One of the many rewards I got from writing the manuscript of Tales From the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories was that, I had the opportunity to discuss with my writer friends the influences, inspirations and status of Philippine folk lore today. This proves that writing, though a solitary act, should never be done in isolation. The whole process involves a lot of reading, speaking and articulating and yes, listening to peers and experts in the discipline.
Augie River and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan were perfect for such discussions. The former provided me with references and leads while the later gave me tips to the many possibilities of retelling a well loved tale. Paolo Chikiamco lent his passionate opinion on Filipino Folk stories via the interview questions I sent his way a few weeks back. His blog, Rocket Kapre has a treasure trove of resources for the folk tale enthusiast.
Read on Paolo's thoughts and insights on Philippine folk lore --
a. What made you compile a blog link/site on Filipino folk tales other than an obvious interest on the genre?
When I set up the website for Rocket Kapre Books, I didn't want it to serve only as a bulletin board for announcements pertaining to our books and authors. I also wanted it to be a place that fosters the creation of Filipino works of speculative fiction, wherever these works are eventually published. I figured one way to do this would be by sharing some of the resources I've found in my own research, and I chose to do this first with Philippine mythology and folklore because there didn't seem to be a lot of online resources dealing with these topics, and because our heritage is such a fertile source of inspiration. Speculative fiction authors in other countries have been kept their old tales alive by re-imagining them and re-incorporating elements into new, modern stories, and I'd love to see more Filipino authors do the same (in the footsteps of people such as Arnold Arre and Budjette Tan).
Researching pre-hispanic Filipino traditions can be a daunting and time-consuming task because of the vast diversity of the cultures and people lived in these islands, and a relative scarcity of research materials, especially if you don't live near a library. The Myth List and Philippine Pantheons pages are my way of providing a starting point for writers who want to incorporate elements of our myths in their tales.
b. What Western and Eastern influences are predominantly found in our folk tales? Name at least five.
I'm not sure if we can really speak of a Western influence in our earliest folk tales, since most of the foreigners who visited our shores before the Spanish arrived were from Asia. Some writers believe that a few of the more popular creatures of folk lore were created because of or as a reaction to the Spanish--"Kapre" is said to come from the Arabic word "Kaffir" and could have been used to demonize the West, while the Manananggal could have come from an attempt by Spanish missionaries to demonize female shamans who were their competition in the spiritual realm.
Easterners, being our neighbors, exercised a more direct influence, but you'd need an expert (rather than just an enthusiast like myself) to quantify them. Some of our people, such as the Sama Dilaut, may have come to our islands from other countries and carried their own store of folklore which mixed with those who were here before them. Certain local myths also seem to be of a type that can be found in some form in many other Eastern cultures -- such as the many myths dealing with a man who, through deceit, marries a Star in human form. The introduction of Islam to the south of the archipelago also influenced folklore there heavily, and we received Islam primarily from our Southeast Asian neighbors.
c. What is the prevailing folk tale motif have you observed present in the folk tales you've read so far?
Again, it's hard for me to generalize given that I've been trying to read up on the folklore of our people from all over the islands, and there can be great differences in the tales of the north as opposed to the south, or the myths of the people who live in the mountains as opposed to those who live in the lowlands. Each culture will have their own particular concerns, and that will greatly affect the motifs present in their folklore. Herminia Meñez Coben points out, for instance, that "the attainment of immortality without having to experience death" is central to the Bukidnon, and that's something you can see from their tale of the Ascension to Heaven via the Salimbal, the heavenly ship.
d. As a writer and collector of folk tales, what is the greatest challenge you've encountered yet? Where do you attribute this challenge?
As a collector, the greatest challenge is finding material that not only gives a narration of the old stories, but also gives a proper context, one that explains what the myth as a whole or elements of that myth meant for the people and culture from which it originated. If I'm reading an epic, say, where the hero turns into a particular kind of animal, it's very helpful to know whether that animal has a particular cultural significance. The old tales were always more than just literal narrations of events - like the universe itself in the eyes of many cultures, the old stories had layers, and if one simply reads a retelling of the story, without any context, that depth can be lost.
As a writer, the greatest challenge for me is trying to embrace these old myths and legends as a part of my Filipino heritage, without wrongful appropriation. These are my stories and yet, at the same time, they are not, because many of the stories which are considered Filipino folklore emerge from communities which pre-existed the idea of a Philippine nation, or even a Filipino race, communities which still exist today in a sort of grey area where they are struggling to maintain their unique cultural identities.
e. What folk tale personify the Filipino?
I think many of our countrymen are die-hard romantics, so I think that the stories that best embody the Filipino spirit are those that deal with true love, particularly those that involve a pair trying to overcome nigh-insurmountable obstacles in order to consummate their affections. One example is the myth of the Ibanag which explains why there is a high tide whenever the moon is full. It involves the daughter of the sun god, the son of the sea go, and the violation of the laws of the immortals. It could easily serve as the basis for the modern form of narrative that so engrosses the nation - the Fantaserye.