Wednesday, 1 August 2012

FOCUS: A gentle culture

 Avenger characters 

MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD  grandnephew Jumong is visiting, and is watching YOUTUBE right now, and scanning its various videos searching for cartoon characters  whose names he knows by  heart. 

However, he does not not know yet how to type their names in the search box, so he needs me to do it. Tita, type Avengers vs  Ben 10, or Teen Titans vs Ben 10.  

He has this cache of cartoon characters, mostly avenging heroes.   

Like they will smash their enemies into smithereens and hurl their mangled remains in the ether outside planet earth.  

While I am amazed at the creativity of the creators of Ben 10 (imagine coming up with different alien types by fusing the different morphs of existing ones - you  get different combinations of alien forms!) what particularly makes me uneasy is that the more fusion aliens you get, the more arsenals of destruction you have to invent!  

You have rockets and laser guns of different shapes, sizes and types and capabilities to destroy; spears and swords, cannonballs, fire starters, etc.

What can one pacifist aunt tell to a headstrong young kid raised on DVD’s and TV fare of cartoon anime characters? Well, it’s OK to watch these things as long as it’s the robots being destroyed, young man. 

But don’t hurt people, OK?  And he answers: But Tita, those who make the alien robot enemies are people, so you also have to destroy those who make them !. 
 Oh, shoot! Oo nga naman. At age five, this kid knows about bad people destroying places and people, and that one has to defend one’s self and one’s friends and home.  

And so like Ben 10, the mind should be prepared to wage war, if needed. Oh dear, when I was his age, I did not know about war, and bad-ness was just about another kid getting my jackstones and running away with them. 

Ben 10

Do cartoon characters reflect the times children live in? In that case, did my generation, and my mother’s generation live  in gentler, kinder times, than Jumong’s present? Can we be gentle and kind, and still be prepared and ready to go to war ?
I was reading a book on pre-Spanish Philippines yesterday (Pre-Spanish Philippines, by Juana Pelmok1996), and it depicts an ancient people with a gentle culture. Pigafetta, the Spanish Chronicler described the hospitality and kindness of Filipinos as: “Whether night or day, we were invited to eat and drink and with their cooked food we drank their wine in glasses”.  

Fr Aganduru, a Spanish missionary described how the Filipinos treated Ruy de Villalobos and his men in Samar after the latter encountered a storm at sea:  “… the Indios emptied their ships which were filled with water. They carried the soldiers who could not stand due to hunger. They cured the sick with their medicinal  herbs free of charge”. 

He described them as a hospitable, polite and Christian-like people with a rich culture.  

As Fr Collin noted in 1663 that the “Filipinos had limitations in their talkings and writings, that they showed they were like people of polite nations. They never say “you” in the first and second person, singular or plural, but always in the third person. They also wrote fine and excellent courteous letters”.  
Pedro Paterno in 1887 wrote that among Filipinos, particularly among Tagalogs, no person can pass without asking permission and while passing, the body was deeply inclined. 

Another form of courtesy was by putting some syllables before the name as Aling Maria or Mang Pedro. Fr Chirino, another Spanish missionary historian observed in 1604 that among early Filipinos, the father was absolutely respected by the children and the obligation to parents continued even when the children were already married.

Our forefathers believed in one Supreme Being - Bathala,  and life hereafter. They also believed in rewards and punishment - in a heaven where good deeds were rewarded and in a place of pain and affliction for those who chose to do evil on earth.  

And unlike other ancient civilizations, we never sacrificed humans on the altar of a god. Disputes were always settled by an arbiter. Society was divided into classes, yes, and there was servitude or slavery, but as some European writers have noted, it was not practiced as rigorously as in other nations. 

An incipient democracy was even noted as some missionaries observed seeing slaves sitting as equals at their master’s table. I say, even then, we valued life and the dignity of each person.

There was no sense of nationhood then- the nation is the baranggay, governed by a datu.

It was easy for the conquistadores to subdue the fragmented Filipinos with their superior arms and, as they say, the rest is history. 

Years under colonial masters perhaps have made us a little wary, suspicious even, but not enough to arm ourselves and be aggressors. 
We still take many things at their face value - naïveté to many, and perhaps because we have been denigrated too often, we are too eager to please and not ruffle feathers. 
Today, we are being challenged - and bullie by a superpower neighbor who claims ownership of disputed lands in the Spratlys. 

Fishing in troubled waters ... a Chinese fishery administration ship (background) guards a Chinese fishing vessel near Yongshu Reef in the Spratly Islands, in the West Philippine Sea, recenty. – Xinhuapic

They have sent their fishing vessels and frigates with soldiers and arms to disputed shores, while we watch, unable to match their might because we have not built up our military and our naval capability to protect our shores. 
It is galling to watch on TV and the Internet those Chinese bullies – and perhaps, it is not farfetched to add - putative imperialists - to their description.

There is Déjà vu here! As in us welcoming with open arms the Spanish soldiers, tending to their sick and them returning the favor by conquering us - that’s then, and now - us giving home and refuge to many, many Chinese immigrants to our country, opening our market to Chinese products and professionals  and them returning the favour by threatening to invade our shores

Unlike Ben 10 who keeps on making those fusion aliens to help him fight the evil ones, we have not prepared ourselves for these bad people. I have this fear that Jumong may see  in his lifetime Filipinos being subdued, again.
This fear, however, is tempered when I remember the long history of the Filipino's heroism - fighting the well- armed Spaniards even with just spears and bolos, the duplicious  American soldiers with guerrilla tactics, and the vicious and blood hungry Japanese soldiers with fortitude and silent suffering. 

Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, they laid their lives for their beloved land, and with their blood and tears, brought back to life their patria adorada (beloved country), the perla del mar del oriente (pearl of the orient), nuestro  perdido eden (eden lost). 

And didn't our bent knees and eyes directed to heaven, and voices singing of love  stop tanks and bullets during the martial law days? 

Notwithstanding our apprehension, I am confident my country and my countrymen will prevail over the big bad wolf at our door.  
Though we cannot destroy it with weapons that Jumong’s favorite characters use, we can fight it by showing to the world that we are its opposite. 

To a people toughened by their ancestors in gentle ways, might is not always right.   

But as always -  the meek shall inherit the earth. 

(Dr Emma P Valencia is a physician and a health policy analyst and researcher. She also writes essays and poems when she is not busy with her work on health. She lives with her 85-year-old aunt and seven dogs.)



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