BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
The University of the Philippines Manila, in celebration of the UP centennial, is coming up with an international conference titled “ALAMAT : International Conference on Myths and Symbols” with the theme, “Flood Stories, Lost Lands and Drowned Continents of the World” to be held at the Bahay ng Alumni, on November 24-27, 2008.
The institutionalization of the RGEP course Humanistic Studies 20 titled “Mito at Alamat ng Pilipinas” at UP Manila in 2005, has opened a gold mine of myths and legends that can be used as sources and means for understanding and transforming the Filipino psyche. As these myths , legends and tales are systematically studied in the contexts of the findings across disciplines in the Philippines, the Southeast Asian region and the rest of the world - thematic patterns arise, leading to a discovery of patterns of similarities and differences among the myths and symbols, as well as that of recurring motifs and figures. This ultimately leads to a rediscovery of the value and significance of myths , symbols and archetypes for the new millennium.
One dominant pattern emerging from the study of myths, epics, legends and tales of the world is the proliferation of certain mythical themes with recurrent motifs such as that of pre-diluvian or ante-diluvian societies, great floods, lost edens, golden age, sunken continents, emergent islands, promised lands and changing ages of humanity. Because of the commonality of this observation, the proponent intends to compile various myths and symbols world-wide, on these given commonalities of themes and motifs, and relate them to the latest developments in other disciplines so that the power of myths and symbols (that is being recognized now) and their perceived function as historical indicators and markers, as well as symbolic sources of knowledge, can be reclaimed for contemporary use.
There is a great need to rediscover the meaning and significance of myths and symbols for the present times - in line with the transformational, liberating and empowerment projects of individuals, communities, nations and global societies. The myths when reclaimed can be powerful enough to liberate and empower people so that they could collectively direct their efforts towards the realization of a cultural renaissance in various countries, for individual, social and national transformation. Specifically, the myth indicating that the Philippines was once a part of a lost primordial motherland - popularly known as “Mu” (1) and later as “Lemuria” (2) – is still alive in some sectors today, especially in the island peoples of insular Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands, including pockets of esoteric, cultic, and folk religious groups. Whatever is the name of this great land, and whether or not this phenomenon of people’s collective memory of this vanished land is based on actual reality or not, is subject for further study. However, whatever is the case, it remains to be seen that the existence of these myths as a living reality for some people is an indication of a great potential and hidden non-material resource of countries that have never really been tapped and fully manifested for development and transformational purposes. The myths indicate that the Philippines and the rest of the Southeast Asian region, were once a part of a great and ancient cradle of civilization that vanished, and survived in many forms : as a folk memory, and carried over by oral traditions from generation to generation; as artistic, religious, linguistic and cultural forms whose full import has been lost; and as hidden knowledge and esoteric teachings of the shamanic traditions, guarded by descendants and disciples of pre-colonial priests, but marginalized and demonized by the dominant religions - usually manifesting today in cultic groups found in secluded and marginalized areas of the country, especially by those living in communities near mountains and coastal areas.
Realizing this great heritage of the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia, the University of the Philippines System , through the initiative of the Department of Arts and Communications of the College of Arts and Sciences, UP Manila, will host Alamat : The First International Conference on Myths and Symbols. This maiden venture by the Department , designed specifically for the new millennium, will catapult not only UP Manila, the UP System, and the Philippines , but also the rest of Southeast Asia, Asia and the Pacific - into the global community of scholars concerned with the study of this multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary field. For instance, in the West, there is a group of respectable scholars from different institutions holding regular conferences and activities pertaining to the sunken continent of Atlantis – traditionally held to be a later continent than Mu - to which the supposed guardians and keepers of the mysteries of Mu are said to have escaped in the course of the gradual sinking of the motherland Mu. By networking with this international body of scholars , it is hoped that the local scholars from the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, Asia and the Pacific, might form into a world-wide body of scholars that will present alternative paradigms of world pre-history, as well as promote complementary forms and modes of knowledge that is appropriate and conducive to the mind-expansion demands of the New Millennium.
