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[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

Latent within the Carpio legend is the folk memory and celebration of social banditry under late Spanish colonialism. It was a moment within the vast totality of peasant and lower-class discourse which was conducted in registers designed to occlude these discourses from elite perception and interference. A superficial examination of the legend finds only superstition and all the old aristocratic stereotypes of peasant thought. Ileto unfortunately has nothing much to add to these preconceptions.

Ileto’s quest to locate lower class discourses and categories of thought was a valuable one. He approached this task, however, with an elite, textual hermeneutic that did not situate the reception of the texts he examined within their historically determined acts of performance.

A careful examination of these lower-class discourses reveals that they contained a deep seated historicity. They are a complex and contradictory affair, in keeping with the developing social consciousness which produced them. To begin to piece together this consciousness from the extant source material will require a heightened sensitivity to each text’s historical specificity and to the significance endowed upon it in its performance.


[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

Bonifacio’s journey to the cave of San Mateo did place him within a nexus of signification. Bonifacio was aware that this was known as the cave of Bernardo Carpio. He was not awakening a sleeping king, however, nor was he manipulating peasant belief. He was participating in a long-standing history of revolt. There is continuity between social banditry and Bonifacio. This continuity is not to be found in Pasyon and Revolution‘s atavistic, essentialised counter-rational underside to history, however. It is not a continuity of idiom or ideology. Bonifacio’s journey to the cave of San Mateo was an act of identifying with the history of mass resistance of the late nineteenth century.

Based on an awareness of its history, Bonifacio recognized the tactical significance of San Mateo’s geography and used it to the advantage of the Katipunan at the beginning of the revolution.

In Pasyon and Revolution we read, “Bonifacio himself, as Carlos Ronquillo reports, told his followers that their legendary king Bernardo would descend from Mount Tapusi to aid the Katipunan rebels.” (111) The source for this claim is Ronquillo’s manuscript, Ilang Talata tungkol sa Paghihimagsik ng 1896-97; there is no page number given.

Carlos Ronquillo with Emilio Aguinaldo and other ilustrado exiles in Hongkong (1898)

Carlos Ronquillo with Emilio Aguinaldo and other ilustrado exiles in Hongkong (1898)

In responding to Milagros Guerrero’s critique of his work, Ileto stated

In 1897, Carlos Ronquillo, the personal Secretary of Emilio Aguinaldo, in his “history” of the Katipunan uprising castigated Bonifacio for raising false hopes that an army would descend from Mount Tapusi “to lead his whole army.” “This plain falsehood,” writes Ronquillo, “was a deception or morale booster (pangpalakas loób) perpetrated by Bonifacio; because at the appointed hour neither men nor arms arrived from Tapusi. Up to now we do not know where this mountain is.”1

Ileto used this passage in three separate essays. In each case he cited pages 6 and 21 of Ronquillo’s unpublished manuscript. In his response to Guerrero Ileto dropped his prior reference to Bernardo Carpio. In Carpio’s stead we find Bonifacio’s promise that “an army” would lead the “whole army.” Not one of the four citations provided the Tagalog original, aside from the phrase ‘pangpalakas loób.’

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[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

How then did Tapusi become not merely associated with but actually conflated with Pamitinan and the cave of Bernardo Carpio, if it is a geographically distinct location?

Santiago Alvarez, when speaking of Bonifacio’s intention to assault Manila from San Mateo refers to Bonifacio’s hiding place in the mountains of San Mateo as ‘Tapusi.’1 Alvarez was a mestizo land-owner from Cavite, whose alliance with Bonifacio in opposition to Aguinaldo reflected the continuation of a long-standing regional rivalry between two ruling class factions. His account is an important one for our understanding of the events in Cavite leading up to the arrest and execution of Bonifacio. The greater the remove of an event or person from Alvarez’ class and geographical ambit, however, the more tenuous are the facts which Alvarez records on the subject. Thus, when Alvarez writes of Maestrong Sebio, a charismatic leader from Bulacan, he misidentifies him as Eusebio Viola, a wealthy mestizo landowner. Maestrong Sebio was in truth Eusebio Roque, a local school teacher.2 Another wealthy Caviteño, Carlos Ronquillo, also conflated Tapusi with Pamitinan in his 1898 account of the revolution. There is more involved, however, in Ronquillo’s account than simple error.

