MANUEL& LYD ARGUILLA: PHILIPPINES WRITER


"Ligawin," (Courthip) painting by Manuel Rodriguez, courtesy of A. Florentino

 

 

STORIES OF JUAN TAMAD
Retold by Manuel and Lyd Arguilla

1
Juan Tamad and the Rice Cakes

Juan was a little boy, the laziest of the lazy, and for this reason he was named Juan Tamad.
After baking some rice cakes one day, Juan’s mother said:
“Get up, you lazy boy, and sell these bibingka in town.”
Rolling up a piece of rag, she coiled it into a round pad and set it on Juan’s head and upon the pad she placed the heavy basket of rice cakes.
The sun grew warmer and warmer as Juan trudged townward with the rice cakes. Now and then he stopped to rest under a bamboo or soaked his feet in the cool river, or ate a rice cake or two for refreshment and soon the sun was dipping in the west and frogs were croaking in the rice paddies—
ko-kak ko-kak ko-kak
and Juan was saying, “Yes, yes, yes, I will come back for the payment next week.” And with that, he flung what remained of the rice cakes into a paddy and the frogs said—
ko-kak
and Juan said, “Not at all,” and set off for home.
As soon as he entered the house, he said:
“I sold all the cakes, Mother, but the buyers will pay next week.”
The next week Juan said the creditors asked to be given another week and the next week it was the same story again and finally Juan’s mother lost all patience and, tucking the corners of her overskirt into her waist, said to Juan:
“Lead me to your shameless creditors!”
So Juan led her to the rice paddies.
“Here are the customers, mother,” he said, pointing at the frogs calling—
ko-kak ko-kak ko-kak
and the mother flew into a rage and beat and cursed her son all the way home.
Never again did she send Juan to town to sell rice cakes.


2
Juan Tamad and the Flea-Killer

One weakness will engender another. So it was with the laziness of Juan Tamad. As his body was lazy, so was his mind. Truth being often hard to tell, he chose falsehood which seemed easy.
One day his mother sent him to town to buy a cooking pot. It happened that the town-people were afflicted by fleas that came from where nobody knew. Fleas crawled up their legs and their bodies and lodged in their hair till they thought they would all go mad from itching.
Juan bought his rice pot and set off for home. On the way, a flea bit him inside his clothes and he yelled and threw out his arms and scratched himself and pranced around. Prrrraaaaak! The pot broke into a dozen pieces on the ground.
Juan squatted before the broken pot, thinking, I shall surely catch it from mother. Then he collected all the pot pieces and ground them very fine between two stones. Then he wrapped up the powder in little packages of banana leaf and went back to town.
Up and down the road he went shouting—
Buy flea-killer! Buy flea-killer!
The townsfolk crowded around him and bought all his powder. Juan brought home no cooking pot but a bag of coins and his mother was well pleased. But she still wanted her rice pot, so she sent him back to town the next day.
Great was the dismay of Juan Tamad when he arrived in town and was soon set upon by angry men and women shaking their fists in his face and calling down all manner of curses on his head.
“We shall tear you limb from limb,” they shouted, “for you sold us no flea-killer but common sand. Come, tell us a likely story why you should not die like a dog, and we may set you free. But if you tell your story badly, it will fare ill with you!”
“Oh, my good neighbors,” pleaded Juan. “First, tell me how you used the flea-killer.”
“Why, we dusted it on the fleas, of course,” said the neighbors.
“Ah,” said Juan, “that is as I feared. Have you any of the powder left?”
“Why, none,” said a neighbor and, “none,” said another. No  one had any powder left.
“What a pity,” sighed Juan, “for I could have shown you how to kill the fleas. First, you catch a flea. Then you open its eyes. Then you put the powder between its eyelids. It is really very simple,” said Juan, sadly.
Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!
roared a neighbor and
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
laughed another. Soon all the town was rocking with laughter.
“It is hard enough to see a flea or catch it, let alone open its eyes. Let the fool go, “said the neighbor. Only, let him sell no more flea-killer!”


