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BOOK REVIEW: A library, an archive, a literary map, a community of storytellers, a history of the islands we from the Center hardly, rarely know, and care about

mindaviews review

(Remarks at the Davao City launch of the two-volume book, Kalandrakas: Stories and Storytellers of/on Regions in Mindanao, 1890-1990 (A Preliminary and Continuing Survey and Literary Mapping) by Karina Africa Bolasco, Director of the Ateneo de Manila University Press. Bolasco sent her pre-taped video remakrs at The launch was held at the Benny Bapa Tudtud Auditorium, Ateneo de Davao University on February 27, 2023) 

The running wisdom about outsiders is that they have double vision —  from inside, and from outside. They can interrupt the status quo by their probing, by trying to know and understand the community into which they have just assimilated. They disturb the peace, so to speak, and therefore are game changers.

Ricardo de Ungria is such an outsider to Mindanao. A Paco-Manila boy, he moved to Davao more than 20 years ago. As a poet, he instinctively knew the way to be conversant with the place is to deep dive into its literature, locate the portal to its stories and histories. But after three books of interviews of living writers —Habagatanon: Conversations with Six Davao WritersVoices on the Water: Conversations with Five Mindanao Writers, and Songs Sprung From Native Soil: More Conversations with Eight Mindanao Writers — he had to ask: Was there no one else before them? On whose shoulders do they stand? Were there no local traditions, ideological and artistic? So Ric started digging into the past, much like an archaeological exploration, that got deeper and deeper, until it went back a hundred years.

A recuperative archival project is how he refers to this enormous research he did on his own, without the benefit of a formal research team funded by a generous grant. The moment the idea got to his head, he was consumed by it. Sustained by his personal pension, the research was fired up by mere living, by being alive and mindful, in a very different place, rich and storied, multiple and diverse — all lost to an insider who has been in it since birth.

It is a way, he says,” to begin to catch up with some narratives of an immediate past of a faraway world always portrayed as ‘intractable and treacherous,” backward and uneducated perhaps because they are of another faith. The goal is to help set up that ecosystem to know “what has been thought, felt, and achieved by writers and thinkers of those times, “ and engage with them, their experiences and reflections, and not those from imperial lands, with foreign modes of thinking so different from ours. 

Kalandrakas in Binisaya means “a coming together of a variety of things, a mixed bag, a miscellany, close to chaotic, but not quite.”

Kalandrakas book launch in Davao City on 27 February 2023

Ric the poet says that when he first heard the word from the late National Artist for Literature, NVM Gonzalez, at a 1997 writers workshop in Cebu, it was “muscular and sinuous, much like the shuffling of mahjong tiles and its players chattering while a transistor radio was on, all the while inside an aviary of a zoo.” We hope the book covers match this coming together in a colorful, serpentine manner, with all the curves and twists of diversity.

Covered in these two volumes, or parts, are stories on Mindanao and its regions, in 11 languages translated to English, among these are Meranaw, Tausug, Chavacano, Manobo, Central Subanen, and Maguindanao. Every single language is loaded culturally and socially, and is crucial to mental processes and formation.

Kalandrakas: Stories and Storytellers of/on Regions in Mindanao, 1890-1990 (A Preliminary and Continuing Survey and Literary Mapping) is a title that’s a mouthful and a heart full because the books truly are.

Kalandrakas book editor Ricardo M. de Ungria (L) and some of the Davao-based writersf whose works are featured in the the two-volume book launched at the Ateneo de Davao University ion 27 February 2023. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Stories from countless mouths and hearts, here are fiction and non-fiction, poetry, and drama. The storytellers are those who wrote, sung, recited, or gave versions of, the stories, including the sources. Of/On sets off the native-born from those who are not: Filipino, non-Filipino, travelers, settlers, those who just passed through, looked around, wrote, and moved on. The hundred years is divided into colonial 1890-1945 and post-colonial 1946-1990. At first glance, they may seem all literary but as truthful accounts or stories they come, wrapped in their total realities, with all their creases and folds such as religious, economic, political, cultural, and social. Ric was right to dig up the hundred years of stories, relics or artifacts of the long past. His history of the islands that he recounts in his precious, precious gem of an Introduction to the books, beats any academic’s or trained historian’s.

So here is a library, an archive, a literary map, a community of storytellers, a history of the islands we from the Center hardly, rarely know, and care about. And to those legislators proposing to take back the mother-tongue approach to teaching Kinder to Grade 3 Filipino children, it is simply impossible to expect the same huge and reliable bodies of materials 127 years built for English and Filipino, to be available in 10 years. Here is how we do it. Here is where we soundly and scientifically begin. Here is how we build or rebuild, how we generate or regenerate, region by region, community by community.

I hold the two parts of Kalandrakas. At 868 pages for Part 1, and 1164 for Part 2, they are literal doorstoppers. A way to keep the doors open for as long as we can: to let the winds of change in, to remain open to whatever new ideas, thoughts, and feelings, critical and creative, are yet to come and enrich what we already have.

On behalf of Ateneo de Manila University Press, we congratulate Ricardo de Ungria for this pioneering and landmark work no other anthologist has ever done. We are most grateful, and honored to have tried to match your vision, and do Kalandrakas 1 and 2 justice. 

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