Amador T. Daguio - Insights from a Son's Perspective
By Danny Daguio
When I posted on my father’s Facebook page about a dream that I had, where he was prodding me to write the things I knew about him as his son, I received an encouraging comment from my cousin Vicky anticipating a Part 2 to his short story, Wedding Dance. My immediate reaction was one of hesitance, in my mind, my father cannot be imitated. Not even my lineage is guarantee that I can write like him. There is much I can relate about his life, his family, his works and experiences. Indeed, given enough time (and perhaps web space), I am determined to impart these stories and insights to as many of those willing to learn more. However, my intention here is to write about him growing up as his son and the works that had significance and impact to my childhood, and more so after his untimely death when I was only 15. A little insight if you will.
Perhaps my father’s most studied work, Wedding Dance, is an integral part of Philippine literature and indeed many have studied and analyzed the significance, meaning and thought in the words he wrote. Many of his works are thematically linked and invoke the same feelings, which my father had always endeavored to implore in his writing. These feelings are perhaps the reason why his poems have resonated with so many, more so with myself.
Alongside with Wedding Dance, there are three of my father’s poems that are dear to my heart as they related to my life as well as his: The Flaming Lyre, Man of Earth and Hymn to Death. All these were written when he was a young student and are in his first volume of poems, The Flaming Lyre. He dedicated the book to his mentor during his university days at UP, the Australian, Tom Inglis Moore, “because I owe him my beginnings and because he advised me to withhold the printing of this book until after at least twenty years.”
He says in the Preface:
“I have left these first gatherings substantially in the thought, image, and feeling in which I first expressed them in original manuscript. What I did change is the manner of saying, guided as I have been by T. Inglis Moore's demand of me to strive ever for the correct phrase and the perfect form.”
His use of the word “feeling” is particularly significant here, as this always played an important role in all his works. He told me once that a writer will try to picture his feelings in a poem and, in doing so, would use descriptive words. He also would try to convey his personal life experiences in his writings.
I studied at San Sebastian College from my elementary grades through to high school. Those days, the school had, every few months, a Sunday radio program, held in coordination with a local radio station, where students from the school participated in a contest among themselves. A student could sing, declaim, recite a poem, or play any instrument. It was hosted by a lovely emcee whose name Ino longer recall. I must have been in Grade 4 or 5, more likely the latter, as I recall Miss Sison, a grade 5 teacher, having joined us on the bus ride to the radio station and back to school.
You probably guessed it, yes, I was to recite my father’s first poem, The Flaming Lyre, on national radio. After having been chosen several weeks back, my father was so ecstatic. Imagine! His first son was about to recite his first poem, wouldn’t you as a father be so thrilled? He made me go through weeks of practice. He would say that poems are oftentimes studied and analyzed but the spoken delivery of it becomes the music to one’s ears. They are written to be read and recited, but always with, (and to him this was the important bit) FEELINGS.
Going back to that day, it was a Sunday morning, just before noon after Sunday mass. Amador T. Daguio was at home with his ears close to the radio. All he would hear would be the voice of the emcee, the poem being recited with feelings by his son, Daniel, then the clapping of the audience. He would not be able to see what emotion would be present at the other side. He would not see his son’s gestures, but he would hear the conversation between God and himself, through his son, beingbroadcast on radio. This was the expectation, the reality came out differently.
Picture this, my father at home, listening intently and without pause as it came to my turn, introductions completed, I began to recite the piece that he had himself labored over. With the first stanza done, his pride would’ve been tangible!
“No, you must play the flaming lyre, Your words are not yet good.”
“But how shall I touch your strings of fire,” I asked, “to get the mood?” ….
Then, complete silence! One could have heard a pin drop not even the audience made a single sound.After a moment, the quietness was broken by the voice of the emcee, “Is that it? That was a short poem. Let us give Daniel a big round of applause”.
