‘Kidapawan in my heart’ by Rita B. Gadi: An Analysis

Rita B. Gadi’s ‘Kidapawan in my heart’ first saw print on the Sunday Inquirer Magazine in 2002, and is part of her 2010 collection of poems published by the UST Press. A few days ago I made a translation of it into Davao Filipino on this blog.

The poem is divided into two parts, the first of which is enclosed in a parenthetical. This beginning tells of a collective identity that has a native and indigenous constancy: the persona’s tribe, though like all peoples prone to movement, are always bound to return home to the mountains. ‘tribe,’ ‘mountain,’ and ‘eagle’ are words that immediately evoke Mt Apo, its Philippine eagles and mountain-bound lumad tribes to the informed reader. Kidapawan, at the foothill of the mountain, has been home to many such tribes for millennia. The connotation of the lumad is reinforced by the succeeding images of silence (‘our eyes keep the secrets of our lips’ and nature-bound celebration (‘birds fill with celebration the beginnings of our songs.’). Indeed, in contrast to the invasive settlers and the resisting Islamized tribes, the dominant characteristic of the lumad voice in the Mindanao discourse has been silence, and the lumad are also known to be secretive with the folk wisdom they have acquired over the ages. This wisdom is heavily informed by their close experience with nature, and in their arts – particularly their rich oral traditions – appreciation and mimicry of natural imagery and sound are very evident. If anything, this portion of the poem reveals the poet’s keen understanding of the lumad character. She thus projects this as the inherent nature of her communal belongingness.

It is the collective nature of the preceding stanza’s topic  which gives us the idea that the succeeding stanza is in fact addressed to a hometown.

But this succeeding stanza, in shifting in communicative function from statement to apostrophe, also takes a different tone. If the idea that this portion is addressed to a home is taken, then the persona has called it many names, she has ‘shaped many figures’ to ‘design its face’: the constancy of the preceding stanza is gone, the persona is expressing difficulty in recognizing her hometown. This difficulty is addressed by the creation of identity, and so she imagines, instead of remembers and recognizes,  what her hometown was and is  (‘memories that never arrive because they are not past’). This is later further developed when the home is described as ‘almost invisible,’ ‘chanced upon,’ and ‘vanishing.’

What succeeds is an ingenious use of line cutting: she mentions the attempt to recognize ‘what would please/you.’ It implies the identity creation of the persona for the home is a question of what the home wants to be rather than what it actually is. At the same time the enjambment at ‘please’ ends up implying that in in spite of this conscious collective identity creation, the impulse fundamentally underlying it is the identity-creator’s – the persona’s – own sense of pleasure and reassurance: ‘this is what the hometown ought to be,’ and at the same time ‘thinking my hometown to be like this is better, much more reassuring.’

This creation of the home’s identity explains why the preceding stanza is enclosed in parentheses. The statement of fixed rootedness is itself another created identity for the home. The images of tribes, mountains, eagles, and folk songs are all trappings the persona adorns her ideation of her hometown. Perhaps she has never experienced these images at all.

And this envisaging of a fixed rootedness is complicated by the succeeding details, as the persona implies distance from the home. She talks of searching for ‘reflections’ of it in windows, as well as writing to it, thereby implying she is not there. It is this distance that ultimately seems to have led to this difficulty to recognize the home – with space and time in the way, she has ended up romanticizing her town. This is now evident as we look back at the earlier creative processes of name calling, ‘face-designing,’ and on a more personal level, recollecting.  The difference between what the home is and what she has imagined it to be complicate her recognition of it, and it ends up being ‘the same and not the same.’

The poem ends with an expression of her lingering love for the home. This is nevertheless still insightful: the situating of the recollection of the home in the evening leads to the interpretation that such recollections often occur irregularly in sleep. The poem’s personification of the home is taken to a new height with the act of ‘walking’ the persona’s ‘landscape.’ The act of walking is perhaps a light echo of the movement of tribes in the first stanza, thereby making the personification another form of romanticism: the home and thoughts of it are always bound to return to one. The succeeding lyricism then ingeniously plays around with the nature of the subject as home: on a simply expressive level ‘only you can take the stars and give me the moon’ is another lyrical statement of exclusive love, but if the addressee is indeed the home, then the individual details gain a more experientially specific character – the night sky in one’s hometown is the truest of night skies. She returns to her created ideation when she consciously ‘assembles’ the reasons why she loves the hometown. This ultimately reveals that the poem is not about the home per se (as it seemed to have been with the first stanza) but about the persona’s dealing with the home. The poem tapers to an interesting stylistic stop, with finality because of its brevity, but indicating continuation: it is an insistence that in spite of all the alterations to the home, and the discrepancies between what is actual and imagined, she will continue to struggle with its thought.

I cannot say much about the authorial level (information on Gadi anywhere, even in Kidapawan, is scarce), but the Gadis seem to be among the settler families in Kidapawan (it will suffice to say that her parents were both municipal Mayors), and they didn’t seem to be of lumad origin, although I may stand corrected there.

If so, then it all the more reaffirms the interpretation of identity creation for rootedness. This is a dominant characteristic in Kidapawan settler identity: many a Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilonggo, or Ilocano who was born and who grew up in Kidapawan has to struggle with the liminal nature of his domicile, as he is neither ethnically a native of his hometown nor does he belong to his ethnicity’s homeland. To fill in the resulting void in his identity, he carves out belongingness for himself in the land, creating, even at the expense of destroying what is already there. Either he imposes his ethnicity’s culture on the area (so we get places like ‘New Bohol’) or, less frequently, he appropriates the culture of the indigenous peoples as his own. Kidapawan identity is the perpetual struggle with this permanent crisis of identity. This fundamental turbulence is why the Kidapawanon always aspires to be elsewhere – nearby Davao, Manila or Cebu, or even abroad, anywhere but Kidapawan – and why he can so easily give up his roots in Kidapawan when he moves to another place.

Gadi’s poem shows another instance of this drive to create to fill in the void: what happens for the introspective after such an exodus. On arriving elsewhere and renouncing his roots, the Kidapawanon realizes that he does not belong in the new place too, and so he comes to the envisioning of home that this poem deals with. But he has never lived consciously in Kidapawan, he was too busy hating the insincerity of his transplanted nativeness there. Now he has to fill in the gaping void of memories, and he may do it by romanticizing the little encounters he has had there, or adorning it with lumad mystique, or with natural wonder, or whatever it is about his hometown he ends up reading but has never experienced.

Of course the poem might not be actually saying all this, but these layers of meaning are possible to the reader who has experienced having Kidapawan, nay, the lingering idea of Kidapawan, weigh heavily in his heart.

‘Kidapawan in my heart’ is so far one of only two published poems dealing with Kidapawan and its people’s identity. Another, more recent publication is Paul Gumanao’s ‘Sometimes on the Road to Kidapawan.’ But I will discuss that in another post!

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