Po-on is the first in the 5-book Rosales Saga by Filipino writer, F. Sionil Jose. Po-on recounts the lives and hardships of the Samson family at the hands of Spanish oppressors, at the turn of the 19th century.
Not uncommon during the time before the revolution, Filipino tenants were often ordered by friars and landlords to leave the Spanish-owned lands they have developed, as was the case of the Samson family. Disfavor with the town friar as well as an unfortunate accident forces the Samson clan to flee their home to evade capture by Spanish authorities, as well as to find new land to settle in.
The main protagonist of the story, Istak, is a young man from the Samson clan. Though the son of a Filipino farmer, he was fortunate enough to have been favored by an old Spanish friar who took him under his wing when only a young boy and taught him the ways of the Catholic Church. Part of Istak’s education included learning to speak, read and write Spanish and Latin, as well as sciences and philosophy. However, as the benevolent Spanish friar got older and weaker, he was replaced by a younger, stricter friar; one who did not think so highly of Istak and his fellow Filipinos.
Istak and his family face numerous dangers and challenges, such as inhospitable people and weather and harsh environments, as they flee their home in Ilocos to find land and freedom farther south.
Istak and his family find new land in Rosales, where they rebuild their homes and their lives. However, the times were changing and they were soon faced new challenges and oppressors. With the Spanish defeated, the Filipino people must face their new conquerors: the Americans.
Fighting all his life for his survival and for his family, Istak learns that there is something bigger than himself, bigger than his family, which is worth fighting for – his country. He is faced with choosing between his duty to stay alive, for his family, or his duty to die, for his country.
General disappointment was what I felt after finishing Po-on. Not disappointment with the quality of the story told by Jose, but disappointment with the fate of Istak and the Filipinos. Part historical, part fiction, Po-on is filled with the suffering endured by the Filipinos at the hands of the Spanish, then later the Americans and the Japanese; their helplessness against their different oppressors; unnecessary deaths in the name of duty.
F. Sionil Jose has received numerous awards for his Rosales Saga, which follows the lives of different members of the Samson family through generations. Considered by many as his obra maestra, Po-on, as well as the other books in the Rosales Saga has won F. Sionil Jose the prestigious National Artist Award in 2001.