Last week at WPU’s very interesting conference on Instilling Cultural Values, one key question became how the academic community might contribute to this preservation of the heritage. We are today watching with some misgivings as Palawan changes in so many ways – as it welcomes more and more tourists, more and more settlers, sharing finite electrical power and water, welcoming new roads but abhorring the loss of more trees, more green, more peace. Our indigenous groups are fast receding into the mountains or integrating into the mainstream – and their art, and their languages are all at risk. What Palawan is today will be described as what Palawan used to be by tomorrow or next week or next year, so there is much to document.
Mary Rose P. Caabayof the Heritage Center pleaded eloquently for attention to be paid to our indigenous language, art, artists. But more than that she spoke of the life experiences of our indigenous groups, urging teachers especially to bring student groups into the mountains, into communities, to talk and learn, as an alternative to the standard class trip to the Underground River or the beach. She relates her own experiences climbing into the mountains, fording rivers at night, arriving at a village at 1:00 a.m. – to find a celebration prepared to welcome them!
Stories! They are about little things, little experiences and adventures, but they speak of real people and they speak to our hearts. Families have their own stories, some private, some not so, but they make up life experiences and they are part of our heritage.
I have been working over the last two months or so with one particular family, that of Mr. FelinoDiao, with the aim of writing a biography of Mr. Diao. My main approach has been to listen to stories about the man, sometimes coaxing stories out, enjoying tales of a truly remarkable man and an interesting, fun, loving, and energetic family! Mr. Diao was not a famous man but he was lively and innovative, and made some real contributions to Palawan and our history. He was first of all an immigrant from Dumaguete, via the Dapitan- Dipolog area: born in Dumaguete he found himself in Northern Mindanao with the 107th Regiment of the U.S. army during World War II, and after the war he married a woman from Dapitan and started a family of seven sons. He was a big fan of Hollywood movies and modeled his family after the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, asking each of them to build a house for a someday bride in the same compound! In the end, only one brother lived there with his wife.
But at one point one of the sons worked in Palawan, and went back to his family with tales of an island where the fish grow to be huge and then die of old age. Mr. Diao came here to fish – and eventually brought a whole band of fishermen from Mindanao to Palawan, where they all settled in Sta. Monica and live even today. They are a very significant element of Palawan’s fishing industry.
But he wasn’t just a fisherman: a graduate of Siliman University, he was invited by Dr. Walfredo Ponce de Leon to teach English in Palawan Teacher’s College, which later became PSU, and he did this for ten years. He was also a published author, coming out with short stories in the Philippine Free Press in the 50’s and 60’s.
Mr. Diao eventually died in a boat accident on the Palawan seas – just as a character in one of his stories did, and as he had told colleagues in PSU he wished to do. He was only two months away from being accepted into the U.S. and immigrating to Nebraska on the basis of his USAFFE service. A little coincidence, but a significant part of one life story in the history of Palawan. If you’re into hashtags (I’m not!) hashtag #immigranthistory, #fishinginPalawan, #writers, #teachers, #Storytelling.
Tell your stories! Narrate them, write them down, share them with your children, your friends! Those are what make up the story of the world!