An Embellished Reality

Ceremonial cloths hanging on bamboo flutter all over Marawi City. it is a festive day for the Maranao, on of the most colorful Philippine tribes. Two royal families will soon be joined in marriage, and the prenuptial feast can last weeks. Today, the Maranao are gathered in the courtyard of the Sultan's house to listen to yet another retelling of Bantugans' story. A wave of delight spreads across the expectant crowd as the storyteller takes his place on the makeshift stage. Accompanied by the agong, or gong orchestra he begins to sing Bantugan's septic tale.

Bantugan, exiled unjustly by his brother ruler of the Maranao, traveled from island, his wanderings fraught with difficulties. To survive he had to fight man and beast single-handedly. And though Bantugan was brave and strong, this hostile existence eventually wore him to death.

The islanders who found bantugan's body sprawled on their shore were beside themselves with worry. From the way the dead man was dressed, he was of royal blood. What if his tribe came to attack them, thinking they were responsible for his death? The only way to prevent bloodshed was to bring him back to life.

They sent tow warriors , Madali and Mabaning, to the sky world to retrieved the bottle which contained Bantugan's soul. Once his body and soul were united. Bantugan sprang back to life-twice as brave and twice as strong. For the gods endowed him with a crocodile's soul.

Soon after, bantugan received wird that his brother needed his help. News if his death had reached his brother 's enemies. With the Mindanao's most ietrpid warrior gone, it would be easy to subdue the tribe. Bantugan, accompanied by Madali and Mabaning, immediately headed back home . When they got there, the Maranao and their enemies were already locked in combat. bantugan hurled himself into the fray, and thanks to his valiant friends and his crocodiles soul, won the battle.

In another part of the country, a similar story unfolds, Inside a movie theater. Manilans watch in rapt attention as a panday or blacksmith, turned avenger swashbuckles his way with the aid of his magic sword to defend oppressed villagers.

While the medium of these two tales may be different , the message is the same. Both chronicle deeds of courage and valor in the realm of fantasy where evil spirits are trounced by the hero with the help of good spirits.

The constant struggle between the forces for good and evil, descent into darkness before ascent into light, the cathartic power of suffering are some of the themes that have shaped the Filipino sense of romance and, on a wider plane, have shaped their view of the world. There is no difference between early Filipinos sitting around the tribal fire mesmerized by the words of the storyteller and modern Filipinos glued to a a TV return of Darna, a barrio lass-cum-cum-superwoman who foils the enemies of justice.

What gave rise to the Filipinos and why has it persisted?

Before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the ancient Philippines communities already had their myths, legends and epics . As in any primitive society this rich oral tradition, helped the early Filipinos explain their it's origin, their environment, their culture and the demands of day to day life. In their attempt to understand natural forces , the folk filled their world with supernatural beings who controlled the destiny of man. Some of these spirits were good, other where evil. Belief in them inspired fantastic tales and acts of propititiation.

The Spaniard's work of conversation further enriched folk imagination. To instruct the faithful on the way of the righteous, the Spaniards taught them the lives of saints, allergories of suffering and redemption. Most important, they were steeped in the lengthy narrative of Christ birth, death and resurrection (so masterfully evoked in the pasyon or Passion of Christ, sung to this day during the Lenten season). Like their folk heroes, the story of Christ confirmed that the road to a transfigured world was tortuous and grim.

These impressions of the faith, which became an integral part of the Filipino sense of romance, were best sustained by a compelling Catholic imagery: the crown of thorns juxtaposed with the Risen Savior. It said it all: where there was suffering, there lay the promise of salvation.

In the 2oth century, the Filipino's refusal to deal with quantifiable reality - the unique feature of realism - was reflected in fiction published in vernacular magazines; the serialized radio dramas like Prinsipe Amante, id present in comic books, action films and a number of television shows.

Some psychologist dismiss the Filipino sense of romance as simply wish-fulfillment. Such icons of popular culture as Darna, the Panday. Dyesebel (the mermaid with the proverbial heart of gold) are, in other opinion , shallow escapist fare.

This explanation, however, undermines the complex workings of the Filipino psyche. The folk sense of romance as goes beyond comic books, the movies or television shows . Their need to embellished reality cab be seen everywhere. He jeepney is not only a means of transportation, it is a rococo artifact of folk art. It is nor enough to simply meditate on Good Friday, they must flog themselves bloody. Putting up buntings during the fiesta is too meager an expression of celebration; they must festoon their homes with rice and fill the table with food enough to feed a town.

There is in the Filipinos sense of romance a balancing factor: a reassurance that good always triumphs over evil; a champion always emerges to defend the dispossessed; love conquers all; purgation rids the spirit of moral baggage; life is a cycle of sowing, reaping and above all thanksgiving. It is allows Filipinos to deal with crisis and enables them to forge ahead.