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Alfredo Navarro Salanga: The Birthing of Hannibal Valdez

The title may refer to Hannibal Valdez but much of the book is about his grandfather, Leon. However, we do start with Hannibal’s birth. Hannibal was born in the year the Americans liberated the Philippines from the Japanese, i.e. 1945. Hannibal is the son of Antonio, Leon’s son, and the daughter of one of Leon’s tenants. She is so unimportant that she is not even named. Leon is not impressed with his son. He considers him weak and unmanly. Indeed, he thinks of him more as a daughter than as a son. Leon and his now deceased wife had argued about his upbringing and the wife often won. He particularly remembers when Antonio, as a boy, did not want to dress up as a soldier (Leon had been a soldier in the liberation of the Philippines, first from Spain and then the USA) but preferred to dress up as a priest and play at being a priest. Leon’s view is that boys should not be brought up by women, otherwise they would become women. Leon is determined that he will will bring up this new baby who, he is sure, will be a boy.

It is a stormy night, which is a good sign, as boys who are born on a stormy night turn out to be strong and tough and Leon’s grandson is going to be both. Leon knows everybody and he knows all the US army people. He is very powerful and the US army authorities have soon realised that they need to keep him on side if they are to succeed. Leon had a tough upbringing, having been born to a poor family but he was born strong and tough. He made a deal with a local pair of farmer brothers that he would work their land, not for payment in money or crops, but for payment in land. They accepted. Since then he has gone from strength to strength and now owns a lot of land and gained a lot more when the Spanish left.

When his daughter-in-law goes into labour, he takes her and his son to the US army camp as, of course, he knows both the commanding officer and the surgeon. He has a drink with the surgeon, who seems to be somewhat drunk. Labour lasts a long time but in the end, a boy is born. His left eye is damaged as the surgeon pulled him out with forceps, damaging the eye in the process. Unfortunately, the mother died. Leon is not too concerned. Indeed, that means he will definitely be able to bring his grandson up, without interference from women. Antonio is in tears but this is even more reason for his father to despise him. Men don’t cry.

When they get home, a wake is held for the unfortunate mother. Antonio who is both tearful and drunk, is safely locked in his room. As we know from the title. Leon has decided to call the boy Hannibal. No-one else has been consulted on this choice.

After the wake, he receives a visit from the US Major Weepingwillow. The major calls Leon Colonel (he was a colonel in the Philippines army) and is very apologetic about the death of Leon’s daughter-in-law. Much of the rest of the book involves Leon telling the major about his life, particularly in the war against Spain.

Leon is somewhat bitter that Gregorio del Pilar got all the glory. Leon maintains that it is only because he died (he was killed by US forces) and that he, Leon, was just as brave and just as successful. Indeed, Leon recalls del Pilar as a young man visiting the town. The Filipino forces used to communicate by sending men around the towns and villages, disguised as copra sellers. One day, del Pilar turned up with a message, wearing very fancy boots and not looking like your average copra seller. After he had delivered his message, the Spanish, needing copra, asked him for the price. He knew nothing about copra and the Spanish soon realised he was a fake. Leon and he others had to hurriedly flee to evade capture. Leon remained unimpressed with del Pilar.

Leon gives the major (and us) a detailed account of his bravery in the war bur also what happened to the Spanish and how they were brutally killed by the women. He also says how he got his hands of some of the Spanish land and how he fooled the Spanish into thinking he had been killed.

This is a short book and much of it is devoted to Leon’s boasting of his achievements and how his new grandson, under Leon’s guidance, will emulate his grandfather (but not his father). It is all told somewhat tongue-in-cheek, mocking Leon’s arrogance (and how the Americans are complicit in this). Salanga was only forty when he died and this is his only work of fiction. Clearly, had he lived, he would have written other interesting works.

Publishing history

First published by New Day Publishing in 1984