Fray Mariano Gil, a Spanish priest, revealed the existence of the Katipunan to the colonial authorities after hearing the confession of a wife of one of the members. In his report he stated that the Katipunan was amassing weapons at Tapusi. Tapusi was not a mountain in this report, nor did it have any geographic specificity at all. It was simply a fabled place of resistance. The response of the Spanish authorities was not to rush to San Mateo, but to hunt for Bonifacio and his companions in Tondo. Gil’s testimony is not evidence for the conflation of Pamitinan and Tapusi but rather for a hazy fear of Tapusi in the minds of the colonial and religious authorities.

Pedro Paterno

Pedro Paterno [ca. 1906. Filipinas Heritage Library]

Pedro Paterno, writing his self-aggrandizing memoirs on his role in mediating the pact of Biaknabato, stated, “I climbed mount Tapusi, with its famous cave, eternal refuge of tulisanes and afterwards lair of General Luciano San Miguel, who afterwards died gloriously at Pugad-Babuy under the fire of American cannons…”3 Thus, in 1910 Paterno identified Tapusi with Pamitinan. It is worth pointing out that Paterno, the extremely wealthy and laughably pretentious Bulakeño, could not speak passable Tagalog and was carried in a hammock from Manila to Biaknabato and back again. He never went anywhere near Pamitinan and he certainly did not “climb” anything.4

The conflation of Pamitinan and Tapusi occurred among outsiders, those excluded by class from the sociolinguistic register of the peasantry and by spatial and temporal remove from the actual geographical specificity of Pamitinan. Tapusi and Pamitinan were connected, in history and in legend. They were not, however, the same.

On the basis of these conflations, Ileto goes on to identify ‘Mount Tapusi’ with Meru, a center of power in Southeast Asian conception.5 This misses the point entirely. Tapusi was not a mountain, it was not in San Mateo, it had no cave; the idea of Bonifacio’s journey being a ritual ascent of Tapusi makes no sense in light of historical evidence.6


[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

Colonial authorities labeled the long-standing tradition of resistance at San Mateo banditry, and the inhabitants of the region, tulisanes. Telesforo Canseco, the overseer of the Dominican hacienda in Naic, Cavite, wrote of

the bandits (tulisanes) of San Mateo with long beards whom we have called tulisan pulpul, are men who are dedicated to robbing and committing crimes and have taken to the mountains (remontarse) and have lived for many years in the mountains of San Mateo, where even the Spanish have not been able to reach them.1

Noceda y Sanlucar

Noceda y Sanlucar, Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, 1754 edition

Noceda and Sanlucar in the 1860 edition of Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala defined tulisan as “malhechor, salteador; de tulis, agudo” [evil-doer, highwayman; from tulis, sharp.]2 The etymon of tulisan is tulis, to sharpen. Tulis is an Austronesian root which developed into the Malay tulisan, writing,3 a significance related to the sharpened implement which was used for scratching letters into the leaves of the lontar palm.4 Tulis thus had pluripotent significance, waiting to be sharpened into one or the other of at least two possible meanings. As the Spaniards supplanted and destroyed Philippine writing systems, the highly literate native populations were driven to orality; tulis came to mean banditry.

The word tulisan, as banditry, was appropriated by the Spanish. Felix Ramos y Duarte in his 1898 Diccionario de mejicanismos defines tulis as “ladron, ratero” (bandit, pickpocket).5 Tulis, rather than tulisan, had entered Mexican Spanish by the late nineteenth century as a word meaning bandit. The Diccionario Porrua attributes the origin of the word ‘tulises’ to a ‘grupo de bandoleros del Edo. De Durango’ who escaped from the jail of the town of San Andres de Teúl, in approximately 1859. Most notable among them was the famous bandolero, El Cucaracho.6 From Teúl the dictionary derives the word tulis as bandit. Gironiere, among others, was already using ‘tulisan’ as a Tagalog word for bandit long before these events in Teúl, thus ruling out this etymological reconstruction.

