Saturday, 4 August 2012

Aswang (Monters) and Supernaturalisms: Nocturnal Deities

Aswang (Monsters) and Supernaturalisms: Nocturnal Deities is a non-fiction book that explores folktales from Atimonan, a town rich with myths and supernatural stories, taken as an example of Filipino traditional beliefs and practices explained by the author, Alta Grace de Gracia, in the light of sociology and anthropology.

The first chapter is an introduction on Filipino supernatural concepts and an explanation of its significance in maintaining a community. According to this book, folktales is a reflection of the values, attitudes and conscience of a particular community. It is a means of social control to justify or show the younger and/or new members of a certain community what actions and beliefs are acceptable in their society.

Succeeding chapters 2 and 3 show the interplay of socioeconomy, ethonography and ecology of Atimonan as important factors affecting the existence and spread of the folktales. Some parts of Atimonan is also part of Sierra Madre mountains like the Bitukang Manok, while the Maling river snakes through some barrios connecting itself to Lamon Bay, the sea that the poblacion (town proper) faces. The lush forests in the mountains and the bodies of water that surrounds Atimonan provides not only a mystic atmosphere of nature but also a source of livelihood for many of its people.

The book cites the feast of Our Lady of the Angels that is celebrated on August 2 when locals give thanks to God and the Virgin Mary for the harvests given to farmers and for the safety granted to fishermen. Observing this tradition creates a sense of security, and gives its people an opportunity to socialize and display social status and prestige.

Found in the last three chapters of the book are the personal stories of locals about their rituals, experiences and even close encounters with the supernatural. Some of it are first hand, while a few are second hand accounts passed by locals' forefathers. It includes locals' personal explanation of their beliefs, and the academic interpretation from Alta de Gracia.

The last pages of the book contains the appendices and the author's list of references. The appendices are helpful for those who plans to visit the town as it shows a map how to get to Atimonan. It has a list, and pictures of caves and mountains for hikers, mountain climbers, divers and any nature-lover who wants to discover unexplored places.

This book may be most appreciated by those who are interested in psychology, sociology, anthropology, Philippine literature and culture. But just the same, any reader who likes supernatural and paranormal stories will find this book as entertaining and enlightening.

As an Atimonanin myself, reading a book about my hometown gave me a feeling of nostalgia. Growing up in Atimonan, I was constantly amused (and warned) through folktale, shared by our kasama (helpers) and elder relatives. Needless to say, over time, the eerie stories and local traditions lost its appeal to me, and I began to see it as typical trivial things. It was only in reading this book, one that provided an objective and scholarly view, that I gained a new and appreciative way of enjoying this uniquely Filipino tradition.

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