Saturday, November 8, 2008

Can War Be Just?


Okay, back to poetry. And back to my "Filipinos at War" theme from a couple of days ago.

In early 2003, while I was putting together my poetry collection Ghost Wars, originally intended as an anti-war protest specifically against the Iraq war that was about to launched, I thought long and hard about the question of whether or not war can ever be just . . . you know, St. Augustine and all that.

As an answer to that question, I wrote the following poem about the killing of Ferdinand Magellan by Lapu-Lapu, first hero of the Philippines, who struck the first blow against colonialism. Granted, the poem is quite romanticized (like pretty much all the lore about Lapu-Lapu), but it does make, I think, a credible case for the justness of war through dramatic means.

Just War


Pale blonde sand glaring white into his eyes,
Lapu-Lapu stood on the beach with his tribesmen.

His wooden shield — a vertical rectangle rounded
at top and bottom, scalloped inward on the sides —

rested on a sinewy left arm, his lean legs slightly
spread, brown muscled chest rising, falling, softly.

Clenched in his right hand, his sharp kampilan,
a hefty metal sword with ornately carved hilt.

Tramping up the sand from rowboats beached
on a reef, los conquistadores labored in helmets

and breastplates, cutlasses drawn. In the lead,
Ferdinand Magellan, a dandy’s pointed beard,

sweat stinging his eyes in harsh tropical sun.
With a crash of wood and metal, like trees

falling under the typhoon’s wind and thunder,
the two met, swords arcing like lightning bolts.

Thrusts, parries . . . then Ferdinand’s eyes
opened wide a moment as Lapu-Lapu’s blade

swooped over his, an eagle diving from the sun.
The Spaniards turned, fled as Lapu-Lapu thrust

the severed head into the blue dome of sky.
Magellan’s vaunted circumnavigation: a lie.

Lapu-Lapu, brave brown defender, circumcised
that vainglorious invader’s ultimate round trip.

— Vince Gotera, first appeared in Pinoy Poetics (2004).

Similarly romanticized is this statue commemorating Lapu-Lapu, located near the actual site where he and Magellan crossed swords . . . in the Battle of Mactan on the island of Cebu. Note particularly the oversized sword the sculpted Lapu-Lapu is holding, his kampilan . . . quite the phallic symbol there.

This poem happened when I was copyediting Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's fiction anthology Growing Up Filipino. The title pages for the sections of that book featured photographs accompanied by excerpts from poems. One of these photos was a chiaroscuro image of this Lapu-Lapu statue.

That silhouette of a Filipino warrior, sword and shield limned starkly against sky, was so incredibly moving for me that I went straight to the computer and wrote "Just War" in one sitting. The question I was posing with regard to the oncoming American war in Iraq was this: Who would be Magellan, and who would be Lapu-Lapu? I trust it would be clear to anyone, of whatever political stripe, that we would definitely not be Lapu-Lapu. To bring it closer to home, we would be the Redcoats this time.

On a side note, take another look at the statue Lapu-Lapu's sword. (Click on the picture to see a larger version.) The sword is shaped like a mix between a Bowie knife and a 1900s military bolo rather than a kampilan: a curved blade with a one-handed hilt (like a saber) vs. a straight blade with a two-handed hilt (like a single-edged broadsword). If you compare earlier plans for the statue with the finished product, you'll see that a different sword was originally planned, a straight-bladed one.

To the right is a painting of Lapu-Lapu's fight with Magellan (from a website about "Pre-Spanish Tacloban"). Note Lapu-Lapu's weapon in the painting: a two-handed sword with a straight blade and two points. In other words, the stock kampilan.

It may be that the statue's designers were trying to be true to Spanish written accounts of the Battle of Mactan, in which Lapu-Lapu's sword is described as a "cutlass" and a "scimitar." It may also be that the kampilan of 500 years ago was shaped differently from the kampilan of more recent times.

What I do hope is that, whatever reasons there may have been for altering Lapu-Lapu's sword, the change did not arise from some misguided motive to make the weapon appear more familiar to Western eyes. More like a harem guard's exaggerated sword in a Hollywood movie. That would be truly unfortunate. Lapu-Lapu's sword would make him look like Captain Hook in loincloth. Ay naku.

In any case, Lapu-Lapu's war was indeed just. And Ferdinand Magellan, whom many people think circumnavigated the globe, did not complete the trip. Lapu-Lapu saw to that. The End.

