Frantz Fanon once said that a native intellectual can “never make colonialism blush for shame by spreading out little-known cultural treasures under its eyes” (Fanon 13). This paper would beg to differ for Filipino writer Nick Joaquin’s short story “The Summer Solstice”, sets out to do just that with its appropriation of folk tradition, specifically the Filipino way of celebrating the summer solstice with the local cult figure of Tadtarin.
This appropriation would make colonialism blush, this paper believes, for his short story is not merely an account of the festivities- it is a tale of struggle between traditions and betweens sexes. In this negotiation between binaries, Joaquin pits the Christian tradition of St. John’s Eve against the neo-pagan tradition of Tadtarin and also, pits Paeng against Lupeng who in the story, embody patriarchal order and feminine desire respectively.
By doing a close reading of passages from the short story, looking in depth into the various characters, their relationships with one another, the themes of gender, desire and power as well as narrative devices used, this paper will illustrate how Joaquin not only makes the story distinctly Filipino with the appropriation of folk tradition but more importantly, how he makes colonialism blush by having that local tradition trump the colonist-influenced Christian tradition of St. John’s Eve at the end of the story.
One must first, point out the plot devices Joaquin uses to aid him in this presentation of the struggle between traditions and, sieve out the significance of them. The title itself is of interest for by entitling his story “The Summer Solstice”, not “St. John’s Eve”, Joaquin’s intent to give the local pagan tradition more importance over the colonist-influenced Christian tradition is, in hindsight, apparent for the reader. Joaquin also, to negotiate this clash between the traditions, allocates gender to the traditions.
This is apparent in the juxtaposed procession scenes. The scene with “the men with their St. John” is infused with masculinity in that St. John is not portrayed as a saint but as “a fine, blonde, heroic” figure who was “very male, very arrogant” and stood “erect and goldly virile above the prone and female earth”.
In contrast, the scene with “the women and their St. John (italics mine)”, the old woman as Tadtarin and the “prancing, screaming, writhing women” snatch the limelight away from the “crude, primitive, grotesque image” of St. John who is described to be “bobbing and swaying above the hysterical female horde”, symbolizing that the female earth is no longer prone but powerful. As Guido says, “What has your St. John to do with them? Those women worship a more ancient Lord”. So Joaquin’s deliberate juxtaposition pushes the reader to identify the Christian tradition with masculinity and patriarchy and, the neo-pagan tradition with femininity and matriarchy. As such, the struggle between the sexes, shown through Paeng and Lupeng and, briefly Entoy and Amada is microcosmic of the clash between the Christian and neo-pagan traditions.
It is microcosmic in the sense that the struggle each couple faces reflects what is going to happen or happening at the level of the struggle between the traditions. The first clue we get is through Entoy and Amada. Amada is Tadtarin against which Entoy’s normal brute force is subdued. There is a role reversal as the “lord and master” Entoy becomes meek and silent while the victimized Amada becomes revered and feared. This foreshadows the story’s culmination and as readers, we see Joaquin already chipping away at the patriarchal tradition.
This battle between the sexes is then carried on to greater depths by Lupeng and Paeng in the rest of the narrative and Joaquin, to enunciate this battle, deploys themes of desire and power. As Tadtarin, Amada is powerful and in her nakedness, she is the female body and personifies female desire. That power and desire is what draws and yet, makes Lupeng look away, for in spite herself, she “participate” in Amada’s nudity and so, momentarily identifies herself with the Tadtarin- it is the first hint we see of the repressed feminine desire and power.
We see a similar participation when Lupeng vehemently thinks to herself “Women had built it up: this poise of the male. Ah, and women could destroy it, too! ” The repressed feminine desire and power is practically mutinous until Paeng intrudes upon her thoughts and, like before when she looked away from Amada’s nudity, Lupeng chides herself for her “improper thoughts” and “such depths of wickedness”. Joaquin thus neatly paints a picture in which gender, desire and power are all combined and it becomes negotiation between patriarchal order and feminine desire working at the microcosmic level.
As readers we can trace this uprising of the feminine power and desire and, chipping away at the patriarchal order throughout the narrative. If Amada stirred Lupeng’s repressed desire and made her crave for that feminine power, Guido enters the narrative to give her a taste of that power and question her passivity. Lupeng goes from someone who demands of Paeng “how can they still believe such things” to demanding that she goes to see Tadtarin against her husband’s wishes and asserting her selfhood that she is not a child. Guido also serves highlight the change that Paeng goes through.
Joaquin clearly posits that Guido and Paeng are contrary to each other, for while Guido submits to Lupeng through his blatant adoration and prostrate position, Paeng initially believes in maintaining power and not relinquishing it by submitting to the female in any way. He looks down on Guido for laying himself prostrate at Lupeng’s feet and insists on standing tall and erect, like his St. John. But just like the St. John of the female procession, he soon bends to a woman’s will, Lupeng’s, by first agreeing to go to see the Tadtarin and more importantly, by laying himself prostrate and crawling to kiss her feet at the end of the story.
The bedroom passage then is most crucial in this trumping of the local tradition over the Christian one because at the microcosmic level, that is when patriarchal order and feminine desire meet head-on. Paeng starts off firm and seemingly yielding the power as he declares that he is going to whip Lupeng. But Lupeng quickly gains control of the situation as she asserts her femininity, declaring that “How I behaved tonight is what I am… whipping will not change me”. Just as it was for Entoy, brute force fails when feminine desire and power has fully arisen.
Lupeng chips away at patriarchal order, as she points out the hypocrisy of Paeng’s words, exposing that patriarchal order is founded on repression of feminine desire and power. Paeng admits this when he says “I was sure I knew you as I knew myself” and Lupeng counters with “And because if you ceased to respect me, you would cease to respect yourself! ” Paeng slowly succumbs, first emotionally, as Joaquin describes him as struggling “against her power” and being “unmanned” by her keen scrutiny then physically, as he confesses his adoration on his knees and eventually by crawling to kiss Lupeng’s feet.
At last, the story comes full circle, as Lupeng mirrors Amada and Paeng mirrors Entoy from the first passage in this complete role reversal. Having presented the struggle between two opposing traditions throughout the entire narrative, Joaquin finishes off by reinstating the local tradition to a position higher and above the Christian one- just as it was in “the earliest dawn of the world”, just as it was before the colonials came and spread their faith and practices. On a more significant note, the story however does not denounce the colonist-influenced tradition of St.
John’s Eve completely. Rather, exemplified through the character Guido who participates in both the traditions and procession, despite having “an European education”, Joaquin urges the Filipinos to embrace and be proud of both traditions alike and, to not categorize the Tadtarin tradition as low brow but “to see the holiness and the mystery of what is vulgar”. Joaquin’s respect towards all that came before time as we know it will then, this paper contends, not only make the colonist blush but humble him as well.