Zamboangueno Novelist Antonio R. Enriquez: In His New Novel “Samboangan”, Our Local War “Remains the Same”

HE is inarguably the greatest Zamboangueno writer today, or ever so far. So when Antonio R. Enriquez’s fourth and latest novel, “Samboangan – The Cult of War”, was launched in his alma mater Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU) last August 29, the awe and admiration of the audience that included the city mayor was effusively genuine, palpably filling the third-floor audio-visual room where the ceremony was held.

No Zamboanga organization has yet accorded him proper recognition for his feats, alas. But two Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature – the most prestigious literary prize in the Philippines – he received for his novels, and many others for other works as well, prove how far and wide his luster shines. In 2000, Princess Bajrakitiyabba of Thailand personally conferred on him the Southeast Asia Write Award in a gala ceremony in Bangkok, making him – in the words of Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul – one of the top ten writers in this Asian region.

What, perhaps, makes 70-year old Enriquez such a fine and successful writer is because he writes about what he knows best and loves deeply, his own Chavacano roots: the history and peoples of Zamboanga. His new book “Samboangan” (published by the University of the Phils. Press) like his other three novels has for a major theme the centuries-long, never-ending conflict between Mindanao’s Muslims and the Christian forces wanting to settle or striving to strengthen their foothold in these southern parts.

While reading the book, ADZU president Fr. Antonio Moreno, SJ confessed that he was aghast to discover that it is “todo guerra (all about war) – some things never change”, referring to the same hostilities which continue right up to this day in Mindanao.

In “Samboangan”, Fr. Moreno said in his speech during the book launch, “one gets the realization that one must really promote peace.”

As its sub-title, “The Cult of War”, more than suggests, Enqriquez’s is a war story that makes liberal use of many real historical events mainly revolving around the early days of the Spanish conquistadores in this “Las Islas de Felipinas”. Like a roman a’clef, he gave obviously fictional names to real-life figures like the blue-blooded General Sebastian Torres for Governor-General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera (Zamboanga still has a Corcuera Street – ed.), Sultan Hashim for Jolo Sultan Bungsu, and Sultan Matingca for Sultan Kudarat. The novel’s storyline consists of the brutal, bloody and all too human conflicts between the Spanish aggressors and implacable natives. Too, otherwise real geographical settings acquired fanciful names.

The novel’s war episodes are “filled and interwoven with superstitions, tradition, folklore, legends myths and magic” and not to forget many Spanish and Chavacano expletives, by which Enriquez preserves the local, collective and corruptible cultural memory. In his own foreword, Enriquez cheerfully states that “this book came to exist by actually believing that lies, unraveling them, make us ‘see the real world’”.

Lies? Real world? In his profound review of the book delivered during the launch, young Jonathan Jimena Siason deftly notes: “The writer’s love for his city and its ancestors is made apparent in the novel. But more than that, Mr. Enriquez continues his brilliant and mordant inquiry into the tricky relationship between achieving a sense of identity and the historical circumstances that impede it. I feel that this is a very relevant part of the novel. Without once letting up on this tale’s subversive suspense, rich sensuality, emotional precision, and occasional satirical humor, Mr. Enriquez performs great feats of social critique by asking what is primitive and what is civilized, tracking the Spanish occupations of this island nation and illuminating the historical link between storytelling, image, and power. For this is the most ironic thing about a people’s history—in retracing the events that shaped a country’s identity, it inevitably spotlights the present. The motivations may be different, but the story remains the same (underscoring by Siason). . . And the genius of our muy bien writer y storyteller, Mr. Antonio Enriquez, lies in that recognition.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in 1936 in Zamboanga City; completed elementary (1949) and high school (1953) in Ateneo de Zamboanga, Bachelor of Arts Major in Creative Writing in Silliman University (1968); written over 50 short stories published as collections and anthologies, four published novels and one unpublished novel; awards – two Don Carlos Palanca Awards for short story, two Don Carlos Palanca Award for Literature for two novels, UMPHIL 1995 Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas Award for fiction (Goethe Institute), SEA Write Award 2000, Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers (Scotland, 2002), many other awards and citations for his literary works; employment – English instructor, columnist, radio host, government information assistant regional director, others, and at present resident creative writer in ADZU.

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