Monday, May 1, 2017

On Graciano Lopez Jaena and Bisayan Mythology

Last April 22, there was a short seminar for National Literature Month prepared by Bata Ako PH. There were very few who attended, and the speakers for the afternoon sessions were not able to come. Since it was in the CPU Library anyway and I love anything about history and mythology, I just decided to go. To my surprise, I didn't have to pay for registration as the seminar was free for the first 30 registrants, but since those who attended were less than thirty, we all got in free! I wish there were more people who attended, as Mr. Demy Sonza and Ms. Melanie Javier were very interesting speakers.

We had a simple round-table talk while listening to the renowned Ilonggo historian Mr. Demy Sonza. He has written many books on history and this May, the Graciano Lopez Jaena Foundation will launch a book on the life of our overlooked Ilonggo national hero. Mrs. Mia Cruz was also present, she is a descendant of our late hero (from the line of Graciano Lopez Jaena's brother - the hero did not have children). Mrs. Cruz heads the Graciano Lopez Jaena Foundation, and they are planning to build a center in the former home of our hero.

Here in Iloilo, we celebrate December 18 as a holiday to commemorate Graciano Lopez Jaena. But do we really know or care who he is? Before Jose Rizal and others went to Spain, Lopez Jaena was the first to go there. He fell in love with a certain Elena Fajardo, but she died due to tuberculosis. As Demy Sonza puts it, Lopez Jaena had two great loves in his life: Elena and Mother Country. He was a gifted spontaneous orator, with ambassadors from South America weeping and embracing him during his speeches, in their shared longing for freedom.

Mr. Sonza emphasized that while other heroes wrote under a pseudonym, Lopez Jaena still used his real name! What an act of courage without fear! Though Lopez Jaena died a tragic death. While Rizal died fast with bullets with an audience, Lopez Jaena died alone in a slow death in a charity hospital due to tuberculosis. He was buried in an unnamed grave, though his remaining relatives now are trying to retrieve his real remains for a planned 'symbolic burial' here in his hometown.

The book!
The second (and last) session was about Bisayan Mythology with Ms. Melanie Javier. She was my professor for World Literature in College, and she has a new book out, Bisayan Mythology (©2016). She studied the literature of our ancient mythology and the book contains a comprehensive list of the major deities, along with folklore and legends. She chose an artist with a more contemporary style, and with the illustrations we can imagine what the legendary heroes, monsters, and characters looked like.

We all know about Greek and Roman mythology, but rarely do we talk about own. The two major gods are Kaptan and Maguayan, and their offsprings are named after elements of nature: Lihangin (wind), Lidagat (sea), Likalibutan (world), Ladlaw (sun).

Panay has its own epic, Hinilawod, about the origin of Panay and the adventures of the demigod sons of Alunsina, the goddess of the golden dawn. As the author puts it, the magic in these stories would put Harry Potter to shame! There is the local lord of darkness Saragnayan, who could not be defeated until they found his heart - it was in a boar, and it took years before he was finally defeated.

Interesting to note that the starting point of these stories was when the male heroes were in pursuit of women! But the women in the story are skilled sorcerers as well with their own unique powers.

These stories were mostly narrated by babaylan. The Hinilawod was recorded by the anthropologist F. Landa Jocano from his research with the Sulod people. I wonder if story-telling babaylan are still present, but I think that would be an interesting career choice if it was possible! The author tells us that nowadays, the elders are dying and the newer generations are more concerned with other things. For me, we should all try to do what we can to preserve our own stories. I am grateful for the efforts of the author to write a great reference book from diligent research. The book is worth it for the illustrations alone! I recommend it to mythology enthusiasts, and it should be required reading for any Ilonggo.

Interesting to note that many elements in world mythology are almost the same. "Did the ancient people of long ago conduct a seminar?" the author asked, which turned into a lively discussion about mythology. I am a fan of Joseph Campbell, who also studied world myths. Even if people all over the world have different cultures and languages, man still asks the same questions. Who am I? Who made me? What is the reason for the things happening around me?

Science had answered these questions, but myth still doesn't lose its magic. I myself wonder about these too. People still flock to movies with the same heroic themes, people still have their TV series and telenovelas with the same age-old problems on family, friendship, and love.

The author also talked about tips for good writing for aspiring writers like me. Conflict is what drives stories, and the success of the hero depends on how evil the antagonist is! In her words, the victory of the hero is proportionate to the evil quality of the anti-hero. 

For sure, I will write a book review after I finish reading the book. The author said that it took her two years to finish writing the book, also because of her own apprehensions. She is a Christian and the book is all about sorcery and magical stories! Indeed, local sorcery and magic (or witchcraft?) is part of our culture. Though, we should also remember the stories of our forgotten past.

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