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With numerous indigenous tribes spread over several thousands of islands, the country is rich with legends, myths, and Philippine folk tales that speak so much about our history and culture.
It is a shame, therefore, that our children are more familiar with the tales of the Western world. Mother Goose rhymes are sung and read from the time babies are in the womb, and fairy tales are told and retold in the early years. And why not? These are much more accessible than Philippine epic stories that are usually found in uninspiring and antiquated anthologies.
With technology and globalization, our children are admittedly steeped in Western books and culture. It is our responsibility as parents to introduce to them the wonderful world of Filipino folk tales and start telling them the tales we have heard in our own childhood. Or better yet, we can start learning about our country’s treasure trove of legends, myths, and folktales together with our children.
Frances Ong, editor of children’s books publisher Tahanan Books, shares five Philippine folktales that she remembers from her childhood. These are found in Tahanan Books’ award-winning and beautifully-illustrated series of classic Philippine tales.
1. The Story of the Piña
Pinang was a beautiful but lazy girl. One day, her mother got sick and asked her to cook food for them. Having never really done anything around the house, Pinang refused at first. She finally relented through her mother’s insistent shouting, but had trouble finding the ladle. Frustrated, Pinang’s mother wished a hundred eyes to grow on her for being so lazy. After this, Pinang was never seen again. A strange yellow fruit with a hundred eyes, however, was soon found growing in their backyard.
Like all folk tales, the story of the piña has several versions. According to Ong, the popular version is didactic or moralistic – “that’s what you get for being lazy and unmotivated.” Tahanan’s version has Pinang doing her best, but her mother just assumed that she was being lazy again.
For Ong, the story of the piña is “a cautionary tale for both parent and child.”
Find this story in Tahanan Books’ “Why The Piña Has A Hundred Eyes and Other Classic Philippine Folk Tales About Fruits”, available at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and The Learning Basket.
2. The Monkey and the Turtle
A monkey and a turtle were once friends. One day, they saw a banana-plant floating on the water. They decided to split it and planted each half. Monkey thought the top part was better, so he planted it and watched in dismay as it died. Turtle planted the roots and was rewarded with a fine tree with fruits. But since he could not climb to get the bananas himself, he asked Monkey to get it for him.The cunning simian, however, ate all of the fruits! In retaliation, Turtle put sticks around the tree and then tricked Monkey to go down, killing him. Monkey’s friends then tried to exact revenge on Turtle, who deceived them into throwing him into the lake, his home.
According to Ong, this folk tale “could be the most famous Philippine folk tale because Jose Rizal published an illustrated retelling in Trubners Oriental Record.” She says that part of the appeal of the story is that “it's a battle between the strong and selfish, and the physically weak but crafty. Children might identify with and root for the turtle.”
Find this story in Tahanan Books’ “The Carabao-Turtle Race and Other Classic Philippine Animal Folk Tales”, available at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and The Learning Basket.
3. The Necklace and the Comb
In the early days, the sky hung low and people could easily reach the clouds. Inday, a beautiful girl who was given family heirlooms for her sixteenth birthday, loved to wear her precious necklace and comb even while she worked. One day, as she was husking rice with a mortar and a pestle, she put her jewelry on a cloud to avoid spoiling them. As she pounded on the rice with her pestle, one end also pounded the sky. Before she knew it, the sky went up high with her heirloom pieces. In time, her comb became the quarter moon and the beads of her necklace became the stars.
Folktales being stories that people created to explain the natural world, “The Necklace and the Comb” is a charming tale on how the moon and stars were formed. Ong likes this story especially because “the imagery is so charming and fanciful.”
Find this story in Tahanan Books’ “The Warrior Dance and Other Classic Philippine Sky Tales”.Available at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and The Learning Basket.
4. Why the Fish Has Scales
Once there was a very beautiful girl who was born to a farmer and his wife. She was so beautiful that her parents refused to let her do any work. She grew up to be vain and spoiled. One day, as she was by the river admiring her reflection, the chief of the crabs was drawn to her beauty and spoke to her. The girl screamed and drove the ugly crab away. Humiliated, the chief of the crabs scratched the girl’s face with his claws and cursed her to become a fish covered with scales. This is why it is said that instead of admiring their reflection, fishes dart around and avoid it.
This cautionary tale about beauty and vanity is something little girls need to know about.
Find this story in Tahanan Books’ “The Girl Who Turned Into A Fish and Other Classic Philippine Water Tales”, available at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and The Learning Basket.
5. Mother Mountain
In one of the islands in Batanes, a widow lived with her two daughters who only wanted to play the whole day. The only thing that the mother asked of her daughters was to have supper ready by the time she got home from working in the fields. One night, when she got home and her daughters were nowhere to be seen, she made dinner herself. When the girls returned and saw their mother busy in the kitchen, they decided to play some more. The mother could not take it anymore and calmly walked away from their house. Though the girls eventually followed her, it was already too late. The mother had taken the shape of a mountain, now called Mount Iraya.
“Mother Mountain” resonated with Ong “because it's a story that deals witha basic childhood fear: if you’re not good, your mother will leave.” It is also a wonderful tale about how a mountain that looks like a woman was formed.
Find this story in Tahanan Books’ “The Termite Queen and Other Classic Philippine Earth Tales”, available at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and The Learning Basket.
Growing up, every child should have a favorite story heard from family and community members. Make memories and introduce Philippine life and culture to your child through our Philippine folk tales.
Images from tahananbooks.com