My mother tells this story. The story of her grandmother’s island. The story of Bohol.
Francisco Dagohoy spent three days watching his brother’s body rot in the sun. The Philippines had been under Spanish colonial rule for 179 years, but it was these three days that marked a breaking point for Franciso and in turn his people.
It was 1744 and the Spanish parish priest who ruled the Filipino island of Bohol had ordered Dagohoy’s brother to arrest one of his fellow natives. While following these orders the Dagohoy brother was killed. Francisco brought his brother’s body back to the Spanish priest so that he could be given a proper Catholic burial. The priest refused.
Three days later Francisco started rallying 3,000 Boholanos and their families. They formed a fortified community in the mountains. From this people-powered stronghold they proclaimed independence for Bohol. Using their knowledge of the mountains and bold guerrilla tactics, these warriors reclaimed more and more of the island from their Spanish oppressors. Twenty consecutive Spanish governor generals tried to crush the resistance. Each failed.
This was the first successful Filipino revolt under Spanish rule. The Boholanos maintained their independence for 85 years – the longest revolt in the nation’s history.
Indigenous writer Thomas King says, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” He goes on to quote Nigerian writer Ben Okri: “We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live, quite possibly we change our lives.”
In 1829 thousands of Spanish soldiers, armed with artillery, finally succeeded in violently crushing the revolt. Yet for every free Boholano they murdered, they could not kill the story their lives left behind. The story of a people who fought and for three generations created for themselves a life
free from slavery,
free from racism,
and free from sexual violence at the hands of their oppressors.
For many generations more, this story of resistance has inspired us. It was still being told two generations later as the people of the Philippines finally won their independence from the Spanish. It was still being told five generations later, as two million Filipinos peacefully gathered in the streets to successfully overthrow a 20-year dictatorship. On that day in 1986 CBS anchorman Bob Simon reported: “We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy. Well, tonight they are teaching the world.” The lesson was embodied in the hand gesture that came to define that nonviolent revolution, a hand raised in the air, with thumb and index outstretched. It symbolizes not to a gun, but an “L,” for laban.
Laban is the lesson we learned from the people of Bohol.
It is our word for fight.