BONIFACIO Day is an important nationalist holiday in the Philippines, and in Yarralumla this week it was marked by a fundraiser dedicated to reclaiming memory in the aftermath of war.
In a one-woman show, Dr. Merlinda Bobis performed excerpts from her poetry, theatre and prose, raising money both for river restoration in the Philippines and for child hunger through charity Gawad Kalinga.
Bobis posed the question “How much can the heart accommodate?” with stories about the grief of war, with a focus on recovering the bodies of war dead.
Bobis’ allegorical Fish–Hair Woman, whose endless locks dredge bodies out of the river and leave a cloying, accusatorial smell of lemongrass, was a potent metaphor for both the impact of war on the Philippines and of holding on to memory in a country where the past has been scoured by invasion.
Water was used frequently by Bobis as a symbol of life, and she explained how science is using Bokashi balls to cleanse waterways and provide income and purpose to impoverished communities in the Philippines.
Bobis showed her theatrical mastery when at the start of the show after the lights went down and all eyes were focused on the performance space she began to chat from behind the audience in a clear, piercing voice.
Bobis’ performance was shamanistic, invoking lost spirits through dance and bilingual poetry, responding to anguish not with anger but with grief and compassion.