3/06/2012

Tale of the Water Dragons

Bakunawa, don't eat the moon!
Bakunawa, don't eat the moon!
        - From The Tale of Bakunawa, a retold Hiligaynon (Philippines) folktale

(c) Jennie Williams, Creative Commons License

2012 is the lunar year of the Water Dragon according to many Asian cultures. The Dragon is the only mythical creature in the Eastern astrological wheel and is known for representing the unexpected and the mysterious. The element of water makes the creature doubly so, evoking images of persistent change both as flood and nurturing rainwater. 

Recently, at a Mongolian New Year event, I retold a Hiligaynon folktale about Bakunawa, the sea dragon who ate six of the seven freshly made moons placed in the sky by Bathala, the creator. He would have eaten the seventh moon, plunging the world into total darkness if the People had not raised their voices, gongs, and drums to drive the dragon back into the sea.

In writing my story about premature motherhood and postpartum depression, there were many dragons that came to the surface wanting to eat the freshly made words. The Dragon of Propriety and Filial Loyalty. The Dragon of Shame and Discouragement. The Dragon of Pity. The Dragon of Anger and Denial. Up they flew into the sky of my remembering, snapping their jaws at memory, trying to scare me into forgetting the hardships and the triumphs. 

Those dragons were shadows of other dragons, the ones who dove in and out of my consciousness as I struggled to make sense of the terrible isolation I felt as a mother of a premature child living in a big city far from family and friends. The dragons that stole from me the sweetness and light that should have been my child's first year with me. The Dragon of Inadequacy. The Dragon of Uncertainty. The Dragon of Frustration, Despondency, and Crippling Fatigue. Writing my story means drawing the shape of each dragon in great detail, means facing each experience with a mixture of reportage and compassion.

Bakunawa, don't eat the moon!
Bakunawa, don't eat the moon!

I'd like to say I was brave and raised my voice and drum to drive them all back, but truthfully, the dragons eclipsed the work, silenced my voice, swallowed me whole until, in the belly of the dragon, I decided the story should be told. Why? Because I'm a storyteller and I was tired of living in the belly of a dragon who ate moons like they were marshmallows. I wanted the light of my own memory and to finally retrieve what was thought lost. So, like in the tale, I found others to help me - big voices, small drums, clanging gongs. People willing to hear me out then encourage me to write it all down, even when it was easier to believe that I was the dragon and not the moon. 

People often wonder why we tell stories of horror about demons and dark times, rather than light-filled encouraging ones. Some believe that talking about demons will conjure them up. Others discourage negative self-talk and put-downs, telling the depressed that their expression is invalid.  In retelling folktales of all kinds - funny and dark- I've learned if we can see the dragon, we have the potential to see the moon within. Naming the demon begins the process of retelling the tale, finding the context, and make meaning from the trauma.

Bakunawa, don't eat the moon!
Bakunawa, don't eat the moon!

... and if Bakunawa does eat the moon, your moon, lift your voice! Shout your story! Send Bakunawa back into the sea of transformation where he belongs.