NOTE: The poem "Just War" ended up not being a part of Ghost Wars because that collection evolved into a a more specialized focus only on American wars. I am now considering writing a book of poems on Filipino myth, legend, and folklore; that would be a good home for this poem.

Also, there is more background info on "Just War" (the poem) and just wars (as an intellectual question) in my essay "Love and War, Contrapuntal: A Self-Interview" from
Pinoy Poetics: A Collection of Autobiographical and Critical Essays on Filipino and Filipino-American Poetics, edited by Nick Carbó (Meritage Press, 2004).

Finally, here's a 2006 YouTube video featuring Filipino martial artist Yuli Romo demonstrating the use of a kampilan.

1 comment:

lady gaga halloween costume said...

I love coming to this site and reading all the great content.
lady gaga halloween costume ideas

13th floor elevators (1) 3d (1) 9/11 (3) abecedarian (3) acrostic (2) adelaide crapsey (1) african american (1) aids (1) al robles (2) alberta turner (1) alex esclamado (1) alexander chen (1) alexandra bissell (1) alliteration (2) alphabet (1) alphabet poem (1) altered books (1) altered pages (2) amanda blue gotera (4) amanda gotera (1) amelia blue gotera (3) amok (1) amy lowell (1) anacreon (1) anacreontics (1) anaphora (1) andrea boltwood (19) andrew davidson (1) andrew oldham (1) angelina jolie (1) angels (1) animation (1) anna montgomery (3) anne reynolds (1) annie e. existence (1) annie finch (1) anny ballardini (1) anti- (1) antonio taguba (2) aprille (1) art (7) arturo islas (1) ash wednesday (1) asian american (4) assonance (1) astronomy (1) aswang (6) aswang wars (1) atlanta rhythm section (1) balato (1) ballad (1) barack obama (7) barbara jane reyes (1) barry a. morris (1) bass (2) bataan (5) becca andrea (1) beetle (2) belinda subraman (2) beowulf (1) best american poetry (1) bible (1) bill clinton (1) billy collins (2) blank verse (1) bllank verse (1) bob boynton (1) body farm (1) bolo (1) bongbong marcos (3) brian brodeur (2) bruce johnson (1) bruce niedt (1) buddah moskowitz (2) callaloo (1) candida fajardo gotera (5) cardinal sin (1) carlos bulosan (1) carlos santana (1) carolina matsumura gotera (1) carrie arizona (3) carrieola (3) catherine childress pritchard (1) catherine pritchard childress (35) catullus (1) cebu (1) cecilia manguerra brainard (1) cedar falls (4) cedar falls public library (1) chess (1) childhood (1) children's poetry (1) China (1) chorus of glories (1) chris durietz (1) christmas (2) chuck pahlaniuk (1) cinquain (1) civil rights (1) clarice (1) classics iv (1) clerihews (1) cliché (1) computers (1) concreteness (1) consonance (3) cory aquino (2) couplet (4) crab (1) craft (5) creative nonfiction (1) crewrt-l (1) crucifixion (1) curtal sonnet (4) daily palette (1) damián ortega (1) danielle filas (1) dante (4) dashiki (1) david foster wallace (1) david wojahn (1) de jackson (2) denise duhamel (1) deviantART (2) dick powell (1) diction (1) didactic cinquain (1) dinosaur (2) disaster relief (1) divine comedy (1) doggerel (2) doggie diner (1) don johnson (1) dr who (3) dr. seuss (1) draft (2) dragon (1) dragonfly (17) drug addiction (1) drums (1) dusty springfield (1) e e cummings (1) e-book (1) earth day (1) ebay (2) ecopoetry (1) edgar allan poe (2) edgar rice burroughs (1) editing (1) eileen tabios (4) ekphrasis (2) election (2) elegy (1) elizabeth alexander (2) elizabeth bishop (1) elvis presley (1) emily dickinson (2) emma trelles (1) end-stop (3) enita meadows (1) enjambment (5) enola gay (1) environment (1) erasure poetry (6) erin mcreynolds (4) exxon valdez oil spill (1) f. scott fitzgerald (1) facebook (3) family (4) fantasy (1) fashion (1) ferdinand magellan (1) ferdinand marcos (5) fib (1) fiction (3) fiera lingue (1) fighting kite (4) filipino (language) (1) filipino americans (6) filipino poetry (1) filipino veterans equity (3) filipinos (5) film (3) final thursday reading series (2) flannery o'connor (1) flute (1) fortune cookie (1) found poem (1) found poetry (6) found poetry review (2) frank frazetta (1) free verse (1) fructuosa gotera (1) fyodor dostoevsky (1) gabriel garcía márquez (1) gambling (1) garrett hongo (1) gary kelley (1) gawain (1) genre (1) george w. bush (1) gerard manley hopkins (6) ghazal (1) ghost wars (5) ghosts of a low moon (1) gogol bordello (1) golden shovel (3) goodreads (1) google (1) gotera (1) grace kelly (1) grant tracey (1) gregory k pincus (1) griffin lit (1) grimm (1) grinnell college (2) growing up (1) growing up filipino (2) guest blogger (1) guitar (9) gulf war (1) gustave doré (3) guy de maupassant (1) gwendolyn brooks (2) gypsy art show (1) gypsy punk (1) hades (1) haiku (13) haiku sonnet (3) hart crane (1) hawak kamay (1) hay(na)ku (14) hay(na)ku sonnet (4) header (1) hearst center for the arts (2) heirloom (1) hey joe (1) hiroshima (1) how a poem happens (2) humboldt state university (1) humor (1) iain m. banks (1) iamb (1) ian parks (1) ibanez (1) imagery (1) imelda marcos (4) immigrants (1) imogen heap (1) indiana university (1) ink! (1) insect (2) insects (1) international hotel (1) interview (3) introduction (2) iowa (2) iran (1) iran-iraq war (1) italian bicycle (1) ivania velez (2) j. d. schraffenberger (4) j. i. kleinberg (3) j. k. rowling (1) jack horner (2) jack kerouac (1) james brown (1) james gorman (2) japan (1) jasmine dreame wagner (1) jeanette winterson (1) jedediah dougherty (1) jennifer bullis (1) jesse graves (1) jessica hagedorn (1) jessica mchugh (2) jim daniels (1) jim hall (1) jim hiduke (1) jim o'loughlin (1) jim simmerman (1) jimi hendrix (2) jimmy fallon (1) joan osborne (1) joe mcnally (1) john barth (1) john charles lawrence (2) john donne (1) john mccain (1) joseph solo (1) josh hamzehee (1) joyce kilmer (1) justine wagner (1) kampilan (1) kathy reichs (1) keith welsh (1) kenning (1) kim groninga (1) king arthur (1) king tut (1) kumadre (1) kumpadre (1) kurt vonnegut (1) kyell gold (1) lapu-lapu (1) lapwing publications (1) laurie kolp (2) les paul (1) leslie kebschull (1) library (1) library of congress (2) limerick (2) linda parsons marion (1) linda sue grimes (2) lineation (5) linked haiku (1) list poem (1) little brown brother (1) lost (tv) (1) louise glück (1) luis buñuel (1) lydia lunch (1) machismo (1) magazines (1) mah jong (1) man ray (1) manananggal (2) manong (3) margaret atwood (1) maria fleuette deguzman (1) marianne moore (1) marilyn cavicchia (1) marilyn hacker (1) marriage (1) martin avila gotera (16) martin luther king jr. (1) marty gotera (5) marty mcgoey (1) mary ann blue gotera (6) mary biddinger (1) mary roberts rinehart award (1) mary shelley (1) matchbook (1) maura stanton (1) maureen thorson (86) meena rose (3) megan hippler (1) melina blue gotera (3) mental illness (1) meter (6) mfa (2) michael heffernan (2) michael martone (2) michael ondaatje (1) michael shermer (2) michelle obama (1) mirror northwest (1) misky (1) molossus (1) monkey (1) morel mushrooms (2) mushroom hunting (1) music (3) muslim (1) my custom writer blog (1) myth (1) mythology (3) nagasaki (1) naked blonde writer (1) naked girls reading (1) naked novelist (1) napowrimo (93) narrative (2) nathan dahlhauser (1) nathaniel hawthorne (1) national geographic (3) national poetry month (94) native american (1) neil gaiman (2) New York School (1) nick carbó (3) ninang (1) north american review (7) north american review