Saturday, February 02, 2008

Speaking for the Dead

"It is human nature to look to the past, to the road we have travelled, to what has so far defined us. But only by leaving our past behind, can we then push onward, into an unknown tomorrow, into the dawn of a new future, into the light of a new beginning..." - Mohinder Suresh, Heroes character

The above quote is a fitting one for people like me. People who find joy in poring over old, crumbling records of long-dead people. People who love to stroll around scary-looking cemeteries to look at tombstones of relatives. Genealogy has always been a way for the living to reconnect with the dead.

Many people have a hard time understanding where they are going because they have yet to penetrate the secrets of the past. While it is true that we should not get stuck in the past, knowing of our past and our family's journey through time gives us a very good perspective of life.

Besides, if we don't seek the dead, who will sing their songs? Who will tell their stories? A colleague of mine told me dismissively once that he finds no use for old Spanish-era church records because they don't tell you anything. I have always used church records as my primary genealogical tool, and I have proven that, contrary to this colleague's pronouncement, I have gleaned a lot of people's stories in these records. Bits and pieces, true, but stories nonetheless. And, as I have already said, if I did not bother to go through these files, who will know about them?

In a death record in Argao, in 1894, a certain Don Jose Saady caught my eyes. It obviously caught my attention because it was the first Arabic-sounding surname I encountered. He was described as a Catholic coming from Monte Libano, and was said to have been Syrian. Monte Libano is actually a mountain range in what is now modern-day Lebanon. He died because of a brawl with Domingo Camajalan. He was also Argao's Justice of the Peace at that time.

Who was this Syrian who became one of Argao, Cebu's last juezes de paz? He was further described as being married to someone, but his wife was not identified. Was she somewhere else? Did Don Jose Saady have kids left with his wife, who might have descendants today? He was buried in Argao's cemetery, so I can only imagine what his family must have felt back in Lebanon, not being able to visit their father's grave. Or perhaps they visisted later? We cannot tell.

The dead awaits our help in speaking for them. They who have gone to a hopefully better place can no longer tell their tales, so why not speak on their behalf?

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