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Reimagening Filipino mythology for a modern audience

By DOM GALEON

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‘Most of us are so fixated with other cultures that we forget to look at our own backyard. We believe that when more Filipinos discover more about our own culture, they’ll see that our stories are as rich, maybe even richer than others.’

Historically, myth-making has been part and parcel of nation-building. Myths, apart from serving as early religions and as ways to explain the mysteries of the world, contribute to the development of a nation’s identity. The Philippines, although it is arguably a young nation, has a rich collection of myths. The sad thing is, a lot of Filipinos are not aware of this. Even sadder, most Pinoys are more familiar with the myths of their neighbors—the stories of China’s gods, Japan’s divine winds—and even myths from the West (who has not read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, or a version of it?)

Thankfully, there are groups that continue to preserve local myths. One has even made an effort to make modern versions, so to speak, of our country’s folktales. A group that calls itself Lahi.PH has released a series of images featuring the deities of local Filipino mythology. These digital reimagining of gods, goddesses, and anito include the more popular ones, like Bathala, and the more obscure but nevertheless fascinating mythological characters like Sitan (the god of the lower world) and the giant sea serpent Bakunawa. 

Some versions say that Bakunawa caused solar eclipses. In Lahi’s version, Bakunawa is said to have eaten six of the seven moons that used to be seen in the night sky. Regardless of which story you choose, both are interesting. Such is Philippine mythology. 

“Since the Philippines has so many gods and goddesses that are not known to most, I thought that Filipinos should know that there is so much beauty in Philippine mythology,” explains Khaby Manahan, the artist behind the series. “I was personally amazed by their stories and I loved learning more about them as we continued this series.”

Khaby is part of the core group of Lahi.PH, and she was the one who came up with the idea of reimagining these characters and developing a Mitolohiyang Filipino series, Ferdie Aboga tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle

“Each region has their own set of deities and urban legends, but unfortunately, there’s no definitive version of them,” Ferdie adds. “We’ve read a lot about Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades in Edith Hamilton’s book and we thought, ‘Why can’t we create something similar about the Philippines?’”

Needless to say, the images are beautiful and the series presents these mythological figures like characters from a graphic novel, which makes them even more relatable to Pinoys today. 

Developing these characters, however, was not without challenges, Ferdie explains.

“Coming up with the look for each deity was difficult, as there was no ‘universally accepted’ physical description of each one. But that lack of information, sad as it seemed, gave us the freedom to interpret each deity, and allowed us to incorporate Filipino culture in each artwork. You can see it in the tiniest details of our works, which was probably one of the reasons they are a great hit with our audience,” he says. “When some Filipinos are asked about these deities, chances are they only know Bathala—and that’s about it. But there’s more to our culture than Bathala. The Philippines is filled with so many beautiful stories, a lot of them are unexplored. Most of us are so fixated with other cultures that we forget to look at our own backyard. We believe that when more Filipinos discover more about our own culture, they’ll see that our stories are as rich, maybe even richer than others. And we believe it’s something we should be very proud of.” 

One of the most obscure, perhaps, is a deity called Libulan. According to Ferdie, in the course of their research, they found that Libulan is equivalent to a modern-day god of homosexuality. “We were able to see that gender and sexuality were not an issue with our ancestors,” he says. “Our followers were blown away by that and, with hope, that gave some people something to think about as well. And that’s our goal at Lahi, to inform and inspire change.” 

It goes without saying that familiarity with these myths can help Filipinos become more conscious and prouder of our local heritage. This is why Ferdie and the rest of the members of Lahi.PH, who are mostly journalists, hope that the school curriculum can give these stories, these legends, a more prominent place. 

“We really hope that the government could pay more attention to Philippine studies, and not just the basic ones,” Ferdie says. “There’s nothing wrong with learning about other cultures and languages. But we believe the best way to move forward is to strengthen our core first. To do that, we have to be united as a nation. And in this day and age when we are, sadly, divided by politics, we can be united by our similar history, culture, and love for country.”

There is, after all, a power in stories. And myths are stories closely connected to the core of a nation’s identity—the identity that gives it a prominent, unshakeable place in today’s globalized world, where everything seems to be blurred by a shared sense of humanity. As someone once said, one cannot give what one does not have. The Philippines will have more to give to the world when it dives deep into its own heritage and history. 

“Our myths give us a deeper insight into the beliefs and lives of our ancestors,” says Ferdie. “So these stories also remind us of what Filipinos really are, way before colonizers ruled our lands and changed the way we live and think.”

Lahi.PH is a group of journalists and producers, led by Jing Magsaysay. The group’s founding members started the show Alas Singko Y Medya, at a time when people said no one watches early morning shows. After that, they built ANC and then they started Solar News, which later became CNN Philippines, with the primary intention to “tell the story of the Filipino.” Together with four of their senior producers, they put up Lahi.PH to continue telling the story of the Filipino people.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/05/13/reimagening-filipino-mythology-for-a-modern-audience/)

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