An alternative etymology has been proposed by Paloma Albalá Hernández in her Americanismos en las Indias del Poniente. She suggests a Náhuatl origin for the word, deriving tulisán from “tule, planta de la que se hace el petate, que etimológicamente procede de la voz náhuatl tullín o tolin, según Molina (1571) ‘juncia o espadaña’ y según Siméon (1885) tollin o tullin ‘junco, juncia, carrizo’.” [“tule, plant used in making bedrolls, proceeding etymologically from the náhuatl tullin or tolin, according to Molina (1571), sedge or bulrush, and according to Siméon (1885) tollin or tullin, rush, sedge, reed-grass.”]7 No further explanation is given for this proposed etymology, but it would seem that petate, bedrolls, were considered a standard item of the bandolero, and since these bedrolls were made from tule, the bandoleros became known as tulis. Teresita A. Alcantara follows the same path for the entrance of tulis into Tagalog.8 This etymology seems far-fetched.

It would seem likely that the word tulisan traveled from Manila to Acapulco in the final years of the galleon trade. Teul, in the Estado de Durango, was on the west coast of the Mexican isthmus, north of Acapulco. En route, the word also entered Chamorro, as tulisan rather than tulis. Chamorro is an Austronesian language and Chamorro speakers would have found the desinence -an familiar.

Regardless of the path taken by the word ‘tulisan’ in its transpacific peregrination, what is important is that there was a specific historical phenomenon in the nineteenth century in both Mexico and the Philippines with which the word was associated: social banditry.

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[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

For tourists what they visited was no more than the cave of San Mateo. For Bonifacio, the mountain and the cave “of Bernardo Carpio” were named Pamitinan. Julio Nakpil, a commander of troops under Bonifacio and a famed composer, was stationed in the mountains of San Mateo along with Emilio Jacinto. He fought there under the nom-de-guerre of J. Giliw. In his handwritten manuscript, Apuntes para la historia de la Revolución Filipina de Teodoro M. Kalaw, Nakpil wrote of how Bonifacio was fleeing from Aguinaldo in Cavite to San Mateo when he was arrested and executed. Bonifacio’s widow, Gregoria de Jesus, was able to escape and reached the San Mateo mountains, joining Nakpil and commanding troops there. She and Nakpil married a year and a half later. Within a month of Bonifacio’s execution, Nakpil composed a dance entitled Pamitinan, which he dedicated to the remontados.1 This was the tradition which Bonifacio’s Katipunan identified with Pamitinan, the history of resistance to Spanish rule, and not a mythical Tagalog king.

Nakpil, Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan

Julio Nakpil, “Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan” (1896)

Despite the remarkable differences and great distance between the two places, Pamitinan can be associated with Tapusi both historically and geographically. What were these historical and geographical connections?

Some of the remontados of Tapusi came from San Mateo. Nakpil wrote of the remontados from this region, Rizal did also, refering to ‘los remontados de San Mateo,’ in El Filibusterismo.2 The US colonial government in the Philippines conducted a census of the population in 1903. On page 474, in a brief glossary, the census defined ‘nomads’ or ‘remontados:’ “This term refers to a group of wild Tagálog people, who tradition says ran away from the town of San Mateo, and whose descendants to-day roam the mountains back of Montalbán in association with the Negrito.”3

Linguistic evidence suggests that remontado migration connected Tapusi in the Limutan river valley with Pamitinan. In the 1970s Teodoro Llamzon discovered a new language in Daraitan in the mountainous upstream of Tanay, Rizal. This was exactly where Gironiere located Tapuzi, although he spelled the region ‘Darangitan.’ Llamzon designated the language Sinauna (original or ancient), as he considered it represented an ancient strand of Tagalog; the native speakers called their language Tagarug. In the Ethnologue listing of languages it is classified as Remontado Agta. Agta is a language of the Negrito people of the Sierra Madre and the population of Sinauna speakers is supposed to be descended from intermarried remontado and Negrito populations.4 Sinauna has now been identified as an important transitional form between Tagalog and Bikolano. It is mutually unintelligible with Tagalog.5

