Tales from the Coral Triangle Book Review by Jeena Rani Marquez

“The Changes in Elma’s Family” water color painting by Hannah Manaligod


A girl of seventeen introduces herself as “an ordinary Molbog native from the island of Balabac.” Yet there is nothing ordinary in her experience, which she earnestly  tells in an account of her life in Palawan. This girl Elnah speaks of her father Abi’s occupation as a hook-­and-­line fisherman who, one day, discovers the use of a homemade bomb for fishing.

Elnah benefits from the increase of yield the change brings about, but suffers from the moral dilemma of knowing, having been taught in school, of the illegal nature of her father’s use of such a method for fishing. While her teacher reminds her class that visitors from the Environment Watch and the Sea Patrol teams will be visiting them, her neighbor Tutong tells Elnah that a bomb had exploded on her father while he was out at sea. His father now fishes with a missing forearm.

Elnah’s story is one of the most gripping in the collection entitled Tales from the Coral Triangle: Philippines. One of the most interesting features of the book is that it was penned by female Filipino teens from Palawan, whose collective work beats with the heart of nature with which they live so intimately.

The stories are mostly fictive, imagined by the girls whose characters speak for the homes they know they must defend. We also get a sense of a gnawing truth in some of the stories, which sound more like nonfiction than fiction, where the pain is raw and the voice real.

The collection is infused with the enthusiasm and confidence of the young who are not just yet intimidated by the technical demands of the crafting of fiction. They write from their hearts, from what they know of the seas and forests surrounding them, as well as the priceless creatures they know they need to help protect.

They write from their hearts, from what they know of the seas and forests surrounding them, as well as the priceless creatures they know they need to help protect.

Here we meet Tuking the Butanding, Bakaw the oldest tree in a mangrove forest, Haydara the nature spirits, a diwata, a sirena, and a host of other characters imagined by those whose heartfelt desire to speak of their urgent needs through cautionary tales shines through the pages of their work.

While the authors will have yet to learn more rudiments of craft, such as using the techniques of fiction to dramatize scenes instead of relying on statements such as prosaic declarations of what the characters are thinking, or adding depth and dimension to the characters, it is a thrill to witness young women from coastal communities use their imagination to speak of what is of utmost importance not only to their immediate community but also to our country and planet.

“The Haydara” water color painting by Hannah Manaligod

Brief explanatory notes punctuate each piece in the collection. The book also ends with a section on protected wildlife in the Coral Triangle where facts and tips are presented in bullet points, as well as a short article entitled “Live Better: Ideas on How to Care for the Planet”, which tells us the project is intent on informing an instructing readers.

The stories were not written to demonstrate superb skills in creative writing; they were told primarily to warn us of what is to come if we do not heed their collective cry for help, so clearly articulated in their stories.

As King Octus tells Tuking the Butanding in the opening story, “…be careful that you do not cause any more harm to the reefs,” we, the readers, too, are told, to be careful not to cause any more harm to our homes which we too often forget to protect.

Jeena Rani Marquez is an awardee of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 2011.

Download the Tales from the Coral Triangle story book at: http://bit.ly/TalesPH.


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