My father was heart-broken. He was unsure what happened and after weeks of heartfelt preparation, he understood in his mind that I knew the poem so well and would not have forgotten a single word.
On our way back to school, I was asked by the teachers what went wrong, though they seemed to have suspected that I was told to keep my piece short. Indeed, that was what happened. Before the program began, the emcee met with all contestants. She asked me how long my poem was. I said it has 5 stanzas, not explaining they were short ones. She told me to cut it down to two. And the rest is history.
This was taken from the book, his first volume of poems, The Flaming Lyre. The poem itself is made up of 5 short stanzas.
Throughout my years as a student, I have had the opportunity to meet colleagues and former students of my father’s as my own teachers/professors. Among these was Prof. Francisco Arcellana, a National Artist, who was my teacher in Humanities at the University of the Philippines. There also was my Speech teacher, also in UP, Mrs. Reyes. She was with my father’s group that went to Stanford University. Almost always, on the first day of class during the roll call, the question was asked, “Areyou related to the late Amador T. Daguio?” The knowledge that I was his son did not offer me any advantage over other students from the teachers. In fact, I had to uphold the name in high regard by making sure I did not fail. I had to study harder.
In my 4th year High School, my Literature teacher was Mr. Nick Lizaso, a student of my father at the University of the East. The textbook used was Philippine High School Readers and, in it, was the poemMan of Earth. This poem is probably the most well-known of his poems or perhaps the first to appear in school literature books. Mr. Lizaso already knew me to be the son and, as such, told the class that next week, Man of Earth was to be taken up and I was to interpret the poem for the class. This meant that, to me at least, I had to get my father to help me out. He was a busy man with the Nacionalista Party campaign for the 1965 Presidential elections in full swing. Even though former Speaker Daniel Romualdez, for whom he worked for, died early that year, my father was still actively involved with the Party. When he heard from my mother that I needed him, he made sure that family came first. I had the whole weekend with him. I learned some valuable lessons that weekend, in addition to getting a first-hand insight into his thoughts when he wrote Man of Earth.
I recall my father telling me that there is no right or wrong answer when analyzing a poem. “You need to try, at least, to do it on your own. Strive to picture the thoughts and feelings of the writer from the words he uses in the poem” Funny, as I write this, how some students of literature nowadays go to Google and look for interpretations of poems rather than do it on their own. And with the “copy, cut and paste” software functions of today, not to mention “Spellcheck”, it is a wonder how my father and his contemporaries survived using the good old typewriter to read and re-read their manuscripts and edit their writings!
Going back to the days after my father’s death, we were looking for an appropriate inscription to place on my father’s tomb. It was my idea to take a copy of his The Flaming Lyre book and see if there was something we could use from among his poems. Lo and behold, staring me right in the face as I turned the page to that memorable poem, Man of Earth, was his poem Hymn to Death.
It was not a coincidence but such amazing reality! After giving a very descriptive ode to death, he ends the stanza with the prophetic line, “I’ll someday give my youth to die under a shining April sky”.We must remember that this was a poem written when he was in his late teens or early 20’s. He died in April, roughly 45 years from when he wrote the poem. Equally amazing is the fact that the second stanza of Hymn to Death was his epitaph, very much aptly written to describe him:
When I shall have been gone, say of me:
“He was a seeker of the heart of man.
He was God’s talker, love was his crown
And beauty ruled his sceptered hand.
He established the house of life
Though he carved on rocks of sorrow his songs,
Then he went to land and he went to sea,
Proclaiming, “Faith: at last I’m free!”
And so, the decision came easy. On his tomb at the Manila Memorial Park is written this poem, Hymn to Death. (Unfortunately, the tomb is in a current state of disrepair and the inscriptions have faded sobadly and the marble stone irreparably damaged)
The short story Wedding Dance came to my consciousness a number of years after my father’s death and it actually came in the form of an adaptation written for television and directed by a former student, Mauro Avena, which he titled The Beads, in reference to the gift given by Awiyao’s grandmother for him to give to Lumnay on their wedding day. This short television drama made me aware to the point I wanted to read the story as written by my father. I did so many years ago. I am just so thankful that I brought a copy of Story masters 2 by Alberto Florentino 1973 to Australia whichI use as reference and also be able to re-read the story for my own enjoyment.
