Excerpt: The capture of Melchor Hurtado

On the Net, there is very little of Horacio de la Costa’s masterly prose.  The best writer in English the Philippines can claim as its own; more’s the pity. It occurred to me: Perhaps we can even the odds a bit by uploading short excerpts from his work? Here’s the first in what will necessarily be an occasional series. It is a couple of paragraphs; nothing out of the ordinary. But mark the almost cinematic quality of the narrative; it is the effect of both the right storytelling stance and vivid, vigorous diction: the exact word (“floundering”), the accurate adverb (“whitely”), the unexpected phrase (“hissed against the beach”). For DLC, just another (quarter-)day at the office.

From The Jesuits in the Philippines (pp. 293-294)

Very early the following morning, just before dawn, a fisherman of the town put out to sea in a canoe to inspect his fish traps, which he had not visited for some time. The eastern sky grew lighter before him as he paddled, and suddenly he could make out against it the dark hulls of a great fleet. It was the Magindanaus, riding lightless and silent just out of sight of land, waiting for daybreak to swoop on a town still half asleep. Even as the fisherman swung his canoe about the signal was given, a great shout went up, a thousand oar blades splashed whitely in the water, and the high sharp prows leaped forward.

The people of Dulag had just enough warning to scramble out of their homes and run to the woods for cover. The fathers and brothers of the mission joined a fleeing group with nothing but their breviaries and the clothes on their backs. Otazo ran out of the church with the ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament as the first of Bwisan’s ships hissed against the beach. Fortunately, the older boys of the boarding school kept their heads. They collected the panic-stricken people into small parties  and set out with them to designated hiding places in the hills. They had prepared these earlier under the fathers’ direction and stocked them with emergency rations. But with women and children in the company, they made slow progress through the overgrown trails. Moreover, it had begun to rain. It was easy for the pursuing Magindanaus to follow their tracks and to hear them floundering through the underbrush. The Jesuits  and the people with them stopped for a moment at a bend of the trail to catch their breath. They were about to resume their flight when their silent pursuers were upon them. It was a case of each man for himself. While his companions plunged into the thickets, Hurtado found a hollow in the twisted trunk of a banyan tree and flattened himself within it. A woman with an infant in her arms ran past him. A Magindanau pounded after her and brought her back, weeping. As the warrior swung past the banyan tree, dragging his prey, he saw Hurtado. He leaped at him with raised kampilan, but when he saw it was a Spaniard and a priest, took him alive.

4 Comments

Filed under Readings from De La Costa

4 responses to “Excerpt: The capture of Melchor Hurtado

  1. djb

    Hi John!
    That’s one of my favorite books of all time, as it also reveals the true nature of the Muslim sultanates in that period of history. The most vivid chapters include “The Great River” which describes the annual raiding parties consisting of hundreds of vintas and thousands of slave raiders pillaging towns all over the Visayas and Luzon, and taking thousands of hostages, mainly women and children to be sold off as slaves all over Southeast Asia, and to replenish harems and households in Cotabato and Sulu. De La Costa puts the lie to the present claim of “Bangsamoro” ideologues that that was golden era of civilization and peace. It was not. It was terrible era of theocracy and debt slavery and commerce.

    The KFR gangs of today are a pale comparison of those great raidng parties that turned the natives into Christians as they fled into the arms of the Spaniards for protection and salvation from when people like the ASG had absolute state power.

  2. djb

    Oh btw, there is only one “n” in “Deanie”. Thanks for this post.

  3. Thanks, DeaNie (my bad!). DLC’s style (if we can separate it from its substance for a moment) is a marvel: supple, sinewy (I can go on …). Classic prose.

  4. djb

    Wonderful English really. Here is my audio rendition with music of one of the chapters:
    (MP3) The Great River

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