In Southeast Asian linguistics, the pepet vowel is the indifferent vowel; it is akin to schwa. Pepet is the Javanese word for this vowel. Carlos Conant, in his dissertation of 1913, examined the ways in which this vowel differentiated in different languages in the Philippines, e.g. atəp (roof), becomes atep, atip, atap, and atup.6 Llamzon revisited this thesis and examined the role of dialects in this law. He found that the pepet vowel has not disappeared from most of the languages that Conant claimed had lost the pepet vowel. Conant overlooked the retention of the pepet vowel because he failed to examine dialects.7

For our present purposes, this line in Llamzon’s work is important: “for the Puray dialect, which is geographically located at the back of the Montalban Dam, the regular reflex seems to be ə.” Some brief samples of the dialect follow: ipa, dakip, ngipin, pusod, talong, dikit, dinggin, all of which indicate a retained pepet vowel.8 Puray is a river slightly beyond Pamitinan; it is a tributary of the San Mateo River.9 Thus, in the region of Pamitinan, a Tagalog dialect was spoken which retains the pepet vowel.

That the Limutan river valley was spelled Lumutan in de los Angeles report on Manila’s water supply was not an error in transcription; rather, it reflected the ambiguity of the pepet vowel which was retained in both Puray Tagalog and Sinauna. It seems likely that the original semantic significance of the place name was Lumutan (verdant, lush green, mossy). The pepet vowel in the penultimate syllable of a non-enclitic morpheme reflects to i,10 and thus L/*e/mut[an] came to be L/i/mut[an] (forgotten).

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VI. Tourist pilgrimages

[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

Bonifacio’s trek to San Mateo could be situated within a history of ‘pilgrimage,’ but it would be a very different history from that which Pasyon and Revolution suggested. There was an established tradition of European tourists traveling to the cave of San Mateo in the nineteenth century.

In a separate section of his book, Gironiere writes of traveling to see the cave of San Mateo. He tells of going between two “monster mountains … equally alike and similar in height.”1 His story goes into great detail of the spelunking which he and Hamilton Lindsay undertook, through subterranean chambers and between enormous stalactites. He does not mention Tapuzi in the context of the cave of San Mateo, nor does he mention San Mateo in his journey to Tapuzi. At the time of his explorations the conflation of the two locations had not yet occurred.

Surveying the accounts written by foreigners visiting Luzon in the nineteenth century we almost always find a reference or two to the caves of San Mateo. It was a popular destination among the more bold adventurers to visit Manila.

The Scottish businessman, Robert MacMicking, wrote

Some miles beyond Mariquina, there is a most curious cave, of great extent, at the village of San Mateo, which is well worthy of a visit by the curious. Shortly after entering it, the height of the cavern rises to about fifty feet, although it varies continually, — so much so, that at some places there is scarcely height enough for a man to sit upright … The temperature within the cavern was 77\degree, and without, 86\degree, being a very considerable change, even in the cool of the evening, on coming out of it, just after sunset. I am afraid to give an estimate as to the extent of this immense cave; it requires, however, five or six hours to partially see its curiosities, and of course would take far more time to investigate it properly. The only living creatures met within it, [sic] appear to be bats, which are not very numerous.2

Joseph Stevens

Joseph Stevens from Yesterdays in the Philippines (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1898).

