Category Archives: Arts and Mythology

Myth, Sinesyensya and the Bamboo Tree

Sinesyensa Science Film Fest Ilocos

Last week, I perused a number of books, read some articles on cosmogony and cosmology  to explore the significance of myth as an emerging worldview. This article was partly inspired by the Science Film Festival organized by the Ablan Foundation and the Goeth Institute in the province of Ilocos Norte dubbed as “Pangalagaan Tahanan ng Ating Lahi – Nurturing the Home of Our People” in celebration of the 2011 International Year of the Forest.  Spearheaded by the Office of Atty. Kris Ablan the event was organized to raise the ecological awareness of the youth in the province of Ilocos Norte.

Provoked by the CLA or Causal Layered Analysis, a method that uses macrohistory, postcolonial multicultural theory, and poststructuralism as foundation, I realized the need to widen my knowledge base on mythology (particularly Asian and Non-western myths) and its role to policy analysis and research. The CLA integrates myth and metaphor as part of its layered analysis to futures thinking, long-term planning and policy formulation.

Causal Layered Analysis

And of course, PROUT, the Progressive Utilization Theory, my preferred worldview, is an emerging theory and research method informed by Spirituality, Neohumanism, Cooperatives, Culture, Environment, Economy, and Community.

PROUT in a Picture

Now going back to my myth reading, a couple of stories (I took note of them) were really interesting. Local Philippine mythology, in particular,are, in my view, global and current in context, multi-cultural, positive and transcendental in nature. The Filipino myth or stories of world creation are engaging or shall I say “makatotohanan”. I actually deciphered some of them and tried to deconstruct it in some sense. What moved me was the myth of the first man and woman emerging from a bamboo tree.

The First Man and Woman in Philippine Mythology Emerged from a Bamboo Tree

The Hebrew Story of Creation. Adam was made by the Creator out of the dust of the earth.

Deciphering, I learned that most of the Filipino myths/stories of creation suggest that the First Filipino man and woman emerged from a bamboo tree. Visayan, Tagalog, Igorot, Subanon, etc. creation myth used the bamboo “tree” (bamboo, banana for some of the  Igorot myth, etc. ) to explain our story of creation, to represent the Creator and its creation. Western myths used ash trees (Olive Tree), elm trees in their stories of the Creator and creation.  In here, you would learn that Bamboo trees tells a lot about us as Asians or Non-westersn, if I may, our worldviews, our cultural preferences and values. The context of the Non-western man and woman story of creation can be decoded by deconstructing the meaning of the Bamboo tree.

An Elm Tree (European, North American Tree)

Ash Trees is Prominent in European Literature

These myths that used trees in their story of creation also represent, with its abundant fruit, its protection and regenerative power, different life views such as wisdom, strength, beauty and contemplation. The “tree” was used as an important pictogram by different cultures and faiths like the Tree of Knowledge in the Jewish creation story, the Tree of Life in modern Kabbalistic story of creation (Cane, 2010). The Bamboo tree  is used by the Chinese to explain the magnificence of the Four Gentlemen in Chinese folklores.  The Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal had, like the Philippines, the first Bengali man and woman emerging from the stem of a bamboo tree.  Likewise, the Malaysian folklore that explain the origin of man also had a man sleeping under a bamboo tree, dreaming of a beautiful woman only to wake up to find the woman in her dreams inside a bamboo tree.

Bamboo Tree is prominent in Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Philippine Myth/Stories of Creation

The Jarayas, Jiguesinas, Igneines and Indio story of world creation (Visayan) in the Povedano Manuscript of 1578 also used the bamboo tree to explain the origin of man. The story began with King Manaul, the ruler who supervised the movement of the cosmos summoned his general named Magauayan, who took the name of the kapayan plant, a spiny bamboo, to supervise the Island while Manaul was away resting. According to Ignacio (1951) Mag was used in the past to mean “One and Most High”. When Magauyan took over to supervise the Island, Magauayan one day threw a piece of a spiny bamboo that floated in the water. “The bamboo was carried by the wind and the water into the island where it grew.”  When King Manaul visited the Island he sat alone under the branch of a full grown bamboo tree when he heard some voices that came from bamboo. He used his beak to open the bamboo and from one of the nodules came forth a man and from another a woman.” King Manaul named the man Sikalak and the woman Sikabay from whom sprang mankind (Ignacio, 1951).

Image of a Chinese Bamboo Folklore

In Chinese folklore, the bamboo tree represents the balance between Yin and Yang to symbolize the balance between beauty (Maganda in Tagalog) and strength (Malakas in Tagalog).  According to Sundra Cane (2010), “the tree is seen as a powerful symbol of growth, as the tree is the only living thing that continues to grow throughout its lifetime.”

