May 13, 2013

GROUNDS FOR SPORT: Second Annotation, Crocodiles of El Fili

On the upper deck of the steamship Tabo, Fr. Sibyla, Fr. Salví, Fr. Camora, Fr. Irene, Don Custodio, Ben Zayb the journalist, Simoun the jeweler, and the skipper began exchanging legends [1]. Simoun prompted the storytelling. He was covering his tracks. He was distracting the others from the issue of his short absence without revealing his interactions on the lower deck. He effected airs of boredom: 'I have seen so many rivers and so many landscapes that now I am interested only in those that have some legend connected with them' [2].

They had been traversing the Pasig River, the place Fr. Salví believed he had successfully destroyed his rival, Crisostomo Ibarra. This recalls that hunt which closed the pages of Noli Me Tangere. Let us look at "Chapter 3: Legends" as itself a hunt that would culminate in the memory of the hunt for Ibarra thirteen years ago.

However, this is a leisurely hunt, one of those scenes where a prince gathers his allies, their men and hounds, brings them to the heart of the wounds, and there he releases a fox. Hunting for sport has important functions besides entertainment and camaraderie. It is a show of trust. The prince does not merely showcase his territory, he also reveals high ground, soft spaces, hidden locations. This is a military function: they are marking the territory for the best places to defend it.

The hunt is a competitive display of strength and cunning. It is also a call for intimacyor a renewal of intimacywith powers that the prince would rather have as allies rather than enemies. As intimacy increases, so does room for treachery. For the hunt likewise unveils vulnerabilities and blind spots: what are places that the men avoid? which of his lieutenants are weak? how much is this man willing to spend for my loyalty?

The storytelling aboard steamship Tabo is exactly this. Simoun pretends to be a foreigner open to tutelage. What is this land, what are its stories? How does it account for itself? Fr. Salví  in [3]: 'I must tell it to Simoun who cannot have heard about it. It seems that once upon a time the river, like the lake, was infested with crocodiles so huge and voracious that they attacked boats, overturning them with a blow of the tail.' And so the princes answer in kind, showing off their knowledge of pagan lore only to reassert the unassailability of their doctrines. The larger the crocodile, the greater the glory of St. Nicholas.

In the course of this sport however, the priests could not help but betray their disunity, the competing interests between the secular priesthood and the religious orders, among the religious orders too, and challenges are exchanged in the form of convivial banter. Although these are truly divisive (Simoun would take advantage of his increasing familiarity with this frictions), we understand that these hegemonic blocs are really only fighting over the spoils. There are no true ideological rifts, no differences in terms of principle. The crocodiles are all slinking toward the same drowning man, each desiring the greater chunk of flesh.

And so in true Tilde spirit: happy election day! To each his own croc!

We know as much: stories of the perfect candidate will, in a span of few days, yield to stories of who cheated who. If we squint a little, shield the eyes for a while from the dire cost of these narratives, we shall soon discover: there is much entertainment to be had.

[1] Open Season | crocs across, beyond pages
[2] José Rizal. El Filibusterismo. Trans. by Leon Maria Guerrero. Quezon City: Guerrero Pub., 1996: 20.
[3] Rizal: 21.

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