detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Tuesday, July 01, 2008

: . Talababa or the Footnote in Philippine History

Ang may tandang letra alin mang talata
dimo mauatasa,t, malalim na uicà
ang mata,i, itingin sa dacong ibabâ
boong cahuluga,i, mapag uunauà.

--Florante at Laura

In 1889, Jose Rizal inaugurated the writing of Philippine history as a history from below: as a series of footnotes on Antonio de Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. Addressing and at the same time summoning forth an audience of "Filipinos", Rizal's history wrote out and then wrote over a colonial text in order to annotate national memories: "to awaken in you a consciousness of our past, and to blot from your memory or to rectify what has been falsified or is calumny." Footnotes have long occupied the "underside" of many Philippine texts but not as antagonistically as Rizal's first Filipino ones. Francisco Baltazar's 1838 "talababa" to his Pinagdaanang Buhay Nina Florante at Laura sa Kahariang Albanya, for example, served a humbler purpose than teasing out latent (or slumbering) meanings and disputing (or blotting out) erroneous ones. Meant for the general (Tagalog) reader (Sa babasa nito) rather than for an emergent Filipino community, Baltazar's footnotes are more poetic than political, their very positioning in the text acting as literal extensions of Tagalog metaphors for knowledge and understanding: look below (sa dacong ibaba), Baltazar writes, as I shine a light into the very depths of language (malalim na uica), so that the text's full meaning will fall (cahulugan) into place. A descent into enlightenment, Baltazar's footnotes don't quite fit the narrative of The Fall that Reynaldo Ileto claims haunted nationalist writings: an Edenic excess of understanding overcome by the darkness of religious obscurantism then illumined, or brought to light once more by rational inquiry. Rather than estranging readers from the colonial world, Baltazar's footnotes instead render more familiar an otherworldly realm shaded with cypress tress and inhabited by Harpies and Oreads, Furies and Naiads. (In Progress)

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