Questions from an eight-year old get into the start of things. No, scratch that, they insinuate into the thick of things that you remember them long after they’ve been asked.
It started with the first of the great homework sighs. Mid-dance into a rapid finger flamenco, daughter Bugie as her dad calls her, halted abruptly, peered into the page of her Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) book, leaned her head to the left side to ask: “So mom….who was Gabriela Silang’s mother?”
I did not know, and felt frustrated that I did not ever ask or tried to find out.
I searched online quickly but the template for a female hero was set in the context of a male counterpart as Gabriela’s documented life started and ended with the husband. Diego Silang, after all, was the renowned leader of the Ilocos revolution against the Spanish conquistadores, and it was only after his death when Gabriela led one uprising after another that she became the central character of her story.
What is curious was Maria Josefa Gabriela herself had Spanish blood having Anselmo Cariño as father, who, in turn, descended from Ignacio, the first Galician in Ilocos Sur who prospered as a trader. What is curiouser was that Gabriela’s mother was an indigenous Tingguian, whose name eluded historians but whose people gave Gabriela guerilla aid when she became La Henerala after Diego’s assassination.
Three years after the first question about Gabriela’s matriarchal lineage, we went roading to Abra, when local politics blew fresher air and there were no more killings. In Tayum, the house of Nicolas Cariño, brother of Anselmo, Gabriela’s father, remains intact. A gallery now, the house is full of the mementos of Cariño patriarchs who became ambassadors in Europe and Asia.
Curator Chato Cariño was a walking trove of stories and history particularly of Gabriela’s patriarchal genes but was stumped when Bugie asked, “What was her name then, Gabriela’s mother?” He knew as everybody did that she was Tingguian, and even alluded to the runaway gossip that she may even have been a maid in the Cariño household.
But Gabriela’s story had too much wind on its wings and the curious and curiouser needed to enter the scene of her rebellion away from the ground. She sought sanctuary at the Cariño household at the heart of town, it was told, but she was a very wanted woman already not just from waging arms against the colonizers but also because she challenged the status quo that a young female could lead a war. It was more probable that she went guerrilla and hid among her mother’s people away from the center.
Gabriela could not have rallied Tagabuen and other Tingguian chiefs and warriors with just her indigenous blood, familiarity with language or that she could ride bareback on a horse just as in all those monuments that captured her wildness. Her mother must have been gentry enough or powerful enough such that her influence gave the daughter mileage to recruit indigenous combatants.
In Pidigan where Gabriela’s mother was from is another monument on the town square; again, the daughter is on a horse, her hair windswept, her arm, bolo-wielding. Locals pointed here and there and everywhere to locate where the ancestral hut used to be, but nobody could tell us the name of her mother.
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