Ang utang na loob

Beatrice Rubio-Gabriel

When the sun sets, that is when I think
Of the white butterflies that would kiss my ear -- “that’s your
lolo” they would say -- as we looked out across the valley beneath
me where they say I was grown
Seeds sown
Full of love and perhaps some less-than-ideal decisions ---
And I think of those ever-stretching greens, the dips of the hills,
the smell of the air that is sweet with rain waiting to kiss the
ground, and the fog that settles like a soft mosquito net that falls quietly in the night.

And you, who gave your children everything so that they could go on
to make everything more, and mine
who lost so much just so that I could have enough.

They taught me that those green grasshoppers - you know, the ones that shine like blades of grass hit by the rays of afternoon sunshine,

bright and promising

They taught me that those green grasshoppers bring wealth and luck
but one morning, years ago, I awoke to find I had killed one in my sleep.
They say scorpions are bringers and symbols of strength,
and we would often tattoo them at the centre of our
chests, close to the heart,
because tattoos strengthen and bring
power to the area upon which they are placed. 

      When we do this, we are asking the earth for
      strength in our spirits.

      We rely on the earth, the grasshoppers, the scorpions,

      The waterways, those rivers that flow like veins and
      the ocean who holds us in her womb,

      And we speak to her as we write softly onto her skin

      Plant roots in new soil
      in the hope that something good will grow.

Some moons ago I slept and awoke

      still sleeping

     to a scorpion on my chest 

     not wanting to startle it I froze, until

     eventually calm settled and it crawled up slowly to rest on my 

before disappearing with a blink.
How can I speak to the earth,
the moon,
or the sea

if my hands have forgotten how

to make our gentle marks?

All I want is to be able to take you back home to the valleys,
the mountains,
the foggy morning breath that blows gently across your face and touches your eyes awake
And that maybe you will feel that you are finally home.

      That ka 2 reminds me that I don’t really know how to write, and
      often I wonder if I ever knew how to speak. Time isn’t always
      moving forward, sometimes it’s you tracing your life
      backwards. At the start of the month to the New Moon, stars
      and moonlight guided my words as I wrote back in time, tracing
      back this line of never-ending sacrifice, distance, and love.

Sacrifice happens with a displacement of values
and there is a cycle of this displacement that occurs when value
becomes transported to the future

and the interests of the present fall away.

Sacrifice is made from love. It is one such labour of it. When
I write my words into being, when my tongue speaks and sings
into the wind, it is at once emerging from a sacrifice that
crossed me over waters, and the slow creation of that bridge
towards what feels like an uncrossable distance.
There is something my father used to say, “tiaga at tiis lang, Bea”
Tiaga (v.): to persevere (patiently)

Tiis (v.): to endure

Utang na Loob (2021-22)
performance, 5:45:16 hours

What this cycle of sacrifice breeds after it is born
from some kind of love,
is this cycle of perseverance and endurance.

Of an almost-too-much-to-ask-for perseverance and endurance.

                From my grandmother and her fierce dedication to break impoverished cycles;

                followed by my aunt who gave us all new chances at second chances;

                to my mother who gave up what could have been hers to instead put her all into what would       hopefully become mine;

                down to my sister who had to grow up too quickly in my absence; 

                over to a daughter who may never exist but if they do, will enter into a reality of stolen words,       and the cycle of resistance that attempts to reclaim them. 

I wrote to the past and I wrote to the future.

      If our words are coded in connection
      burned to ash,

I give mine, hoping to trace down that line,

      to make ink from dust,

so that we might learn to

      once more

gently write to the stars and the skies
with our chests cut with the strength of scorpions,
towards a love that no longer needs to express itself through

1 ‘Utang na loob’ (literally translating to: a soul debt) is to be indebted to
another, but of an almost unrepayable debt.

'Kapwa' can be understood as one’s community, however it is more specifically the
idea of “self in others - our shared inner selves, rather than disconnected bodies”
(Marinduke, R). When we say kapwa, we say I am seeing you. From this, the debt of
utang na loob is great precisely because one isn’t simply indebted to the act, but
to the human connection that allowed it to happen. Kapwa is the embodiment of the
unity between self and others.

When my mother would scold me as a child, she would always say, “wala ka'ng utang
na loob.” It was always the heaviest weight as a child. To be so ungrateful to the
point of not acknowledging sacrifice.

They say “the process of learning remembrance is culturally embedded” (Negotiating
Charisma)and that the way to move forward is to also look back at our past.

                The scripts that make our marks and our words are coded with connection. 
                We omit marks because our closeness breeds understanding. 
                We join lines when we want to write us. 
                Caught in the future-past, we are faced with the task of  re-joining them.

2 The character “ka” in baybayin has been used at the forefront of many activist
groups. On flags, it is a symbol of our resistance, one of the most famously known
circulated and public uses of our precolonial script.

Image: Official flag of the DeFacto Government, at the centre of the sun is the Filipino K (ka) for Kalayaan (freedom).

A symbol of freedom, ka was also an act of subversion against the Spanish. Ordinarily using qu, our assertion of ka was an act of reclaiming our presence and power. 

                Ka is also in kapwa. A very simple character, of two bridging lines.

Ka means connection. And it translates itself through our bonds with each other.

Image: kapwa written in baybayin, https://saribayan.wordpress.com/

Ka also means you (perhaps that is why it is present in kapwa - a celebration of you and yours). "Umuwi ka agad" (come home soon), "bahala ka" (it’s up to you), "nasaan
ka?" (where are you?).