Children of the Ash-covered Loam
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Children in the Ash-covered Loam is the third book and second volume of stories by N.V.M Gonzalez. It was set in Manila and Mindoro. The first three stories happened in the rural areas of Manila all in all there are seven stories in this book namely: “Children of the Ash-covered Loam”, “Lupo and the Riverbank”, The Blue Skull and the Dark Palms”, “The Morning Star”, “A Warm Hand”, “Where’s my Baby Now”, and “The Sea Beyond”. I’ve chosen this book to review on for as the first glance I’m quite struck on its title and curious about the story within and important matters to know about. The Author of the book is one the great and most skillful writers in the Philippines that also excite to discover how really skillful he is.
He is a workmanlike, published about 8 great books during the publication of this book. This book was produced by the author to let the world know the unique traditions the Philippines has like unique activities done by Filipinos as part of their everyday life. As it was in the story, particularly in the first three parts it show some rituals to be done during harvest season and planting. The book opens with the first story “Children of the Ash-covered Loam”. In this particular story the seven year-old boy named Tarang and his sister were the Children of the Ash-covered Loam for their parents were farmers in the land prepared by the slash-and-burn or swidden method.
It’s quite annoying when the author gave more descriptions in the acquisition of the sow parts where it was describe their ways how to raise the pig, and how it will be cared well (page 4). But on the other hand the author clearly described the life in farming sometimes they had really bad harvest and need to do some ritual to avoid it. In particular in the story the father of Tarang cut the neck of the white pullet and spurted the red blood to the ash-ground just to magnet-out bad luck and magnet-in good luck or fortunes in farming and have great harvest in the following seasons.
FINAL PAPER: On N.V.M Gonzalez’s Children of the Ash-Covered Loam Gonzalez’ stories smell of ginger root and oils to appease the spirits and of a boy’s hunger and curiosity. She commends Gonzalez’s remarkable use of Filipino words so perfectly woven into the English that his stories become colorful paintings of Philippine characters and sensibility. Many of Gonzalez‘s stories are nostalgic looks, through a boy’s eyes, of rural life. In “The Morning Star,” Gonzalez creates a quietly powerful woman who gives birth to an Americansoldier’s baby.
In “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam,” the boy, Tarang, runs from his hut to see the pig’s new litter. He strikes a tree trunk with his big toe, but the hurt is ‘not half as sharp as his hunger forknowing.’ This hunger is in all these stories. Also included are stories that have themes of migration, inter- island travel, and the perils of the sea. “The Sea Beyond” features a dyingstevedore who has fallen off the reconverted minesweeper Adela. In “A Warm Hand,” the passengers of the Li gaya went ashore to seek refuge is a fisherman’s hut during a violent storm.
“Children of the Ash
Covered Loam,” seems straightforwardly realistic in approach. There are no distorting tricks of language. The presentation is essentially objective — that is, Gonzalezsupplies very little interpretation. Gonzalez tells the reader the scene using brief and simplewords. He almost always makes it sure that the scene would come out vivid and alive, as theywere, in the imagination of the attentive reader. However, there are also certain scenes wherethe reader is to infer its larger meaning. I am particularly referring to the last scene in the storywhere while hurrying down the hut, on rainy evening, Tarang thought: “he could hear something else besides— may be the sow in the pen, under the dao tree. He listened more carefully. He could hear the grunting.There were little noises, too. A squirming litter, protesting against thecold. Surely, with wet snouts tugging at its teats, a sow could be annoyed…” (21).
At that moment, Tarang;
“got up quietly and slipped out the door into the rain. It seemed that at this very hour the rice grains, too, would be pressing forward, up the ash-covered loam, thrusting forth their tender stalks through the sodden dirt.he thought he caught the sound that the seeds also made. The ground wasnot too wet. In his haste, Tarang struck a tree stump with his big toe; and the hurt was not half as keen as it might have been, not half as sharp ashis hunger for knowing, for seeing with his own eyes how life emerged from his dark womb of the land and this time of the night” (21).The reader is left to infer which is gave new life
the pig or the seeds planted on the ground. Itcould be something symbolic. However, it could also be something representational of the cycleof life and death. Whatever it is, the reader is to ponder it on.
FINAL PAPER: On N.V.M Gonzalez’s Children of the Ash-Covered Loam The story is in third-person narration. The story is about a seven-year-old boy named Tarangand his family living in the hinterlands of Mindoro, as they take on kaingin system to preparethe earth for the coming planting season. Slash and burn is a specific functional element of certain farming practices among Filipino farmers (and of course, in many civilizations all overthe world). It is Tarang’s first time to go with his parents to the ash-covered field where they will soon plant seeds. His father brought with him a chicken. His father bartered his mother’s camisa in exchange of the chicken to be offered to the spirits. As the other farmers gather around theclearing, Tarangwatches with awe and wonder as his father “laid the pullet’s neck upon the flat of the treestump, and without a word cut the head off” (Gonzales) . He watches closely as his father “held the headless pullet up with one hand, to let the blood spurt well and make a long leap” (10).
