I have always been fascinated with folklore and mythology. There is just something really attractive with all the power and knowledge that these creatures and gods have, and still, they manage to find a way to fuck it up. Sometimes, the legends are blips of unfinished stories, like perhaps a nuno living under the shade of an unsuspecting mango tree, and we never know anything more about it other than it will curse you if you manage to step on it. Does he sing pop songs in the middle of a scorching hot summer noon? What is his take about using pesticides on the fruits of his mango tree?
These little blips of stories are just so ripe for potential, they are practically begging to be written.
As a part of my recent reincarnation, I will try to feature more Philippine Literature in English and today’s special feature is Eliza Victoria’s Wounded Little Gods. I discovered this book while browsing through the shelves of this tiny National Bookstore at its main office (Isn’t that just weird? The smallest National Bookstore I’ve been, and it’s at the chain’s main office.) and it really intrigued me.
Gods and Goddesses of a Rural Past
I come from a province called Bulacan. It’s an hour away from Metro Manila, traffic forgiving. But in its nearness, it is shocking how the difference from the rough and almost-dirty façade of the urban Manila to the legitimately-a-garden-at-the-end-of-NLEX rural Bulacan. While the Manila people may remember the stories of nuno and kapre as whispers of the olden times, there are still parts of Bulacan that remember them reverently, these gods that bless the earth.
The deeper you go in Bulacan, the deeper the accent, the greener and more historic things get. Victoria’s book was set in a fictional town called Heridos. It is supposed to be found somewhere in the heart of Paombong, Hagonoy, and Malolos.
Heridos is a sleepy, little agricultutal town where people get by from planting rice and ensuring harvests by whispering prayers to the gods of wind, harvest, and life. However, people started to speak these prayers like mundane pieces of words strung together and slowly, the meaning of the prayers lost its hold. The gods retreated and one day, the harvest went bad.
The intimacy of my knowledge as someone from the nearby area gave a sense of surrealism and an identification I didn’t know I would find. I didn’t even know I was looking for one. The area of land where the story was set was the perfect place for the story to unfold. I can still remember the small fish ponds people used to own in the Paombong-Hagonoy area, and the way they would chant “Tabi-tabi po,” while walking through the narrow mounds of soil that cut through the fields. It could happen here.The area is also starting to take on a more urbanized center, very much like the story.
La Regina Heridos
Tha main character’s, Regina, escape from her small town to Quezon City to find work and really, life, is something that I can easily relate to. Easy for everyone, to be honest. Who doesn’t want to know the world outside and find a better life, right?
But in Regina’s escape, it seemed like her past needed her to go back and see how the people of her town did the same thing she did, only without moving from one place to another.
The people of Heridos slowly inched away from the farming life to a life of consumerism, fuelled by the globalization that we Filipinos call OFW-ism. (I made that word up, of course. But I hope you get the point.) The town slowly prospered from the remittances of the loved ones abroad; of course, they only wanted a better life for the people they left behind in Heridos. Slowly, the people had forgotten the gods they revered for their harvests.
Meanwhile, the little gods of Dumangan, god of harvest, are on their way to movement. (See how everything’s a movement away from tradition? That is not a coincidence. More on that later.) They were given mortal bodies for three days to experience mortal feelings, like hunger and longing, for them to learn more about the people who pray to them and they were hooked. Suddenly, they wanted more than three days. Of course, they would want more. Everyone wants more of everything in this story, and in real life, too.
Wounded Little Gods
(This is really difficult to give an analysis without giving away spoilers but I will try!) Things break. They are bound to happen anyway from all the mobility of people and gods, and while both things are happening simultaneously, there are collateral damages that are hurt and lost to the characters’ desire to better themselves. In real life, we achieve things through sacrifices made – maybe hours of working, maybe money invested on something – but always, there is always an equivalent trade. (Guess where is my reference!)
We lose things to find better things. Basic economics. But are some things won worth the things that were lost to get them? Does mortality made the three little gods who played with too much power and possibility worthy of the life that was (quite literally) spilled? Does the time spent away from problematic kids worth it for the control and discipline they would have after? Does losing who you are worth it for the newer, better version of you? Will we ever be better?
Some things to ponder on.
There is obviously a lot I can relate to from the book, and this is as important as it is surprising. In enjoying media from elsewhere around the world, we find slivers and pieces of ourselves and we turn to these foreign media more. Maybe it is that sense of identification that keeps us coming back to them, maybe like Regina we are trying to escape our realities and try to discover newer ones we can claim as ours. But going back to our roots, to these stories that are ours and not merely learned through books of foreign authors, we center ourselves with a culture that we have that we often neglect until one day, they are only whispers of memories.
Stories, just like gods, slowly die when they are forgotten. Didn’t we learn from Greek Mythology that gods needed the stories to keep them alive? The stories survive in the same way. Stories, language, deities, culture – they all survive in the same way: feed them attention. Propagate and disseminate, and they grow stronger. And these stories are what make us who we are. They are our identities. Our struggles today are as real as the stories that align us to our sense of who we really are, and I think that is what is sorely missing from our sense of nationality. We keep on forging on in an industrialized world that we have forgotten our humanity and identity along the way. And for me, stories like Eliza Victoria’s Wounded Little Gods are a step towards reclaiming who we are.
Read Eliza Victoria’s Wounded Little Gods and share your post-reading ramblings with me!