Let me now attempt to bring up some major points concerning my father’s three poems and the short story Wedding Dance.
Belief in versus Relationship with God
There is never a doubt that my father believed in God but never did he make a statement of belief normake any attempt to minister his belief in his works. Rather, he wrote of his relationship with God. To him, a person’s relationship with God is personal, intimate and unique to one’s being. God is someone you can talk to, simply put.
In his first poem, The Flaming Lyre, he immediately lays down the main premise that his talent is God-given. He tries to bargain with God to just do what he is comfortable doing. God insists and tells him that he “play the flaming lyre” and reminds him that “your words are not yet good”. Again, he tells God of his doubts. The third stanza relates how God advises to use his feelings (heartbeats) and his vision (things you see), then implies that whatever comes out is, in fact, inspired work from God.The last line of the poem then confirms this,
“The words dance as if their music floats, From the soul of God’s magic bell.”
In Man of Earth, he boldly declares that no matter what challenges God will bring to bear on him, he would face these, stoop like the bamboo if he must, but survive and, as man, not break and get to stand again.
“Bend me then, O Lord, Bend me if you can.”
In Hymn to Death, he writes that we say of him when he is gone,
“He was God’s talker, love was his crown”.
Again, a reference to what he was told by God in the Flaming Lyre
“And you will find how strings are fed, By the sounds that come from me”.
Wedding Dance likewise included references to God’s plan for us when Lumnay was talking to Awiyao:
“You know that I have done my best,” she said. “I have prayed to Kabunyan much. I have sacrificed many chickens in my prayers.”
“Yes, I know”
“You remember how angry you were once when you came home from your work in the terrace because I butchered one of our pigs without your permission. I did it to appease Kabunyan, because, like you, I wanted so much to have a child. But what could I do?”
“Kabunyan does not see fit for us to have a child,” he said. He stirred the fire. The sparks rose through the crackles of the flames. The smoke and soot went up to the ceiling.
Filipino by Heart and Spirit
Even if my father wrote in pure English (to distinguish from the writings in the new day version called Taglish), it did not detract from the fact that he was truly nationalistic, a true Filipino by heart and spirit.
In an article of Jose Wendell P. Capili published in the July-August 2011 issue of The UP Forum entitled SP Lopez and the Mentoring of Tom Inglis Moore, my father’s mentor says (quoting from the article),
As reflected in “Typhoons and April Showers, Moore urged Filipinos writing in English to “learn not only to write with English but also to write against it….fight against the meanings of which are not applicable here… write English without becoming an Englishman or American. In adopting the Anglo-Saxon language, (the Filipino writer)…has to guard against adopting Anglo-Saxon ideas, feelings and customs which are not true for the Philippines or for himself.”
As a devoted student of T. Inglis Moore, my father took to heart his mentor’s words. In Man of Earth, he refers to the Philippine folklore about Malakas and Maganda, the first man and woman, in the first stanza of the poem,
“They say that from the bamboo, We had our first birth.”
While some say that this poem seem to apply to modern day events happening in the Philippines, it was actually written at a time when the Philippines was not yet granted independence by the United States. Where he describes the passing of the wind and man stooping and being flexible, he would have been referring to the many years of the country being under Spanish rule and currently, at time of writing, American rule. He, of course, did not fathom the events that occurred in later years when the Philippines endured another war and fell under Japanese occupation. Inspired by God or not, his words were prophetic and his challenge to God to “bend” him was answered. Yet, we now know that the country endured and, as man, the Filipino people stood up again.
