How well do I know my daughter Kerima?
Until I witnessed all the tributes given to her, I didn’t realize she had done so much, wrote poetry a lot and fought fiercely for the poor people she had lived with in the last 20 years.
I’d like to reprint what another writer wrote about my daughter Kerima and his friend and mentor, Bienvenido Lumbera who happens to be a National Artist for Literature.
Here it is:
Remembering Kerima Tariman and Bien Lumbera: Two Artists of the People
By Lakan Umali, Act Forum Online
The past two months saw two great artists leave us: Kerima Tariman and Bienvenido Lumbera. They chose starkly different paths: Lumbera primarily remained in the academe and attained the prestigious titles of National Artist and Professor Emeritus in the University of the Philippines. Meanwhile, Kerima joined the underground revolutionary movement, and spent her life integrating and organizing peasants in the countryside. However, though their methods differed, both artists consistently worked towards the same goal: the emancipation of those whom the great critic Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” the formerly colonized and the suffering peoples who still witness the fruits of their labor enrich a privileged few.
Lumbera was a titan of Philippine literature. He bequeaths us a prodigious body of work in criticism, literary history, poetry, translation, playwriting, and general education, which will enrich generations of students and teachers. Central to his work is his commitment to societal change and emancipation. Lumbera’s nationalism is not the superficial, simplistic kind of nationalism which equated love of country with certain symbols and behaviors, bits of local color in a world dominated by global capitalism. Nor is his nationalism aggressive and exclusive, the kind which prioritizes one regional group or economic class to the detriment of the country’s marginalized peoples. His nationalism is rooted in representing and serving the broadest sectors of the Filipino masses. In Filipino Writing: Philippine Literature from the Regions, he presents a rich selection of writings from the diverse groups of the Philippines. He rebukes notions of Philippine literature that privileges works produced by bourgeois, urbane, university-educated writers using English or Tagalog. He illustrates how songs, chants, riddles, myths, and the deep wells of folklore and popular knowledge also comprise the contested domain of national literature. In the preface, Lumbera talks about the “nationalist imperative of tapping into the vein of political and sociological insights that could…impart to them ethical commitment to the material and spiritual development of their countrymen.” Literature is not a fossilized thing produced by a select group of hallowed English, Tagalog, and Spanish writers; it is a living, changing entity which young people could use to better understand themselves and the communities they inhabit.
As the great historian Renato Constantino states, “Filipino resistance to colonial oppression is the unifying thread of Philippine history.” And Lumbera’s work testifies to how nationalism and resistance are intertwined. Reading Lumbera’s essays, one is struck by how literature can be a tool of both assimilation and resistance to oppressive forces, whether they be colonial, neocolonial, or national in nature. His arguments are always holistic and historical. For Lumbera, the text’s audience is not a passive receiver of information, but a dynamic element that accorded significant meaning to the text. In “Ang Wikang Katutubo at ang Kamalayang Filipino,” he talks about how romantic poems like “Jocelynang Baliwag” helped articulate burgeoning revolutionary fervor against the Spanish colonial regime. Meanwhile, “Versus Exclusion” weaves a comprehensive account of how American colonial rule shaped the production of literature. He writes how the American-established public school system “[was] enough to indoctrinate young Filipinos on ‘the American way of life’” and developed “a mentality abetted by the desire to rise to the standards of achievement set by the former colonial masters.” Lumbera consistently rose to the task of helping us unlearn the perspectives and habits ingrained by institutions, like the educational system, that still carry the afterlives of colonial rule, such as the insistence on the use of English in teaching. Lumbera’s achievements in writing are also matched by his political engagement and social criticism. He was a staple at rallies and mobilizations for decades, from Marcos to Ramos to Arroyo. He founded and contributed greatly to numerous progressive organizations, such as Panulat Para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan (PAKSA) and Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP). Even after Martial Law, Lumbera’s influence and criticism so frightened the reactionary state that AFP monitored him during the Arroyo administration.
Kerima was another artist of remarkable talent and insight. Her collection, Pag-Aaral sa Oras, is a breathtaking meditation on the personal and political challenges of those who confront and fight against the harshest and most repressive realities of Philippine society. She utilizes an array of voices to evoke the metamorphosis of one who engages in armed struggle. In “Gusali,” she adopts the wry, irreverent tone of a youthful delinquent: “moog daw ng talino at galing/ay kami/ e di kami/na araw-araw/ipinapatawag/sa guidance counseling.” The youthfulness is not just juvenile rebellion, but the early realization of society’s root ills: “Natutunan ko/na dapat buwagin ang kanyang mga haligi.” The woman in “Kuliglig” marvels at the wonder of her first child: “ang anak ko/ay isang kakaibang nilalang.” Later, she grapples with questions about bearing a child who will eventually choose their own path in the world: “sa makauring aklasan/ay matatagpuan niya/ang kanyang pag-ibig,/at siya’y magpapasya/kung saan papanig.” One of the most stunning poems is “Mga Sulat Mula sa Lambak ng Cagayan,” a revolutionary’s tense but ultimately triumphant confrontation with mortality. “Hindi totoong ako’y bihag/ng mga berdugo’t salarin./Narito ako sa piling/ng aking pagkiling,/at alam kong alam mo/kung saan ako hahanapin.”
Young writers should read Kerima’s “Manggagawang Pangkultura” for its sharp insights on art and writing as revolutionary work. Answering accusations that she stopped writing because she became an activist, Kerima argues that her revolutionary work was never an impediment to her writing. She never stopped writing. “Ang kaibahan lang ngayon, mas madalas ay wala na sa isip ko ang paggamit ng sarili kong pangalan,” she says. Personal recognition becomes secondary to collective nature of artistic production. The writer is supported by the peasants who feed them, the comrades who protect them, and the community that shelters and sustains them. Thus, writing and revolutionary work become inextricable from one another, because both aim to reshape our present culture into something which is just, peaceful, and liberating for all peoples.
It’s a shame that, even in the middle of a global crisis, our educational system still insists upon the neoliberal model implemented for decades, which prefers obedience to critical thinking, the global market over national and local needs. But the works of writers like Kerima Tariman and Bienvenido Lumbera offer a more expansive and productive kind of education. An education that puts at the forefront the histories and realities of the Philippines, and that equips students with the tools to learn from these histories, and reshape these realities to achieve a just and comprehensive peace.
How well do I know my daughter Kerima?