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Po-on is a historical novel. Internationally released as Dusk, and completed in 1983, it is the final piece, in terms of writing, of Filipino novelist F. Sionil José's award-winning Rosales Saga—so-called for the rural Philippine town, in Pangasinan province, where he grew up.

It is, however, a Prequel to the entire series. Set in the late 1800s, in particular covering the period 1880–1899, its historical background is tense and eventful throughout: bookended by the execution of martyr-priests GomBurZanote  on one hand, and the Philippine Revolution on the other. After the proverbial 300 years of being in a Spanish convent, the Filipino people finally throw off their colonial masters and gain real freedom … or so they thought. Enter the American imperialists. Enter another 50+ years of Hollywood.

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Amidst this whirlwind of events, Po-on follows Eustaquio "Istak" Salvador—later Samson, grandfather of Antonio "Tony" Samson and great-grandfather of José "Pepe" Samson, introduced as an incredibly astute altar boy in Cabugaw parish, in the Ilocos region, mentored by the old but nurturing Spanish friar, Padre José Leon. By age 20, Istak's on his way to enter the seminary in Vigan and thence the priesthood, but Padre José is forced to retire, and his young successor is his exact opposite: a typical, bigoted, abusive friar, the exact sort that Filipino nationalists are now railing against, one of the major sparks of the Philippine Revolution.

In the far north, however, that simmering discontent remains background noise for Istak—until his one-armed father Ba-ac murders the young, new priest, in revenge for framing him for theft and ordering his amputation. Alarm bells sound throughout the town, forcing Istak and all his blood relations—Ba-ac, his mother Mayang, his brothers An-no and Bit-tik, plus his eventual wife Dalin, among others—in the tiny village of Po-on to flee south, pursued all the while by the colonial police, the Guardia Civil. It takes long months of crossing dangerous streams and dodging warrior tribes before the Salvadors settle in Pangasinan province, rename themselves the Samsons to escape detection, and start a new life and community. It's at that point where Istak eventually gets drawn into events on a national stage, as the Philippine Revolution brings its prime minister, Apolinario Mabini, to Rosales, and thence in contact with Istak.

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Tropes in Po-on:

  • Aerith and Bob: On the one hand, polysyllabic Spanish/Catholic names (Eustaquio Salvador/Samson, (Capitán) Gualberto, (Don) Jacinto, etc.). On the other hand, staccato-sounding Ilocano names, which may or may not be derivatives or nicknames for Hispanic names (Ba-ac, Mayang, An-no, Bit-tik, Dalin, etc.). On the third hand, the occasional Anglo- or Irish-American name (e.g. Thomas Collins).
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Ba-ac goes up to the Cabugaw parish to beg the young priest to take back Istak.
  • America Takes Over the World: The latter half of Part II of the book concludes with the breakout of the Philippine-American War.
  • Book-Ends: The novel begins and ends with two letters, each written by a colonial agent:
    • May 1880: Padre José writes his provincial superior, summarising his glowing opinions of the faithful, hardworking Ilocanos (and of Istak, his star pupil);
    • April 1900: American reporter Thomas Collins writes a friend describing Manila, events in the ongoing Philippine-American War, and describing the writings of the now-deceased Istak.
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  • Christianity Is Catholic: Played for the most part straight, this being the late Spanish-colonial Philippines with the Catholic friars still fighting to stay in power; two Augustinian friars feature in this book, news spreads of the three martyr-priests executed in 1872, and Istak is trained as an altar-boy intending to enter the priesthood. One notable subversion is Mabini's invitation to Istak to join the new Philippine Independent Church—the "national church" of the First Philippine Republic, founded as a conscious departure from Vatican control, and basically the Filipinos' answer to the Church of England.
  • Contemplate Our Navels
  • Doomed Hometown: Ba-ac's murderous—but justifiable—act of vengeance against Cabugaw's new, young priest essentially dooms Po-on to be torched by the Guardia Civil in retaliation, forcing his entire clan to flee.
  • During the War: Part 2 in particular, set during the Philippine Revolution (1896-98), and then goes straight into the Philippine-American War (1898–c. 1910).
  • Eagle Land: For the most part, Type 2, considering America is presented as the new imperialist power, betraying its promises to guarantee sovereignty to the First Philippine Republic after having defeated Spain, and sending its troops to fight the Republican Army.
  • End of an Era: The end of the Spanish colonial era.
  • Evil Colonialist: Hoo boy, the Spaniards (though in fairness, not all of them). The haughty, bigoted, celibacy-breaking Padre Zarraga and the implacable Capitán Gualberto of the Guardia Civil are just the most visible examples. Plus, though on a far milder scale, even Padre José has his prejudices and apprehensions against the Philippine Propaganda Movement, equating it with nefarious intent and "godless" Freemasonry (if only because, in Real Life, several of its members were Masons, and religious deists or agnostics besides).
    • Then there's the Americans, who bring their own brand of racism to the table, and are obviously fighting to displace the Spaniards as the Philippines' new conquerors.
  • Fictional Document: The two letters that bookend the novel, as well as what will become Istak's Philosophia Vitæ (which his grandson Antonio, a.k.a. Tony, discovers decades later in The Pretenders).
  • Foreign Correspondent: American Thomas Collins comes to the Philippines reporting on the Philippine-American War.
  • Genius Cripple: Mabini is a polio survivor; Truth in Television. Polio wasted his legs, so he's always chair-ridden (to watchers of Heneral Luna: yes, that's the reason).
  • Good Shepherd: Padre José.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Istak frequently writes and speaks in (often-untranslated) Latin, usually for prayers but not exclusively so. Par for the course given Istak's extensive tutoring in Catholic doctrine and some classic Roman literature by Padre José.
  • Gratuitous Spanish
  • The Hero Dies: Istak meets his end when shot down by American snipers alongside the young General Gregorio del Pilar at the Battle of Tirad Pass.
  • History Marches On: When Po-on first came out, it was accepted, or at least strongly suspected, that Mabini's paralysis was due to syphilis—and this became a point of discussion in the original edition. Further research uncovered that mere polio was responsible only after the first edition came out. FSJ then rectified the novel accordingly, re-releasing it and adding a section wherein Mabini rants to Istak against the circle of advisers around Aguinaldo, accusing them of maliciously spreading, well, fake news about his illness.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Apolinario Mabini, the chief intellect of the Philippine Revolution and Prime Minister of the First Philippine Republic, takes an extended stay in Rosales at the house of the town chief, Don Jacinto. He and Istak exchange long and enlightening discussions.
    • Later, Istak also becomes a courier for General/President Emilio Aguinaldo's Revolutionary/Republican Army, and interacts with Real Life General Gregorio del Pilar. Istak is killed along with del Pilar at the historical Battle of Tirad Pass in late 1899.
  • Karmic Death: The racist Padre Zarraga ordered the amputation of Ba-ac's right hand for supposed theft. Ba-ac exacts his "revenge" years later by taking a heavy candlestick in his remaining hand and bashing the friar's skull in. (He did this in an uncontrollable rage, however; it was definitely not premeditated.)
  • Knight Templar / Inspector Javert: Capitán Gualberto.
  • Latin Land: Set in the late-Spanish-colonial northern Philippines, so of course—tropical climate, Hispanic names, pervasive Catholicism (including friars of course), Spanish government authorities in the form of the Guardia Civil, Gratuitous Spanish (and even more so Latin itself), the works.
  • Lit Fic
  • May–December Romance: Ba-ac is in his seventies whilst his wife Mayang is just past 40.
  • Meaningful Rename: The Salvadors rename themselves the Samsons because their hair has grown pretty long—like the eponymous Biblical character—from their long sojourn south.
  • Meet the New Boss: The United States—the new colonialist on the block, displacing 300+ years of Spain and the Church.
  • The Mentor: Padre José.
  • The Migration: Istak, his wife Dalin, and all their relations leave Po-on when it's torched by colonial police, and spend the rest of the book's first half fleeing south à la The Aeneid, dodging headhunting tribes and man-eating snakes, crossing treacherous rivers and evading the Guardia Civil, until they settle and make a new home in the flatter Pangasinan plains.
  • Occupiers out of Our Country: Two sets of occupiers—Spain and America. Istak in particular is drawn into the side of Aguinaldo's army against the American troops.
  • Period Piece: Written from The '60s to The '80s, it chronicles events in Philippine history a century prior, primarily focusing around 1880s nationalist sentiment, the 1890s Philippine Revolution, and the Philippine-American War, which begins in 1899 and spans most of the next decade—the decade of the 1900s.
  • Philosophical Novel
  • Police Brutality: The Guardia Civil burn down Po-on, and Capitán Gualberto, at their head, actually shoots Istak point-blank. Miraculously, he survives. Also, five years earlier, acting on Padre Zarraga's accusation of theft, they hung Ba-ac from a tree by his right hand until it atrophied, requiring amputation.
  • Police are Useless: Ironically, despite shooting him point-blank, the Guardia Civil don't even manage to kill Istak outright, and of course, they fail to capture Istak's whole family and village the whole way south.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Padre Zarraga flat-out derides the Filipino indios (natives) in front of Ba-ac, saying they don't really have hands but are four-legged like the carabao (water buffalo), and they're only ever born to be ruled.
  • Rule of Three: Ba-ac and Mayang's three sons: Istak, An-no, and Bit-tik.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To The Bible: Istak suggests to his family to adopt the new surname Samson based on the Biblical long-haired hero. Their exodus south also recalls, well, the book of Exodus.
  • Sinister Minister: Padre Zarraga, Padre José's successor.
  • Their First Time: Istak's virginity at the ripe old age of twenty is discussed early in the novel. He's already in his early twenties when he has sex with Dalin (who's done it before, having been widowed of her first husband, whom Istak and An-no helped bury).
  • Time Skip: Somewhat. Most of Part I takes place in the early 1880s. Part II is set after the Samsons have settled in Pangasinan, and most of the relevant action begins some years later, in the mid-1890s, with the Revolution well on its way to sparking.
  • Two-Act Structure: Part I of the book covers Istak and his family from their time in Po-on to their journey south, ending with their settling in Rosales. Part II covers the family's new life in Pangasinan, and Istak's involvement in the Philippine Revolution.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: When Padre Zarraga inherits Padre José's job in Cabugaw parish, he starts having his way with the local girls (at least one, anyway, whom Istak indirectly witnesses him doing), and essentially "fires" Istak from his duties as altar boy and teacher.
  • Vestigial Empire: Spain by this point. They're eventually driven out by the Filipino Revolutionaries, with "help", initially, from the Americans—who quickly turn around and turn on the Revolutionaries themselves.


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