Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UST-AB Reading Assignment: Lola Basyang and Homer - Folk Story tellers

Lola Basyang and Homer - Folk Story tellers
Dr Abe V Rotor

“If a man does away with his traditional way of living and throws away his good customs, he had better first make certain that he has something of value to replace them.”                                                   - Robert Ruark, Something of Value (Old Basuto Proverb)

Like Lola Basyang relating folklore to children, we imagine a campfire, around it our ancestors exchanged knowledge and recounted experiences, with spices of imagination and superstition. It was a prototype open university. Throughout the ages and countless generations a wealth of native knowledge and folk wisdom accumulated but not much of it has survived.

Top TV hosts and artists Ms Lisa Macuja and Luz Fernandez (Lola Basyang) perform on screen and stage Severino Reyes' Obra Maestra -  Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. 

Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were created in this way, and so with Aesop’s fables, with both having survived after two or three thousand years, and found immortality in books today. And would we look farther than the timelessness of Christ lessons in parables? The Sermon on the Mount, The Prodigal Son, the Sower, The Good Samaritan.  These and many more, continue to live in the home, school, pulpit as it had persisted in the catacombs in the beginnings of Christianity. Because Homer, Aesop, Christ and other early authors did not write, it is through oral history, in spite of its limitations and informal nature that these masterpieces were preserved and transcended to us - thanks to our ancestors, and to tradition itself.

On the part of science, we inherited valuable knowledge such as the Pythagorean Theorem (all philosophies are resolved into the relations of numbers), the Law of Buoyancy from Archimedes, the Ptolemaic concept of the universe (although it was later corrected with the Copernican model), Natural Philosophy of Aristotle (Natural History), not to mention the Hippocratic Oath, the ethics that guide those in the practice of medicine which our modern doctors adhere to this day.

Tradition and Heritage

Just as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans – and even the remote and lesser ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and the Mayas had their own cultural heritage, so have we in our humble ways. Panday Pira attests to early warfare technology, the Code of Kalantiao, an early codification of law and order, the Herbolario, who to the present is looked upon with authority as the village doctor. And of course, we should not fail to mention the greatest manifestation of our architectural genius and grandiose aesthetic sense – the Banawe Rice Terraces.

On the lighter side, who of us don’t know Lam-ang, our own epic hero, the counterpart of England’s Beowulf? Juan Tamad, the counterpart of Rip Van Winkle? Who would not identify himself with Achilles or Venus? Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Lapu-Lapu, Angalo – how could boys be more happy and become real men without these and other legendary characters? And we ask the same to girls becoming women without Cinderella and Maria Makiling? On my part, like other boys in my time, boyhood could not have been spent in any better way without the science fictions of Jules Vernes – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Eighty Days Around the World – and the adventures of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It is the universality of human thoughts and values that is the key to the timelessness of tradition – indeed the classical test of true masterpieces.

And would we say the least about children stories? We can only wonder with awe at the determination of the Grimm Brothers roaming the villages of Europe soon after the Dark Ages began to end, and the light of learning began to dawn again, the two scholars retrieving the fragments and remnants of stories surviving the darkest period of history of mankind. And what do we know? These stories, together with the stories from the 1001 Arabian Nights, have kept the flame of human hope and joy alive in cradles, around the hearth, on the bedside – even as the world was uncertain and unkind.

We ask ourselves, if it is only truth that can withstand the test of time. Or if it is only events that really happened constitute history. And if there were any tinge that these stories were based on the culture of a people in their own time, would we not find them, we who live on the other side of the globe and in another time, find them strange?

Retrieving Traditional Knowledge

Our great thrust today is to explore and retrieve traditional knowledge from records of the past, archeology, and testimonies of old folks. It is indeed an enormous task not only what but how we can gather the fragments of knowledge, distinguish facts from myths, reality from imagination, and draw out the threads of wisdom and weave them into a fabric we call science. Today with modern science and technology, we create virtual reality scenarios on the screen and in dioramas, reliving the past and deliver them right in the living room and in the school.

Rediscovering indigenous knowledge and folk wisdom enlarges and enhances our history and tradition. Even beliefs and practices, which we may not be able to explain scientifically, can be potential materials for research. And if in our judgment they fail to meet such test, still they are valuable to us because they are part of our culture and they contribute immensely to the quaintness of living.

Return to Nature or Exodus to the City

There is a beautiful novel Swiss Family Robinson written by Johann Wyss nearly two centuries ago. It is about a family stranded in an unknown island somewhere near New Guinea and during the many years they lived in the island, they learned to adapt to a life entirely disconnected from society and devoid of the amenities of modern living. When finally they were rescued, the family chose to stay in the island – except one son who wanted to study, promising that he would return to the island.

