For our second Alternative Alamat contributor interview this year, I’ve spoken with Andrei Tupaz, author of “Offerings to Aman Sinaya”. Andrei used to work as a primary school teacher in the Philippines but now lifts heavy boxes of produce and stocks shelves five days a week at a supermarket in Wellington, New Zealand. In his spare time, when he isn’t recovering from all the lifting he does at work, he works out at the gym, or spends time with his wife doing extremely productive things like lazing about near the Wellington wharf, watching shows and movies, or acceding to his body’s gastronomic demands.
Without spoiling anything essential, could you tell me a bit about your story?
My story focuses on a fishing tribe, and their relationship to the sea goddess Aman Sinaya. It also asks and “answers” the question: “If Aman Sinaya, goddess of the sea, really existed, what kind of offering would she accept from those who fish within her domain?”
Did you draw upon any specific personal experiences in writing this story? Experiences of the sea, of love, or a clash between old and new?
I guess an experience that I drew upon is the time my friends (including my then girlfriend and now wife) and I swam with whale sharks in Donsol. I wore a life vest because I couldn’t swim (I knew how to paddle but couldn’t stay afloat). We saw four whale sharks. The first one I saw (was it really the size of a bus?) went straight toward me, and then veered away at the last second. If I stretched out my hand I would have touched the whale shark’s snout (touching the whale shark would have been wrong of course); it felt like I was that close.
I still can’t truly put into words the awe and amazement I felt swimming with those whale sharks. Our guide, a man in his forties, was an incredible swimmer and diver. Seeing him, and the other men in the bangka we hired, move so effortlessly around the bangka, and in the water – that also affected me. Another experience that probably “jumpstarted” the story was seeing a high school friend’s photo of the sunken cemetery in Camiguin, with the iconic cross rising out of the ocean. My friend had composed the photo so that the cross was in the upper third of the photo. On the lower third of the photo, there was a bangka moving towards the cross.
What part of the story–or the writing process–was the most fun for you?
The part of the writing process I like most is the start – when the screen is white and devoid of any text. Because then I can write anything, and it doesn’t have to make sense or be coherent. I like writing short 250 to 500 word ‘freewrites’ about a concept I have (if you’re ‘freewriting’ about a concept, is it still a freewrite?), because it feels like I’m just indulging in my imagination, but to turn that concept into a whole story… ahh that’s hard work.
That’s how Offerings to Aman Sinaya actually came about…out of a 500 word ‘freewrite.’ I wrote about a parent telling a bedtime story to his child, of fishermen diving to the bottom of the sea, to pray to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Funny how the original freewrite had such a Catholic motif.
What part of the story–or the writing process–was the most difficult for you?
Creating a coherent story. I had written so many “what if” versions on the idea of giving an offering to a sea goddess, with so many different characters, that I had a hard time choosing what the plot was going to be about.
How were you first exposed to Philippine mythology?
I learned about some folktales from my parents and carers (including stories of aswangs and the like), and read a bit of Lam-ang in high school, but I only really started learning about Philippine myths and legends when I bought a copy of Damiana Eugenio’s Philippine Folk Literature: The Myths. Sadly, I lost my copy of the book before I could finish it.
Is there any myth, epic or legend that you wish would be adapted into a novel, or comic, or movie?
Bernardo Carpio maybe? Also Maria Makiling, because the tales about her are so varied; sometimes she’s extremely kind, sometimes a lover who has been spurned, at other times a forbidding and dangerous guardian of her domain.
Who is your favorite character from Philippine mythology, and why?
Bernardo Carpio, because he was named after a hispanic character, and yet was supposedly seen by the Katipuneros as a symbol against Spanish oppression. Also Maria Makiling, for the reasons stated above.
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