[Blueboard] The Taming of the Filipino

Ricky Abad rabad at admu.edu.ph
Fri Jan 11 02:51:35 PHT 2002

SHAKESPEARE AND THE TAMING OF THE FILIPINO  Ricardo Abad. Moderator, Tanghalang Ateneo

Women in Bicol, writes the anthropologist Fenella Cannell, understand two kinds of love. One is "true love" (tunay na pagkamoot), and the other is "learnt love" (pagkamoot na naadalan sana) - the use of the tag-word sana meaning "just" or "only". The second kind prevails in arranged or forced marriages, and by using the word sana, women can stress that in the course of their marriage, one "just" learns to love one's husband. These women enter into marriage in filial obedience to their parents' wishes, and start out their marital lives as reluctant wives. They then continue in hostile exchange with their husbands on words, food, and sex until they achieve natotoodan, a kind of mutual accommodation, or a state of learning to love one's husband in spite of what has gone before. 

In my reading of Taming of the Shrew, Katherina undergoes a similar process: she is forced into marriage with a man she hardly knows, and towards the end finds a way to accommodate to a life with the brash Petruchio. She has not become submissive, and neither does she assert matriarchal power. Like the women of Bicol, she has found her own voice in a marital relationship. And like many Shakespearean heroines, as Judy Celine Ick argues in her book Unsex Me Here, they have managed to negotiate their own power in the nooks and crannies of a masculine world.

But Taming is more than just a woman-man thing. It is also a metaphor for the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized - in this instance, the relationship between Americans and Filipinos during the American colonial period. And why the American and not the Spanish? The Spanish governed with the weapons of faith and force. Petruchio does not; in fact, he carries neither cross nor sword. The Americans ruled with the weapons of love and discipline, following the rhetoric of what William McKinley calls "benevolent assimilation" or what Vicente Rafael re-terms as "benevolent bondage" or "white love". 

Petruchio uses both strategies. He physically overpowers Katherina; deprives her of food, sleep and new clothes; and subjects her to a series of obedience tests. But he does so out of affection (his own version of it anyway) and a desire to transform Katherina into a good, dutiful wife - a role consistent with the orthodox tradition of Elizabethan and Christian marriages. Petruchio, in fact, could just as well have uttered Woodrow Wilson's words:

Self-government is a form of character. It follows upon the long discipline which gives people self-possession, self-mastery, and the habit of order and peace... the steadiness of self-control and political mastery. And these things cannot be had without long discipline. No people can be "given" the self-control of maturity. Only a long apprenticeship of obedience can secure them in the precious possession.

And so, we choose pagpapaamo as the Filipino translation for the English "taming" - a Tagalog word that implies both imposition (as in the domestication of a pet) and affection (in Tagalog, amo means "gentleness"). 

And so, we dropped terka, the literal translation of "shrew" and instead opted for maldita. This to get away from the image of shrews or falcons as hunting partners (they have no counterparts in Filipino life, as I know it). This to focus on Katherina, the colonized Filipino- young, vibrant, spunky yet still deprived of complete independence. 

And so, too, we made Petruchio an American soldier, the personification of American colonial policy, the foreigner who woos, weds, and tries to tame a feisty Filipino. Petruchio speaks little Filipino, and says most of his lines in English while the others respond in Filipino, thus demanding a bilingual treatment of the text. 

And so, we chose to locate the play in Bicol during the early American period, around 1910, a time of transition and transformation to what Nick Joaquin, writing in The Filipino Heritage, calls a vivacious "New Era". 

And so, then, Ang Pagpapaamo sa Maldita became a Filipino appropriation of Shakespeare's classic comedy.

In that new age, the moro-moro gave way to the glitzy bodabil. The habenera got stiff competition from the tango and the fox trot. The zarzuela reached its peak, and the first carnival sprang on Manila grounds. Horseless carriages started to roam the streets. American baseball was the sport of the day, and the Philippine team, under American coaching, placed second to Japan in the Asian Olympiad. Men started to sport white drill suits, and while women still wore the tapiz and panuelo, they began to favor the long, frilly skirts displayed in American magazines. 

Filipinos now peppered their conversations with English words and phrases -- thanks to the Thomasites. They also gulped bottles of beer and Coca-Cola ("una bebida tan deliciosa y fortificante" proclaimed one ad), and went to the cabarets and saloons that were dotting the townscape. To the Americans, the Philippines was a booming town - a fact underscored by a gold mining rush in later years. Paracale, our local version of Shakespeare's Padua, was one such gold mining town.

