MAILEEN DUMELOD HAMTO Reviews
The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge
(Forest Avenue Press, Portland, OR, 2017)
Truth takes many dimensions in Renee Macalino Rutledge’s debut novel The Hour of Daydreams, a valiant bid at enshrining Filipino lore and mythmaking in American literary consciousness. Magic, mystery and mystery are the centerpiece of this retelling of the ancient Visayan folk tale about the seven celestial maidens. In the original story, a man witnesses seven young women bathing in a river. He falls in love with one of the sisters and entices her to share his mortal life in the village.
The Hour of Daydreams invokes familiar themes of love and loss, isolation and sacrifice, the swelling heaviness of secrets. Women and their desires figure prominently in the countryside where Tala attempts to create a life with Manolo, a doctor, a man of science driven mad by his insecure, obsessive quest for the truth. A student of Jung may infuse her own understanding of the threat of the wild feminine archetype. Love, envy and fear collude with the masculine need to control a woman’s latent power.
Duende, vampires, mermaids, bal-bal, apparitions: Rutledge invokes the wide assemblage of Filipino mythical creatures taking abode in the barrio. In lyrical fashion, she conjures the oral storytelling practices and traditions of the Philippines, all-to-familiar to those with faculty in any of the multitude of native languages in the islands. Before the superiority of the written word took hold in the Philippines during Spanish conquest, tribal elders, healers and spiritual leaders passed down generational knowledge through poetry, stories and songs. In the town of Manlapaz, stories bind the fates of people who walk the albularyo stalls or seek the guidance of the babaylan. Real or imagined, the truths and half-truths shared in hushed voices, take on a new life with each recounting of otherworldly happenings that cannot be explained by science and reason.
In The Hour of Daydreams, Rutledge makes the commendable and courageous step toward seizing the literary moment of peak revival of interest in indigenous ways of knowing among Filipino readers. Showcasing her familiarity and insight into popular Philippine folklore, Rutledge capitalizes on the renewed interest among Filipinos and others to deepen their understanding of pre-colonial mythos that codified ancestral world views and wisdom.
When Filipinos in the U.S. meet each other for the first time, an unavoidable question comes up: “Taga-saan po kayo sa atin?” which roughly translates to: “What is your family’s province of origin in the homeland?” Centuries of colonization and imperialism failed to abolish the distinct cultural characteristics of diverse tribes and communities that make up the archipelago. Regionalism defines the Filipino identity: there is no singular way to be a Filipino, and every flavor of Pinoyness is rooted in place. In the Philippine islands, supernatural beliefs and their practical manifestations take on peculiar attributes depending on their origins. Kulam in Pampanga is distinct from barang in Siquijor. Location and time are indiscernible in Rutledge’s mystical rural village. The landscape of rivers and mountains described in “Daydreams” can be anywhere, effectively flattening the complex mythological hierarchies present across different indigenous communities.
With Daydreams, Rutledge makes a significant contribution to the faint yet unfinished conversations about the function and place of magic in modern life. Despite 500 years of exposure to Christianity and Western ways of viewing the world, indigenous beliefs in the supernatural persist among Filipinos. The indigenous psyche considers legitimacy of all claims of truths and alleged experiences. There is no compartmentalization between observable and measurable phenomena from those that exist in the storyteller’s imagination.
Originally from Sampaloc and Tondo, Maynila, Maileen Dumelod Hamto works as an equity and inclusion leader in the ancestral lands of the Ute, Arapahoe and Cheyenne. She is pursuing doctoral studies in Leadership for Educational Equity at the University of Colorado Denver, focusing her inquiry on advancing social change through praxis that centers critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, decoloniality, and emancipatory movements. With her soulmate and soul dogs, she enjoys exploring Colorado’s alpine lakes, aspen forests, wildflower meadows and ghost towns. Share her adventures via @colorsofinfluence (IG).