There are stories of similar plot such as Robinson Crusoe, a classic novel by Daniel Defoe, and recently, Castaway, a modern version of a lone survivor shown on the screen. We can only imagine what we could have done if we were the survivors ourselves.

Severino Reyes wrote Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang.  He wrote his first story for children at age 75. A graduate of UST, he founded in 1945 the Tagalog weekly magazine Liwayway (still in circulation), a publication of Manila Bulletin and counterpart of Bannawag (the Dawn), the most important Ilocano magazine.  Reyes' works have been widely circulated through komiks, books, movies, stage plays, radio and TV, and continue to the present on multimedia. His works are as immortal as the children's stories compiled by the Grimm Brothers, 1001 Arabian Nights, Hans Anderson's stories, and children's stories of Oscar Wilde.       

But to many of us, particularly the young generation, such stories seem to have lost their appeal, more so of their relevance. It is as if we have outlived tradition in such a manner that anything which is not modern does not apply any longer. What aggravates it is that as we move in to cities we lose our home base and leave behind much of our native culture. There is in fact an exodus to live in cities, whether in ones own country or abroad, and the lure is so great nearly half of the world’s population is now living in urban centers. Ironically the present population explosion is not being absorbed by the rural areas but by cities, bloating them into megapolises where millions of people as precariously ensconced. And now globalization is bringing us all to one village linked in cyberspace and shrunk in distance by modern transportation. We have indeed entered the age of global homogenization and worldwide acculturation.

What is “The Good Life” Really?

Maybe it is good to look back and compare ourselves with our ancestors from the viewpoint of how life is well lived. Were our ancestors a happier lot? Did they have more time for themselves and their family, and more things to share with their community? Did they live healthier lives? Were they endowed - more than we are - with the good life brought about by the bounty and beauty of nature?

These questions bring us to analyze ten major concerns about living. In the midst of socio-cultural and economic transformation from traditional to modern to globalization - an experience that is sweeping all over the world today - these concerns serve as parameters to know how well we are living with life. As the reader goes over the various topics in this book he can’t help but relate them with his own knowledge and experiences, and in fact they way he lives. This is essentially the purpose of this paper.

• Simple lifestyle
• Environment-friendly
• Peace of mind
• Functional literacy
• Good health and longer active life
• Family and community commitment
• Self-managed time
• Self-employment
• Cooperation (bayanihan) and unity
• Sustainable development

The following are some traditional practices and beliefs I have been able to gather and put into writing since the idea was conceived late last year. Primarily these are ethnic or indigenous, and certainly there are commonalities with those in other countries, particularly in Asia, albeit of their local versions and adaptations.  It leads us to appreciate with wonder the vast richness of cultures shared between and among peoples and countries even in very early times. Ironically modern times have overshadowed tradition, and many of these beliefs and practices have been either lost or forgotten, and even those that have survived are facing endangerment and the possibility of extinction. It is a rare opportunity and privilege to gather and analyze traditional beliefs and practices.

It is to the old folks that we owe much gratitude and respect because they are our living link with the past. They are the Homer of Iliad and Odyssey of our times, so to speak. They are the Disciples of Christ’s parables, the Fabulists of Aesop. They are the likes of a certain Ilocano farmer by the name of Juan Magana who recited Biag ni Lam-ang from memory, Mang Vicente Cruz, an herbolario of Bolinao Pangasinan, whom I interviewed about the effectiveness of herbal medicine. It is to people who, in spite of genetic engineering, would still prefer the taste of native chicken and upland rice varieties.

During the past century when so much of traditional wisdom and ethno-science were still flourishing in the lives and memories especially of Philippine traditional cultural communities, the country's colonial education attempted systematically - and greatly succeeded - in discouraging as well as obliterating Filipino traditional wisdom and folk knowledge. School textbooks and classroom instruction called all of them "superstition" to be zealously expunged from the minds of all "educated" citizens. I have witnessed this from my years as a pupil in the public schools (it was not better in religious schools because indigenous traditions were regarded as ‘works of the devil’) and later as professional cultural historian and student of folkloristics.”

Florentino H. Hornedo, Ph.D.

Professor of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas;
Commissioner, UNESCO

NOTE: "Lola Basyang" is the pen name of Severino Reyes, founder and editor of the Tagalog magazine Liwayway. From 1925, Reyes wrote a series of stories for children under the title Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (The Stories of Grandmother Basyang). The original magazine stories have been adapted for comics (komiks), television, the cinema, and published in book form. Severino Reyes was 75 years of age when he wrote the first Lola Basyang story "Ang Plautin ni Periking", which was about a kindhearted kid who had a magical flute and flying carpet. Reyes, also known as Don Binoy, adopted the persona of a woman he knew as Lola Basyang, an elderly woman fond of telling stories to her grandchildren. (Wikipedia)

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