Not all Filipinos loved America with the fervor of the sajonistas, those Americanized Filipinos whose initial revulsion towards the Gringo turned into reverence in one decade. Earlier in the colonial period, nationalist groups like the colorums, descendants of the Katipunan, battled American troops. The so-called seditious Filipino playwrights boldly staged their plays, many of whom were arrested for inciting the public. 

The public display of the Philippine flag was prohibited, and when the law that banned this patriotic display was repealed in 1916, nationalist groups still struggled to liberate Inangbayan from American rule. A new crop of "seditious" playwrights, for example, reports the literary critic Jerry Respeto, used the 1896 Revolution as a source of inspiration to stage plays that clamored for independence. 

These nationalists never did get to overthrow the Americans but their voice, and that of the competing sajonistas, were two major Filipino responses to the regime of benevolent assimilation. 

Either one of these two responses could have provided a backdrop to Katherina's final speech about the duties of a good wife - the trickiest lines of the play. The speech could suggest resistance, a mockery of wifely obedience, a game to trick Petruchio into believing that she has indeed been tamed. Alternatively, the speech could suggest submission, a sajonista-like devotion to Petruchio's husbandry, a successful socialization into a traditional gender role. Our version takes neither position, at least exclusively. 

As I read it, the modal colonial relationship that prevailed during the American period, at least in the early years, was neither one of resistance or submission, but one of accommodation. Vicente Rafael uses the term "contracting colonialism" to explain how Filipinos managed to adopt Spanish colonial practices (e.g. going to confession) without really swallowing the whole spirit of the practice. 

Much of the same, I suspect, took place under the Americans. Filipinos adopted the American language, its social institutions (chiefly education and politics), and many objects of its material culture with seeming ease, but appropriated these to their needs and desire. While the surface of Filipino life may look American, its soul stays true blue Filipino. The Filipino has thus managed to "contract" the American way of life. 

So, too, did Katherina the shrew. She has found a way to live with the mighty Petruchio. She has discovered her own power in the interstices of an inter-racial marriage. And perhaps more importantly, she has been able to reconcile submission and resistance, using either strategy, as the needs of the marriage demand it. Petruchio offered white love; Katherina reciprocated with brown love. But the love remains along with the identity of each partner. 

In Bicol, says Fenella Cannel, the uneasy process of accommodation, or natotoodan, in arranged or forced marriages - the process of learning to love one's spouse -settles down with the birth of children. Childbirth fulfills the woman, gives her confidence, and grants her the license to express more intimacy towards her spouse. The husband is now a father, and the work and responsibility that accompany the new role gives the man a sense of vulnerability that endears them to their wives. The husband has now become the object of compassion or pity. He, too, in effect, has been tamed. 

The plot of Taming of the Shrew does not get this far, but it is perhaps the direction that Katherina and Petruchio will take in an imagined sequel. 

The last line of the play, originally Lucentio's, has been transferred to Gremio who, as Christopher Sly, is also indirectly the play's observer. The original Isang milagro ito, na naamo siyang totoo, sa iyong pahintulot ('Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so) has been simplified -and made interrogative-to read Naamo na ba siyang totoo? (Has she truly been tamed so?). Gremio/Sly is unsure. But to us Filipinos, and especially those who understand Filipino wives (and the motherland), we know in our hearts that it ain't necessarily so. 

The taming of the Filipino, or of any colonized people, is never what the colonizer intends it to be.

Ang Pagpapaamo sa Maldita will run for eight performances at the FEU Auditorium from January 26-27 and February 2-3, with shows at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It will then move to the Irwin Theater, Ateneo de Manila University, on February 13-14 (7 p.m.), February 16 (2 and 7 p.m.) and February 17 (10:00 am). The play features Miren Campa Alvarez and Missy Maramara alternating as Katherina, with Paolo Fabregas and Richard Cunanan taking turns as Petruchio. Ricardo Abad directs the play with set and costumes by Salvador F. Bernal. For further information, call 426-6001, local 5331, or Nora Adriano at 0917-8175856, or JR Andrade at 0917-4435822.


Fenella Cannell, Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1999). Judy Celine Ick, Unsex Me Here: Female Power and Shakespearean Tragedy (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999). Nick Joaquin, "Pop Culture: The American Years," Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation, vol. 10 (Manila: Felta Book Sales, 1979). Vicente L. Rafael, Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993). Vicente L. Rafael, White Love and Other Events in Philippine History (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000.) Jerry Respeto, "Kung ang Isalubong sa Iyong Pagdating...(Ang Mga Dula Tungkol sa Katipunan at Rebolusyong 1896 sa Panahon ng Kolonyalismong Amerikano, 1899-1943), Loyola Schools Review, ed. by Soledad Reyes 1(2001): 65-79.

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