhi, a russian scholar recently told me, that if he had been offered an equivalent of the tydings-mcduffie act he would have accepted it from the british. a french scholar told me the inauguration of the commonwealth made france and the uk livid.


They were a brave bunch.. a shining moment in our history...


It was the first revolution in Asia, the first republic.
We really should be proud.

Pramoedya's appreciation of it, however, centers too much on the transformative influence of European education on the "natives'" consciousness. (Of course this is a novel, though I assume that he held the same views outside of the fictional context he put them in.) This is the Philippine revolution personified by Rizal, Mabini, Aguinaldo and other figures from the ilustrado class. They were critical, to be sure, and they were indeed products of European education.

I think, though, that there is a persistent devaluing of the indigeneous component of the Philippine revolution. The 'peasant disturbances' that periodically broke out (in Ilocos Sur in the 18th century and Bohol, e.g.) established the pattern of resistance that was to be harnessed strategically by the middle classes later in the revolution.

The introduction of external ideas is always important in fertilizing political movements, though I have a problem with the approach that 'natives' need to be remade into the image of their colonizers in order to understand that they are oppressed and that a more just and humane order is possible. I find Rey Ileto's Pasyon and Revolution instructive material on this, as well as Erwin Castillo's novel "The Firewalkers" (on the American era Katipunan and its shamanistic elements).


mlq -- Yes, that would be a good study. In fact the whole changing Asian perception of the Philippines--from Indio Bravo to unstable democracy that is "not really part of Asia" -- is a fascinating area.

Carla -- To be fair to Pramoedya, I think the issues you mention are reflected in the quartet. Minke is the first "native" to be educated in a Dutch school. He is therefore torn between his admiration of European science and technology (Stephenson--of "Rocket" fame--is often referred to) and the accusation that he knows nothing of the life of Javanese peasants.

Pramoedya was also describing a late 19th century mindset -- common both in Europe and the rest of the world -- that the really transformative power in the world was science and "modernization". Over 100 years later we know that modernization is a very mixed blessing, but at time it was seen as something that could only improve the lot of humankind. Minke is reflecting what, in British terminology, would be called the Whig interpretation of history: the notion that every invention and innovation makes life better and better. This was before climate change of course.

I agree very much with what you say about the need for a non-Illustrado perspective on the revolution. This was something that came up when I wrote about Gregorio del Pilar last year (http://tornandfrayed.typepad.com/tornandfrayed/2006/09/death_of_gregor.html). It would be very hard to research that now though, since, by definition, the peasants who took part in the revolution (and the earlier uprisings that you mention) will have been almost entirely illiterate so left no record. What a shame someone didn't have the bright idea of interviewing them in the first half of the last century when there were still a lot around.


I really should read the quartet to a get a complete perspective.

I agree of course that the mindset regarding the triumph of Western science, Reason and modernity was prevalent during the 19th century. It started with the Enlightenment, didn't it, and reached a crescendo during the Industrial Revolution. The 'savages' did not have Science and machines, that's why they were poor and backward. Colonize the lot. I've been reading about the Victorians lately, whose hubris was appalling.

I have huge admiration for Rizal, Mabini and other ilustrado figures and their 'global' outlook during those times. I am only sad that the contributions of those who did not share their learning or identity have been forgotten. That sense of self, the pride in who we were before the colonizers convinced us that they were better, is irrevocably lost.

This is all the more ironic to me when voiced by an Indonesian character like Minke. Java was an empire, too, before the Dutch came. My first sighting of Borobodur in Yogyakarta filled me with chronic insecurity about just how new Philippine culture is compared to its neighbors. Good to know they admire us too for some things, like our revolution.

J. John

Mabuhay Philippines



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