Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Wedding Dance by Amador T. Daguio (Short Story) - Literary Analysis

The Wedding Dance by Amador T. Daguio is a story I particularly appreciated for the simple reason that I'm an Igorot. The characters in the story are Igorots and the setting is in an Igorot village. The story reminds me of the quaint little village in Mt. Province where I grew up. A story strikes you different if you have a sense of place and belonging in it. This is one of such stories. This is a well-known tale within literary communities in the Philippines. After reading it, I can see why. Everyone loves a love story. But a love story between two indigenous characters  stuck in an often romanticized period back in the day? That's milk and honey for literary junkies.

The Characters

1. Awiyao - An Igorot man who decides to separate with his wife (a wife he dearly loves) because she hasn't given him a child after seven years of marriage.
2. Lumnay - Awiyao's wife.
3. Madulimay - Awiyao's new wife.

Plot and Summary

On his wedding night to a new bride, Awiyao decides to momentarily leave the celebrations to go to his house and visit his previous wife, Lumnay. The two have been together for seven years but their union has not produced an offspring. Thus Awiyao's decision to part ways with Lumnay and take another wife, a younger woman named Madulimay. Awiyao still loves Lumnay and Lumnay still loves Awiyao. But in order for Awiyao to prove himself a man in the eyes of his community, he must have an offspring. Someone to carry his name forward, the way he carried his father's name.

Awiyao repeatedly asks Lumnay to leave the house and join the wedding dance outside. He tells her that if she joins the dance, one of the men will take notice of her and might even ask to marry her. If she's luckier with the man, she might even bear a child with him. But Lumnay tells him that she doens't wan't anyone else. She only wants him.

Awiyao offers Lumnay the house but the latter refuses it, telling him that she needs to go to her parents as they are already old and they need assistance in planting beans and pounding rice. Awiyao then offers a field but Lumnay refuses the offer just the same. Lumnay only requests that she keeps her beads as these remind her of the love that Awiyao has for her. The beads are worth twenty fields. Awiyao gave the beads to her and left to rejoin the festivities.

Suddenly awash with the courage to fight for her feelings, Lumnay decides to go to the wedding and confront the crowd. To tell the village chief that it is not right to take away Awiyao from her just because she can't bear him a child. However, as she nears the clearing where the wedding dance is being held, the bright lights spook her. She decides to just get away from there. She backs away and follows a trail leading away from the village and up a mountain. From a clearing at the top, Lumnay can see the bright lights of the wedding dance.

The story ends with Lumnay lost among the bean pods at the clearing.

Notes and Analysis; Study Guide for Students

What is the central theme of the story? 
The story has a two-pronged theme. On one end is the unbreakable romantic bond between Awiyao and Lumnay. On the other end are the demands of a society deeply entrenched in cultural and traditional values. The central idea of the story lies in the area where these two ends meet. I think we can mold the theme in the form of a question - What happens when the bond between two people goes head to head with the bond of society-imposed conventions? Which bond will break in the collision? Who will suffer?

What is the conflict in the story? 
A lot of readers think that the conflict in the story has Awiyao and Lumnay as the opposing forces. I think this is a misreading of the tale. I would say that the opposing forces are Awiyao and Lumnay on one side and society on the other side. If you read the story again, both of them blatantly question what society demands of them. Awiyao questions the unwritten rule that a man must have a child to come after him. Lumnay believes that it is not right for someone else to take away Awiyao from her just because she can't bear him a child.

Awiyao and Lumnay both believe that the system is wrong. However, the difference lies in how they tried to fight the system. Technically, Awiyao didn't fight it since he chose to look for a new wife in the hope that she'll bear him a child. He basically gave in to the demands of the society he lives in. Lumnay at least tried when she attempted to approach the wedding dance and confront the chief. She also has the choice of joining the dance and potentially getting picked by another man. But she didn't do it. It's either Awiyao or no one. She'd rather be alone than be with any other man.

What is the moral lesson in the story? 
Awiyao is a man who followed the demands of society instead of following the demands of his heart. Lumnay, on the other hand, followed her heart to the very end. She even contemplated confronting the whole village to fight for what she feels in her heart. In my eyes, Lumnay is the hero of the story, albeit a broken one. Most stories end with the hero present as a parting gesture. In The Wedding Dance, Lumnay ends the story.

What does the ending of the story mean? 
The story ends with Lumnay deep in thought at the top of the mountain. We can try to understand what her next moves be based on her prior actions. She was given all the chance to try and take back Awiyao who is rightfully hers. She wasn't able to do so. So her walking away from the light of the wedding dance and her walking away from the village to escape the sounds symbolizes her attempt to escape from the whole thing. She has made the decision to walk away. Maybe the union of Awiyao and Madulimay will not bear fruit and Awiyao will consider reuniting with her. But that borders on literary overreaching.

Did Awiyao really love Lumnay? 
This is a question that comes up a lot. There are readers who theorize that Awiyao didn't really love Lumnay and that he is using the "no child" issue as a convenient excuse to ditch Lumnay and get a younger bride. Hmmm, maybe. It's definitely plausible. But the theory breaks down in the context of the story.

Photo by Daniel Ted C. Feliciano.