blog (2) of books and such (1) of this and such (1) ottava rima (1) pablo picasso (2) pacific crossing (1) padre timoteo gotera (1) painting (1) palestinian american (1) palindrome (1) palmer hall (1) pantoum (1) paradelle (2) paranormal (1) parkersburg iowa (1) parody (3) parol (1) pat bertram (2) pat martin (1) paula berinstein (1) pause for the cause (2) pca/aca (1) peace (2) peace of mind band (1) pecan grove press (2) pepito gotera (1) percy bysshe shelley (2) performance poetry (1) persephone (1) peter padua (1) petrarchan sonnet (2) philip larkin (1) philippine news (1) philippine scouts (6) philippine-american war (1) philippines (8) phish (1) pinoy (1) pinoy poetics (1) pixie lott (1) podcast (1) podcasts (3) poem-a-day challenge (91) poetics (6) poetry (4) poetry imitation (1) poetry international (1) poetry reading (4) poets against (the) war (2) pop culture (2) prejudice (1) presidio of san francisco (1) princess grace foundation (1) promotion (1) prose poem (2) ptsd (2) puppini sisters (1) pyrrhic (1) quatrain (2) r.e.m. (1) rachel morgan (2) racism (1) rainer maria rilke (1) rap (1) rattle (1) ray fajardo (1) reggie lee (1) rembrandt (1) ren powell (1) reviews (1) revision (1) rhyme (7) rhythm (1) richard hugo (1) rime (1) robert bly (1) robert frost (1) robert fulghum (1) robert lee brewer (91) robert mezey (1) robert zemeckis (1) rock and roll (2) roger zelazny (1) ron kowit (1) ronald wallace (2) ross gay (1) rubaiyat (1) rubaiyat sonnet (1) run-d.m.c. (1) saade mustafa (1) salt publishing (1) salvador dali (1) san francisco (8) sandra cisneros (1) santa claus (1) santana (1) sarah deppe (1) sarah palin (1) satan (1) sayaka alessandra (1) schizophrenia (1) science fiction (1) science friction (1) scifaiku (1) screaming monkeys (1) scripture (1) sculpture (1) sena jeter naslund (1) senryu (2) sestina (6) sevenling (1) shadorma (1) shaindel beers (2) sharon olds (1) shawn wong (1) shiites or shia (1) sidney bechet (1) skateboard (1) skylaar amann (1) slant rhyme (4) slide shows (1) small fires press (1) sniper (1) sonnet (21) sonnetina (3) soul (1) southeast asian american (1) specificity (1) spiraling abecedarian (1) spondee (1) spooky (1) st. patrick's day (1) stanford university (1) stanza (1) stereogram (1) steve hazlewood (1) stevie nicks (1) sue boynton (1) suite101 (2) sunflowers (1) surges (1) susan l. chast (1) syllabics (1) sylvia plath (1) t. m. sandrock (1) t. s. eliot (2) tanka (1) tarzan (1) teaching creative writing (2) ted kooser (1) term paper mill (1) terrance hayes (1) terza rima (9) terza rima haiku sonnet (4) terzaiku sonnet (3) the byrds (1) thomas alan holmes (30) thomas faivre-duboz (1) thunderstorm (1) thurifer (1) tiger (1) tilly the laughing housewife (1) time travel (1) tom perrotta (1) tom petty (1) tom phillips (1) toni morrison (2) tornado (1) translation (2) translitic (3) tribute in light (1) trickster (1) triolet (1) triskaidekaphobia (1) trochee (1) tucson (1) typhoon haiyan (1) typhoon yolanda (1) u of northern iowa (3) university of northern iowa (3) us army (7) vampire (2) verses typhoon yolanda (1) veterans' day (2) via dolorosa (1) video poetry (6) vietnam war (4) viktor vasnetsov (1) vince del monte (1) virgil wren (1) virtual blog tour (1) visual poetry (2) volkswagen (1) w. somerset maugham (1) wallace stevens (2) walt mcdonald (1) walt whitman (2) war (7) war in afghanistan (2) war in iraq (2) wartburg college (1) whypoetrymatters (1) wile e. coyote (1) william blake (1) william carlos williams (1) william gibson (1) wind (1) winter (1) women's art (1) wooster review (1) writing (1) writing away retreats (1) writing show (1) wwii (5) young adult (1) yusef komunyakaa (6) zone 3 (1)