The Secret of Paula Herrera, from Tiaong to Tayabas circa 1891
“In 1891, WHEN my great great grandmother Paula Cerrada Herrera was arrested, her arms tied behind her elbow-to-elbow, and made to walk all the way from Tiaong to the town of Tayabas escorted by four guardia civiles, she was no ordinary peasant even if she could not read nor write.”
After reading this first sentence of Angela Stuart-Santiago’s engrossing Revolutionary Routes: Five Stories of Incarceration, Exile, Murder and Betrayal in Tayabas Province, 1891-1980, the innocent reader falls into a beautiful trap. After all, who wouldn’t be curious to find out what sin, or crime (is there a difference?) did Paula committed 120 years ago that deserved all 50 years of her aching body to walk for about 30 kilometers and to be imprisoned for about 67 “harrowing” days?
With family memories and secrets needing to be released from their own imprisonment, Concepcion Herrera Vda. de Umali started to document (quite unexpectedly at that) her family’s secrets in 1975 or when she was about 88 years old already. About one year later, and 10 notebooks filled with rampaging memories, the family started the laborious work of typing the “Fragmento de Mi Juventud” manuscript (before the era of computers and word processing softwares).
While being the 2nd book based on the “Fragmento de Mi Juventud” (the first being, The Tayabas Chronicles: The Early Years, 1886-1907, by Nita Umali Berthelsen, 2002), the Revolutionary Routes does not come as a poor cousin of the first but enriches the first and continues the story of the journey even further in time (1891-1980). After reading Revolutionary Routes, Alfred A. Yuson dared to predict that this “family memory” book will win an award for books published this 2011. According Mr. Yuson, the book is “fine history” and that he was impressed with the “… conceptualization and execution, read ambition and fine writing…” (see http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=762026&publicationSubCategoryId=79).
Aside from the fine writing, the book is also illustrated by ten (10) maps created from the collaborative work of Katrina, the daughter of the author ( visit Katrina’s website at http://www.radikalchick.com/), and Adam David. Note: (the maps were identified as Figures 1 to 9 but Figures 6.1 & 6.2 were counted as two maps by this curator of Museo Santisima Trinidad). These maps complements the textual narratives with a visual imagining of the “revolutionary routes” undertaken by five family voyagers (Paula, the Peasant; Isidro the Revolutionary; Tomas the Lawyer; Crisostomo, the Guerilla;Narciso, the Congressman).
Image: Map of Paula’s Journey drawn by Adam David and Researched by Katrina Stuart-Santiago (p.18)
For the scholarly inclined, or at least the scholarly challenged, Angela Stuart-Santiago’s book contains the usual sections: ten (10) pages of Bibliography, 47 pages of Appendices (of family photographs, notarial documents, newspaper clippings, etc.), 6 pages of Glossary, 31 pages of Notes, and 13 pages of Index. More importantly, Reynaldo C. Ileto, recognized as a “leading scholar of the Philippine revolution” (http://www.asianmonth.com/prize/english/winner/14_02.html), graced this “revolutionary” book with seven (7) pages of his Foreword.
As expected, Ileto contextualized Angela Stuart-Santiago’s topography of Philippine colonial history (e.g. “….an alternative history of the Philippines in which can be glimpsed the intersection of the familial and the communal, the local and the national….”) but, quite deftly, reorients the map to highlight the feminine contours of the book as “….viewed through the lenses of the women of the family…” (pp. xx-xxi). No wonder the next story after Paula, that of Isidro the Revolutionary, reads more like a revolutionary cookbook, e.g., “We had a last supper with men of the Battalion Banahaw who had stayed behind with us. All the dalag that could be caught from the surrounding rivers was served….” (p.53), and with food as the focal point while stories of the clashes between the insurgents and the Spanish or American troops were only an afterthought. But seriously, reading about how Conchita served dalag, probably “inihaw” style, to the revolutionary troops already brings this very ordinary “last supper” to the level of that which is truly a revolutionary idea: the revolutionary routes that ordinary people undertake in their lives, sometimes reluctantly, and unexpectedly, to serve a cause higher than themselves.
Finally, for those wishing to find out the secret of Paula, and the four other revolutionaries, please order copies using book ordering instructions at the Revolutionary Routes’ website at http://revolutionaryroutesbook.com/. The cost of this more than 383 pages of history is worth the price (which is very, very reasonable).