5 Works of Davao Fiction to Read

It is Araw ng Dabaw! And what better way to celebrate the primate city of Mindanao than to read the works written about it! Fiction is the way by which we write places on the maps of our souls, and it is one way of making a place becomes part of a people’s cultural consciousness. Reading about a place in fiction gives one’s experience of it a new dimension, a refreshing distance that allows one to experience the familiar all over again – Verfremdung, Brecht calls it.

And Davao has a substantial body of fiction written about it! So this Araw ng Dabaw, put that American teen novel down for now and pick up any of these five quintessential stories:

People on Guerrero Street by Leoncio Deriada: the first novel to be written about Davao, this semi-autobiographical story is set in the eponymous street in the 50s, when Davao still had the feel of a rural town. The story chronicles the coming-of-age of Leo, who grows up in an intimate but very Filipino neighborhood of Guerrero Street in the house of his brother’s family, and the tragedy he suffers with his childhood friend.

The Dog Eaters by Leoncio Deriada: Another story by the Palanca Hall of Famer, this short story is set in Artiaga street when it was still a small neighborhood. It features the struggles of a low-income couple living together in this grimy street, where people are barbaric enough to eat dogs. Now a staple in college Literature classes, the story inspired a poem (I forget by which poet), which was read by the novelist Jessica Hagedorn and which subsequently inspired her novel of the same title.

Nanking Store by Macario Tiu: This short story by the Datu Bago Awardee (another great writer of Davao) gives a rare glimpse into the life of Davao’s reclusive Chinese community. Told inadvertently from the perspective of a little boy, it is about the marriage of an heir to a Chinese family to a Filipina woman, a marriage constantly strained by the demands of the husband’s family and culture.

Sigaboy by Macario Tiu: While technically not set in Davao (Sigaboy is now Governor Generoso, a town in Davao Oriental), this story, another one from Tiu, nevertheless shows the early beginnings of a key player in Davao’s history, the local chieftain Mangulayon. The story is set in the man’s youth, just before he became the brave leader who would eventually kill the American governor of Davao. It depicts Mangulayon’s struggle to get his wife from the domineering chieftain who steals her from him. At times thrilling, heartbreaking, and romantic, this story demonstrates the historian Tiu at his best, breathing life into history by making it fiction.

Love in the Cornhusks by Aida River Ford: the most popular story by the grand dame of Mindanao literature in English, few readers know that the story is actually set in Mintal, once the commercial heart of Davao during its days as a major Abaca producer. The story is about Tinang, erstwhile maid to a landed family, who returns to her former masters for a visit a marriage to a native and a baby later. Her visit makes her relive her past encounters with Amado, the family’s former driver. At some point she is torn between her past and the seemingly hopeless future waiting before her. Oh the melodrama that can happen amidst cornhusks!

There are of course so many stories set in Davao, and this list is far from exhaustive. I have yet to read the fiction of Karl Gaspar (aka Melchor Morante), but considering how enjoyable his drama is, he is bound to be a fun fictionist too (his novel Si Menda ug ang Bagani’ng gitahapan nga maong si Mangulayon also deals with Mangulayon). Other bodies of fiction I have yet to explore too are those by Margarita Marfori and the poet Tita Lacambra Ayala. And of course (because I am a shameless self-promoter),  you can check out my story In the Manner Accustomed too!

Happy Araw ng Dabaw!

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