I have an incredible love for Philippine folklore and its mythological creatures as my childhood was filled with family stories of them. While I feared them, my curiosity was insatiable. I requested for more stories and soon found myself as an adult so enamored by these stories that I consumed all the literature and movies available to me. Back in the day, most of these stories were old wives tales passed around from adult to child. But those days are over and we find ourselves now in a place where books like Mythology Class, Trese, Skyworld, etc., incorporate these beloved local mythology into the contemporary world. Cyan Abad-Jugo adds to this growing literature with her book Leaf and Shadow. Unlike however the other stories where these creatures are scary, the author introduces these creatures as friendly (and even misunderstood). Catering to a younger audience, the narratives are written in simple, tale-like and easy to follow language. I easily finished this book in one sitting, satisfied but nonetheless seeking for more stories.
English, but Filipino
Leaf and Shadow is a collection of four stories wherein the first three fall under Leaf and the last story under Shadow. I love that the author’s titles when necessary kept within the Filipino language. It was personally striking, as I felt if completely translated in English, it would lose a bit of its local charm. For instance in the first story, the title Behind the Old Aparador, the author could have insisted in using Cabinet or closet but instead used the Spanish-Filipino term Aparador. This gave the reader a clear picture of what this clothes cabinet looked liked as most of us grew up in a household where our grandparents had these antique-hardwood ‘closets’ or aparador in the home. I felt the title reinforced the cultural context by which these stories exist. As I read through the stories, I noticed how the author rarely explained or described what these mythical creature look like. There was barely any explaining, things were implied such as:
“Andrew looked at his arms, and was surprised to see them grimy, sooty, almost black. On his left hand shone a wet, grayish stain the shape of a round leaf. ‘It is ash,’ Old Manang said. ‘It’s the kapre’s mark.”
Those not familiar with a Kapre wouldn’t know the seemingly-obscure reference. However, most Filipinos would know that the Kapre is this giant creature living in balete trees who love to smoke tobacco. While the story is written in the English language, it is undeniably written for the Filipino audience with the author’s sprinkling of local culture in her titles, in her minimal description of creatures, and in her use of local terms such as manang.
I guessed that the first three stories related to Leaf as all of these stories had to do with trees. The first story brings us back to our ancestors’ beliefs. The early Filipinos and to some extent the indigenous groups of present Philippines religion was Animism. Much like Shinto’s, it was believed that there resides a spirit in all of nature, especially trees. In the second story, we find a rocking horse carved from hardwood coming to life—able to move and travel back to the forest. This sudden animation can only be attributed to the spirit that resides in the woods from which the rocking horse was carved from. The third story speaks of the Kapre that lives in the big tree by the creek. All these stories revolved around hard wood trees such as the Narra and the Balete. If memory serves me right, the spirits and hardwood have always been the combination in Filipino mythology.
Beyond these wonderful elements in the story, I love how these stories do not excite fear from the young protagonists. More than fear, curiosity and fearlessness take over. In braving this unknown world of creatures behind an old cabinet, living rocking horses, and giant eerie trees the children discover something about themselves. There is something that changes within them, whether it’s an appreciation of nature, of their ability to make a difference, and the unfairness of prejudice and blame. In some ways I feel the author empowered her young protagonist.
I think of all the stories in the collection, it’s the last one that I love. This particular story is particularly unique and imaginative. At high noon where do our shadows go? To the practical/scientific mind, we take it as them disappearing, but the author offers a more magical explanation. In this story, we are told of shadows meeting up and talking about their humans at high noon.
“This is all the freedom we have…to disappear for some moments at noon, and then to go about our business when the sun goes down.”
I think of this part of the collection as a way of flipping things on human beings and it’s always a refreshing read to see how an author talks of human beings using a different perspective. I love how the shadows are befuddled by the human beings’ activities, because in many ways we do quite a lot of crazy weird things.
Leaf and Shadow offers its readers a treat to the senses. The author’s writing is filled with elements that awaken our sensibilities. She takes the time to describe textures, sounds, and sights while tickling our imagination. Her brevity in the way she describes things and set the scenes offer space for the reader’s mind to imagine and think. This little book, I feel, is a wonderful way for youth to explore not just their imagination, but be familiarized with Filipino folklore and mythology. While we spend our time learning Greek Mythology and other country’s tales and fiction, this little book reminds us how rich our culture and stories are. If anything, this novel reminded me of how the Filipino culture is filled with stories that reflect not only our old beliefs but the richness of our heritage.
Cyan Abad-Jugo is the author of Father and Daughter (with Gemino H Abad), Leaf And Shadow: Stories About Some Friendly Creatures, and the young adult novel Salingkit:A 1986 Diary all published by Anvil Publishing. Her other fiction anthology, Sweet Summer and Other Stories, was published by UP Press. She teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the Ateneo de Manila University. She graduated from Simmons College in Boston with an MA degree in Children’s Literature, and from the University of the Philippines with a PhD in English Studies: Anglo-American Literature and Creative Writing.
We will be featuring the author and her new book Salingkit this months of July/August til mid of September for our Dusty Bookshelves and Library Loot bi-monthly theme.