The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Engkanto: A Bestiary of Philippine Mythical Beings

My concept of a book which describes the life and culture of some commonly encountered engkanto, or Philippine mythical beings, like duwende and sirena'o had been on my mind for several years, long before I left the Philippines in 2003. My having become the editor cum writer for two years of Diwa Scholastic Press Inc.'s Magica, an English Magazine for High School Students, has prepared me well for this endeavor.

During my stint with Magica, I was able to further my skills in writing in English; more so, writing for the magazine compelled me to revisit and rediscover Literature and Mythology--subjects I deeply love since childhood, courtesy of my father, whose folktales, lore, and mythology stories I regard as the catalyst to my love for books and storytelling.

Furthermore, I'd like to acknowledge the following highly creative beings, former officemates at Diwa, for having offered their talents for free, during the early stages of Engkanto: Jayge Salvan, for proofreading; Jonel Mendoza and Michael Pasetes, without whose illustrations my book would have been less attractive and interesting; El Dosado, a firm believer of engkanto, for his countless stories about such beings; and most of all, junggoiperalta, for the precious layout, ideas, suggestions, and support.

So, now, here's the Introduction of a book I wish to be able to publish in the Philippines soon, Engkanto: A Bestiary of Philippine Mythical Beings (Book One: Bantay-Katubigan).

Copyright ©2004 by aLfie vera mella
All rights reserved

“We are the children of our landscape;
it dictates behavior and even thought
in the measure that we are responsive to it.”
—Lawrence Durrell, Justine


Have you heard of or read stories about duwende, sirena, or tíkbalang? These fascinating, oftentimes intimidating, Philippine mythical beings are what we may collectively call engkanto in Filipino, the Philippine national language.

In the World Map
One of the largest archipelagos in the world, the Philippines is an independent republic in the southeast rim of Asia. It is composed of over 7,100 islands that are bounded in the east and northeast by the Philippine Sea and on the south by the Celebes Sea. On its southwest border lies Borneo, and to its north Taiwan. Geographers divide the Philippines into three major groups of islands: Luzon in the north, Visayas in the middle, and Mindanao in the south; then they further group these islands into 17 regions, among which Metro Manila, in Luzon, is the National Capital Region—the country’s center of commerce and most urbanized area.

In Linguistics
Although the culturally diverse Philippines is the largest English-speaking country in Asia, the native tongue in Metro Manila and in many other urbanized areas in Luzon is Filipino, making this the country’s national language.

Filipino is an augmented version of Tagalog, another Philippine language spoken by many people from the main islands of Luzon. Its spelling used to be Pilipino, but a Philippine Congress act in 1989 changed its name to Filipino. This move sought to adapt the name of the language to the new and modified 28-letter Philippine alphabet, which Department Order No. 81 mandated in 1987.

Filipino is a conglomeration of legitimate, homegrown Tagalog words, like pakikipagtalastasan (communication), panitikan (literature), paaralan (school), and úpuan (chair); words from other Philippine languages that have become widely used, like cabalén (from Kapampangan, meaning “compatriot”), guráng (from Bikol, meaning “old person”), and pilandók (from Maranaw, meaning “mouse deer”); and many foreign derivative words, like komunikasyon (from English, meaning “communication”), silya (from the Spanish silla, meaning “chair”), and kutsára (from the Spanish cuchara, meaning “spoon”).

The current 28-letter Philippine alphabet consists of the original Filipino letters
A, B, K, D, E, G, H, I, L, M, N, Ng, O, P, R, S, T, W, Y
plus the adopted English letters C, F, J, Q, V, X, Z
and the Spanish letter Ñ.

The Philippine alphabet originated from the Latin alphabet, which the Spaniards, through their own language, brought to the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period, which began in as early as the 1500s and ended in the late 1800s.

Kuwentong Engkanto
Like any culturally rich country, the Philippines—inhabited by diverse peoples collectively called Filipinos, with different languages, subcultures, beliefs, and cultural customs—is teeming with kuwentong engkanto, ‘fairy-stories.’ Beloved by many Filipinos, these stories that portray Philippine mythical beings like duwende, sirena, and tíkbalang have the power to enthrall children especially at night—curious little children who, amidst fear and all, will prod their parents or grandparents to tell them any kuwentong engkanto—a feat to which the latter will happily oblige and in which will equally indulge themselves. However, this should not be the case—kuwentong engkanto need not be scary and terrifying all the time for the simple reason not all engkanto are fearsome and malevolent; in fact, most engkanto are noble and kind.

The Etymology of Engkanto
Engkanto is the exact Filipino translation of the English word enchanted or fairy, which many fantasists and folklorists define as “any mythical or imaginary being or object” or as “a mortal being or object when she or he or it is under the spell of someone or something unfathomably wonderful.”

Regaining Their Nobility
Many Filipinos are afraid of engkanto because they are misinformed—their elders had, either intentionally or unknowingly, led them to believe that such beings always cause harm or bad luck—or simply because humans have the natural tendency to fear the unknown. This phobic behavior of humankind may initially seem inexplicable, yet it is forgivably understandable because engkanto are indeed elusive and mysterious. Besides, not all human beings have the gift to see them and perceive their true nature.

Moreover, most of the Philippine fairy-stories documented by human chroniclers highlight only the follies, evil, and mischief of maligno—the malevolent type of engkanto [e.g., aswang (human viscera–eating shape-changers), manananggal (detachable-torsoed fetus eaters)]. These partly true but often-exaggerated accounts, sad to say, overshadow the essence of the entire Philippine fairykind’s existence. You see, contrary to the popular belief that they exist only to harm and scare humans, many engkanto serve a noble purpose: They protect the environment, guide travelers in their journeys, and teach humankind to appreciate and preserve nature and all its wonders.

The Yin and Yang of Engkanto
Undoubtedly stories about engkanto doing mischief or causing misfortune are popular—and well loved! (Many humans are naturally masochistic in the sense that they have the peculiar penchant for listening to or reading terrifying tales and scary stories, especially the types that whack them out of their wits.) Such stories, however, are usually exaggerations, embroidered and embellished by the teller who, perhaps, went out of wits; or if proven cases indeed exist, either downright-malicious maligno perpetrated them or downtrodden benigno did them with just causes.

From the Latin words benignus, ‘benevolent,’ and malignus, ‘malevolent,’ benigno and maligno are the two types of engkanto according to affinity to humankind.

Understand that, in terms of psychology, engkanto are like humans or almost any other kindred—they have the benevolent as well as the malevolent types. And even benigno, like any good-natured individual, possess mischievous characters and reveal them once in a while by playing pranks on others, especially on humans who tend to harm nature. For instance, a lambana may play tricks on human children swimming in a lake by hiding their clothes or other belongings, or a disgusted tikbalang may kick a human passerby whom it catches spitting near or urinating on its favorite hollow tree.

Revealing Their Peculiarities
And now, in respect to the entire Philippine fairykind, I present my noble objectives in coming up with this book.

First, to describe some of such beings, particularly the most commonly known and encountered. Second, to enlighten humans about the true nature of these beings (with the hope of reversing the negative perceptions about them). And last, and the most laborious but interesting part, to reveal some of the well-kept cultural and literary treasures of such elusive beings—peculiarities that may include habitat, diet, musical preferences, fashion, writing and educational systems, beliefs, tricks and games, and even samples of their literature.

Now, free your minds of your prejudices as you glimpse into the realms of engkanto—mythical beings of the Philippines, my Motherland.


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