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Ambeth Ocampo


Ambeth Ocampo










Short Background









Ambeth Ocampo
Dom. Ignacio Maria, OSB

The task of awakening the past to the concerns of the present is of course, the avowed concern of every historian. But with Ambeth, this act of communing with the dead weight of the past tends to focus on an obsessive, one might even say fetishistic, delight in the details of everyday life. This brings us to (one of the qualities ) of Ambeth's essays: the careful attention they devote to the common, the overlooked, the ordinary, what we might think of as the splendid basura or the archives: the sari-sari, the tira-tira, the anu-ano, as well as the diumano of the past.

  • One minute he's noting down the contents of Gregorio del Pilar's pockets as he lay dying in Tirad Pass;
  • the next, enumerating the dishes, dances and decorations in Aguinaldo's birthday celebration as he was escaping American forces.
  • He ponders upon the arrangements of Mabini's bones in his tiny coffin,
  • examining the curling irons for Luna's moustache,
  • tracks down the exact expletives used by General Mascardo to goad General Luna to fight him,
  • gawks at the vaginal clamps used by Galiciano's Apacible and
  • the "pickled appendix" of Aguinaldo.

He pores over the financial accounts of the revolutionary forces and wonder about the nature of their purchases -- from guns and bullets to beaded slippers and silk undershorts -- as if these were items that we ourselves might have purchased in a surge of consumerist desire as a way of relieving the inevitable moments of tedium in waging an anti-colonial war. He not only gives us the genealogy of the national anthem, but actually tells us how it was played on a different key and time signature from what we are used to hearing, allowing us to imagine how it must have sounded to its original auditors.

In other words, Ambeth sees history not only as a set of documents to be decoded, but as an entire array of objects to be fondled and felt. Yet, rather than order these objects into a static, museum-like classificatory system, he lets them simply hang, suspended between speculations and spectacle. In this way, his concern with the everyday and the ordinary yields a veritable historical sensorium that restores to the past its haunting not-quite-dead-nor-alive quality.

From the introduction by Vicente L. Rafael
Luna's Moustache