The following day, everyone gathered on the same spot where Tarang’s father killed the chicken. Tarang witness his Tio Longinos setting up a small cross made of banban reeds and mumbling, “let citronella grass give fragrance… let ginger appease the Evil Ones… let iron give weight tothe heads of rice on this clearing” (12). As Tarang edges closer, he sees bits of ginger and thethree two-inch nails that his Tio Longinos placed at the foot of the red Cross. The ritual ispracticed by farmers in Mindoro before planting because it is believed that by offering theblood of an animal and other objects to the spirits of the earth, will yield them rich crops andabundant harvest.The infusion of animistic and ritualistic elements with the agricultural lives of people in Mindorois evident in the story. Normally, Filipinos are superstitious. They believe in whatever storiesthat are not of this world. It fascinates them. Their great respect for nature and those that thrives in it is celebrated in Gonzalez’s
“Children of the Ash
Covered Loam”. For instance, thenight when Tia Orang, the midwife, came over their hut. She talked a great deal about Evil Onesand Spirits that made Tarang “remember the kaingin and his Tio Longinos and the citronella and the nails and the ginger root” (19).
The story is straightforwardly realistic in approach but the presentation is not particularlyobjective. In the story, the omniscient narrator expounds the details and generalities of thecharacter ’s thoughts, and milieu. The ironic, melancholy tone rises chiefly, perhaps, from thesurprises of the plot, but is enhanced by some of the rueful observations contributed by thenarrator. To fully appreciate N.V.M. Gonzalez’s work, the only requirement is the reader’s full attention to the text.
story are not just a triumph of skill and craft. Neither are they justexamples of the growth and ripening that is art. The reader of the story must attend to it, mustread it attentively, must read it with attention. For that is the least that they ask of him [thereader]. Then he shall not fail to see that it is a work of art and that it is drawn from a worldattentively and lovingly observed.
FINAL PAPER: On N.V.M Gonzalez’s Children of the Ash-Covered Loam Indeed, N.V.M. Gonzalez is one true Filipino writer worth emulating and remembering. There isno other Filipino writer like him. No other Filipino writer has written prose more comely andhomely than him. He is definitely worth the read
For Simple Clockwork, I would like to feature another of his wonderful works, Children of the Ash-Covered Loam (1951). The title itself is evocative of various gray images, don’t you think? In the story, we follow Tarang, a young boy who is hyperactive in the figurative sense. He is hungry for knowledge of things around him. As he moves from his parents’ hut to his pig’s pen to a side in the fields where farmers implement the harsh kaingin system and back to his room as storms rage outside, we see a lot of images, a lot of sceneries well put together.
Personally, reading this story, I can almost see a lovely portrait on the wall with quietly and gracefully moving images. You know, Gonzales just brought out the poetic side of me when I described his work. Yes, he is that kind of writer. After reading a story, the images remain. They stick, leaving a strong and lasting impression. The wonder of it is that Gonzales did not employ a lot of fanciful words or long sentences. The story is flawless just as his writing is clear, convincing, and realistic.
Children of the Ash-Covered Loam has been translated into various languages and published in foreign literary magazines. It is a story about the people in the rough and rugged rural areas of Mindoro, about fathers making the decisions in the house, about mothers trying very hard to support their husbands, of children who, at an early age, toil side by side with their parents in the fields, about the tedious kaingin system and how hazardous it is for the residents, of the clash between pagan beliefs and modern ways, and how the cycle of life goes on.
For me, as a person who witnessed and experienced the shift of the rural to urban ways in my own town at an early age, the story was an easy and nostalgic read. For instance, to sever the neck of pullet to ward off evil spirits and bring abundant harvest, as what Tarang’s father does in the story, is reminiscent of the early birthdays I had when my grandfather would do the same, make a cross on my forehead out of the hen’s blood, and say an incantation to ward off evil spirits and bring me good luck.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and I look forward to other stories by Gonzales who is now in my roster of favorite Filipino writers. I hope you will take the time to read the story. It can be found here. You can learn more about Gonzales through this link. To learn more about him and his other works, why not head over to Mel’s post on him and his work, The Bread of Salt?
It could be that the writer used plural (children) not just to refer to Tarang but also to refer to his parents and neighbors—they are like children, innocent to the effects of kaingin and to the new ways of the modern world. If they don’t do something about it, their children (like Tarang) will grow to be like them and the vicious cycle of abusing the environment will go on. The only new form of life that is clear to me is towards the end of the story. The conflict of the story could be the clash of new and old rituals or ways of living. I just want to warn you that interpreting a story can be subjective.