Philippine Mythology is Brought into New Light in “Alternative Alamat”
By Lauren Lola
When we were little, we were exposed to the fairytales of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson (often filtered more or less through Disney animated features). When we’re older, we learn of the great heroes and violent wars of Greek and Roman mythology. And, if one is lucky, they may possibly be exposed to mythology or folktales that hail from outside of Europe- and this is often the case if one lives in a heavily diverse area, or in another country.
There are many folktales and mythologies from all over the world that have yet to take center stage in people’s consciousness. In the case of the Philippines, it’s especially interesting, for many of their own tales aren’t known- let alone read- nowadays. That’s where “Alternative Alamat: Stories Inspired by Philippine Mythology” comes into play.
Edited together by Paolo Chikiamco and featuring stories written by many contemporary Filipino fantasy authors, “Alternative Alamat” is a short story collection that either gives a modern spin on Filipino folklore, or a tale that’s been passed along for generations is tackled from a different angle or expanded on. From the numerous takes of Maria Makiling (one of the more prominent figures of Philippine mythology), to gods of different parts of the universe falling in love or being separated, these carefully crafted stories are not so much for directly re-telling the original stories, but to showcase them in a different- and sometimes relate-able- light.
Prior to dwelling into this short story collection, my experience and knowledge of Filipino folklore was very limited. Really the only one that I knew of was of Princess Urduja; the warrior princess of the fictional island nation of Tawalisi. This collection opened me up to a whole new world of stories, of gods and heroes that I never knew of beforehand, and the way these authors went about them was engaging and entertaining. They were cool to read, and I now know more tales from the Philippines than I did before.
But at the same time though, I thought it was a little inconvenient that these stories were written in a way as to where one is already expected to know who these characters are (for the most part) going into it. Any references that were made to the original tales completely flew over my head, due to my lack of familiarity for them beforehand, and while there were little descriptions prior to each story regarding what to expect to read, those only helped so much. The good news is though, the book does provide more information for those who’d like to learn more about the folktales and mythology these stories were branched off of.
“Alternative Alamat” was an enjoyable and educational reading experience that I hope to embrace more of the next time I read it. It’s not the wisest introduction to Filipino folklore, but for any lovers of good storytelling out there where legends and modern times meet, then this book is definitely suited for that role.