The short story Wedding Dance is a classic example of my father writing about what is “true for the Philippines”. Here, he uses the marriage custom in some tribes in the Cordilleras to create a story with the central theme of how the husband and wife cope with the custom as against their feelings. While it is human drama at its best, the story also gives a lot of insights into the culture and the beautiful surrounds that abound in the north of the Philippines.
His thesis, Hudhud Hi Aliguyon, which earned my father his Master of Arts in English from Stanford University, is somewhat unique and very Filipino. I quote word for word the first paragraph of the Foreword of his thesis:
“The work here presented is the first English translation of Hudhud Hi Aliguyon, a harvest song of the Ifugao tribe of the Philippines, preceded by an introduction which will endeavor to give the reader a more or less comprehensive background for an understanding of the poem. A description of the land of the Ifugaos will be followed by a descriptive sketch of the Ifugaos themselves – their physical characteristics, their social behavior, and the cultural traits whichdistinguish them from other tribes in the Philippines. The introduction will next take up pertinent facts of Ifugao life and culture, including some aspects of Ifugao mythology, beliefs and practices, that have particular reference to the song itself; the preparation of an Ifugao for the office of tribal poet, the manner of an oral rendering of the Hudhud, the attitude of the audience toward their poets; and such other data as will contribute to an adequate understanding and appreciation of the harvest song. Hudhud Hi Aliguyon will then be paraphrased and analyzed, and its place in the literature and life of the Ifugaos evaluated.”
There are many other works of my father that appear in his other volume of poems which are true for the Philippines and for himself, but, not wishing to divert too much from this article’s scope, I will leave that to future write-ups. However, I cannot resist the temptation to quote some portions of two of his works.
The first one, from “To Those of Other Lands”, my father writes,
Though I may speak the English language, Let me tell you: I am a Filipino, I stand for that which make my nation, the virtues of the country where I was born. I may have traces of the American, Be deceived not: Spain has, too, her traces in me, But my songs are those of my race……..
From “Credo: For America”…….
I like to think of a Filipino free in his own country
I like to think of my countrymen as brothers, not in religion, nor in employment, nor in party, but brothers in the name of all humanity.
I like to think of dying someday in my country, knowing that death comes as a reward for a life well-lived.
And for America: I like to think of every Filipino speaking of her with a grateful heart, thinking of a rich past and a richer future.
I like to think of going back to God someday, carrying with me a candle, a sampaguita, and a Filipino flag: souvenirs from the Filipino people: a token of our country’s love for Him.
Amador Daguio’s Artistry
My father wanted me to talk to him in English so I would learn it well. Unbeknownst to students of literature, they too are subjected to some form of learning when they read his writings. My fatherwould rarely use common words several times in his poems and would try to use other but similar meaning words. As a matter of fact, I sometimes had to avail of a dictionary (or in this modern day, google a word) to be able to get exactly what he meant. While learning could be a possible reason, I would think it has been a matter of necessity for him as a writer to use different words. Unlike the medium of television or movies where one can easily see the picture, a writer has to use words that aptly describes the message he wants to convey to the readers. The use of exclamation marks is also part of his arsenal. And, to avoid being monotonous, words that are not commonly used find their place in his poems or short stories. That spells Amador Daguio’s artistry!
Let me sight a few examples from his subject works. In Man of Earth, the first word “Pliant”, which by definition means “easily bent”, captures one’s imagination of what a bamboo looks like. At the time I first read the poem. I was 15 and surely would not have clearly understood its meaning. I had to know, so I asked. Same first stanza, he writes
“They say that from the bamboo, We had our first birth.”
Here he implies the Filipino folklore that the first man and woman (our first birth) was born out of the bamboo. But he did not state it as such.
Hymn to Death contains a number of words that were intentionally used to be able to give a very descriptive feeling of what death looks like and its inevitability.
To you, O Death, laureled by the Sun’s fire,
To you whose dark face is forgetfulness,
To you whose grim, dread presences
Make still the lips of loveliness,
To you, swift, unfathomable,
To you, wholly unsurpassed and pale,
I’ll someday give my youth to die
Under a shining April sky.
