Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Vicente L. Rafael’s Contracting Colonialism (Quezon City: Ateneo De Manila University Press, 2000) showcases conversion and translation of language and the whole Tagalog cultural systems during the early years of Hispanic conquest, around 1565 to 1760’s. Spain has conversion of the natives for the foremost project, but this unfurled into a full colonial system. Spanish did not bloom into a legitimate Philippine vernacular, so that communication between the colonizer and the colonial was based on Spanish-Tagalog translation. Through the book, Rafael shows the interrelationship among conversion, colonialism, and translation in the country and these concepts’ relevance during the historical location in question. He points out that translation delineates the bound of conversion to a significant proportion but in the process, the transmission of meaning provided a leeway for natives’ own interpretation.
Rafael reads Hispanic missionary texts to assert that a successful conversation in Tagalog, according to the Spanish, necessitated the Tagalog language’s organization by developing a grammar and locating it in God’s hierarchy of languages, and using Spanish at the expense of baybayin, the native writing system supposed to be ambiguous. In translating, the ordering between Castillan and Tagalog was recognized but not fulfilling the missionaries’ holistic attempt at authority, since natives respond to “fished” Spanish words without them actually knowing what these meant.
Rafael argues that colonial hierarchy and conversion were spawned by translation’s misreading by both parties. For instance, the “untranslatable” Espiritu Santo gets freely interpreted as pleased the natives, and when an inevitable error in Tagalog translation happened, the natives gets the probable upsetting of the colonizing missionaries’ agenda. The following chapters saw Rafael’s continued explication of many bizarre facets of Tagalog-Spanish ties employing mutually misread facts by means of translation overview of texts in both cultures’ language. In effect, the colonial hierarchy becomes set when Tagalog translation necessities occur.
Contracting Colonialism depicts an order based on language issuing out of a colonial administration, relative to other colonial hierarchies from culture to politics. The role language assumes in a colonial mission is indispensable since the conquerors and the conquered must voice out their responses and aims, thus is translation’s necessity. Communication is tied up with language, so even as translation is defined in the book as something parallel to all culturally-assigned paradigms, linguistic translation is very important, hence tremendously stressed. The Spanish customized Tagalog to various proportions through grammar codification and promotion of its practice in order to foreground and regulate communication, but to no avail.
The linguistic order stabilizes with translation and appropriation springing from the need for communication between the Spanish and the natives. Colonial power may be gleaned from this hierarchy and its formative nature is tantamount to the colonized people’s ability to circumvent this power with the utility of their original, non-stratified native tongue and its semantics. This linguistic order is an effect of and is used to disseminate the colonial system. The translation and language appropriation spawning the hierarchy are realized through various social forces—political, cultural, and religious—that push colonialism. The repetitive translation was needed in order to accomplish the colonial directive of Tagalogs’ conversion.
To explain the bonds between colonialism, conversion and translation in the early colonial Philippines, Rafael browses through Christian text, language manuals, and secular letters authored by both Tagalogs and Spanish. His fundamental means of analysis is comprehensive, citing relatively scarce sources. In fairness to the examiner, texts from early colonial Philippine era are few, and while the author must have chosen to be silent about it, the heavy interpretation serves as an implication that the author decided rather than needed to do so.
The author is greatly concerned with how texts function–a Tagalog grammar of Spanish is read primarily for its say on native Tagalog ideas about language for evidences to the means Tagalogs triumphantly disabled the havoc wrought by colonial signifiers, and analysis of the subjects integrated in the language manual are utilized to share points why Tagalogs received such grammar as an instrument of struggle.
Rafael makes use of his analyses to exemplify a conclusion regarding the perception of Tagalogs and Spanish Christians on different cultural objects and their interaction via erroneous translation. Afterwards, he employs it as an explanation of some riddles in early colonial religious history and consequently sweeps to elaborate a portion of how the whole Spanish colonial apparatus in the archipelago gained notorious ground. This kind of method wants some belief on the part of the audience, but this proves to be full of incentive, nonetheless. The author’s analyses are riveting—to illustrate: he proceeds that unending Spaniards’ complaints of half-baked conversions by Tagalogs could be attributed to the natives’ notion of utang na loob, accepted by the Spaniards to be the translation of indebtedness to God, that in truth motivates scattered and incomplete debt repayment. These analyses, meanwhile, are somewhat unbelievable, since his interpretations seem fictionalized, without the persuasion that they are somehow operating within truth. While Contracting Colonialism is clever and possibly innovative and poignant, the book seems self-contained. Rafael seems to create the impression that the textual sources were heavily analyzed to be customized in a presupposed hypothesis than could be related or not at all with truth. Notwithstanding, the book is incandescent in its countering a narrative of universalizing by virtue of showing how the natives disarmed colonial apparatuses from boxing them up within the foreign norm and setting them in an unequal footing against the colonizers. While there are prevailing binaries that bring about religious and linguistic deformations wrought by colonial encounters, colonialism did not completely paralyzed the natives and could not be said to succeed in greatly permeating the native consciousness as to transmogrify the natives’ identity. The civilizing mission is not successful, but the colonial subjects are still humans, after all. The epistemic violence endured by colonials did not fully intrude to establish paradigmatic norms, as shown in the text at hand.
Contracting colonialism is a brilliant illustration of socio-history of language in a context where parameters of language are inherently significant and fascinating and constructs an insight into the operations of colonialism at large. Likewise, it exhibits how linguistic origins, which often persist in the structure of living languages, can be effectively harnessed for historical interpretation. This review hopes to have shown that language is a matter to reckon with along with better known ones such as race and gender, and that its qualification as a historical artifact becomes an avenue to a fertile and progressive work. In some extent, the natives might have contracted colonialism, but not without showing to the colonizer, through language, the inscrutable people that they are.