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Behind the Scenes: Tadhana’s Lore and the Universe of Kalawakan
By Nathan Briones
This is a write-up about the sources of inspiration, influences, and the creative process that went into Tadhana. It is my honest attempt to share my experience on how Tadhana’s lore came to be and why Filipino mythology and culture became the inspiration for its world building, themes, and conceptualization. This article is divided into two parts, the first part details the three main influences on the lore and the second part shares some of my experience when it came to the process of world building.
One of the main inspirations for Tadhana was Baybayin. I remember hearing about Baybayin back in high school from my mother. She wanted to start a t-shirt business featuring this old forgotten script of the country. She talked about how nice it would be to have t-shirts with statements printed in Baybayin and it was my mother’s dream to share her enthusiasm for the Filipino writing system. While I didn’t think we would actually start a t-shirt business, when I first heard about the existence of Baybayin, it certainly perked my interest. I didn’t know our country had its own form of writing and it was weird feeling the same fascination I felt for foreign script like those of the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans applied to the country’s local script. How could these symbols feel so foreign to me? Why did they fall out of use? They looked cool, spellings were easy to grasp, and the whole system seemed practical so why did we adopt the West’s needlessly complicated spellings? Baybayin’s Abugida writing system felt alien, but it was also fluid and very interesting. Time passed, and my mind became occupied with video games, parties, and college. Still, Baybayin lingered at the back of my mind and sometimes I would write in the script on pieces of scratch paper, translating fancy Tagalog or Ilonggo words I’ve learned in class into wrongly spelled Baybayin. It wasn’t until several years later that the old questions and frustrations I felt back when I first encountered the script would burn again with renewed passion. Needless to say, Baybayin found its way into Tadhana and it worked wonderfully to encapsulate the local theme while still feeling magical and mysterious. Baybayin, for most Filipinos, either felt like it was a long forgotten ancient script, or it was a reminder of our rich prehistoric culture. For me, the symbols looked like they were cyphers of magic, the runes of our people, and words of power. I felt like it was fitting that Baybayin should be the script included in Tadhana’s logo and art. Bonus trivia: The first time we released the logo we actually received some feedback from Baybayin experts regarding the misspelling of Tadhana. It was thanks to them that we were able to use the proper translation.
Eskrima became the second influence that gave Tadhana life and flavor. One of the Professions in Tadhana was even specifically made as a homage to the Filipino martial art. Like Baybayin, it was rare to find people who actually knew about Eskrima. Of course, there are some friends and acquaintances who are manic fans of the art but most of the people I know only knew about Arnis as a required P.E. lesson back in high school. Seldom did I meet someone who actually knew about Balintawak, Dose Pares, or Eskrima beyond the two-stick-swinging classes taught by high school teachers at secondary school. Sometimes, it was disappointing to hear people hype up MMA, Kung-Fu, or Taekwondo and not giving enough credit to our country’s national sport. It was heartbreaking to hear fellow countrymen belittle the martial art when we owe it our freedom and culture. Eskrima was used by the guerillas, it was also used by albularyo, generals, tribesmen, teachers, and soldiers back in the day. In modern times several foreign countries use it to train their military, employ it in action movies, and our grandmasters are lauded teachers of martial arts in the West. Personally, I love Eskrima even though I knew I would probably never have the opportunity to practice it. I read about its history and learned about the exploits of grandmasters using sticks and blades against guns during the war. I was amused at the mentality “My stick is bigger than yours!” that sparked feuds between different Eskrima schools, and I was intrigued about the fact that these martial artists used and believed in Agimat, Pamlang, and Anting-anting, they believed that these artifacts were valued relics providing protection and power. All of these interesting concepts were incorporated into Tadhana because I wanted it to become another avenue for people to hear or read about Eskrima. While Filipino martial arts are just a small part of the whole game, it’s certainly one of the greatest influences that shaped the martial and mystical aspects of the world of Sekunda.