The Flaming Lyre uses a lot of simple words but are quite significant in meaning. Flaming is used a number of times in the poem, rightly so, because it is something that one would not want to touch as it is intense and burning. But God gave it and, notwithstanding his doubts, he had to trust and have faith in God. He uses the word “golden” to denote the best care you can give and “heartbeats” to mean your feelings. Perhaps, the word “Pluck” would be the uncommon word and my father saw that it would emphasize the urgency of what God wanted him to do. There also is the use of “question marks” and “exclamation points” to make sure one reads the poem the way he meant it.
Wedding Dance also features a number of words that are uncommon but are appropriate for what he is describing in the story. In describing Lumnay for the first time, my father writes,
“He looked at the woman huddled in a corner of the room, leaning against the wall. The stove fire played with strange moving shadows and lights upon her face. She was partly sullen, but her sullenness was not because of anger and hate.”
As Lumnay moved during the conversation,
“This time the woman stirred, stretched her right leg out and bent her left leg in. She wound the blanket more snugly around herself.”
Words like “clamorously”, “sturdy” and “buttresses” were used to describe sound from the dancers’ gongs and strength of Awiyao and the rocks. At the wedding dance,
“The men leaped lithely with their gangsas as they circled the dancing women decked in feast garments and beads, tripping on the ground like graceful birds, following their men.”
And close to the end,
“The wind began to sough and stir the leaves of the bean plants.”
There are other uncommon words and I enjoin you to look for them.
Feelings and Wedding Dance
He stopped as if suddenly hit by a spear. In pain he turned to her. Her face was agony. It pained him to leave. She had been wonderful to him. What was it that made man wish for a child? What was it in life, in the work in the fields, in the planting and harvest, in the silence of night, in the communings with husband and wife, in the whole life of the tribe itself that made man wish for the laughter and speech of a child? Suppose he changed his mind? Why did the unwritten law demand, anyway, that a man, to be a man, must have a child to come after him? And if he was fruitless—but he loved Lumnay. It was taking away half of his life to leave her like this.
Wedding Dance was published in early 1953 and would have been written at about the same time as my father was writing his thesis for his Masters in English at the Stanford University in California. His thesis is rich in historical information as to how he came to learn about the Ifugao harvest song and the stories about the Bontocs and the Kalingas. In his Foreword, he states in part,
“My childhood was spent among the inhabitants of Kalinga, a sub-province of the Mountain Province, and I travelled through all the sub-provinces of the area. Close contact with the place and the people gave an intimate knowledge of their customs and their culture as well as comprehension of their dialects.”
Reading through the Introduction part of the thesis, where he wrote about the people of the Mountain Provinces, I came upon this on page 15,
“Children are so important in the family that the lack of them is the only ground for divorce. If after some years of marriage no children come to a couple, they may amicably agree on a separation. The pain of separation is mollified by the belief that another chance of marriage by the separated spouses may result in better luck.”
Thus was born the idea of Wedding Dance, the short story. But why choose this particular custom,among so many others, to write about? And, if my father learned of this particular custom in his childhood, why choose to write about it only now?
As my father was collecting his thoughts in the writing of Hudhud, it must have occurred to him that this particular custom paralleled, in a way, his own life. When he first came to learn about this custom, he was so young that it never really entered his thoughts to give it any significance. However, in 1952, it was a different story. He and his wife, my mother Estela, had endured for 10 years, from the time they got married in 1939, not having a child of their own. He knew he had the material to write about the custom. He knew about his feelings and, perhaps, his wife’s feelings from their own communings.And so, the drama he created in the interplay of feelings between Awiyao and Lumnay may have been the drama of his life, though not entirely. And when my father narrates Awiyao’s and Lumnay’s love for each other, he must have been thinking of his love for my mother and my mother’s love for him as he toiled by his lonesome self more than eight thousand miles away.
