Thursday, March 12, 2009

Prof. Tomoe Shitaba

Prof. Tomoe Shitaba of Tokyo International University in Saitama Prefecture, Japan was a friend. I met him through Prof. Rolly Borrinaga of the UP-School of Health Sciences in Palo, Leyte sometime in the late '90s. Rolly still teaches in that school and is also a local journalist, and an historian who did extensive research on the Balangiga Massacre in Samar in 1901. The last resulted in a book, “Balangiga Conflict Revisited” that tells the story of the incident from the point of view of the survivors or at least from the relatives of the survivors. I don't know how Rolly met Prof. Shitaba but I came to know the good Japanese professor as a person who was a peace advocate. He conducted the so-called Shitaba Seminar, a study-tour for his students for which they came to Leyte every year to immerse themselves in the life of the locals, particularly in the island-province of Biliran where Rolly was born. At one point, Rolly got hold of the memoirs of a Japanese soldier in WWII who was assigned in Biliran as a radio operator. His name was Kennosuke Nakajima and his memoirs revealed his disillusionment about the war, how he befriended the townsfolk and his interest in learning about the local culture. Parts of his memoirs sound like an ethnographic account. A special friend, a young lass, became the object of his affection at one point during the peaceful period preceding the liberation of Leyte. Prof. Shitaba became interested in this story and used it as an inspiring piece of history to further push his peace development advocacy. Together with Rolly, he established the Peace Development Fund (PDF).
Prof. Shitaba showed interest in our art group too, the Atitipalo Visual Arts Group of Palo, Leyte. He liked our being community-based artists and our own brand of artmaking that drew inspiration from local culture and history which at the same time tackled issues and concerns affecting the country and our community. He therefore sponsored several group shows that we mounted, including that which we assembled for the Balangiga Massacre centennial in 2001 (Echoes of Balangiga) and the one inspired by the Nakajima memoirs (Sunset in Biliran) in 2004. The works in Echoes were brought to Japan and exhibited in Hiroshima during the 57th anniversary of the atomic bombing. Prof. Shitaba sponsored my trip to Japan from August 13-18, 2002 where I travelled with him and his students from Tokyo to Hiroshima for the mounting of the exhibit. During my stay, I had the chance to tour the Saitama area where Prof. Shitaba resides. In Hiroshima, aside from visiting the peace memorial park and museum and seeing the sights (including the famous fireworks in Miyajima island), I talked about my group’s artmaking and the culture and history of Leyte and Samar to the viewers and audience of the exhibit. It was an interesting discussion that elicited so many questions especially from the younger audiences.
In 2005, Prof. Shitaba wrote a book “Learn How to Become a Global Citizen.” When he gave me a copy, I was surprised to see my drawing on its cover. Titled “Life Saver,” that drawing was a composite of four frames showing four ordinary folks, each holding a part of a circle which when put together as one frame appeared like they were also clinging to a hoop that looked like a lifesaver. The idea was to convey the message that cooperation in community life makes things easier to achieve and life more bearable and liveable. I gave that drawing to him as a gift back in 2001.
Prof. Shitaba, a respected professor, a peace advocate and a good friend, died in October 2007.


Mano Nonong said...


Mano has secretly looked up to you and the rest of you who came after me and have always been proud of you. As I think in these years of my being, "Sixtyn", good fortune has given me the humble spirit to have a thought like this: my being the eldest is just a number, not an entitlement. The real work came after me. You all worked your way out of our humble beginnings in Palo to shine in your chosen fields. I did not fully grasp the meaning of "doting" until lately. (Doting TitoLolo pa la)I may be a little older but I'm just getting warmed up. Hope to see you all in June, or July, or thereabouts. Heheheh. You all have made me proud countless times just for standing on your own two feet and for taking care of each other.

r. agner said...

what can i say? it feels good to hear such nice words. it just makes your soul soar. thanks a lot!