There are three pieces of literature that make up the top three of my list of favorites: The Book of Exodus (from the Bible), Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and the Panay epic Hinilawod. These three pieces have their special places in my heart because of their scope, their humanity, and their extremely dramatic depictions of divine fate. Each of them are tales of legendary proportions and I find it wonderful that Hinilawod is something so close to home. I love the provinces in Panay, especially Iloilo, and the long oral epic, Hinilawod came from that island. Hinilawod made the hairs on my skin stand when I first read it. I was transfixed and mesmerized by the tales about flawed and selfish gods, the lives of the divine bound to fate, love, death, loyalty, and betrayal, the many shades of grey and the subjective morality, hypocrisy, spirits, and destiny. I sympathized with the “villain” Saragnayan, loathed the “hero” Labaw Donggon, and adored Nagmalitong Yawa for her heart, power, and complexity. And while I hated Humadapnon and Dumalapdap for their hypocrisy, their adventures were nothing but legendary. Hinilawod is such a beautiful epic and I would very much like to hear it orated in its original form. Despite the fact that I’ve already heard or read about the other gods, myths, and legends of prehistoric Luzon, Hinilawod struck a chord in my soul never before achieved by stories about Bathala or Maria Makiling. In Tadhana, Hinilawod became the main catalyst that exploded Sekunda’s world with Ilonggo terms, references to the gods and goddesses in the epic, and it’s also one of the reasons why Sekunda’s creation story may have the same feel of absurd extremes and otherworldly yet human-like entities of power and/or deities.
Research, Insecurity, and Inspiration
Building the Universe of Kalawakan
While considerable research has been done during the writing of Tadhana’s lore, I don’t really claim that it was that extensive. Some people have assumed that it might have taken me a lot of effort and time to establish Tadhana’s universe, but I sheepishly tell them that a lot of it was just based off of readings from dilapidated Xerox copies of old college books (preserved from my days as an undergrad student) and the internet. The materials used for Tadhana’s lore ranges from my memories of classes in Philippine Literature, old Xeroxed pages of college text books, research scoured from the internet during break times at work, casual interviews with friends and relatives from the provinces, and a pastiche of Western Fantasy tropes, pop-culture Filipino mythology, and loaned copies of recent publications about Filipino gods and monsters from friends. You can see a list of the sources I’ve used at the end of this article, at least the ones that have names, links, or labels, since most of the Xerox handouts I have don’t really note the name of the book from where they were copied from.
In my opinion, research for the lore was one of the easier tasks I did for the book. It was easy to get lost into the mythology, stories, and the epics that a lot of the reading done felt more like recreation rather than work. It was the creative process that got me to the ropes at times and writing my interpretation of the materials that I’ve read felt like I was bastardizing the literature. Despite knowing for a fact that Filipino folklore, legends, and mythology were used left and right in popular culture, I still felt like I didn’t have the right or ability to exercise my artistic license. It was a painful period, one full of anxiety, doubt, and pressure. At times, I didn’t feel like I was up to the task, it felt as if what I did was blasphemous. Writing Western fantasy for tabletop games and fiction was one thing, I mean everyone was doing it and it’s had so many iterations already, but adapting local culture into a personal project felt like it was a too much of a burden to bear. What if I offend my peers, my countrymen? What if I misrepresent the cultures and literature I’ve used? What if my iterations warped the sanctity of their original interpretations? And what if my own ideals and agendas leaked too much into my writing that they might sound preachy and presumptuous? I didn’t think myself to be on par to people like Budjette Tan, Arnold Arre, or Mervin Malonzo, and I was afraid my writing would get torn down if reviewed by more veteran tabletop creators who’ve also written Filipino mythology themed D&D adaptations like Nosfecatu. I doubted my project would get popular let alone recognized, but I was very much afraid of rejection or possibly offending people. My OCD (I got diagnosed back in college) exacerbated the anxiety and days would stretch on without me having written anything. It got to a point where I stopped altogether, and without the encouragement of a good friend, the ideas that I’ve been developing in my head would have never been translated into paper. Without my partner, my son, family, friends, and the team’s encouragement, I would never have finished the book and the system and mechanics I created for it would have also been left unused.
However, it wasn’t just the encouragement of family and friends that spurred me back into finishing the book. Inspiration, or rather peace of mind, came from two other variables, namely: foreign literature and teaching. While I regarded Trese and Tabi Po with adoration, they also served as the fuel for my insecurity. I compared my writing to those masterpieces and I thought my lore was pathetic in contrast to the ones presented in those works. It was actually Western graphic novels and Japanese light novels that helped me loosen up and adopt a less restricted attitude when it came to writing. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Overlord by Kugane Maruyama became my sources of respite and of consolation. When I procrastinated from work or when I was burnt out from writing, these two series of books provided me a world to escape in. They also showed me how artistic liberty can be properly executed even if the product is already so far removed that the stories weaved from them can literally feel otherworldly. Aside from The Sandman and Overlord, the students I taught at the time also gave me insight on how the country’s mythology is appreciated when adopted in writing. As part of their projects I had them write their own stories and scenarios while using elements from Philippine mythology and contemporary literature. After reading some of their works I realized that I didn’t resent their efforts at all when some of them took great liberties in how they used the source materials. Instead, I appreciated the fact that they wrote their papers enthusiastically and that Filipino myths and monsters still stoked their imaginations. I realized that I genuinely loved their works even if their interpretations barely resembled the original literature. Foreign books and teenagers’ papers, they reminded me that it’s alright to take creative license when it comes to writing and that the love and respect for source materials will always be apparent as long as there’s sincere effort given to research.
