For the given reasons, the Department of Arts and Communication is sponsoring its 1st International Conference on Myths and Symbols titled “Alamat” (Philippine term for a body of knowledge derived from ancestral stories and lore). However, in recognition of the contributions already made by the past national conferences on folklore and folk literature sponsored by the Philippine Folklore Society and the U.P. Folklorists, Inc., through the long years of their existence as scholarly groups, as well as in consideration of the National Conference on Myths and Legends that it had already facilitated for the International Folk Arts Group in 1997, the Department would like to have special focus for this centennial international conference, on myths and symbols with themes and motifs on flood stories, lost lands and sunken continents in world mythology – considering the maritime cultures of the Philippines and its archipelagic nature. Furthermore, considering the Philippine’s Southeast Asian and Pacific regional context as well as U.P. Manila’s medical and health sciences campus context, the Department has deemed it fit to select for this conference’s Main Speaker , Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer, a medical doctor from Oxford University and the famous writer of the book Eden in the East : The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia (Phoenix paperback, 1998, 1999).
This book by Stephen Oppenheimer , claiming that Southeast Asia is the cradle of ancient civilizations, will serve as the jumping board for the Alamat -1st ICOMS .
Views on the Origins of the Austronesians
On the issue of the origin of the Austronesians, there are three existing hypotheses available . The first, and most dominant view for a long time is that given by Peter Bellwood, tracing the origin to Southern China. The second, given by Robert Blust and Jared Diamond, traces the origin to Taiwan. Connected with this is another eveolving view of a possible Proto-Asian mainland origin for Austronesian. The third, given by Wilhelm Solheim, traces the origin to Southern Philippines and Indonesian islands, which he says to have a “Nusantao” cultural complex, composed of proto-Austronesian migrants traveling to and fro, around and across, the region of insular and mainland Southeast Asia. The oldest view on the origin of Austronesian comes from William. Meacham, who also traced the Austronesian origin to Island Southeast Asia.
In 1998, the book Eden in the East : The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia by the medical doctor Stephen Oppenheimer of Oxford University presented biological in support of the Southeast Asian origin of the Austronesian-speaking peoples. Using genetic evidence backed heavily by mythical data, and further supported by other data coming from oceanography, archaeology, and linguistics, Oppenheimer asserts that the ancestors of the Polynesians came from Southeast Asia, and that the survivors of the series of great floodings in Southeast Asia that brought down a whole continent had migrated to India, China, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean world - thereby, enriching with their own pre-diluvian civilization, the developing Neolithic cultures existing , approximately, 10,000 B.C. and below - when the great floods of the last Ice Age drowned the continent and submerged the land-bridges interconnecting the lands that strung across the seas. Oppenheimer’s view relates with the “Nusantao” hypothesis of Solheim and the Island Southeast Asian origin of Austronesians as given by Meacham.
Though Peter Bellwood had already responded to the issues raised by Stephen Oppenheimer, the debate has not yet really been conclusively settled , as other data are still coming in.
Although the Conference uses the framework of Oppenheimer , backed by earlier studies of Solheim and Meacham, it does not necessarily follow that the Department as a whole endorses Oppenheimer’s position as to the origin of the Austronesians. Since his work is the latest most solid evidence - using DNA study to track down migrations as evidence – the conference has been conceptualized to address his thesis in relation to the points for or against his position, based primarily from the study of myths and symbols in Indo-Pacific and the rest of the world, as well as from the study of myths and symbols from a multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, non-disciplinary, and trans-disciplinary approaches. Though his thesis is assumed in some of the conference topics as basis for paper presentations, the conference is, nevertheless, viewed as a site for open discussion, explications, controversies and debates regarding the given conference theme and its related themes, issues and controversies. By calling such an international conference, the Department aims that the genetic evidence as presented by Stephen Oppenheimer will be factored in during discussions and will serve as food for thought for many scholars, researchers, faculty and students.