Last year just before the Philippine election, I had this what is probably now laughably grand idea of returning to the Philippines to shoot pictures for my first photography exhibit. Out here in the West we have the luxury of having “First World Problems”, I wanted to show what real problems really are and that despite the hardship and poverty, the people have a positive attitude and they never lose hope. I wanted to capture the seemingly unbreakable Filipino spirit. After the humiliating outcome of the Philippine national election and the succeeding embarrassing headlines that followed shortly after, I decided to scrap the idea altogether.
Anthony Bourdain has talked so much about the South Korean concept called “han”. It’s a bit hard to explain but it roughly translates to hatred, bitterness, rancour, or deep-seated animosity. It’s an almost collective national feeling of oppression and unavenged sense of injustice. This “han” compels them to excel and move forward in hopes that eventually they will have their long awaited sweet revenge.
I’ve read an article in NPR about this Portuguese thing called “saudade” which translates, again very roughly to a kind of pain, sorrow, nostalgic melancholy or profound longing. As a people, they have this collective pain or sorrow, what for? No one knows exactly but “saudade” is the very soul of fado. Fado is a traditional Portuguese music similar to the Spanish Flamenco. You may not speak Portuguese but you’ll know that the singer is singing with a shattered heart. Fado is a cri de cœur, a very profound lament, which will make you weep.
The Philippines have a long history of colonialism, dictatorship, oppression and suffered from some truly atrocious crimes against humanity and yet its people seem incapable of holding a grudge against history and life itself. As a people whose been through so much, we’re too kind and too forgiving to a fault. I think collective amnesia has become a coping mechanism that we’ve become incapable of learning and appreciating the lessons of our own troubled history. I’m not sure Filipinos will relate to “han” or “saudade”. I doubt the word depression even exists in the Filipino vocabulary. There’s almost this fatalistic and blind faith that no matter how worse it gets things will work out for the best. There’s an abundance of sunshine and vitamin D so people are constantly smiling and painfully optimistic. It annoys me.
The Filipino people are resilient and hardy but there is only so much the human spirit can endure before it breaks. I wonder when enough will be enough before the ever-smiling Filipino people lose it and run amok? The word “amok” by the way is our contribution to those untranslatable cultural concepts. The modern English “berserk” is the closest translation but “amok” is much closer in essence and spirit to the Viking’s bloody “berserker”.