Moreover, this gathering of scholars all over the world with an interest in and concern for the Conference Theme might be considered symbolic of the growing need and desire to unite towards one common direction for the interests of the majority of the peoples of this whole world. This is in line with the contemporary significance and value of the Conference Theme – that of global warming. In the past, the experience of great flooding caused by the melting of the ice caps, and that of catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms and typhoons had been objectified in the form of the myths , legends and symbols. Now these myths and symbols speak to us of the same dangers. Already, the contemporary experiences of people all over the world who have suffered from these catastrophes, and have voiced their thoughts and feelings in narrative forms are now all turning slowly into “myth in the making.” Shall humankind learn from the mistakes and failures of the past? Will contemporary humans be humble enough to allow myths and symbols and natural catastrophes to “speak” to us as before, and allow them to guide us towards a much fruitful New Millennium?
Whether the names “Mu” , “Lemuria” or its academic equivalent “Sundaland” may be viewed as a mythical symbol alone or as indicators of historical, geological, environmental, astronomical occurrences in the region or some genetic mutations among the peoples of the region, and whether there are sufficient and new pieces of evidence to support and update this view of Southeast Asia as the site of the ancient cradle of civilization – will be the subject for much consideration and debate in the conference. Where else could this properly be done than in the contemporary altar of the symbolic sacrifice of the self for the sake of knowledge, and for the highest aspirations in life - none other than the Oblation of the University of the Philippines?
The present growing interest in the study of myths and symbols can be seen in many parts of the contemporary world. The phenomenal global success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Harry Potter” film series are indications of the world-wide rediscovery of the function of myths as symbols of human states of consciousness and of the human condition - indicating thereby kinds of human relations, as well as past traits, characteristics, activities, and problems of human beings. The use of myths and symbols to critique contemporary ills and “evils” can also be seen operative in these myths translated into films.
On the local level in the Philippines, the high ratings and great popularity of mythic, legendary and fantasy-based T.V. stories such as “Marina,” “Mulawin” and “Darna” which were once easily dismissed as the rise in “escapists” instinct of the masses, are now given other explanations, such as that of the healing power of stories - indicating that the myths and symbols operative in popular stories which are entertaining on the literal level, can also be understood as symbolic indications of the psyche’s attempt to work out its own conflict and diseases on the way to health, on the deeper level.
In the University of the Philippines (Diliman), according to the University of the Philippines Press figures, the top grosser in book sales has always been the folk literature series of Dr. Damiana Eugenio.
Furthermore, many scholars, researches and students have turned to the study of myths not only as symbolic and metaphoric renditions of some bodily and psychic processes occurring in the human being, but also as indicative of some external geologic, climatic, astronomical, pre-historic and historic occurrences in society, on earth, in nature and the cosmos. However, there are also scholars from the field of literature who study myths from postmodernist and post-structural positions of considering myths as being products of popular culture and a commercialist orientation of a globalizing world. Despite this, however, the pessimism, doubt and despair resulting in this way of studying myths is balanced by the life-affirming view of myth as a creative way of human adaptation, with the recognition of the healing value of reconnecting with the past and rediscovering the collective and folk memory, for contemporary purposes, intensions and uses. The conference therefore assumes the contemporary significance and relevance of ancient myths, especially those revolving on the theme of the flood, lost lands and sunken continents – in line with the international problem of global warming, the local problem of national identity and nation-building, and the regional goal of cooperation among Asia and the Pacific nations.
In the University of the Philippines Manila, a course on “The Arts, Religion, and Myth” (Phil. Arts 140) is offered as an elective subject in its B.A. Philippine Art Program. Moreover, starting in 2005, the Department of Arts and Communication of the College of Arts and Sciences, has been offering a new general education course under the Revised General Education Program titled Humanistic Studies 20: “Alamat at Mito sa Pilipinas.” The number of sections offering this course has risen from one, to two, and for this semester, three. In addition, a new university-based student organization named ALAMAT (Alamat at Mito Aral Tayo) is currently being proposed to assist in the preservation, promotion and advocacy of myth and symbol studies for contemporary times.
