Author Topic: “When books and life intersect” by Howie Severino, GMA-7  (Read 16094 times)

Joe Carillo

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“When books and life intersect” by Howie Severino, GMA-7
« on: November 15, 2017, 09:47:39 AM »
When books and life intersect
By Howie Severino, GMA-7

I re-read two books before my first trip ever to Tawi-Tawi last week. The Songs of Salanda is a unique collection of bittersweet short stories about people in southern Sulu before it became the separate province of Tawi-Tawi. It portrays a frontier region of pirates, priests, shamans, Sama (Bajau) boat people, and roving native singers like Salanda who travel to perform at sea weddings.

I say this book of fiction is unique because it was written by an anthropologist based on his research in the region in the 1960s and highlights the humanity of research subjects that usually gets submerged in the writing of academics. This book makes me wish more scholars wrote stories that humanize what they observed in their research and made their knowledge more accessible to the general public.

One presumes that the author, American anthropologist Arlo Nimmo, only changed the names of people in events that really happened, since so much of the book rings true. The stories brim with affection for his characters but nearly always end in tragedy, such as what befell Amak the principled pirate and smuggler whom the narrator counts as among his best and most noble friends. It was Amak who urged the narrator to write not just for his fellow anthropologists but for common people.

In an epilogue written after Nimmo returns to Tawi-Tawi 20 years later, he mourns the paradise that was lost, and the civil war that wreaked havoc in the 1970s. Strangely, when I visited for the first time last week, I still felt the innocence and gentleness that Nimmo captured so evocatively, often still seen in the languid movement of Sama houseboats over glassy seas. All of it of course masks a legacy of brutal piracy on the high seas, Tawi-Tawi being a main stopover of kidnappers on their way home to Jolo from Malaysia. Two brigades of generally well-behaved Marines have recently imposed a new order on these islands, driving away pirates and removing a threat to the harmonious society of Sama natives mixing with Tausug, Bisayan, and Chinese migrants in water communities. Nimmo's book was alive in those communities I visited.

The second book, Where in the World is the Philippines?, tackles the various thorny issues related to the country's borders, e.g. Sabah and the South China Sea. It was written several years ago by my father, Rodolfo C. Severino, a former diplomat who turned scholar when he retired from the foreign service. The book foreshadows some of the dilemmas currently bedeviling the Philippines as it grapples with more powerful neighbors. Seemed serendipitous that I would both re-read this book and visit our contentious border area with Malaysia in Tawi-Tawi just a few days before the ASEAN Summit in Manila this week that I helped cover as a journalist.

As his health declines and my father can no longer participate in public conversations about the region he knows so well, the book helped prepare me to understand what was at stake this week, as well as filled me with gratitude that my work somehow intersects with his.

This piece was posted by Howie Severino today (November 15, 2017) on his Facebook timeline and, dealing as it does with a subject close to my heart, I asked for and got permission from him to repost it here in the Forum. Thanks, Howie!
« Last Edit: November 15, 2017, 12:01:32 PM by Joe Carillo »