Friday, June 22, 2007

A Small Piece of Land on Earth
...and other "abstractions"

It suddenly hit me this morning: I no longer have any connection to my father's piece of land. I signed a waiver before we returned to the US that I am giving up my share to the sibling who is still in the Philippines. It is just a technicality, supposedly, to expedite the processing of his estate. But I feel devastated in a deep way.

My father's only wish is for the land to remain in the family in perpetuity. His tenacious clinging to this desire is rooted deep in his soul, I believe, back to an ancient time when his family had vast tracts of land in Pampanga. He said that a long time ago the land around the town plaza where today the Methodist Church, a couple of banks, and a hotel stands belonged to his family. Then family squabbles squandered it all.

When Ma and Tang bought the piece of land where the house I grew up in stands now, he promised himself that he will never let go again. He wanted each of his six children to have a small piece of land of their own and he managed to acquire small plots here and there. But as we started vanishing for another continent, he sold those plots one by one to relatives in need. Two remain; on one stands the family home and the other is a vacant lot in another town that no one has visited in decades. The last time I saw this piece of land was about 15 years ago and it was overgrown with cogon grass. Someone offered a million pesos for it but Dad said 'no.' I know that he had always hoped for one of us to do something with it -- build on it or farm it, maybe. No takers.

My hope is that the land will remain in the family.
I often think of that not-so-politically-correct film, Out of Africa. I had a farm in Africa...Maybe it's the Mozart effect or the Robert Redford effect, but there is something about that film that resonates with me about losses. Land lost. Love lost. Come to think of it, all imperial adventures are about the pursuit of Land. And all colonial trauma stems from the loss of Land. Loss of natural habitat. Loss of the wild and diverse. Now all tamed into submission. And we call it "development," "progress," "improvement," "real estate property." What is real about it?

As a beneficiary of such abstractions, I want to learn how to dismantle the unearned privileges that come with the system. I don't know where to begin. I have the language but I do not have the Land.
Thanks to David Abram for this: ...indigenous tribal peoples have no such ready recourse to an immaterial realm outside earthly nature. Our strictly human heavens and hells have only recently been abstracted from the realm that abounds in its own winged intelligences and cloven-hoofed powers. For almost all oral cultures, the enveloping and sensuous earth remains the dwelling place of both the living and the dead. The "body" -whether human or otherwise - is not yet a mechanical object in such cultures, but is a magical entity, the mind's own sensuous aspect, and at death the body's decomposition into soil, worms, and dust can only signify the gradual reintegration of one's ancestors and elders into the living landscape, from which all, too, are born. (The Spell of the Sensuous, 15).

We had both masonic and christian funeral rituals at Dad's wake. I am still fascinated by religious rituals of these kinds - how can I not? It is possible to be in communion with others as we still share the same history (of christianity); their present, my past.

My present: I gathered a bundle of lavender from my garden and placed it on top of Dad's thalo-green casket. (Will write about his choice of color soon)...and whispered to him: for a lavender-scented journey, Dad, as you meet up with Ma. I couldn't say the words aloud to anyone.

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