(1) The name “Mu” is the mythical name for a lost land or continent in the Pacific region that was believed to be the motherland of humankind and human civilization. The term “Mu” is attributed by present-day scholars to have arisen from the antiquarian Augustus Le Plongeon (1826 – 1908), a 19th century researcher and writer who conducted his own investigations of the Maya ruins in Yucatan. He announced that he had translated Mayan writings whose civilization was allegedly older than those of Atlantis and Egypt, and that it originated from a much older civilization called “Mu”. However, in actuality, it is reported that he got the name “Mu” from the mistranslation of the Mayan Troano Codex by Charles Etienne Brasser de Bourbourg in 1864, using the de Landa alphabet. It is said, “Mu was taken to mean Atlantis, which is what Le Plongeon thought; he also thought that Queen Moo was in Central America 30,000 years ago and founded civilizations in Atlantis and Egypt.” Later, however, it was said that the Mayan script was syllabaric, not alphabetic. Despite this “error” however, I believe that the word “mu” seems to be a morpheme derived from other much older prehistoric sources than that used by Le Plongeon. It is said that the morpheme “mu” in Dravidian means “mother” [Arysio Nunes dos Santos, 2005. http://www.atlan.orgfaq/#18 ]; hence, the name “Mu-Devi” means “Mother Goddess” from the morpheme “mu” and the root word “Devi” “female god.” The word is synonymous with the terms “uma” (mother), “amma” (mother or goddess) and “mata” (mother). Hence, by extension, the land of “Mu” is “Mother” of Humanity since the mother is a symbol of the beginning of life. Moreover, it appears that when the morpheme is used alone and independently, it seems to point to a group or clan of people or, possibly, even an individual, coming from this mythical lost place or have traits exhibited by the place, the gods of the place or the inhabitants of the place. Take note of the “Mu” people of Hawaii, the “Mu” river - a sacred river in northern Japan, and the reference to “Mu” as a heavenly place in ancient Manyan Mar. The attachment of the morpheme as a prefix or suffix to a root word indicates a probable connection with the original idea of the morpheme as “source of life” or “beginning of life”. Arysio Nunes dos Santos reports that in Japanese, the term “mu” refers to that which does not exist or no longer exists, as it does in Korean. [http://www.atlan.orgfaq/#18] He further states that the first emperor of Japan was named “Jimmu” whose immediate descendant, “Kamu”, was among the legendary founders of the Japanese society. Another ancestral emperor was named “Temmu”, said to have committed to memory the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan). Others attribute the word “mu” to an iconic resemblance of “mu” with “moo” – the latter referring to the cow’s mooing as symbolic of the cow-goddess or Hathor, the Goddess of Heavens.
(2) The word “Lemuria” refers to a hypothetical continent in the Southern Indian Ocean proposed by the geologist William T. Blandford (1832 – 1905) as a way of explaining the presence of identical Permian rocks in South Africa and Gondwana in southern India. “Geologists noted that strata of Permian age in India, South Africa, Australia, and South America (245 to 286 million years ago) were almost identical in the types of sedimentary rocks that comprised them. In addition, these strata on these continents contained identical fossils of land plants, e.g., cordaites and ‘Glossopteris’ and land animals, e.g., Therapsids. Because these land plants and animals could not have crossed the open sea and continents were thought to be immobile, geologists explained the presence of identical fossil plants and animals on India, Africa, South America, and Australia by postulating the existence of land bridges and even whole continents that had long since sunk beneath the oceans………Ernst Häckel (1834-1919), a German biologist, saw this as an explanation for the presence of lemurs in Madagascar and Southeast Asia; he also proposed that lemurs were our ancestors and that this land bridge was the original home of humanity……… Häckel used it to explain the distribution of lemurs in Africa, India, Madagascar, and the Malaya Peninsula. He proposed that this hypothetical land bridge had stayed above water long enough for it to have served as the means by which lemurs spread into these areas. The English biologist, Philip L. Sclater (1829 – 1913), in 1864, suggested the name ‘Lemuria’ for this land bridge because of its hypothesized association with lemurs, and this name stuck.”