2011 Science Film Fest Official Poster

These stories, just to make a note of it, were believed to be written or spoken (most myths are spoken, products of the oral tradition) by those who lived before us ( approximately three or five thousand years ago).

After reading these stories of man emerging in trees, I felt that they were truly positive and experiential. In fact, my life view was broadened by these myths. It made me realize the significance of my own mortality (I, too, will someday, somehow retire and vanish in the life world).  My view about life was transformed by this saying (now, the bamboo is used as a metaphor to explain the cyclical nature of time and life):

“Ang kawayan kung tumubo, langit na matayog ang itinuturo, ngunit kung masunod na ang anyo sa lupa rin ang yuko” (The bamboo when just beginning to grow, points straight up to heaven; but in maturity after it has gained its form, it bows down to earth).

The myth about the story of man emerging in trees deepened my life view. These stories inspired me and the good thing is the story always ends on a positive note.

Si Malakas at Si Maganda (Tagalog), Sikalak at Sikabay (Visayan)

Why Bamboo and not Dust? 

While I was hopeful and inspired by these stories, I was also critical in the context and questioned why these creation myths prefer to have the man and the woman emanate from trees? Why not mud?  stones? the seas? the air and the fire? The cosmos, big bang, etc.?

Of course, the writers/authors of these myths knew epistemology or the nature of knowledge and appear to be good at metaphysics. They were litterateurs’, I think, in the highest standard to borrow the words of PR Sarkar.  But why?

These stories are, as far as I am concerned, meta-stories. They had an artistic, poetic mandate to mystify or demystify the nature of man and its relationship with the cosmos and the divine. And by using the tree to explain the origin of the first man and woman, (the Western man was mud) the plot was customized (Asian, Non-western) for us to realize the Oneness of man/woman (creation) and nature (creator). The meaning was neither man nor woman or both and nature were superior or inferior to each other. The story was intended to evoke the value of balance, equality, interdependence, sustenance and regenerative approach to human life. The consciousness in the text (con-text) was life (abundance, protection and regeneration) and not death (we all came from dust and we all return to dust).  The tree story had a sense of what Gablik called “ecological atunement” (thanks to Roar Bjonnes, 2007). The archetype suggest an “ecology of reverence”, a worldview that “embraces all things – living (plants, animals) and non-living (water, the rocks) lovingly within its purview” (Inayatullah, 2007).

Thus, the story of man emerging in trees elucidates the inherent unity and equality of man and woman and their oneness with nature. As a life-furthering worldview, the bamboo creation myth  is similar to the Neo-humanistic view of life,  human evolution and transformation. Neo-humanism suggest that imperative to human existence are the existence of plants and animals. Respect to living and non-living things is essential to Neo-Humanism.

Children of the World by funky luke

The Science Film Festival 2011

Last week, the Ablan Foundation in cooperation with the Goeth Institute, ABS-CBN Foundation, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Inc., Department of Science and Technology, UNESCO, the Embassy of France in the Philippines, the European Union celebrated the 2011 Science Film Festival (SFF) dubbed as Sinesyensya: “Pangalagaan Tahanan ng Ating Lahi – Nurturing the Home of Our People” in the province of Ilocos Norte.

Spearheaded by the office of Atty. Kris Ablan, the SFF event was organize to raise ecological awareness that emphasized the role of forest, of trees for people all over the world.  Science and tree films were shown in different venues like the Ilocos Norte National High School and Governor Roque B. Ablan Sr. Shrine and Library. Originally initiated by the Goeth Institute of Bangkok, the festival is simultaneously held in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.  This year the SFF celebrates the significance of the forest in relation to science and technology, development and most importantly to humanity.

Kudos to Kris!

(Just a note:  If there is any sector in the province, this nation, this world, it is the youth or the “bunso” of our generation who can afford to have a mythological – futures – long term view. The “bunso” generation alone can embrace the activist mode and transformative context of myths and metaphors. The “bunso” are the one who can insure, preserve, and transform our current context of life (I assume that the youth does not want the present to repeat itself) and they would, of course, in the context of civilizational time, literally, would be the last generation to die. They can, with their current age (18 at 2011), and by divine grace, affect the year 2050, 2060, and 22nd centuries. They are the best instrument or shall I say the best conduit of provocative ideas, synthetic worldviews, and “forest” oriented solutions to ensure a “far and more” brighter future (their concept of a ‘bright future’ will be “brighter” than us, I am pretty sure of that).

As such, we should, together, equipped them with intuitional science (creativity and foresight), freedom of choice (with the future in mind), critical thinking (with the community in mind) and socio-economic-cultural opportunities (community, culture, and economic democracy) for them to be able to grow like the mythical bamboo tree – with strength and flexibility.

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Arts and Mythology


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