The mysterious guardian of Mt. Arayat


Just as Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon are enchanting today’s young children, Pinoy kids of earlier generations were spellbound by Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang written by Severino Reyes. These were the fantastical adventures of princes, princesses, and good Pinoy boys and girls that have come to be our equivalent of Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairy tales. First published in Liwaywáy, the pioneering Tagalog weekly magazine, they have been compiled in books and some made into radio and TV shows, and full-scale movies.

There was a real Lola Basyang (spelled Basiang actually). She was Doña Gervasia Zamora who entertained her grandchildren with stories that her friend Severino Reyes later compiled and published. She lived in a grand bahay-na-bató on Paseo de Azcárraga (now C.M. Recto Street) that her descendants recall had two azoteas overlooking the swampy grassland that is now Far Eastern University.

MGA KUWENTO NI LOLA BASYANG Still frames and sketches from the animé version of Lola Basyang’s Ang Mahiwagang Bantáy ng Bundók Arayat.

Epics, myths, legends, and tales used to be passed on at the feet of respected elders.  Storytelling faded out with the invention of other media—radio, television, film, audio and video tapes, cartoons, comics, and nowadays mobile phones clicked to Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, or any number of apps.

Checking out new territory, the Cultural Center of the Philippines is partnering with the College of St. Benilde to produce animé versions of some Lola Basyang stories as supplementary teaching material in culture for high schools. These will be handdrawn and computer-animated films five to 10 minutes long intended to both entertain and educate.

The first episode is based on Ang Mahiwagang Bantáy ng Bundók Arayat (The Mysterious Guardian of Mt. Arayat), chosen with the help of Ateneo de Manila University Press director Karina Bolasco and Christine Bellen Ang, who retold some 500 of Severino Reyes’ published stories as her doctoral dissertation. The St. Benilde team preparing the story line, script, and drawings is headed by Prof. Nelson “Blog” Caliguia. Dr. Hermie Ranera is composing background music that will be performed by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra Chamber Ensemble. Senator Cynthia Villar arranged funding from the 2022 General Appropriations Act.

The hero of the tale is a teenager named Oke who agrees to accompany Impong Arayat on a visit to her daughters Makiling, Banahaw, and Sinukuan. The old lady and her daughters are magical beings, diwatà. Flying through space and time, Impong Arayat and Oke visit the three lovely protectors of Luzon’s famed mountains.

The action and visuals are tweaked to give the teacher opportunities to transport the imagination, curiosity, and interest of students. A teachers’ guide will be written as part of the project, identifying matters that can be raised, including the following:

  • Values – love of country, respect for elders, personal attributes of bravery, honesty, work ethic, reliability
  • Geography and geology – mountains, caves (stalactites and stalagmites)
  • Philippine mythology – diwatà, Mariang Makiling, Mariang Sinukuan
  • Natural science - native trees and plants, endemic animals
  • Architecture – bahay-na-bató, bahay kubo, other types of vernacular architecture (room usage, social history, lifestyle, adaptation to tropical weather, construction techniques)
  • Costume – types (baro’t saya, balintawak, indigenous peoples’ wear), textiles, and weaving techniques, making piña cloth
  • Environment - climate change, pollution, forests (water supply and flood control), conservation of natural resources
  • Transportation – types of vehicles.
Notes: (a) Among the descendants of Doña Gervasia Zamora are former Congressman and Executive Secretary Ronaldo B. Zamora, San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora, and business leaders Manuel Zamora and Salvador Zamora; (b) The project was initiated by the CCP Board’s Committee on Artistic Matters consisting of Michelle Nikki Junia, Stanley Seludo, Moises Benedict Carandang, and your columnist; and (c) Impo means grandmother or elderly woman.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to