Saturday, August 25, 2007

Argao's Old Belfry

What did awardwinning writer Ninotchka Rosca say about belfries in her most recent book, "Sugar and Salt," which had Tandang Sora, her heroine, "giving away tidbits of Philippine women's history as 'gifts' to her family and relatives before dying?"
Tandang Sora talked of the Spanish friars trying to convince the natives they called indios, referring to us, instead of the group of people that we actually call bombays, to "build belfries to guard men's bodies and cathedrals to guard men's souls."
The belfries were supposed to "warn the people against pirates and the cathedrals, to warn people against sin." I found Ninotchka's "Sugar and Salt" inside the National Bookstore at Davao city's Gmall after some weekend staring at old cathedrals and belfries in Cebu and remembering how, in the year 2000, I had dragged seven year old Karl from Silliman university elementary school to the old cathedral in Dumaguete and together, we clambered up the belfry to stare at its huge bell.
I remember how my little boy stared at the old bell, with his mouth open, as I marveled at the date etched on one of the walls. Then, when I was about to move further up, I caught sight of abandoned souls sleeping on the dusty floor.
I did not climb the belltower in Argao on the few moments that I managed to escape the city in July to spend some moments there. I did not have the seven-year-old-turned-14, nor his younger brother, to drag along with me.
So, I watched the tower from a distance, noting how the sun struck and cast shadows on its stone walls. Except for one or two devotees who came to light candles, the whole place often looked deserted the few times I was around.

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