A JAPANESE LESSON ON FILIPINO LITERATURE

This Japanese children’s book of Asian Folklores contains two legends from the Philippines. With shame, I have to admit that I, a proud Filipino, had never heard any of them before. Have you?

The other day, I took my baby to our neighborhood library here in Japan. I have given up on buying books for him because once he’s had it for long enough, he’s taken to tearing and/or eating the pages.

As Ryuma was perusing the more colorful selection of books at the bottom shelves, my eyes drifted over to the volumes of Grimm’s Fairy Tales lined up at one corner. I’m a fan. I remembered that my sister had a thick book compiling their stories and I spent many a high school night neglecting homework so I could instead spend my time in the Brothers Grimm’s mystical, oftentimes sinister, world. I was about to get one of the volumes when beside it, I noticed a book titled ‘Asian Folklores’. My first instinct was to check whether there was any story from the Philippines. I don’t know why but I half-expected there to be none so I was pleasantly surprised and excited when I saw on the Table of Contents that it did, after all, feature a story from my country. In fact, it featured two. On page 35, there’s “The Three Brothers” and on page 83, “The Fisherman’s Daughter”. After reading the titles however, it quickly dawned on me that I have no inkling whatsoever of what these legends are. I blushed at the thought of some Japanese kid knowing these stories while I, a fully grown Filipino, do not.

I, of course, checked the book out and now that I’ve read both, I’ve decided to do a quick translation of these legends. Although I hope I’m wrong, I have a feeling that I am not the only one who has not had the pleasure of hearing them yet. Also, I have a lot of friends who, just like myself, are now parents. I’m sure my translation is far from perfect. Still, I think it would be good enough that they, if they choose to, can pass the story on to their kids. I personally plan to ingrain them in Ryuma’s memory in the hope that one day, he would in turn tell them to his own children.

I thought about doing this in Bisaya (para with feelings. haha) but I decided against it. Just in case they are interested, I would also love for my non-Bisaya and even foreign friends to read the stories.

So here goes.

THE THREE BROTHERS

(on the book retold by Serno Karnugan and illustrated by Ben Alcantara)

A long, long time ago, there was a woman named Ana. Ana’s husband was a peasant and spent his days toiling at the field. The couple was blessed with three children – all sons. However, none of them wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps and become a farmer. They didn’t care that all sons of farmers in their town are expected to also work in the fields when they grow up. All three of them expressed nothing but dislike for the job.

One unfortunate day, Ana’s husband died. Ana gathered her children and told them that since their father is gone, they now have to take on his responsibility and look after the farm. Still, each and every one of the brothers did not want to.

“Nobody ever became rich from being a farmer!”, reasoned Tasyo, the eldest.

“Farming is such a tough job. Even if I labor on the rice fields, it wouldn’t get easier!”, complained the second son, Bindoy.

“Land is a difficult thing to work with.”, said the youngest, Castor. “When the sun is shining, it dries and withers. When the rain falls, it gets carried away”.

Hearing her sons’ sentiments, Ana had no choice but to do the job herself. Seeing how hard their mother labored in the farm day and night, the three brothers did feel bad and wondered whether there was anything they could do to save her from this arduous life. They thought and thought and thought but at the same time, actually did nothing. They continued spending their days aimlessly and wandering around the town doing nothing.

One night, after a dinner of rice and grilled fish, Ana called her three sons for a talk.

“Your mother is no longer young”, she said. “My body is growing weaker by the day. If the three of you refuse to become farmers then it’s time for you to go out into the world. Find your fortune out there. And after seven years, I want you to come home and each tell me what you have been up to. Try once and for all if you would be able to fulfill your dreams of doing something with your lives other than grow old tilling the land.”

The three brothers were sad to hear what their mother had to say but decided to obey her command. The next day, after bidding their mother good bye with a kiss on the hand, together they set out into the world, not knowing what awaits them. Having walked for a few hours, they found in front of them a crossroads. There, they rested for a while.

Suddenly, Tasyo spoke. “I guess we should each go on a separate road from here then. When seven years have passed, let’s meet again on this crossroads and walk back home to our mother together.”

The other two agreed right away. And so, they each chose a path and walked alone.

The Philippines only has two seasons – rainy and dry. Because of this, it was almost unnoticeable how quickly time flew. Before they knew it, seven years have come and gone. The three brothers, each now with their own story, met at the crossroads just as they have promised.