Honestly, despite the modest success of the game and the praise that the lore got from the few reviews that I’ve read about Tadhana, I still feel as if I haven’t done justice to the mythology, epics, legends, and cultures used as inspirations for the Lahi, creatures, beings, and locations presented in the books. Still, I’m happy that people have said that the writing strikes a good balance between accessibility and representation. I’m glad that people like Tadhana and I’m optimistically looking forward to Filipino mythology and culture continuing to be part of the Filipino gamer’s future. Tadhana is but one of the attempts to bring our heritage into modern media, it is just one of the works showing appreciation for the nation’s neglected literature, language, and arts. And just as the team, Project Tadhana, has more plans for the game and have a lot more content coming in the future, I hope more Filipinos would step up to the plate and start contributing to the revival of the Philippine’s legends, creatures, and heroes of old as well.
(Disclaimer: THIS IS NOT A PROPER BIBLIOGRAPHY)
Not all sources used are documented in this list and specific Wikipedia entries as well as the linked sources accessed through the website are not explicitly provided due to the sheer number of pages used as a reference and problems with accessing browsing history from multiple machines. Not including information gathered from interviews, as mentioned, some sources came in the form of damaged and barely legible old Xeroxed copies of college handouts and/or class notes making it hard to determine the original books/materials they came from.
Tadhana started out as a hobby and not a proper academic or business endeavor and has been conceptualized and written over broken and erratic periods of time totaling around three years. As such, please forgive me for not being able to properly document the full extent of my research and the references I used in the writing of the book. Going forward, research materials will be properly documented and credited in future publications.)
Samar, Edgar Calabia, “101 Kagila-gilalas Na Nilalang”, Adarna House 2015
Jocano, F. Landa, “Hinilawod: Adventures of Humadapnon Tarangban I”, Punlad Research House, Inc. 2000
Kapit Bisig (n.d.). Alim. Retrieved from: http://www.kapitbisig.com/philippines/bilingual-tagalog-english-version-of-epics-mga-epiko-alim-an-ifugao-epic-bilingual-tagalog-english-version_792.html
Kapit Bisig (n.d.). Darangan. Retrieved from: http://www.kapitbisig.com/philippines/bilingual-tagalog-english-version-of-epics-mga-epiko-darangan-an-epic-of-maranao-bilingual-tagalog-english-version_791.html
Kapit Bisig (n.d.). Labaw Donggon. Retrieved from: http://www.kapitbisig.com/philippines/bilingual-tagalog-english-version-of-epics-mga-epiko-labaw-donggon-a-visayan-epic-bilingual-tagalog-english-version_793.html
Defensor, Jude (2012). Batanes: At the End of the Archipelago. Retrieved from: https://judefensor.wordpress.com/tag/ivatan-people/
Datar, Francisco A. (2015). The Batanes Islands. Retrieved from: http://ncca.gov.ph/subcommissions/subcommission-on-cultural-communities-and-traditional-arts-sccta/northern-cultural-communities/the-batanes-islands/
Clark, Jordan and De Guzman, Daniel. The Aswang Project (2017). Category: Creatures. Retrieved from: https://www.aswangproject.com/creatures/
Clark, Jordan. The Aswang Project (2017). Category: Ifugao Myths and Folklore. Retrieved from: https://www.aswangproject.com/myths/igorot-myth-folklore/ifugao-myths-folklore/
Clark, Jordan and De Guzman, Daniel. The Aswang Project (2017). Category: Visayan Myths and Folklore. Retrieved from: https://www.aswangproject.com/myths/visayan-myths-folklore/
Clark, Jordan. The Aswang Project (2017). Category: Tagalog Myths and Folklore. Retrieved from: https://www.aswangproject.com/myths/tagalog-myths-folklore/
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (n.d). Multiple pages, articles, and entries on Filipino Folklore, Magical Creatures, and Mythology. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/
ALSO READ: TADHANA: A Philippine Folklore Tabletop RPG
2018 © The Aswang Project
Jordan is a Canadian documentary director/ producer. He made the 2011 feature length documentary THE ASWANG PHENOMENON - an exploration of the aswang myth and its effects on Philippine society. Currently he is in post production for "The Aswang Project" web-series, which will feature 6 myths from the Philippines. The TIKBALANG, KAPRE and BAKUNAWA episodes are available to watch on YouTube.
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