Joseph Stevens traveled to the cave in May, 1894, less than a year before the Katipunan visited the cave during Holy Week, 1895. He wrote,

After a jolly good bath, and a few preparations, our party of four, with the two boys and two guides, started up a steep valley in among lofty mountains to the so-called caves of Montalvan. [sic] One of our guides was the principal of a village school, who held sway over a group of little Indian girls under a big mango-tree, and he shut up shop to join our expedition. In about two hours and a half our caravan reached the narrower defile that pierced two mountains which came down hobnobbing together like a great gate, grand and picturesque. From a large, quiet pool just beneath the gates, we climbed almost straight up the mouth of the stalactite caves that run no one knows how far into the mountains, starting at a point about two hundred feet above the river.3

It was not just foreign travelers, but business also which was going to the caves of San Mateo. One year prior to Stevens’ journey, the San Pedro Mining Company petitioned for the right to collect guano in Pamitinan.4 Scientists studied the place. The German geologist Drasche wrote of a journey there. It is interesting to note that, despite the fact that his work was written entirely in German, Drasche refered to the cave as the “cueva de S. Mateo.” This would indicate that this had become the official name of the cave. This is the only aspect of Philippine geology which he treats in this fashion; all other geographical features were translated into German.5


[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

All of that said, Gironiere was a plantation owner in rural southern Luzon from 1819 to 1839. This is a period and a location for which we have few sources. Any accurate material which could be gleaned from his account would thus be unique.1 We must, however, approach this material with extreme caution and deep hermeneutical suspicion if we are to recover anything of historical value. Our approach must discard as historically unreliable any portion of the text which glorifies Gironiere.2

Paul P. de la Gironiere

Portrait of Paul P. de la Gironiere, by H. Valentin, in Aventures d’un Gentilhomme Breton aux îles Philippines (1855)

Gironiere wrote of an excursion to ‘Tapuzi.’ He introduced Tapuzi as “a place where bandits, when hotly pursued, were enabled to conceal themselves with impunity.”3 It was “situated in the mountains of Limutan. Limutan is a Tagalog word, signifying ‘altogether forgotten.'” The name Tapuzi, he stated, meant ‘end of the world.’

Gironiere claimed that Tapuzi was formed in Limutan by bandits and men who had escaped from the galleys, who now “live in liberty, and govern themselves … I have often heard this singular village mentioned, but I had never met anyone who visited it, or could give any positive details relative to it.”

In his story he travels with a guide, a former bandit, up a ravine which was defended from above by stones which could be pushed down upon intruders. An immense block of stone falls in front of them; it is a warning. They are then led by guide from Tapuzi to a village of sixty thatched huts. He meets with the ‘matanda sa nayon’ [village elder], leader of Tapuzi. When Gironiere identifies himself, the old man responds, “It is a long time since I heard you spoken of as an agent of the government for pursuing unfortunate men, but I have heard also that you fulfilled your mission with much kindness, and that often you were their protector, so be welcome.”

The ‘Tapuzians’ feed Gironiere “milled corn and kidney potatoes.” This is an accurate description of a diet which swidden agriculture in the Sierra Madre mountains would have allowed. Although the majority of kaingin — mountain or jungle fields cleared for planting — are used for rice, occasionally corn is grown instead. The old man tells Gironiere, “Several years ago … at a period I cannot recollect, some men came to live in Tapuzi. The peace and safety they enjoyed made others imitate their example … ” Tapuzi would thus have been populated by waves of remontado migration. This corresponds with our few other sources on the matter.

The old man tells Gironiere of the social and economic structure of the village. “Almost all is in common … he who possesses anything gives to him who has nothing. Almost all our clothing is knitted and woven by our wives; the abaca … from the forest supplies us the thread that is necessary; we do not know what money is, we do not require any. Here there is no ambition; each one is certain of not suffering from hunger. From time to time strangers come to visit us. If they are willing to submit to our laws, they remain with us; they have a fortnight of probation to go through before they decide. Our laws are lenient and indulgent.”

Based on this information, Gironiere describes Tapuzi as “a real, great phalanstery, composed of brothers, almost all worthy of the name … On the other hand, what an example that was of free man not being able to live without choosing a chief, and bringing one another back to the practice of virtuous actions!” Gironiere is editorializing. His reference to phalansteries and thus to Fourier, is completely out of place. Hermeneutical suspicion dictates that we must throw out all of his material on the social structure of Tapuzi. The line about not knowing what money is, is particularly suspect; it is likely that the remontado population was actively engaged in trade.