Tasyo spent years working at a glass factory and has become an exceptional glassmaker. Bindoy found work at a shipyard and is now very skilled at building ships. Meanwhile, the youngest Castor’s chosen path led him into the company of thieves. Spending years mastering their trade, he has become a notorious robber.

Ana was overjoyed upon seeing her three sons return home. The mother looked so much older and the years of hard labor – day in day out, under violent rain and scorching heat – have not been kind to her. However, as soon as she saw her boys, light and happiness returned into her life.

The brothers have already been home for a few days when the king’s messenger came to town with a very important announcement. The beautiful Princess Pelita had been taken by an evil witch. Nobody knows where she is and what fate had befallen her. Whoever can find the princess and bring her home to the palace safely will have the honor of marrying her and rising to the rank of a prince.

Hearing this, the three brothers got together and talked about what they could do.

“Now is the time to make use of the skills that we have acquired and gain unbelievable riches for our family. This is our chance to make our dreams come true!”, exclaimed Tasyo. “I have brought home with me a pair of magical eyeglasses. With this, I can see what the naked eyes can not and find anything that I am searching for.”

“As for me, I can build us a ship to take us to where the witch is hiding the princess – no matter how far it is”, added Bindoy.

“And once we’re there, I will steal the princess away so we can take her home”, Castor finished.

The next day, the three brothers went to request audience with the king. His Highness was still grieving but when Tasyo said that he now knows where the princess is, a sliver of hope gleamed in his eyes.

With his magical eyeglasses, Tasyo saw that the princess is being kept prisoner inside a tall tower in an island far, far away from their kingdom.

“So how can you rescue the princess and bring her back home?”, asked the king.

“Leave it up to us, Your Highness”, answered Bindoy and Castor. Bindoy quickly began assembling a boat and promptly finished it before the day ended.

The three brothers piled into the boat and set sail towards the faraway island where the princess is being imprisoned. When they finally got there, they saw that the tower is being guarded by all kinds of scary creatures. Each and every one of the kingdom’s fearsome monsters are there – the terifying Tikbalang, the horrifying Kapre (yes, the book uses the words Tikbalang and Kapre) – they’re all gathered to stop anyone who dare try to save the princess.

Bindoy and Tasyo were shaken by what they saw. “If the tower is being guarded by this many monsters, there is no way we can go near, let alone enter it”, they said ready to go back home.

“No. Watch me”, said Castor before he expertly creeps into the castle with his light steps and quick hands. Not long after, he was able to sneak the princess out without any of the monsters even noticing.

As soon as their boat made it back to their country, all of its people rejoiced. The king was joyful beyond words and decided to throw a feast for the entire kingdom. For an entire week, everyone ate and drank till they could no more and danced and sang to their hearts’ content.

Nonetheless, there was still one problem that needed to be solved. The princess was saved through the combined efforts and skills of the three brothers. How are they to decide who is worthy of marrying her and becoming a prince? The king called for his most trusted advisors and, for an hour, they deliberated about what should be done until they came to a decision which they think is just.

“To the brave men who saved my daughter, you were promised her hand in marriage. However, given the situation, I and my council have decided to instead reward you with a prize we think is worthy of your service. I am giving you half of the kingdom. I think it would serve you well to divide that land fairly among the three of you.”

Hearing this, the brothers beamed with happiness. They realized this is exactly what they wanted to begin with. After all, becoming rich and letting their elderly mother spend the rest of her days comfortably is what they have always dreamed of. Now lording separate lands, the three went back to their town and gathered many peasants to cultivate the territories they have been rewarded. Ana, freed from a lifetime of hard work finally allowed herself to rest her weary body.

The mother, who was now under the care of her sons, eventually died. But she did so with a smile on her face.

As for the three brothers, the greatest treasure that they got from their experience was learning this: “In the end, the land truly is the source of all riches. There is no need for one to work his body to death. Instead, if you persevere in using your knowledge and skills towards cultivating the land, it will bring forth countless riches – always and without fail.”