3
Juan Tamad Escapes a Whipping

A mother will shield the worst son from harm as a hen will spread her wings over the most wayward of her brood. So it was with the mother of Juan Tamad.
“Aie!” cried the father of Juan Tamad in great anger one day. “Juan has again forgotten to water the carabao and the beast is hot and dry. When that good-for-nothing son of yours comes home, he will surely feel my lash on his lazy hide.”
“It was my fault,” said the mother of Juan Tamad. “This morning, I craved the taste of duhat and your son fetched me a handful of the fruit which, unwitting, I shared with him. There may be truth in what my mother used to say that any man or woman or child who partakes of food craved by a conceiving woman will suffer from fits of forgetfulness…”
“Last night, your son was forgetful,” the father grumbled. “And other times before, he was forgetful, too. Surely, you did not share duhat fruit with him yesterday nor the day before?”
“Yesterday, it was guavas,” the mother smiled, “and the day before yesterday it was tamarind. Why, mother used to say also that if a conceiving woman takes a notion either to like or dislike a person, that one will become absent-minded. Also, that, whichever person or object attracts her fancy or incurs her displeasure, will leave a mark on her baby that is yet to be born.”
“My mother also used to tell me,” said the father of Juan Tamad, “that a pregnant woman may not eat of twin bananas if she does not wish to give birth to twins.”
“Nor mend or hem a dress she has on, lest she suffers a difficult birth-giving…”
Nor this and that and the other, continued Juan Tamad’s father through tale after tale, thus forgetting his anger, and the mother smiled, knowing her son has escaped a whipping that night.


4
Juan Tamad Goes A-courting

Love struck lightning-like the lazy heart of Juan Tamad when he saw the beauteous maid, Mariang Masipag.
Every day he came to see her and followed with his eyes her busy hands and feet that never stopped at their tasks from early morn to dusk.
“Every day you come here, Juan Tamad, and lie around making eyes at my daughter,” said the mother of Mariang Masipag, “and eating our food and drinking our tuba. Yet, you cut no firewood nor draw water from the well. You good-for-nothing lout with bones as soft as rice gruel! Be off with you and never set food in our yard again!”
Juan Tamad went away without a word but was back the next day, his arms loaded with big banana leaves. These he laid down carefully one by one from the field into the yard of Maria’s house.
The mother of Mariang Masipag stood watching at the head of the stairs until she could bear her curiosity no more and exclaimed:
“What in the name of the dark one are you doing with those banana leaves? And didn’t I tell you never to set foot in our yard again?”
 “I’m not stepping on any part of ground in your yard,” said Juan, “for as you see, my feet touch only the banana leaves.”


5
Juan Tamad Takes a Bride

Juan Tamad’s mother said:
“My son, it is time you took a woman to wife, for your mother grows old every day, older and more feeble.”
“What manner of woman shall I bring home, mother?” said Juan.
“A woman of few words,” said the mother of Juan.
So Juan went off in search of a wife and he went east and he went west but everywhere he went the women talked too much.
Finally, he came to a lonely house in the woods where, he was told, lived an old woman and her daughter.
“Tao po…” called Juan at the gate; but no one answered.
He ventured into the yard and again called out—
Tao po…
and still no one answered.
He climbed the bamboo steps into the house and found a young girl lying upon a mat on the floor.
“Will you be my wife?” asked Juan.
The maiden stared at him but said not a word.
“Ah!” said Juan, “you are the very wife my mother wants for me,” and he lifted the girl in his arms and took her home.
“Oh! You wretched boy!” cried the mother of Juan at sight of Juan’s bride. “You have brought my house enmity and bad luck, for surely at this very hour they are looking for this corpse and heaven help you when they find it here!”
No sooner had the mother of Juan spoken than the relatives of the dead girl arrived and fell to beating Juan with sticks and calling him the worst names. After which they took the corpse away to give it a burial.