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[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

One of the earliest and most important sources for this examination is Paul Proust de Gironiere’s work. Gironiere’s writings are prickly, problematic sources. Of all the travel narratives written in the Philippines in the nineteenth century, his account was based on the most time spent there. Gironiere lived in the rural Philippines for twenty years from 1819 to 1839, the owner of a plantation on a Laguna peninsula known as Jalajala. His work is regarded as an excellent source on the cholera epidemic of 1820 and the massacre of the French residents, who were blamed by indios for the outbreak. The cholera riots provoked fears of revolution among the Spanish authorities in the wake of events in Mexico.1 As Gironiere is a source of much unique information, it is necessary to investigate his credibility.

Gironiere claims in the preface to his work that he was inspired to write his own version of events when he read a feuilleton; by Alexandre Dumas Père in Le Constitutionelle. This feuilleton was subsequently published as Les Mille et un Fantomes. Dumas’ novel was a mélange of material: several lengthy and unconnected narratives, a memoir of one of Dumas’ recently deceased friends, and a story entitled Les marriages de pere Olifus, Les marriages told of M. Olifus, who, pursued by his mermaid wife, journeys to Bidondo2 [sic] and meets a Chinese woman, Vanly Tching, whom he marries. He then travels to Halahala [sic] where he converses with M. de la Geronniere [sic].3

In the late 1840’s Gironiere had been holding forth in the salons of Nantes, regaling audiences with his tales of adventure in the Philippines and word of his stories reached the intellectually omnivorous Dumas. Stories of banditry were regarded as romantic and were wildly popular in Europe in the mid-nineteenth century4 and Gironiere told many bandit stories. Stumbling upon himself as a character in Le Constitutionelle, Gironiere wrote to Dumas and offered to sell his own story for publication in Dumas’ new journal, Le Mousquetaire.

Le Mousquetaire, October 1854, vol 1, issue 1

Le Mousquetaire, October 1854, vol 1, issue 1

Europe had just been rocked by a series of working class revolutions and their bloody suppression by governments. A marked shift occured in Dumas’ writing. An author who previously wrote romanticized yet trenchantly political stories, in historical settings which were but lightly fictionalized, Dumas now wrote a volume of fantasy with ghosts and mermaids and a journey to the exotic orient.
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III. Pamitinan and Tapusi

[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

To make clear how the Carpio legend and San Mateo referred to social banditry, we must make the relationship between Pamitinan and Tapusi evident. No scholar has yet studied the relationship of these locations and so it will be necessary to go into some detail. Pamitinan is a mountain and is the location of the caves of San Mateo. Ileto often referred to this mountain as Tapusi. Why? What were these two places?

Sixto de los Angeles, the president of the Provincial Board of Health in the province of Rizal, writing on October 27, 1902, analyzed the sources of the Manila’s water supply. The water came for the mountains of Montalban. A parenthetical aside in his report is instructive.

The stream flowing toward Montalban is very small near its source but it receives the water from several branches in the various points where the river passes, some of which are larger than the principal stream, the more important being, from its origin, the following: Lumutan (the name comes from the fact that rain falls throughout the year and the trees are always green), Sare or Tapusi (popular name since immemorial times as an inaccessible den of ladrones) Uyungan, Dumiri, Taladoy, Tayabasan, Bunbunan, Astampa, Kal, Kayrupa (where a larger stream enters), Kaykaro, and then the caves, distant about 3 1/2 miles from Montalban, at which point the river passes between two mountains, forming the caves. Many people think these caves are the origin of the river, but in fact only one small stream issues from one of the caves. The mountains here form a narrow defile with many large marble stones.1

The mountains forming a ‘narrow defile’ are the ‘nag-uumpugang bato’ of the Carpio legend. Montalban and San Mateo were adjacent towns and the caves were occasionally referred to as the caves of Montalban. In this paragraph we see that an important source of Manila’s water, the San Mateo river, which rushes through the gorge at the foot of Pamitinan and Sasocsungan mountains, has its origins in a region named Lumutan and runs through Tapusi, which was “since immemorial times an inaccessible den of ladrones.” Ladrones were bandits, widely known as tulisanes. The cave of Bernardo Carpio is in Mount Pamitinan, which is on a spur of the Sierra Madre massif; this spur was referred to as the Mountains of San Mateo. It is the closest encroachment of the Sierra Madre mountains to Manila.2


