The contemporary book Alamat ng Gubat follows the adventures of an ocean-dwelling crab named Tong who was given by his queen mother to get the magical banana bud from the mountains to cure his ailing father. Along the way, in search for the cure, he meet different animals of different traits and characters who each has a different story.
Published in 2003, Alamat ng Gubat (Legend of the Forest) is the fourth book published by Bob Ong. Bob Ong is a Filipino writer known for his works depicting Filipino life, culture and society. His books are always a reflection and commentary of the past and current Filipino setting. The book is written in Tagalog and uses some deep
and complicated Tagalog words.
The characters in the book includes the Crocodile, who extorts bribe before giving help; the Frog, who forces himself to be with Duck just because the latter is rich; the Lion who seems to be a good-hearted fellow but eventually reveals her true identity, that he only used Tong to track down the other animals in the forest who’s hiding from them because of fear of being eaten; Ant and Grasshopper who argues whether to continue their planned uprising (with some other insects) against the animals, with the former afraid that that what they’ll do will affect all his investments while the latter is not afraid because he’s got nothing to loose; Lobster, who assumes that he’s being paid just by doing nothing; Chicken and Tortoise, whom Rat stole eggs from that Tong returned; Dog, who’s known to vomit and eats his vomit and repeats the cycle and the one who helped Tong to look for the cure; Rabbit, who challenged Tong, Dog and Tortoise in getting the bud for his personal use; Katang, Tong’s brother who betrayed him as a form of revenge because of their unresolved issues in the past; and Monkey who exposed Tong to the realities about Tong’s father’s ailment and talked to Tong about making a change in the society. Aside from Tong looking for the cure, the book also features the characters of Tong’s father, Crocodile, Lion, Dog, Rabbit, Tortoise and Grasshopper all claiming to be the true king.
The book ended with Tong eventually getting the magical banana bud with the help of Monkey and with him Tong also found out his father’s true ailment. That is, his father acts numb about the true poor state of his kingdom and he’ll use the bud to continue being so. The bud acts as like the painkiller that numbs senses so that one won’t feel anything good or bad. At the end, Monkey was able to make Tong eat the bud, making him to not also care about the realities around him.
“Ang liit at laki ay nasa isip lang. Bakit kami nina Bubuyog at Gagamba, may naipundar din kami kahit papano. Nasa pagsisikap lang ‘yan ng tao!”
― Bob Ong, Alamat ng Gubat
Before reading this book, I thought that Bob Ong finally decided to branch out to young readers since that book itself has this colorful illustrations and the title itself seems to be like how a children’s book is like. But then again, while reading it, it’s not. The book has this allegorical references to Philippine society. The author used the animals to portray the current context of the Philippines. He used the insects to represent the masses, who are always oppressed, and the animals as the superior elites in the country. The book talks about the inefficiencies of the Philippine government and the politicians. Their lack of action and concern towards the real cause of the problems are the deep reasons why the Philippines continue to struggle.
Despite just being a short read, the book gave enough depth to its characters. The book is unique on it’s own. The plot is presented well. The book is also fast paced and a quick read (only a hundred pages which already includes the illustrated pages). I like the author’s unconventional approach in taking serious matters in presenting it in a way that’s not that intimidating to read. There are symbols hidden in every character, situation and conversation.
The books also has this nice balance of humor and morals. The book discusses that of the Philippine society, culture and politics. The book talks about the society, the Filipino society in particular, on how most of the time we go numb towards the known problems of our society. On how despite the fact that we can do something for change but we still choose not to act. We find comfort in our own world without taking time to notice what’s happening around us. The same cycle happens every time, that’s why progress and development seems unattainable. The book is an eye opener to its readers. It challenges us, readers, to be a hero in our own way whatever the situation, or forest, that we are in and that we should not be afraid to challenge the system.
I can recommend the book to the fans of George Orwell’s Animal Farm which also involves struggle for power and is a political satire.
4 stars out of 5.