INTRODUCTION (Taken from Book 1)

This comic book is not Philippine history. Rather, it’s an alternate version of it – a mythical one.  The Tundo of the Philippines existed ages ago as a fortified Indianized Kingdom in the 10th Century. The kingdom’s society was based on Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and practices that reigned in the Southeast region of Asia during those times. That kingdom was real. My version of Tundo is mythic, fantastical in every aspect, and floats in the realm of imagination!

Filipino fantasy originated from the many indigenous tribes that cultivated our illustrious heritage. I was awed and terrified at the stories of kapre(s) (hairy, tobacco-smoking giants that live in trees) and tikbalang(s) (half man-half horse creatures) that my mother used to tell me when we visited the province. My wild imagination leaped out of my head during those days and the many stories of the many myths permeated my soul as the need to know more lingered and prevailed. Then I went to other lands and met other myths, like Olympus, Asgard, Middle Earth and Narnia, but then I remembered there were things like those back home – so I went back.

Home… what was it called? The other lands had Minas Tirith, Camelot, and Gont. What was this home called? That, in essence, wasn’t really defined in the way fantasy literature was produced here locally. Most fantasy stories have been urban, which is quite easy to tell because the setting has already been established with the fantasy aspect easily introduced. No. Where is the local Camelot, the local Minas Tirith? The closest you can get to is Biringan, but that place is still blurred and unexplored fully. I thought, well maybe I can make something out of nothing, after all, it’s called creating, right?

The concept of the Kingdom of Tundo being a mystical land came when I encountered a story about Biringan on a local television show. Then I read The Sandman again. I thought, why not a Filipino fantasy story for a change – mythic and somewhat different. The two ideas of Biringan and Sandman mashed and hence Tales from the Kingdom of Tundo was born. I took the liberty of refurbishing some of the creatures in the local mythology to fit the whole concept of Tundo. The Myths, as I have renamed them, are not sinister creatures or are they malign. Rather, I made them into creatures born of magic. I hope I do them justice in the telling.

Bunao Dula, my lead fictional character, is somewhat my Morpheus of the Sandman comic series. Most of the stories of Tundo will not be centered on him, but he is the focal point of the whole series.

There is an abundance of lore scattered all around the Philippines and some of them are not even written down. Lore that our grandparents have heard from their ancestors, of the kapre that dwell in big trees or the feared tikbalang that scare travelers in the night, and up to this day, there are still stories that go around of such creatures especially in the old country, in the far-away islands where technology is scarce and the evenings are still illuminated by gas lamps. More often enough, the more famous mystical stories are those told to frighten the little ones to sleep. But did you know that the tikbalang had its roots in Hinduism, or that the word kapre comes from the Arabic word kafir that means non-believer in Islam, or that Bernardo Carpio is a local rendition of the god Atlas and that Apolaki (the local sun god), Malakbel (sun god of pre-Islamic Syria), and Ra (Egyptian sun god) could be one and the same?

To a thought, the lore we know today could have been a jumbled-up mixture of different stories brought by the old folks who colonized the islands long ago. But what makes our lore unique (to a point) is the way we handle it — the mystery behind some of them that have not been recorded but handed down throughout the generations. Like the oral history of the witches who turned over the island of Puerto Princessa and gave up their princess because they lost to a challenge made by the Dominicans when a priest did a Jesus thing and walked on water. These are not factual, of course, and not recorded in books like Celtic or Russian faerie tales, but it is a fascinating story told to some of the old folks from that region and has been handed down ever since.

I relish the fact that our own local mythology has slowly gained popularity throughout the years and that people have gained interest in the stories behind such myth. I revel in the sight of local books about myth, about the what-ifs of olden lore and I hope to see one day a whole section of a bookstore dedicated to Phlippine fantasy and mythology. I even remember the old days when there was no internet, or cable television, or binge-watching and all of that – but there was always a campfire somewhere settled beneath stars peppered on a black canvas with the moon, and there was always someone who wove tales that made the bonfire shadows dance and frolic. Apo, as some call him, lolo (grandfather) to some, or inang (old mother), lola (grandmother), sometimes mother and father, brother, sister, friend — they are all the same. They told stories of creation, how the world was made in the point of view of their ancestors. Yes, they were storytellers, and they told the lore of the many islands from where they came from.

Everything has a story: the sky, the trees, the rocks, the things on your desk — your desk — and even the littlest creature that either crawls or wriggles in the dirtiest of places. Most of them cannot tell their stories for such simple creatures (or things) do not have the capability of communication at a higher level, and thus it is up to us to tell their stories. As I do mean us, that is each and every person gifted with speech. Anyone can be a storyteller and weave a tale, but not everyone listens. I tell stories. I make up stories. You could call me a liar because of this because there is no truth or fact to the tales I tell. I’m a fantasist (in a more positive light). We are a few compared to the many who would rather watch or listen or read. But I think I can say we do this because we enjoy telling stories whether fact or fiction.

So why am I talking about storytelling? It’s because I’m a storyteller and what you are about to read is a story I made. The world is so diverse these days that everyone is a critic of everything — especially stories — but I’m not going to dwell on that for they can go on with their criticisms and I can go on with my writing. I see myself one day, sitting in front of a campfire, listening to embers crackle as I tell my grandkids stories of far-off places, of wonderful and extraordinary tales that will pique their interest. I will tell them of the lore of the old, of olden myths that have survived the savagery of time, of mighty heroes long gone, old gods forgotten and kingdoms long since fallen.

Thank you for reading this story. Thank you for accidentally wandering into this mythical and magical place. It was once in my head, now it’s in yours too. I won’t stop you from leaving, but if you ever decide to stay, know that Tundo is yours too as long as you don’t stop dreaming.

For now, I’ll be heading back to my pen, notebook and my drawing board. There are still more stories to be told. When we cross paths again in Tundo, I’ll tell you another tale, and hopefully, you’ll like it more so that we’ll eventually walk further down that path of whispers and dreams.

M. A. Del Rosario, Manila, 2019