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Fighting 'aswang' and taming 'tikbalang' |

Sunday Lifestyle

Fighting 'aswang' and taming 'tikbalang'

- Simon Louis Errol E. Torres -

This Week’s Winner

MANILA, Philippines – Simon Louis Errol E. Torres, 27, is a college instructor at Calayan Educational Foundation in Lucena City. He teaches philosophy of man, logic, and sometimes the life and works of Jose Rizal. He received his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from UPLB and is now pursuing his masters in education major in administration and supervision. Simon is a self-proclaimed movie geek and part-time adrenaline junkie.

Of all the people in the world, it had to be me. The jeepney ride to Sta. Cruz, Laguna, from Lucena City was bumpy. You could almost hear your internal organs clanging. Bonk! Blag! Bonk! Blag! Bonk! But more than that, it was congested. Claustrophobics would have easily gotten flustered. Fourteen passengers in an 11-capacity seat, and the bulky baggage and luggage huddled in the floor. For about an hour, only half of my butt cheeks were resting on the wooden bench. What’s more, my girlfriend’s head was resting on my shoulder.

Thank God for those handle bars on the jeep’s ceiling.

In front of us was a family: a father, a mother, and a baby about four months old. The cute little bundle of joy had sparkling, beautiful eyes and pink, chubby cheeks. We tried to pass the time (and pain of aching butts) by making her laugh and smile. My girlfriend, her cousin, and I did some funny faces, which, I realize now, must have scared the hell out of the other commuters.

Suddenly, without any warning, after a series of cute smiles and quiet laughter, the baby cried. It was so loud and at some point strange. She was crying as if she had lost her mother. We were stunned and backed off as if we were moving away from a crime scene. Then, the father gently raised the baby’s right leg and asked me to spew out my saliva on the sole of her foot. Baka daw nabalis. My girlfriend’s cousin who was raised in America was dumbfounded. Hooray for Filipino superstitions and beliefs!

No doubt, our country is bounded by religion. It is founded on beliefs and eccentric traditions. Filipino mores and mindsets are molded with inches of fantasy and quirky ideologies.

Creatures like aswang, tikbalang, nuno sa punso, kapre, and manananggal. Life in the Philippines would not be complete without them. A typical Filipino childhood would be empty without threats from parents or housemaids about the wrath of these “hindi nakikita” (what can’t be seen). We wear various amulets and herbal thingamajigs to thwart “evil spirits”; we believe we’re not alone. There are far more stranger things out there, watching us, living a life that once in a while may bump into our own.

The Unseen

A year ago, I grabbed a copy of Arnold Arre’s stunning graphic novel The Mythology Class, after I read his mushy yet equally delightful After Eden. The book is the special collected edition of his four-issue miniseries that won the National Book Award for Best Comic Book — the first in its category. Yes, it is a comic book. But sometimes, these things that snooty intellectuals consider childish are actually the things that can give us the enlightenment we really need. Arre’s book did exactly that.

The Mythology Class, as the name suggests, is about myths and legends. Its plot rests on those things that most of us consider figments (or pigments) of man’s creative imagination. The good thing about Arre’s masterwork, however, is that it delves into Filipino folklore and ethnicity; Lam-ang, Sulayman, and Bantugan should ring a bell. The book is a medium for celebrating the splendor of our culture and the richness of our ancient narratives.

The tale of magic and spooky prophecies begins as the chosen students, each with their own personal story and conflict, receive a mysterious invitation for a mythology class. Through their respective dreams, they are summoned by a ghost named Tala to help a group of time travelers and capture enkantos that have escaped and crept into our world. Upon their hands rest the future of human existence. They are trained to become modern-day ghost busters, destined to save and make the world a better place while most of us are in slumber.

Each of Arre’s characters in the novel is entertainingly unique. Their personal stories brighten up and add flavor to the rich plot. There’s an obsessive-compulsive techie, a second-rate psychic, a class clown, a conceited socialite, a hopeless romantic, a raging muscleman, and of course, the stereotypical smart lass who leads the chosen ones. Together, they learn to work as a team, surpass treacherous challenges, settle their differences, find romance along the way, and most of all build an extraordinary friendship.

It’s such a delight reading Arre’s graphic novel (for the nth time) because it is the work of a Filipino genius. One can say it’s a fresh version of Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. The storylines are intricately smart and the dialogue is never cheesy or dry. It is informative as much as it is pleasing.

And the drawings…magnificent doesn’t even begin to describe his hypnotic sketches. You’ll envy his pencil for being pushed by his hand.

I also admire the fact that the author used Filipino culture as backdrop of his magnum opus. The Mythology Class exudes a spunk that can equal comic books from the West. As you savor and read Arre’s masterpiece, you are engulfed in his world, surrounded by the walls of his creativity and you’d want to stay in the world he molded.

Arre’s graphic novel doesn’t invite us to renew our belief in maligno, manananggal, tiyanak, and the like. The Mythology Class is a tale of friendship, individual differences, love, and the magic that comes in between. Arnold Arre lures us to reflect on our culture’s status quo. His novel is a wakeup call. From the author’s perspective, we have developed a perilous amnesia, the kind that rubs out our identity and traditions. We are prisoners of modern civilization, passive and powerless to look at the past.

Aswang, tikbalang, nuno sa punso, kapre, and manananggal. No matter how wicked and gross, they are still part our culture. I am proud of them as I am proud of Manny Pacquiao, Charice Pengpenco, and Brillante Mendoza. They are our gifts to the world, our heritage, a truth that separates us from others and makes us unique. It is Filipino from the Philippines.


When we finally reached the quite town of Sta. Cruz, Laguna, it was raining with the sun still shining. Only one thought played in my mind: Ikinakasal ang tikbalang.

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