6
Juan Tamad Becomes a Soothsayer

One day Juan Tamad said to his mother:
“I can see what is hidden. I can find what is lost. I can foretell what is to come.”
“I do not believe you, son,” said the mother. “It is another one of your tricks to get out of your chores.”
“Why, then, if you do not believe me,” said Juan, “I will split open the eastern post of this bamboo house and show you a fortune.”
“Never mind,” cried the mother, “for I hid some money there myself against a rainy day and if you can see hidden things, then, surely, I am the most unfortunate woman, for no morsel of food or hoard of coins will be safe from your greedy mouth and hands.”
So saying, she sent Juan Tamad out of the house to find himself work, but Juan returned secretly to espy on his mother’s cooking and when it was time to eat he showed himself and pretended to guess what his mother had cooked for dinner.
So impressed was his mother by his powers of divination that she treated him with great respect, not sending him anymore to draw water or chop firewood but bragging about him instead to all the neighbors.
One day Juan led a neighbor’s carabao to a secluded spot and tied the animal to a tree and waited until the owner came to his mother’s house with a piteous tale of loss. Juan’s mother said:
“My son can surely help you,” and she called Juan and told him and Juan closed his eyes and bowed his head into his hands as though in deep meditation and presently he rose and said, “Follow me,” and he led them all to the spot where he had tied the carabao.
And sure enough the carabao was found and the grateful neighbor made Juan and his mother a present of roasted suckling pig.
Now, there was a young man much in love with a very pretty girl who would have him only if he could rightly guess whether she had any mark and where on her flawless-seeming body.
The love-sick young man, having heard of the miraculous powers of Juan, went to him with this problem and Juan said, “It is a long time since I ate a good papait of juicy young goat.” And the young man said, “If you help me with my heart’s desire, you shall have yours.”
Juan Tamad passed by the house of the pretty girl who, by chance, was looking out of the window and like a good neighbor called out:
“Juan Tamad, will you stop with us awhile?”
And Juan Tamad went up to the house and ate and drank a little and talked of this and that, including charm eternal for the woman brave enough to bathe in secret and alone in a secret spring at full moon as that very night.
In the evening he hid himself behind a clump of bamboos by the lonely spring he had indicated and sure enough when the moon rose he saw the pretty girl come alone and in secret to bathe in the spring.
The next morning he told the young man to tell her she had a mole on her left thigh and when the young man came again he was leading a nice young goat for Juan’s papait.
One day a rich man lost a valuable gem and all the town said, “Go to Juan, he will tell you where it is.”
Now Juan was getting tired of being a soothsayer because there was too much work in it, more even than in cooking rice or in chopping firewood, and so he said:
“I feel weak, mother. Do not let anybody wake me for I will sleep three days.”
When the rich man came to Juan’s house, the mother said a three-day sleep is upon him, but the rich man woke Juan up anyway  and Juan sat up and rubbed his eyes and said, “Now, you have broken the spell and my soothsaying days are over.”


7
Juan Tamad and the Rice Harvest

Juan Tamad said one day:
“Mother, if you will wrap some cooked rice and salted fish in banbana leaf for me, I will set out for the hills to make a clearing.”
The mother was greatly surprised, for Juan Tamad was the laziest of the lazy, but she did as she was bidden.
When he was gone, she went to the neighbors to tell them of the wonderful change that had come over her son.
“Ah! Foolish woman," the neighbors laughed. “That son of yours twirls you round his little finger, for is it not common knowledge that there is no bone in his body but is lazy and if Juan is not lying asleep at this moment under some tree, then day is night and night is day.”
The sun was down when Juan Tamad came home. “I worked very hard today, mother,” said Juan Tamad, “and need a good supper.”
The mother set before him a big steaming plate of rice and some fish and asked him, “How wide a clearing did you make today, my son?”
“From here to there,” said Juan, measuring a distance with a wave of his arm. “Before sun-up tomorrow, I will set forth again,” said Juan. “Please get my breakfast early and wrap me up a good lunch.”
“I will do as you say,” the mother said.
The next morning Juan set forth before the sun was risen with a good breakfast between his ribs and his lunch-pack tied securely to his waist.
Later in the morning the mother took some dirty clothes to wash in the river with the other women. They pounded the clothes on flat stones and rinsed them in the swift-flowing current.
“Ano, mother of Juan Tamad? How much land has your son cleared today?”
“From here to there,” replied Juan’s mother.
The women slapped the clothes on the flat stones and laughed and laughed.
When Juan Tamad came home that night, his mother met him at the head of the bamboo steps. “How much land did you clear today, my son?”
“How tired I am, mother,” said Juan Tamad. “And near-dead with hunger, too. The smell of that fish you are broiling coaxed the water out of my my mouth even before I had reached our gate.”
“Eat then, my son,” said the mother, pulling out the fish from over the coals and scooping rice out of the black pot.
Juan ate swiftly, silently, and after supper overstretched his big body on the mat that his mother had laid out for him and fell heavily like a banana trunk into deep sleep.
He was up again the next morning while the air was yet dark and still. He ate big fistfuls of fried rice and washed it down with strong throat-burning ginger tea. With his lunch-pack and a sharp bolo at his side, he again set forth.
Day after day Juan left home for the hills in the early morning and came home at night saying, “I am weary and tired.”
In the town, when the mother of Juan Tamad went to sell vegetables, the town people asked her, laughing, “Ano, mother of Juan, how wide is your son’s clearing by now?”
“From here to there,” said the mother.
Then the rains came and with it the season of planting and still Juan Tamad went to his clearing in the hills. The rain stopped and the sun beat down hot upon the fields and everywhere the rice grown tall bore grain that was first green, then yellow, and the wind carried the ripening scent far and wide.
No longer did Juan to go the hills but instead cut bamboo and gathered dry cogon and built himself a ricehouse bigger than in all the village.
“And when will you harvest your field?” teased the neighbors.
“Very soon,” replied Juan.
“And how many pairs of hands will you be needing at the harvest?”
“A hundred,” answered Juan.
“How wide is your field then?” prodded the neighbors.
“From here to there,” answered Juan.
The day came when the mother of Juan went around asking the neighbors, “Will you come and help with the harvest?”
Men and women came out of their houses, laughing. “Lead us to your field, Juan, for we shall help with the harvest.”
Juan led the whole village towards tne hills.
“How far is it?” they asked.
“We’re almost there,” said Juan.
At last they came to a little valley hidden between hills and the neighbors gasped with wonder. “Surely, that is a field of cogon,” cried the neighbors.
But it was no cogon field. They knew, for the stalks were very heavy with grain as Juan had said and they waved and billowed farther than the eye could reach—from here to there.


