Lineage, they say, is traced back from the father. If that is the case, then mine traces back to Siquijor, the island of fire. Also, of faith; of magic; of saltwater; and of the nocturne.
Only, even my father, a third-generation migrant to Mindanao, hadn’t been to the island himself.
But postal address was the sole thing that was not Siquijodnon about my Dad; about us as a family. Growing up in a region where only a handful bore our surname, we always felt misplaced somehow.
Talks about entire barrios that shared our bloodline– sun-kissed, with wide noses and big teeth— were mouthed as a promise -to-see-someday; a dream, repeatedly told over coconut wine- drinking sessions amongst uncles.
Just after summer this year, when sunshine was still abundant but not as scorching, the whole family embarked on a road trip to Siquijor, to fulfil my father’s lifelong desire for a homecoming.
Our journey started in a church in Lazi. Whilst the rest of the family lit candles of petition, my dad stood distracted, reading a list of names of church benefactors on a cement wall. He gasped at familiar surnames of people from our hometown. After all, many of our neighbours’ forefathers were also farmer-fishermen from Siquijor; just like one Rufino Amantiad, who once loaded his entire kin on to a boat bound for Mindanao, and never returned.
My brother and I joked: maybe an heirloom awaited our Dad— a beachfront property, a hillside mansion, or acres of Molave. Maybe he is heir to some powerful wizard and we have come to the island to claim our destiny— a stone to swallow, a cave to set fire to, or a talisman to be received.
My mom, avid unbeliever, could only roll her eyes.
The first lead we found was from a group of candle vendors outside the church. They spoke of Amantiads they know from some distant barangays in and around the town of Maria. But one that rang a bell was a seaside community called Minalulan, from which, I believe, my father’s birthplace of Minaulon in Mindanao, was derived from.
As we drove away from Lazi and closer to Maria, my dad’s anxiety was almost palpable.
“Look for small houses; for poor people,” he kept on saying. “My grandfather said we were from poor origins,” he emphasized.
“Still poor,” my mom chirped in, antagonistic as ever.
Their bickering was promptly interrupted by a distinct welcome sign on the side of the road. My dad jumped at once, beckoning me to take a photo of him at the welcome sign of Barangay Minalulan. Soon after, the whole family joined in.
From there, we euphorically asked locals for directions, as if all of them were distant relatives. Eventually, the search led us to a sari-sari store at a corner fronting the public plaza. This was where we found Hilarion and Benedicta Amantiad, who, upon learning about our plight, offered a pack of hopia and a bottle of Mirinda to take with us to Salagdoong.
Lolo Hilarion was too young to remember or know my great grandfather, Rufino; moreso my grandfather, Agustin, who was only 14 when he left the island. But his eyes pocketed passion and pride, just like my late Nanay Teofila’s; his whole face bore the same smiling/crying grimace that was distinctive of my Lolo Leoncio. I’m sure my dad saw it too.
“I may not be able to recall how we are related, but we are; that, I assure you,” Lolo Hilarion, in an unmistakably Siquijodnon lilt, confirmed what we already knew deep down inside.
My dad was still on a high from meeting Lolo Hilarion, so he kept striking up conversations with everyone as we made our way to Salagdoong. Upon hearing his narrative, the gatekeeper at the resort volunteered that he knew of a certain Ecoy Amantiad, whose kin runs a stall at the Maria Public Market.
It wasn’t hard to find Lolo Ecoy at all, who received our strange intrusion in shock and silence. He wasn’t in the pink of health having just recovered from a cardiac ailment, but was gracious enough to talk to us. His daughter, Auntie Lucy, very hospitably answered our questions on her father’s behalf.
Surprisingly, the world was small after all. It turned out that Lolo Ecoy was Angelico Amantiad, grandfather of Rainveill, a “cousin” I accidentally bumped into, online, one day many years ago. Long story short, we’ve kept tabs since, both convinced that although we didn’t know how and why, we were from the same bloodline.
Understanding of my father’s need to reconnect with his roots, Lolo Ecoy offered to accompany us to Cangtugbas, where his centenarian parents lived.
The road to Cangtugbas was hilly and narrow; a perennial ascent that one would not expect of Siquijor. Lolo Ecoy sat on the passenger seat, his words calculated. My dad sat at the back, elated and uber excited.
Marcial Amantiad, the family patriarch and quite possibly our oldest living relative, was sitting on a balcony when we arrived. His wife, Lola Librada, pleasantly confused due to Dementia, was singing an old folk song on loop.
Off the bat, I was convinced we were family. It was as if seeing my father see his father again after forever. You see, my Lolo Agustin died when Dad was only 17. Since then, he only lived off his stories. We did, too.
It was Lolo Marcial, suprisingly sharp for a century-old chap, who was finally able to trace our lineage. He said that he was first cousins of Lolo Rufino, and had vague recollection of his kids. That being said, it meant that Lolo Ecoy was second cousins with my Lolo Agustin.
I took lots of photos, excited to log online so I can share Rainveill my good news. But we were too far off-the-grid to get internet connection; too off-the-beaten path to even get Waze coverage. But all of it didn’t matter at the time.
All that mattered was, right at that moment, in a bungalow in the hills of Cangtugbas, my father finally found his way— through Hilarion, Angelico and Marcial; through the stories of Rufino; and through the memories of Agustin— back home.