Antonio Enriquez, The Survivors, historical novel, UST Publishing House, Manila, December 2011; Php350.
No. of words: 49,006
Font: Times Roman, 12 pts.
I was Inspired by War in My Eyes, a true story of World War II in Mindanao by Solomon Pimentel, 2002.
1. One reader of my historical novel wrote:
As a war novel [The Survivors], it is a genre which has yielded rather few of its kind in Philippine literature in English ... set after the official surrender of Japan to the victorious Allied Forces, it focuses on aspects of war which have not really been sufficiently explored in the few novels on the 2nd World War and its consequences on the Philippines ...
Enriquez ... tells the story from the perspective of one who already has the advantage of having ’lived’ through many more subsequent wars ... (e.g. the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Bosnian conflicts, the Gulf War and the continuing Middle East conflicts, not to mention our own never ending Mindanao conflicts [Muslim rebels, Abu Sayaff and Al Qaeda terrorists in Zamboanga, setting of the novel], but which had and continue to have global implications and consequences.
This is the story of a small family, Paolo Bocavieja’s and a mixed group – a city mayor, Constabulary officer and an aide, a strikingly beauteous Subana widow of a chieftain warrior, a 14-year-old native girl, an adopted son, and others. Paolo reluctantly leads the group, and is forced to retreat with the Japanese Imperial forces into the jungles of Zamboanga during WWII, as shields, ironically, against the cannonade from U.S. war ships, and air raids from U.S. as well as Allied war airplanes. Some months into their march, they camp at a settlement of Japanese soldiers and stragglers, who have become cannibals in order to survive: they live by one code: kill or be killed. But in the same camp of cannibals, Paolo’s adopted son Tibo befriends a Japanese first-aid officer who promises to bring the boy to Japan and send him to school once the war is over.
From a mountain top in Zamboanga City where the march begins, 1945, to the ‘surrender area’ by a river bank somewhere in Zamboanga del Sur,where it ends eight months later — Paolo Bocavieja, his family, and the group go through purgatory and hell from natural traps and dangers of the jungle, Japanese atrocities, cannon missles, U.S. air raids, death and hunger, which track them down like animals and become inevitably a part of their lives.
On a bamboo raft, re-strengthened to cope with the rapids down the biggest river in Mindanao, the Rio Grande, and before reaching the ‘surrender area’ to safety and freedom—the Bocaviejas and the group are suddenly blocked by two of the strangest creatures metamorphosized kafka-like to half-animal and half-human: the river people, creatures of the deep waters of Rio Grande, who live inside the web-like giant roots of the squat swamp-trees:
... And just in time.
Half a dozen river savages, creatures of the river depth, completely naked save for a thick coat of mud and slime, tumbled onto our raft, shaking it here and there. Emma had been quick enough, and the ugly water creatures failed to pull our young girl into the river bottom.
One river thief slithered onto our raft like a monstrous amphibian or a primordial denizen of the river. I came up from behind, and with the tip of the long pole, lashed him across his forehead as he, aware of me, wheeled his head anticipating danger. In spite of the slush coat on his face — was it a human face, an animal’s or a fish’s? — a clear yellowish gap opened from one side to the other of his temple, and blood mixed with mud sprang from the wide open wound. Chinga bos nana!
Meanwhile, Sergeant Arcilla was having difficulty preventing more crawling river thieves from getting on our raft; a few succeeded and were trying to pull him down into the water. Desperately, cursing, he kicked and boxed the slush-coated, naked river thieves; pummeling them with his fists and wildly kicking at their limbs.
... But it was too late. Several river thieves had succeeded in climbing onto our raft and dragging off the last sack of roasted corn from the raft into the murky river.
“Fuck your mother!” we swore at the river people.
and the cliff-dwellers, savages of a multi-mixed tribe transmutated to pristine creatures by the admixture of all the tribes of the jungle, living in caves in the mountain ledge, who prefer human meat to pork or deer abundant in the nearby forest:
... “They live by the great river up on the top of cliffs,” my Papalolo said. “The cliff-dwellers are not a tribe but a mixed group of different tribal people and murderers and thieves and cutthroats and fugitives who have banded together. They’re known to prefer human flesh over an animal’s though the cliffs abound with wild goats and pigs. No hunter comes near those cliffs for fear of being harmed or eaten by the cliff-dwellers.”
“O, o. They’ve no gods although even the lowest tribe has their gods … has no one told you about this, hijo?”
“No, no one,” I said. “I had not heard about them until now.”
“It’s because anybody who chances upon the cliff-dwellers seldom makes it back home to his barrio,” said my Papalolo Don Flavio.
Cannibalism — the path taken by the Japanese soldiers and stragglers for survival, and savagery seem to be the only way for the Bocaviejas and the group to survive, too!
Indeed, this is an account of a disembodied group of people, who flee into the jungles of Mindanao, ironically from U.S. cannon missiles and bombs. Their forced isolation into the primeval life, anticipated and concretized the ideas of man’s transmutation and dehumnization.