THE FISHERMAN’S DAUGHTER

(on the book retold by Lucio Dumaol and illustrated by Eliseo Jose)

Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan is famous for its natural beauty. However, in the shadow of its splendor lurks a constant and terrifying danger. In this gulf, there is a swirling current that, in the blink of an eye, has taken many unsuspecting swimmers’ lives. Every year, this swirling vortex comes to claim somebody’s young daughter. According to stories, this is because the God of Lingayen Gulf once wanted to steal a fisherman’s daughter to replace his own dead child. Having failed to do so, the envious God now demands 1 young woman every year – hoping that they will fulfill his need of becoming a father.

According to legend, this is what happened.

A long time ago, back when the Philippine Islands were still under Spanish rule, there lived in this land one fisherman. This fisherman lived with his wife and their daughter who was a very healthy and nimble little girl named Marikit. Marikit was small but she was very strong and full of life. On top of that, she always took good care of her parents. When her mother and father wake up every morning, a breakfast of rice, fish and coffee made of ground rice have already been lined up by the loving daughter.

The elderly couple, looking at Marikit kindly prepare food, take care of the laundry and do the chores would sometimes talk, “Oh my… what ever would happen to us if we didn’t have our warm-hearted daughter in our life…”

Marikit enjoyed playing at the beach, dancing with the wind and twirling around with no care – watching her do this always brought her parents so much joy. But what Marikit truly loved the most is getting in a bangka and setting off into the open sea. She is fond of exploring caves and corners of islands where no other people have gone.

One evening, Marikit brought home a very rare kelp. Seeing this, her father exclaimed, “My God, what have you done? Where on Earth did you get this?”

“Oh, today I found a new cave”, she answered. “I think I’m the first person who’s ever been there. There! It’s right at the foot of that mountain”, she said, pointing at a far away rugged rocky mountain.

“Darling, that’s a dangerous place!”, the shocked father shouted. “Maksil, the God of Lingayen Gulf, frequently goes there for a nap. And they say he dreadfully hates it when anybody gets in the way of his afternoon slumber. Please, I’m begging you. Don’t ever go there again.”

The young girl chuckled. “Father, there wasn’t any “God of Lingayen Gulf” in that place. There were strange-looking fish and birds, but I can assure you, there was no Maksil. If you really insist though, don’t worry. I would never visit that area again.”

Yes, Marikit did not notice anyone. Maksil, on the other hand surely did not miss the sight of this little girl playing and skipping around the cave. By chance, he had just lost his only daughter and he thought that Marikit would be a perfect replacement for her. “Seeing her, it’s as if my little girl has come back”, he remarked.

The God called his minion, the giant squid and told him, “The next time Marikit gets into a bangka, I want you to pull the boat and make sure it ends up in my cave.”

The loyal minion did as he was told and the next time Marikit went out to explore, she was startled to notice that the bangka is being pulled close the cave. Remembering the promise she made to her father, she tried with all her might to row the boat to the opposite direction. But no matter how hard she rowed, the bangka still got carried towards the cave. From there, she was suddenly sucked up by a deep tunnel of water. At first, the girl got very scared. However, a little while later, her fears slowly disappeared. Before her is a breath-taking sight. On both sides of the riverbank are the prettiest, most colorful flowers. Trees that glitter with shining lights lined up the fields and below her, in the crystal clear water, fishes of all shapes and sizes were laughing and talking. The strangest thing, Marikit could even understand what they were saying.

“Welcome, Marikit!’, the fishes called out. “We are very happy to have you in our kingdom. Stay for as long as you want and live a happy, carefree life with us.”

Just as Marikit was about to try and touch one of the fishes, she heard a ‘pop’ and suddenly, everything disappeared. When she gained consciousness, she saw that her bangka has hit the shore. Her body was thrown towards a soft mossy surface. Slowly and fearfully opening her eyes, she saw a tall bronze-colored half-fish, half man sitting on a throne in front of her.

“There is no need to worry, Marikit”, the strange man said with a deep rumbling voice. “I am the God of this gulf, Maksil. I have taken you here to replace my daughter who has passed away. If there is anything that you want, as long as I can get it, you shall have it. Stay here with me and live a happy life.”

“But my mother and father…”, Marikit replied, tears starting to stream down her face. “My mother and father will be terribly sad if I disapperead. Please… let me go home.”

“That can not happen!”, Maksil shouted, making the ground shake. Seeing Marikit scared, the God continued with a softer voice “Look, just stay here for a while. You will soon forget your family and that run-down house you lived in. Look over there… a silver castle”, Maksil flicks his hand and immediately, a castle covered with glistening jewels appears.

