Book Review – Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal






Amazons of the Huk Rebellion, Vina A. Lanzona


Vina A. Lanzona. Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009
Affiliation: Claremont Graduate University
DOI: 10.1080/00497871003595711
Publication Frequency: 8 issues per year
Published in: Women’s Studies, Volume 39, Issue 3 April 2010 , pages 265 – 268   

Vina A. Lanzona. Amazons of the Huk Rebellion: Gender, Sex, and Revolution in the Philippines   

In Amazons of the Huk Rebellion, author Vina Lanzona places Filipina voices at the center of a discussion that reclaims their gendered political and social history. Within a framework of guerrilla warfare over a 30-year period, Lanzona records the private stories and military accounts told to her by a group of Filipinas who fought alongside men for land reform, social justice, and the elimination of poverty in their island nation. The oral narratives of the Huk women presented by Lanzona recover and validate the role of the Filipina Amazons in the resistance movement. While Philippine history has failed to reflect accurately the complex and contested representations of the Huk women, Lanzona presents an intimate look into their political and personal lives. At the same time, the author restores the women to their “rightful and central place” in the Huk movement by delineating their roles as women warriors, spies, couriers, wives, mothers, and daughters (5).   

Amazons of the Huk Rebellion outlines the historical timeline of the Huk movement (the first significant political and military group in the Philippines to actively recruit and train women) from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s by tracing the individual roles of the Huk women and their connections to the collective resistance. The first part of Amazons of the Huk Rebellion reflects the World War II struggles of the resistance movement, its designation as a Communist Party unit, and the Party’s attempts to control the sexual and social lives of its members by responding to such issues as “legal and forest wives” as a form of acceptable bigamy (13). Later in the book, Lanzona explores the larger debates around the issues of gender and the role of women in the post-war period, and the transformational influence of the Huk experience to change Filipina peasants into revolutionaries capable of commanding and marrying men, creating and carrying out military strategies and raids, capturing and killing enemies, and bearing and raising children.   

To compile the oral history of the Huk Amazons, Lanzona spoke to 70 women and 32 men between the ages of 62 and 88 who participated in the Huk movement. The interviews were conducted in Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines and Lanzona’s native language. Although the men and women relied on their memories to recall dates and events, Lanzona reports that her talks with the women gleaned a rich reserve of oral histories and stories. The women participated in an “active process of creation of meanings” and their recollections comprised their histories (18). In order to place the women in the historical record, Lanzona uses their real names (with the exception of two women) when quoting them or describing their experiences.   

The author does more than simply present facts. She also captures the unarticulated motivations, desires, and ideas of the Huk women that have been hidden from history. Lanzona found the women “open, candid, and surprisingly eager to share intimate aspects of their revolutionary lives” and discuss how their “political decisions fused with their personal lives” (17). The Huk women related their guerilla activities and also told Lanzona “what they had wanted to do and what they thought about their actions in the past” (18). In this way, the author combined historical facts with personal memory to present all sides of the public and private lives of the Huk Amazons.   

Lanzona records that the Filipinas had only two choices during the war, either “be victimized by the Japanese or resist them” (36). The reasons that Lanzona gives for Filipinas joining the Huk movement, however, note a broader range of choices. Women with little education and the expectation that they would end up as “teenage peasant wives,” chose revolutionary work and kept safe houses for Huk use (68). They acted as couriers and communications agents whose assignments required use of their kinship and social network relationships across villages and barrios. Women with previous political ties with smaller student, “peasant and leftist movements,” joined the Huks (42). Women trained and indoctrinated into the ways of the Huk rebellion, became valuable teachers, organizers, nurses, spies, and propagandists.   

Most of the Huk women, Lanzona reports, were the “wives, sisters, and even mothers” of the men they followed into the movement (44). Zenaida del Castillo, a Huk Amazon and daughter of a labor leader and Huk commander, explained that, “We all loved our father. We all followed his work and ideology because we wanted to be united in our family” (45). Lanzona presents that the maintenance of social and familial ties is an overriding concern of the Huk women even as they engage in supportive, ancillary, or active roles of resistance.   

Lanzona places the Huk Amazons within the legacy and mythology of female warriors within indigenous Philippine society and in the tradition of other female warriors in China, Vietnam, and Latin America. The activities of the Huk females fed the fascination of the Philippine press who characterized them variously as soldiers, military commanders, wives, mothers, former beauty queens, pretty girls, and rebel suspects.   

While all the female members of the Huk movement were called Amazons, Remedios Gomez, popularly known as Kumander Liwayway, is also referred to as the Joan of Arc of the Philippines. Lanzona counts Liwayway, who witnessed her father’s body on public display after being executed by the Japanese, among the women warriors who are seen as extraordinary because “they had stepped outside the accepted boundaries of female behavior” (177). Liwayway embraces this image and is quoted as saying that if being an Amazon means “carrying a gun, fighting with men against the enemy, and sacrificing my life for the cause of freedom, then I am proud to be a Huk Amazon” (156). Being an Amazon, however, did not preclude Liwayway’s identity as a woman. She managed to preserve her concepts of Filipina femininity even as she took on the masculine role of military commander. Lanzona relates that Liwayway “always combed her hair, manicured and polished her nails, and applied lipstick before going into battle” in order to instill “greater confidence” in the troops (155). In this way, Liwayway balanced the feminine and the masculine by “heightening the contrast between her feminine appearance and her masculine role” (177). What Liwayway most fought for, Lanzona records, was the “right to be myself” (155). She exercised that right when she appeared in front of her troops with her hair styled, wearing a full “application of make-up” and carrying a weapon.   

Dubbed “amasonas (amazons) in the Filipino vernacular,” the sensationalized newspaper stories of the victories, defeats and captures of the “women warriors elicited awe and admiration, as well as fear and hostility” (130). Lanzona tells that these accounts “ultimately bolstered men’s sense of superiority and domination” by portraying the behavior of the Amazons as anomalous and outside the purview of what it means to be Filipina (179). The Huk Amazons, according to Lanzona, appropriated and used the myth to provide an “image of female political power, military prowess, and autonomy” that was embraced by future Filipina activists (179).   

The women’s presence in the Huk movement brought the issues of gender, sexuality, and family into a highly structured military environment and challenged the women to combine and create new identities for themselves. The experiences of the Huk women informed their political ideologies and drastically altered their views of traditional female roles. Even though the Huk movement created a competing discourse on women’s roles in post-war Philippines, the Huk women did not represent the pre- or post-war “educated, professional, English-speaking ‘New Women’ nor the traditional, pious, passive, and devout Catholic Filipina” (177). Instead, the Huk women found themselves at the center of intersecting discussions that involved military actions, marriage, children, and social relations. The Huk Amazons negotiated these intersecting locations and managed to transcend gender and class limitations to create a new and expanded sense of gender identity. Lanzona traces successfully the role of the Filipina guerilla in relation to the collective Huk movement and explores non-essentialist relationships between men and women, while at the same time restoring the Huk Amazons to their rightful historical legacy. This work, told through the lives of the Huk Amazons, is a valuable contribution to the feminist tradition of women warriors and their families.   


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