Pamitinan. Mislabeled as Tapusi in Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People

“Lumutan” was another name for the Limutan river valley; it is over forty kilometers from San Mateo, and was separated by uncharted mountainous terrain. How then did Tapusi come to be identified with Pamitinan, so that Ileto and other scholars would speak of Bonifacio’s ascent of Mt. Tapusi?


II. Legend as Performance

[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

To understand the significance of the Carpio legend we must do more than establish the meanings of the words and sayings it contained. We must seek the effect of the legend’s performance in its historical social context.

The performance of a legend, when addressed to a community familiar with it, brings to life an entire body of tradition. To grasp the legend’s meaning we need to recreate the lost context of oral tradition which lurks behind the entexted or summarized utterance. Tradition cannot be reduced to intertextuality, it is the entire nexus of ideas and allusions which a culture creates and upon which it thrives.

Oral traditions generally have a great deal of regional variation. For the legend genre in particular it is the geographical referents, the allusions to place, which most commonly vary as the legend spreads. It is striking that the summaries of the Carpio legend preserve the geographic specificity of the caves of San Mateo. Timothy Tangherlini summarized the scholarship on the legend genre in his article, “It happened not too far from here …”

Legend, typically, is a short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified, historicized narrative performed in a conversational mode, reflecting on a psychological level a symbolic representation of folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.1

The “high ecotypification” to which Tangherlini refers is geographic, this is why legends “happen not too far from here.” Why then did the Carpio legend resist localization away from San Mateo? The answer is that San Mateo was indispensable to the legend. Oral performance invokes the large and invisible body of tradition through the use of metonym, a part representing the whole. A particular fragment of tradition is insistently repeated in performance. When entexted these awkward repetitions are often smoothed over and erased to match the literary sensibilities of the reading audience. These repeated fragments serve as integers which, to an audience alive to the body of tradition being invoked, convey meanings far larger than the actual words suggest.

This metonymic indexicality allows the performer to communicate in a restricted code, one intelligible to others familiar with the code, but seemingly innocuous or nonsensical to those outside it. Thus, the phrase which we found in Miranda’s work, “paa na lamang ang kulang/only the foot is lacking” would have served, for those familiar with it, to refer to the entire Carpio legend and its broader meanings; to outsiders, however, it would seem to be meaningless or simply an example of the superstitious credulity of the masses. There is thus a rupture in meaning when metonymic references are listened to outside of their intended register. By failing to pay heed to the register of performance and to the indexical role of certain elements in the legend, Ileto and Rizal arrived at the idea that the masses sincerely believed in the existence of an actual king.

Legend is the “reaffirmation of the commonly held values of the group;” the performance of legend is perlocutionary, it enacts community solidarity. This could be done in the presence of the ruling classes without fear of reprisal. The odd phrase “paa na lamang ang kulang/only the foot is lacking,” which Miranda gives us, would have served to invoke the entire Bernardo Carpio legend for those familiar with it, while leaving elite observers mystified.

To those attuned to the register of performance and to its metonymic function, each performance of an element of oral tradition serves not to create new meaning but rather to invoke meaning which was already immanent in the tradition. Around what aspects of tradition did the Bernardo Carpio legend strengthen community solidarity? What are the repeated metonymic elements of the legend? The pervasiveness of the Carpio legend throughout the Tagalog speaking provinces and its strong resistance to synchronic ecotypification at the time of the Philippine revolution both point to the geographic elements of legend being of central metonymic significance. What body of traditions would reference to San Mateo invoke?

To anticipate results which I shall substantiate in detail: the Carpio legend was not a counter-rational messianic means of mobilizing dissent; it was a record of resistance. Through the geographical metonym of San Mateo, the Carpio legend preserved and celebrated the memory of social banditry.