Of myths and legends

Snow day!

The words conjure up cozy memories of leisurely school-free mornings spent in pajamas, watching the snowflakes drift down and the snowbanks go up, perhaps with a mug of hot chocolate in hand, eventually venturing outside dressed like astronauts to romp in the snow.

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Of such childhood memories, I have none.

Growing up back home, school-free days hinged upon Storm Signals (1 to 4) heralding an impending tropical cyclone or typhoon, of which there were many. Safe in our “hollow block” (concrete) home on a hill, we spent those stormy days playing indoors, likely without power, oblivious to the howling wind, flying debris, and flooding around us. Between storms were endless hours of play in the sun, punctuated by monsoon winds and rain – a welcome respite from the heat and humidity.

Of such childhood memories, our children will, in turn, have none.

And so, we share stories of our childhood home, the storms, our games, our family, our friends – as did our ancestors, and their ancestors before them, each one giving life to the generation before them in stories for the generation after.

Much like an adopted child seeking her biological parents, we all have an innate desire to know our roots, from whom and whence we came, and how things came to be. Myths and legends seek to answer these very questions and much more – many of them even acting as a moral beacon in helping us discern right from wrong, just as our elders would.

These ancient tales pervade almost every culture. Not a few of them sound curiously similar, as though the tale originated from a single place and was dispersed far and wide by travelers like seeds, taking root and changing its name and likeness according to the soil it settled on.

Cinderella is one such tale – from the Greek-turned-Egyptian Rhodopsis, to the French, Creole, Mexican, Italian, Persian or German Grimm version of Cinderella, it seems she has visited every culture. The Philippines is no exception. Although somewhat awkwardly written, the book " Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella" tells the tale with a distinctive Filipino twist and captures the culture beautifully in its colorful and detailed illustrations. The title page inside also reveals another bonus – it is written in the ancient Filipino script, Baybayin! Children will not only enjoy the illustrations, but perhaps also the challenge of translating the title page using a Baybayin chart. (See my review of this book for age-appropriateness in the  Aklatan (Library) I’ve started here, as well as a couple of  resources on Baybayin.)

Decades ago, American author Elizabeth Sechrist was the first to compile Philippine folk tales from both before and after Spanish colonization in her book: Once In The First Times: Folk Tales From The Philippines. It too is written in English, but beautifully so. I wondered at first about the strange-sounding title, “Once In The First Times”, until I realized it was a literal translation of the first few words beginning most Philippine tales. Not “Once upon a time” but “Noong unang panahon“. Once in the first times…

Not too many of the original copies remain, but if you love the smell of old books and
 don’t mind buying used ones, you too might be able to find a secondhand copy. Otherwise, this reprint of the book is now available, albeit at a high price.  (I haven’t seen this reprint and do not know if it is printed like the original.)

But whatever books you may find on myths and legends from the Philippines, none will surpass the stories of your own family from back home. Record them if you can, before they vanish from memory forever, and create your own virtual family baul (trunk or chest) of memories. For these stories are unique to your family, and part of what makes you yourself unique. They may teach us many things about our family members, but ultimately we learn about ourselves as well, from whom and where we came. Best of all, they are free for the taking – if we so wish – yet infinitely priceless.

Happy reading and remembering,

(Emy, in Baybayin)

Disclaimer: I, Emy Damian, am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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