8
Juan Tamad and the Ripe Guavas

Lying at the bottom of the banca waiting for the fish to bite, Juan fell asleep. When he woke up he did not remember where he was or why white clouds billowed in the blue sky above him.
Poor Juan is dead, said Juan Tamad as the boat floated gently downriver. Sometimes a fly buzzed around Juan’s nose, but Juan did not raise a hand to slap it, for Juan is dead, said Juan, and dead men lie still.
The boat passed under guava trees heavy with fruits and some of the ripe guavas touched with tantalizing fragrance Juan’s nose and mouth.
Ah! beautiful, beautiful guavas, sighed Juan. How lucky for you that Juan is dead or he would have eaten you all up.
Gently. the banca floated downriver and Juan lay in it, somber and still and grave, for Juan was truly dead.

 

~the end~

Copyright 2001 by Manuel & Lyd Arguilla

 

Notes by Alberto Florentino

MEA, aka Manuel E. Arguilla—like Jose Rizal in his "The Monkey and the Turtle" (adptn/Eng. tr.) and "The Legend of Mariang Makiling" (retold in Sp.)—thought highly of anonymous folk poets and storytellers and their creations.

With Lydia Arguilla (ne Villanueva) MEA co-wrote a book retelling favorite folk poems and stories, now a collector's item.

From that book I "saved" the following Stories of Juan Tamad by plucking them from the original book and re-publishing them as one of three "booklets for young readers." It was illustrated in woodcuts by the late J. Elizalde Navarro (lately, posthumously declared a National Artist for Visual Arts). Again, that booklet is a collector's item. [The other two: Villa's "Mir-i-Nisa" and "Mariang Makiling" (illustrated by Larry Alcala and Carlos Valino, respectively.]

MEA has not really been neglected as a writer. His first book of short stories, How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife (1940, the ms. a winner of the first prize in short story in the prewar Commonwealth Literary Contest), was published by the prewar Philippine Book Guild and had long been out of print until it was reprinted once; and again in an edition by the DLSU Press.

MEA, who was involved in the "underground" movement, died during the Japanese Occupation in the hands of Japanese soldiers. He died so young he had written mostly short stories (150 of them), including the title story, "HMBLBHAW," "Midsummer," "Caps and Lower Case," and "Heat," He never published a novel, although Lyd Arguilla and some friends talked of a ms. novel he was working on (under the title, The Mountain, or some other title) has not turned up.

MEA and Lyd conducted the first non-academic workshops in their home in Ermita (called "The Porch") where future National Artists would troop in (the young ones, NVM Gonzalez, Francisco Arcellana, Nick Joaquin) to sit at the elders' feet: Paz Marquez (later Benitez), Jose Garcia Villa, Fred Mangahas).

Lyd conducted the first writing workshop in the country in the early '50s at the Phil. Art Gallery (aka PAG) on Arquiza St., Ermita. I was one of the first workshoppers. I read my first play(let), "The Memento," and her comment was: "So the couple had a spat... so what?" Therein (in 2 words!) lies a lesson for all writers.

Alberto Florentino
Manhattan, 12/27/01
During a lull between wars.


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