The tribal custom was somewhat universal, in that, the generation of my father (and even mine) placed so much importance in a couple being able to bear children of their own, even having a son for their first born. It was desired that the first baby be a boy as he would be able to carry the family’s last name. While this was not ground for divorce between childless couples, contrary to the tribal custom in the Cordilleras at that time, it did play up in the thoughts of the couples in some way.People even talked about men being infertile, behind their backs, as if it was wrong to be one. Thus,my father writes in Wedding Dance,
“Lumnay”, he said tenderly. “Lumnay. If I did this it is because of my need for a child. You know that life is not worth living without a child. The men have mocked me behind my back. You know that.”
The tribal custom itself does not discriminate against women. The wife has as much right, as the man, to take another man for a husband. My father hints on this,
“Go out—go out and dance. If you really don’t hate me for this separation, go out and dance. One of the men will see you dance well; he will like your dancing; he will marry you. Who knows but that, with him, you will be luckier than you were with me?”
But Lumnay did not want to hear of this. Awiyao was hers. She loved Awiyao. And so, resentment against the law and the elders was building inside her. This was somewhat like the beginnings of the women’s liberation movement that started in the late 60’s. But it was the early 50’s, hence it is a wonder what my father had in mind when he wrote this.
Tonight all the women who counted, who once danced in her honor, were dancing now in honor of another whose only claim was that perhaps she could give her husband a child.
“It is not right. It is not right!” she cried. “How does she know? How can anybody know? It is not right,” she said.
Suddenly she found courage. She would go to the dance. She would go to the chief of the village, to the elders, to tell them it was not right. Awiyao was hers; nobody could take him away from her. Let her be the first woman to complain, to denounce the unwritten rule that a man may take another woman. She would break the dancing of the men and women. She would tell Awiyao to come back to her. He surely would relent. Was not their love as strong as the river?
As the story goes, Lumnay went on her way to be at the dance. But, as soon as she saw “the flaming brightness of the bonfire”, she relented. Instead she went to “the new clearing of beans which Awiyao and she started to make only four moons before”.
There, Wedding Dance ends.
The mountain clearing was cold in the freezing moonlight. The wind began to sough and stir the leaves of the bean plants. Lumnay looked for a big rock on which to sit down. The bean plants now surrounded her, and she was lost among them.
A few more weeks, a few more months, a few more harvests—what did it matter? She would be holding the bean flowers, soft in the texture, silken almost, but moist where the dew got into them, silver to look at, silver on the light blue, blooming whiteness, when the morning comes. The stretching of the bean pods full length from the hearts of the wilting petals would go on.
Lumnay’s fingers moved a long, long time among the growing bean pods.
The choice of words by my father are highly significant and symbolic of his thoughts andfeelings.
Undeniably, his works have been written about and analyzed and dissected. Many have brought forward different ideas and thoughts about what he had written. Many will bring forward many more different ideas and thoughts in years to come. These are my thoughts and comprehension of his words as I have witnessed them in my life with him.
My father was only with me for a short time in my life, however I am the lucky one as my siblings had an even shorter time with him, my own children never having known him. However, his works have always resonated and stayed with me and as I read his writing, I read between the lines and behind each word and see much of my father’s very own personal thoughts and feelings displayed on the pages.
Copyright © 2014 by Danny Daguio
I'd like to acknowledge and give thanks to The Reading Life's Mel u for giving me the opportunity to write this article and enable me to reach out to so many, in order that my father's work can be discovered by a new generation of students and rediscovered by scholars of the past.
Written as a guest article for the blog site The Reading Life. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews, including essays done by students of literature.
For more information about Amador T. Daguio, you can visit his Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/amadorTdaguio
End of Guest Post
My greatest thanks to Danny Daguio for providing the world with this very valuable historical information. He is the sole owner of this article. I relinquish all rights as publisher to Mr. Daguio. It is protected under international copyright laws.