HISTORY AS OUR STORY
Kristian S. Cordero
My love affair with history dates back to my elementary years. I owe it to my father who instead of letting me play games the normal growing boys would do, took me to his lap and taught me to memorize the names of heroes inscribed in our moneys. I vividly recall how we would brag me to his drinking partners every time I would be able to recite the litany of heroes. He also told me stories and intrigues surrounding the lives and loves of these people whose heads were cut off to be placed in our currency. He told me Aguinaldo was responsible to the killing of the Bonifacio brothers and the assassination of Antonio Luna.
From these national heroes, I grew up learning to love the lives of saints. My mother introduced me to this wonderful people who unlike our heroes can perform miracles. So every Sunday, my parents are obliged to buy me one novena that contains a short biographical sketch on these heavenly intercessors. Reading their story made me feel that I was part of their own story. As a young child, I tried to imagine going to their times and places. It was a kind of adventure for me to be introduced to these people. This is the kind of an adventure that I feel indebted to history and to my parents. I would never trade it to any other experience.
In later years, in high school as well as in college, my love for history remains unwavering. In the seminary I volunteered to work as one of the assistants in the archdiocesan museum. There, I got so involved with history particularly our ancient and local history as a Bikolano people. I met several people whose interest to history is truly remarkable. While most students think history as a far-forbidden hall of the academe, I see history as our own story. History is not only about them, it is about us. It is not so much part of a distant past but of the present. History tells us who we were and why are we like this now. Many of our present problems trace its roots to our unresolved past. Past that is hidden from us, shattered dreams that we have turned into illusions, into a pseudo-personification of our true identity. One gets true healing by looking back, assessing the present and taking hold of a future. This is the kind of history that we need—a critical history.
Nietzsche said that “history belongs to the living man in three respects: it belongs to him so far as he is active and striving, so far as he preserves and admires, and so far as he suffers and is in need of liberation.” All three correspond to the use of history that is monumental, antiquarian and critical.
My father telling me about Rizal, Del Pilar and Tandang Sora therefore falls into the monumental type of history—a kind of accounting of the greatness of past generations. It is the type of the history that admonishes citizens to continue the greatness and legacy of our forefathers. “It is the knowledge that the great which once existed was at least possible once and may well again be possible sometime.” Randy David, a noted Filipino sociologist classifies much of our history to this category. David’s assessment can be seen through a lot of evidences and tapestries of experience. We hear political speeches written by some inept ghostwriters of tongue-tied politicians who instead of presenting a clear political mandate resort to quoting Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino. Pictures of these heroes are also displayed in our classrooms. We have erected monuments and named street, bridges, offices, foundations, schools and other institutions after them. The dangerous side of this type is to fictionalize the character and the event surrounding their lives—this type of history mystifies our heroes from the people. Heroes become mythical and ideal creatures, rather than becoming one with the people’s struggle and idealism. This is also true to our saints, as their cult grows, they are more venerated rather than imitated.
The second type of history is antiquarian. Here I qualify my experience in the seminary as an “antique boy” (a term used to refer seminarians working in the museum; Fr. Toots Imperial coined this title). Monumental history according to Nietzsche can be countered by a dose of antiquarian history. Antiquarian keeps us recognize the humanity of our heroes. It instills us reverence to the person, his origins, and even the things and places that had relations with him/her. In the museum, I learned to appreciate the greatness of these people by looking at the intricate craftsmanship of our ancestors immortalized in the ancient tools and burial jars and the zealous dedication of the early Catholic missionaries evangelizing this pagan land. This type of history explains why we also keep and collect old things, memoirs, and vintage photographs, and even receipts. We surround ourselves with old things because we see our history in this way. And like monumental history, the second type can also be corrupted by mummification. History according to Nietzsche is not meant to be a celebration of decay. It is meant to nurture life.
Thus, antiquarian history should give us the motivation to move on. We do not linger with the past. We let the past shed light to our present. That is why we need a critical history. The type of history that assesses the society in such a way that one must be ready to lay the foundation that will break the old-aged traditions that have shackled the people. We need this kind of history that fears no one. A history that is not self-serving to the interest of those in power, power they have long been perpetuated, a power that corrupts the people. Accordingly, critical history challenges institutions, and even the entire way of living inherited from the past and from the tradition. Not all part of past are glorious, kind and worth keeping. We need to purge ourselves and accept the hard truth that we will see in history. Critical history will only materialize if people begin to re-discover their value and worth. The findings of this history have been maliciously kept by few members of our society because it unravels the truth that for them will be fatal, which for most of us will mean healing and liberation.