However, with the rise in the theory of plate tectonics and continental drifts that provided alternative or better explanations for the distribution of strata, fossils, and lemurs, the formerly wide acceptance of the existence of Lemuria and such other continents and land bridges subsided to the point that it was just considered as fictitious, conceived not by prehistoric people but by geologists and biologists of 19th century Europe, who were not yet aware of he theory of plate tectonics and drifting continents. However, I would say that the word “Lemuria” was existing long before. The word existed in ancient Rome to refer to a festival in honor of the ancestors.[Barbara Walker:
Others say that that it referred to a ritual in ancient Rome “conducted by the head of each household to properly appease the spirits of the deceased, who returned annually.” The word “Lemuria” was also “the Roman name for a huge island kingdom they believed once lay in the Far Eastern Sea, sometimes imagined to have been the Indian Ocean. It vanished to become the abode of troubled souls. The Lemurian ceremony was instituted by Romulus in expiation for the murder of Remus. Here, too, we encounter mu in relation to the founding of a civilization, since the brothers accepted as the progenitors of Rome. In Latin, their names are pronounced with the accent on the second syllable: RoMUlus and ReMUs. In the early nineteenth century, when English biologists were in the process of mammal classification, they applied the ancient term, lemur, to describe primitive tree primates first found in Madagascar, because the creatures possessed large, glaring eyes, just like the ghostly lemurs described in Roman myth. When lemurs were discovered outside Africa, in such widely separated locations as south India and Malaya, scientists theorized that a continent in the Indian Ocean Ocean may have once connected all these lands before it sank beneath the waves. Oceanographers have since established that no such continent existed. But collectors of oral traditions throughout the island peoples of the Pacific were perplexed by recurring themes of a vanished motherland from which ancestral culture-bearers arrived to re-plant society’s seeds. On Kaua’i, the Hawaiians told of the Mu (also known as the Menehune mentioned earlier) who arrived in the dim past from a floating island. The most important ancestral chant known to the Hawaiians was the Kumulipo, which recounts a terrific flood that destroyed the world long ago. Its concluding lines evoke some natural catastrophe in the deep past : ‘Born the roaring, advancing and receding of waves, the rumbling sound, the earthquake. The sea rages, rises over the beach, rises to the inhabited places, rises gradually up over the land. Ended is the line of the first chief of the dim past dwelling in cold uplands. Dead is the current sweeping in from the navel of the earth. That was a warrior wave. Many who came vanished, lost in the passing night. The survivor who escaped the warrior wave was Kuamu.” From : http://www.lankalibrary.com/geolemuria.htm
Aside from folk traditions, the belief on Lemuria was further developed by the Theosophists Helena Petrovska Blavatsky (1831 -1891), W. Scott-Elliot, James Churchward (British-American), Frederick Spencer Oliver (1894, A dweller on Two Planets, Mount Shasta, California)
(3) For instance, the “forbidden archaeology” espoused by Michael Cremo and others along this line of study. Please see Forbidden Archeology (1993) by the Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson. See also discussion of it by Colin Wilson in From Atlantis to the Sphinx : Recovering the Lost Wisdom of the Ancient World (Boston : Weiser Books, 2004).
(4) Stephen Oppenheimer, Eden in the East (London : Phoenix / Orion Books, 19980), p. xiv.
(5) “An Atlantis in the Indian Ocean” (Review of Stephen Oppenheimer: Eden in the East) by Koenraad Elst. http://www.giaodiem.com/doithoai/Eden_ko-kirk.htm
(6) Based on my phone interview with Dr. Jesus Peralta on March 15, 2007, from his NCCA office.
(7) “An Atlantis in the Indian Ocean” (Review of Stephen Oppenheimer: Eden in the East) by Koenraad Elst.