by Eric Santillan
The Filipino word for hero: “bayani” comes from the word bayan (country). Bayani gives us the sense that in this country, heroism is not a thing only one person does. Heroism is the unified act of a community. The Katipunan is testament of that. While personalities like Bonifacio and Aguinaldo were there, the Katipunan is really the revolt of the “anak ng bayan” (the Children of the Motherland); and everyone who was part of it was rightly considered BAYANI: the fighting men who manned the trenches of General Trias, the women who brought medicine and food to the hidden camps, the children who secretly smuggled messages from one town to another. It is history–written with some Western slant that always focuses on the individual hero–that has not been too kind to the bayani and focused on personalities.
The term bayani is also related to the term “bayanihan” — the collective work that happens when a whole town comes together to help one family move house. This is the same spirit that made people go out in droves at Ninoy Aquino’s funeral and shouted: “Hindi ka nag-iisa!” (You are not alone!) We are with you. This is no longer just a fight between the Aquinos and the Marcoses.This is no longer just about your family. You cannot drive a dictator on your own. You need a whole nation to do that. When the whole bayan became bayani in bayanihan, that is when change happens.
When Cory ran for President, and the whole country came out to vote amidst threats of violence, that was bayanihan at its finest. When Cory died and was buried and people came in droves to bid her farewell, that was the gratitude of a whole nation, out in bayanihan again acknowledging what she had done for the country.
That is the same bayanihan that happens when Manny Pacquiao fights in the ring, or when the Azkals take the field. Our country literally stops. Everyone is riveted. And reminiscent of the bayanihan of old, we lend our voice and spirit in a collective effort to vanquish the enemy.
We are a country in dire search of the heroic. We have almost forgotten what it is to be a hero. And so we substitute the feeling with a team like the Azkals, or a man like Pacquiao. We search for the hero outside because we think that we don’t have the capacity to do it ourselves. We are just content with cheering him on or reading about heroism in the papers. Surely these things happen to other people but not to me!
We have forgotten that in the past, just some generations before us, our people CARED. We have forgotten that in the past, just some generations before us, we felt it was our moral obligation to help another family when they need a hand in planting or harvest, in joy or in pain. Our generation has sadly perfected the art of by standing and cheering. We’re great at reading about it in the papers, commenting on our and other people’s blogs, and sharing stories on fb and tweeter. And yes, once in a while, we ruffle our activist feathers and brave the crowds, go to EDSA, join rallies, sometimes even volunteer and give of our excess stuff (yay!), maybe because we remember, in that cultural DNA bred into us somehow, that moral obligation of generations ago. The problem is we go home, pat ourselves on the back, feel good about ourselves for having “done our part”. And then we leave the rest of the day-to-day running of our country to the people who are making a living out of it.
But we have done it before. We have done it over and over again throughout our history. It is bred into us. Our hero is not the mythical hero of the Greeks out to challenge the Gods–powerful, yes, but really alone. Heroism is US. A bayani is nothing without the bayan behind him. We just need to remember that when the whole bayan became bayani in bayanihan, that is when change happens.