The Preying Birds

Amado V. Hernandez, Danton Remoto
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Mando Plaridel is the lead character in this novel of social consciousness. His character combines the qualities found in Simoun and Ibarra, the two lead characters in national hero Jose Rizal’s novels: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Ibarra is the passive character in Rizal’s novels, while Simoun is the active propagandist who wakes up the people from their centuries-old sleep under Spanish colonialism.

After the war, society begins to know him as the brave editor of the Kampilan newspaper. He later becomes involved in the problems of the farmers with the abusive Monteros. Told from an omniscient point of view, Hernandez is able to enter the consciousness of the wealthy characters. He shows how the ruling classes-the politicians, landowners, judges, deputies and bishops-only protect their own interests, that is why they do not want to change the status quo.

Dr Sabio is the progressive president of a university founded by Mando, who used the treasure thrown into the sea at the end of Rizal’s second novel to help improve society. The money is used to fund Freedom University and set up Kampilan, the brave newspaper. The novel points to the cooperative system of land ownership as the way out for the landless poor. It implies that change can only begin when the eyes of society have been finally opened.

About the Author:

Amado V. Hernandez (1903-70) is one of the most famous nationalist writers in the Philippines. His poetry, fiction and plays stoked the flames against US imperialism, the workers’ poverty, and a feudal land tenancy system.

Born in Tondo, Manila, on 13 September 1903, Hernandez began his career in journalism in the 1920s, when the initial massive Filipino resistance against US military rule had declined. He became an editor of the Manila daily Mabuhay (Long Live) from 1932 to 1934. In 1939, he won the Commonwealth Literary Contest for a nationalist historical epic, Pilipinas (Philippines); and in 1940, his collection of mainly traditional poems, Kayumanggi (Brown), won the Commonwealth Award in Literature. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines (1942-45), Hernandez served as an intelligence officer for the underground guerilla resistance, an experience reflected in his major novel, Mga Ibong Mandaragit, which is translated here as The Preying Birds.

After the war, Hernandez assumed the role of a public intellectual: he organized the Philippine Newspaper Guild in 1945; and he spoke out on national issues as an appointed councillor of Manila from 1945-46 and again, from 1948-51. It was during his presidency of the Congress of Labour Organizations (1947), the largest federation of militant trade unions in the country, that he moved from the romantic reformism of his early years to militancy.
An allegorical representation of the sociopolitical crisis of the country from the 1930s up to the 1950s can be found in Hernandez’s realistic novel, Luha ng Buwaya (Crocodile Tears). and the epic poem of class struggle, Bayang Malaya (Free Country), for which he received the prestigious Balagtas Memorial Award.

Tarred and feathered during the Cold War, which also reached the Philippines, Hernandez was arrested on 26 January 1951 and accused of complicity with the Communist-led uprising. While in jail in various military camps for five years and six months, he wrote the satirical poem, Isang Dipang Langit (An Arm’s Stretch of Sky) and the play, Muntinlupa.

After his release from prison, Hernandez wrote countless stories under various pseudonyms for the leading weekly magazine, Liwayway (Dawn). He also wrote columns for the daily newspaper, Taliba (News), and edited the radical newspapers Ang Makabayan (The Nationalist) from 1956-58 and Ang Masa (The Masses), from 1967-70. He participated in the Afro-Asian Writers’ Emergency Conference in Beijing, China, in June-July 1966, and at the International War Crimes Tribunal, where he joined the likes of Simone De Beauvoir, Bertrand Russell, and Jean Paul Sartre in November 1966, and became an outspoken voice for freedom of expression and human rights worldwide.

His numerous honours culminated in the Republic Cultural Heritage Award (1962) and National Artist Award, given by a grateful nation in 1973. Up to the day (24 March 1970) he died, Hernandez was still writing a column and giving advice to the leaders of the massive rallies that were rocking the Philippines at that time.

English Translation by:

Danton Remoto was educated at the University of Stirling (British Council scholar) and Rutgers University (Fulbright scholar) as well as at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University (Association of South East Nations scholar) and the University of the Philippines. He has worked as a Publishing Director at Ateneo, Head of Communications at the United Nations Development Programme, TV and radio host at TV 5 and Radyo 5, President of The Manila Times College, and Head of School at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia.
He has published a baker’s dozen of books in English, including Riverrun, A Novel and Heart of Summer: Selected Stories and Tales. He also translated the 1906 novel by Lope K. Santos, Banaag at Sikat, into English (Radiance and Sunrise) for the South East Asian Literary Classics series. His work is cited in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Literature. He has been a Fellow at the Cambridge University Summer Seminar on Literature, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and most recently, at the MacDowell Arts Residency in New Hampshire, USA. He is now writing his third novel as well as a new collection of essays and poems. He lives in South East Asia and Los Angeles.

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