Stories from our myths

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As a child, I cut classes to go marinate in the library. There I got to delve into ancient cultures and the stories and mythology that were part of these bygone peoples’ lives. But, try as I might, I saw only snippets of our own mythos and ancient stories. This made me a very sad child indeed.

Which is why the recent explosion of graphic novels, anthologies and books containing what remnants of our myths and legends we still have does my forty-something heart much good.

One of the best I’ve read so far is an anthology written in Filipino—one that includes illustrated stories told in comic-book fashion. For all that I love Budjette Tan’s “Trese” series, Mervin Malonzo’s “Tabi Po” series, Carlo Vergara’s “Zsazsa Zaturnnah” comics and several other works by our talented myth-meisters, I will also admit to a love of the page that is naked save for the written word.

Enter “May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sigbin sa Silong” (Tatak ng Bughaw, Ateneo de Manila Press, 2017) edited by Allan N. Derain, the Best Anthology in Filipino in the 2018 National Book Awards.

This book wowed me. Not only did it present stories from our myths from across the islands, it did this without breaking my brain. I truly enjoyed these stories, which were so different from the “oral tradition” of being frightened out of my wits by nannies who worked to scare me into obedience (and often succeeded) by telling me stories about kapres eating little girls who disobeyed their elders and mananaggals who ate babies, but wouldn’t eat me because I was too frisky, even in the womb.

Because I am not a native speaker of Filipino and have read more works in English than in Filipino, I generally find it easier to read works written in English, unless we’re talking of the novels of Lualhati Bautista, the poetry of National Artist Virgilo Almario and the writings of Amado Hernandez and Edgardo M. Reyes. I will read (and re-read) those works even if I have to slow my brain down to allow its Filipino language programming to kick in.

Yet this collection of 23 tales from our lore caught me and held me. It is this wonderful mix of stories and deconstruction of our lore. “May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sigbin sa Silong” also contains stories by some of my favorite writers (and one kumpare of mine who is now in the Skyworld): Edgar Calabria Samar, Frank Cimatu, Carlo Arejola, Severino Reyes. Plus an excellent translation of Nick Joaquin’s reportage of an aswang story.

The selection of works is like an awesome buffet with a variety of succulent, delicious, exotic dishes that tickle your imaginary palate: You don’t know whether you’re going to read about the scientific explanation of aswang first, or sample the Bikolano comic narrating the battle between a gugurang and an aswang. Will you take a tale from Lola Basyang (AKA Severino Reyes) in first, or will you read what looks like a children’s story about a strange child who is sweet and pretty, despite her fangs? Somewhere in the middle you find a love poem for an otherworldly creature, and a gallery of clippings from the monster comic strips of the tabloids, a record spanning decades.
You can just as easily begin reading this anthology from its end, as well as its middle and beginning. Okay, so maybe it’s best to start at the very beginning, where Derain can guide you through the process by which this anthology came to be, a myth and legend of its own, and beautifully told in Filipino that is both factual and lyrical.

They say that cultures are best understood by their mythos, by the stories that have been handed down through generations. This winner of a book does all that, and very well indeed. Moreover, it achieves all of these things without the reader being any the wiser—the stories, illustrations and poetry all conspire to transport you to a world where you’re agog in wonder, awash with shivers and totally unaware of how much more you’re learning about the primal root of who we are underneath all our trappings of modernity and civilization in a globalized world.

“May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sigbin sa Silong” offers you a fresh mirror through which to see your own face, in this time, through the eyes of our mythical monsters and those who study, love and fear them. Are you still reading this review? Why? Go out and find out what I mean for yourself. Hala, go. The book is available in National Bookstore, last I checked.   G



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