#WitchWeek2022 Day 1: The Mambabarang

Locusta migratoria manilensis, the migratory locust (Wikipedia commons)

by Daphne Lee

I’ve chosen to write about two books by a Filipino author, Joel Donato Ching Jacob, which I edited for Scholastic Asia. They are the first two in a trilogy set in what is now known as the Philippines. The era is pre-colonial (before 1521, which was the year Ferdinand Magellan came to the islands in 1521 and claimed it as a colony for the Spanish Empire) and, as such, pre-Christian/Roman Catholic, steeped in indigenous mysticism and animist lore. It is an imagined world, based on fact, the society feudal and ruled by the Maginoo class.

The first book, Wing of the Locust, introduces Tuan, a young man of the slave class, who is chosen to be apprentice to the barangay (akin to a borough or district) mambabarang, a healer, diplomat, spy, and assassin.

Because he has always been treated as an outcast, Tuan initially embraces his new role as an opportunity to improve his social standing and gain power over those who shunned him when he was a weak, awkward youth. Nevertheless, he soon finds himself wrestling with his conscience over the dubious morality of a mambabarang’s duties, while reeling in horror at the extent of the personal sacrifices that must be made to master the craft.

But it is only when Tuan reconnects with his childhood playmates, Liksi and Gilas, that he is forced to seriously consider the implications of his newfound status and power. And when his friends’ lives are threatened, Tuan must quickly decide if saving those he loves is worth the loss of his humanity.

Continue reading “#WitchWeek2022 Day 1: The Mambabarang”

Everyday supernatural

Illustration by Daphne Lee

Orang Minyak; and Pontianak,
by Daphne Lee.
One-story zines privately published by the author, nd.

‘[He] could leap high. And he floated, like a shadow, on walls and on ceilings. And then when it was safe he would float down softly and he would creep, silently, like a black cat, and no one would know.’

Orang Minyak

Sex and death: the only certainties where life is concerned. When the two are bound up in our imaginations with thoughts of the supernatural they can give rise to all-pervading obsessions – such as incubi and succubi, and vampires corporeal and psychic. How powerfully such obsessions are able to magnify both our fascination and our fears!

That’s where these two short stories score. Both were first published as one-story zines and later revised, appearing in the author’s collection entitled Bright Landscapes (Laras99, 2019 and Langsuyar Press, 2021). Related in a very matter-of-fact fashion and including ordinary conversations, both nevertheless hint at things beyond the everyday.

When whispers of old beliefs impinge on modern life can they really be accounted as beyond the bounds of possibility when they’re allied with persuasive rumours, odd coincidences and personal experiences? Do they then suggest that the supernatural too is somehow also an everyday thing?

Continue reading “Everyday supernatural”

Retellings worth rereading

Antique shadow puppet: wayang kulit from Malaysia’s neighbour, Java [credit: Invaluable.com]

Daphne Lee (editor): Malaysian Tales.
Retold & remixed
Foreword by Adèle Geras
ZI Publications, Malaysia 2011

Sixteen tales, fourteen authors, one culture, all united in demonstrating the vitality of narrative traditions from the Malay peninsula. Drawing from myth, folklore, legend and oral history, these are refurbished tales in distinctive voices with individual tones, approaches and narrative styles. A few are straightforward retellings but most spin their stories — as all creative writings do — to give them contemporary relevance, either through placing them in modern contexts or drawing out themes latent in the originals. Daphne Lee has exercised a careful editorial judgement to commission and sequence these, and each tale has a brief afterword to explain how each contributor has arrived at their choice and treatment.

And what a range of treatments we are offered. Modernised tales which bring out psychological truths about personal relationships. A fable analogous to the story of the Gingerbread Man which uses updated language, puns and twists. A legend about a vampiric raja now turned into a pitch for a teenage movie. A tale about how Singapore is saved repurposed to explain why the saviour might have been condemned to death. A curious tradition about a rock that eats a mother is given the science fiction treatment. Each tale is rooted in Malay traditions but hybridised to give startling new blooms.

Continue reading “Retellings worth rereading”

Zine, not herd

minizine

Magazines come in all shapes and sizes, finesse and finish, from professional to amateur, glossy to gauche. With its largely leisure associations it’s strange to realise the word has industrial and even military origins, from the Arabic makhazin (“stores”) through French magasin and Italian magazzino (“warehouse”), and on to its conflation with arsenal. It only acquired its modern meaning of periodical after the 18th-century Gentleman’s Magazine included it in its title to suggest a “storehouse of information”.

So we’re all familiar with the concept of magazines now but, innocent that I am, I’d never come across mini-zines before. So I was pleased to be sent (via an offer on Lory’s blog Emerald City Book Review) two Elsewhere Minizines. These really live up to their name. Continue reading “Zine, not herd”