“That is your home now,” the God of the Gulf announced. “I will give you a servant, and friends to play with. You can have anything you want – all the jewels, the clothes, any food that you want to eat! So? What do you say? Are you ready to live here with me?”

Even then, Marikit refuses to do as she was told. Angry, Maksil strikes his hand and two servants come to force Marikit into the castle. Wherever she went, mermaids would come to her – offering her a bath, giving her a sparkling silver gown. One placed a flower-shaped crown made of pearls on Marikit’s head, another went to get a jewel only available in the deepest sea cave and set it down on her neck. Nonetheless, the little girl continued to beg “Please… go to the God of the Gulf. Please tell him to let me go home. My parents are very old and I worry what’s going to happen to them without me. Please tell Maksil that.”

This is the first time for the God of Lingayen Gulf to meet someone who would not do as he commands. So, the more Marikit insists on going home, the more Maksil is determined to get his way and make her stay.

He decided to try a different type of persuasion. He called on the best entertainers in his kingdom – amusing clown fishes, magicians, acrobats. Marikit is still just a kid after all, and seeing the delightful display, she soon began to forget just how much she missed home. She made friends with young mermaids who taught her how they play in their world. She was quick to learn their games and could soon play them better than the other kids. Hearing Marikit’s laugh as she plays without a care, Maksil happily whispered to himself “The little girl is finally getting used to her new home.”

But he was wrong. There was no way Marikit’s longing for her parents would just disappear. One day, on top of a dusty old bookshelf, Marikit found a magical mirror which shows the holder events that are happening in the land of humans up above. Looking at it, she saw a vision of her worried father sadly searching for her at the beach.

In the castle is a woman named Aklaw who was tasked to take care of Marikit as if she was her own child. Just like Marikit, Aklaw also used to be human. The image of the little girl crying at what she saw on the mirror deeply touched the servant’s heart and she asked, “Do you really want to go home no matter what?”

“Yes”, quickly answered the sobbing child. “I don’t care what I have to do, I want to go home! I can’t stay here!”

“I see. I understand how you feel. I really do”, the old lady told her. “You see, I, too, used to be human. I was taken against my will and forced to be Maksil’s daughter’s servant. I was also just a little girl when it happened. Oh my, how the years have passed. I’ve always wondered what has happened to my family and the people I love. I never saw them again since that day.”

“Please, help me get out of here”, Marikit begged her. “And come with me too! Let’s escape together.”

Aklaw shook her head sadly. “No, dear. It’s too late for me. I am very old now. But if you let me have that magical mirror… I can see what is going on with the world above. And you know what? I can use it to watch over you as well. Listen carefully, tonight I will lead you out of this castle. I will get you to the open sea. But from there, you will be alone. You have to somehow find your way home using only your own strength, you understand?”

That night, Aklaw put something in the giant squid’s drink to make him fall asleep. Then, under cover of darkness, she leads Marikit through a series of secret passages until they get to the place where the fisherman’s daughter’s bangka was being hidden. There, a trusted friend of Aklaw’s was waiting to lead the girl out towards the open sea.

After parting with the friend, Marikit hurriedly starts rowing towards her village. Just then, under the sea, Maksil realizes that her new daughter is gone. Right away, he barked at the giant squid to get her back. The stunned minion dashed towards the open sea but because of the drug Aklaw put in his drink, he is still dazed and can not swim well.

Seeing the giant squid about to catch up, Marikit rows with all her might. She was almost at the beach by then. Fortunately, her father sees her and alerts the other fishermen. They all got in their boats and rushed to help. Just as one of the giant squid’s long arms was about to grab Marikit and drag her deep into the sea, the father managed to pull her daughter safely into his own boat. The other fishermen attacked the giant squid and drove it away. And that was how Marikit was able to go home safely to her waiting mother.

Maksil was furious that the giant squid could not bring Marikit back. After gravely punishing the minion, the God of Lingayen Gulf bellows “Listen here, you. Every year, I want you to go to the coast and bring me back a young girl. Maybe one of those could finally be a worthy replacement to my daughter.”

They say the swirling current that plagues Lingayen Gulf is made by the giant squid, shaking his long tentacles. With this, every year, he snatches an unsuspecting young girl and offers her to his master – just as he was commanded.

At least, that’s what the legend says anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.