The day has come!
“Alternative Alamat“, our digital anthology of stories inspired by Philippine mythology, is now available for US$4.99 at the following fine establishments:
- Amazon.com – US$4.99 (note there’s an extra US$2.00 charge for certain non-US territories/accounts, including, unfortunately, the Philippines)
- Flipreads.com (epub file) – PHP235.00
- [iTunes and Barnes & Noble/Nook editions to follow]
I hope that by now you’re all excited to get your hands on the book (or, rather, the hardware holding the file), and if so, thank you and what are you waiting for? If you’re still on the fence even after the preview of our contributor and story introductions, and our author interviews (Raissa, Mo, Eliza), then read on (or download the press release here)!
As a celebration of today’s launch, I’d like to give you a glimpse of some of the non-fiction segments of the book, as well as the wonderful artwork of Mervin Malonzo, creator of “Tabi Po“. You’ve already seen the beautiful cover Mervin made for us, but you may not have realized he’s also doing internal artwork as well. Each book is graced with eleven original illustrations by Mervin, where he gives his spin on eleven of the most interesting gods and goddesses of Philippine mythology. I don’t want to give too much away, so here’s a montage-teaser using elements from all eleven pieces:
After the cut: one full sample of Mervin’s interior artwork, the full text of the book’s introduction, and excerpts from my interviews with Professor Herminia Meñez Coben and Fernando N. Zialcita.
This is Mervin’s rendition of Balitok. Balitok comes from Ifugao mythology, and he is the son of Bugan of the Skyworld and Kinggauan, a mortal man. Due to the separation of his parents, he was eventually split in half: the upper half became a celestial being, and the lower half was converted into the animals that populate the Earth.
“For the educated [Filipino] minority, Greek and Roman mythology is more familiar than their own. They can summon Apollo and Aphrodite or mentally wander around Olympus; but they are puzzled by Bugan and the seven levels of the Bukidnon sky-world. A vast area of our collective self, a self that is the product of generations of reflection upon life’s meaning, is thus submerged in darkness. In fact the ridges and valleys of this unexplored self continue to underlie our own view of the world, ‘modern’ though we are. A rediscovery of our myths unlocks this hidden continent.”
- “The Soul Book” by Francisco Demetrio, Gilda Cordero – Fernando, and Fernando Zialcita
In one sense, to speak of Philippine mythology is to use a term of convenience. We are a nation of many indigenous cultures–numbering anywhere from sixty to over a hundred, depending on who you ask–with distinct oral traditions. This makes learning about our mythology somewhat more difficult than would be the case for other nations, but it also gives us a cumulative heritage that is rich and diverse.
There is a dual beauty to Philippine mythology: the stories that we know, and the stories that we don’t. From the former we gain gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; we gain the bloodthirsty Banna, the lustful Labaw Donggon, the immortal Mungan; we gain the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; we gain a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides. These are ideas and images which inspire.
And yet, the stories we don’t know are just as fascinating. Philippine mythology is rife with those unfilled spaces that kindle the imagination, “those marginal regions named and labeled”, as Michael Chabon once put it. In some cases, all we have are fragments of a longer tale (as in the case of the Ibalon). In others, all that remains are the names of the gods and their divine functions, beautiful names and evocative duties, leaving us to wonder about the tales they once populated.
But here’s the thing: when writers are inspired, when writers wonder, they write. This anthology is a product of that wonder and inspiration.
Within these pages, you won’t find straight retellings of old tales–”alamat” is the Filipino word for “legend”, and I’ve deliberately asked for stories that provide for “alternative” takes. Some stories build on what we know, or reexamine underlying assumptions. Others use names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in all these eleven stories, however, is a love for the myths, epics, and legends that reflect us, contain us, call to us.
In case the stories in this anthology whet your appetite for information about Philippine mythology, I’ve also included supplementary material in the form of interviews with experts in folklore and anthropology, as well as a rundown of notable Philippine gods and goddesses not featured in the anthology (interpreted visually by Mervin Malonzo in between the stories). This barely scratches the surface, of course, so you’ll also find a brief survey of other resources at the end of the book.
“The gods,” says Roberto Calasso in Literature and the Gods, “are fugitive guests of literature. They cross it with the trail of their names and are soon gone. Every time the writer sets down a word, he must fight to win them back.” I hope that the stories in this volume will help to make them more frequent visitors.
Excerpt from my interview with Professor Herminia Meñez Coben
Professor Herminia Meñez Coben has a Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, was Professor of American Multicultural Studies at California State University, Sonoma, and taught “Philippine Folklore and Society” at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of “Folklore Communication Among Filipinos in California” (1980), “Explorations in Philippine Folklore” (1996) and “Verbal Arts in Philippine Indigenous Communities: Poetics, Society, and History” (2009).
Do you have any favorites from the stories you’ve encountered in your studies of the various indigenous oral traditions?
My favorite stories and characters come from the epics. [The epics featured] women warriors, certainly, but also characters such as Mungan, the shaman from the Bukidnon and Ilianen Manobo. Leper and healer both, she gives her people the betelnut of immortality, which enables them to ascend to the Skyworld, while she remains on earth forever to guide future inhabitants on the path toward a life without death. I think that one of the short stories I’ll write will be about her.
Excerpt from my interview with Professor Fernando N. Zialcita
Fernando N. Zialcita is a Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the Ateneo de Manila University, and is the head of its Cultural Heritage Studies Program. He is active in the battle to preserve our cultural identity, particularly our intangible heritage. He is also one of the co-authors of the “Soul Book”, one of the few attempts made in recent history at a popular introduction to Philippine mythology. He helped organize the Ateneo’s “Songs of Memory: International Conference on Epics and Ballads”, and he graciously allowed me to interview him after the events of the conference.
In one of your other books, “Authentic but Not Exotic”, you wrote about certain misconceptions Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike have about Filipino culture. What are some of those misconceptions about Philippine mythology and pre-history?
There’s a tendency to project monotheism into the past. I doubt many of our ancestors were monotheistic. Let me go back again to the material base of culture. You would expect monotheism to appear in a place where there is centralized authority, since religion is often related to social and political structures. But the pre-Hispanic was very decentralized, many different polities and many different leaders. So monotheism of the Judaic kind would be doubtful, although it is to be expected that some gods would be considered more powerful than others.
But that wouldn’t mean that this god could somehow give orders to the other gods.
Right. Of course, there was monotheism with those communities that adhered to Islam, but Islam was only in the Philippines around a century or so earlier than Catholicism, so it’s still a “new” religion.
If I’ve piqued your interest with any of these content previews, I assure you that you won’t regret buying a copy of Alternative Alamat. I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration for me to say that this book is one of a kind (at the moment)–that’s one of the reasons I put it together. If you have any interest in Philippine mythology (or in mythology in general), in Philippine speculative fiction (or just in good stories), I think we’ve managed to put together a book well worth your time and money.