From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Author Spotlight: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz grew up in the mountains of Ifugao, Philippines. Her stories have appeared in a variety of print and online publications including Weird Tales, Philippine Panorama, Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes two and four, Apex, and Fantasy Magazine.

How did you decide to set “Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan” in Ifugao?

The decision was quite simple. “Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan” isn’t just the story of Bugan and Elsa (Kinggawan) but it’s also the story of the place and a way of life. If I had set the story in a place like Manila or Cebu, it would not have been Bugan and Kinggawan’s story. It would have been someone else’s tale.

“[N]o matter that the village priest preaches against it, there will be Canyao” speaks to the deep-seatedness of Canyao. Doesn’t it also describe the feelings between Bugan and Elsa?

You could say that. These rituals and celebrations are part of the indigenous identity of the people and no matter how modernized or Christianized society has become and to remove these celebrations would be equal to excising a part of what makes the Ifugao who they are.

In the same way, the feelings Bugan and Elsa have for each other are part of who they are. To erase these feelings would be equal to erasing a part of their identity.

One of the themes of the story is the strength of resistance people can have against outside influences. The old myths persist in the face of Christianity and Bugan and Elsa’s feelings persist despite social condemnation. At the same, people are moving away to the city. Does that suggest that, in time, Bugan and Elsa will have to abandon their feelings, too?

I don’t know that Bugan and Elsa would have to abandon their feelings. It would be too sad if they decided to do that. At the end of the story, Elsa returns and Bugan chooses to share Elsa’s blanket. Such a choice may or may not be tolerated by the elders, but in time, they would also face the same pressures that other women in that society face. Namely: to mate with a man and bear children.

Something will have to be abandoned. I think that Bugan’s choice of Elsa clearly shows that she is willing to leave everything behind for the sake of following her heart’s path.

Lucia’s part in the story is haunting. What is her development and end meant to show the reader, especially as compared to Bugan?

I needed a character who contrasted and mirrored Bugan in certain ways. The single Lucia is carefree. She lives the life of a healthy maiden who enjoys intimate relationships with different partners. She goes on to make an untraditional choice by marrying a wealthy foreigner. To all outward appearances, Lucia is a happy woman, but  no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. It’s only left to us to speculate as to what pushed Lucia to take her own life. Bugan is left with the question of how lonely or how desperate Lucia must have felt to go so far as to end it all.

Lucia and Bugan are similar in how they both carry secrets which they don’t share with anyone. In this story, Bugan may be the silent one, but her secrets are bared to us. Lucia who is more gregarious carries her secrets with her to the grave. They both make choices that are not traditional and to a certain extent they both endure loneliness. But where Lucia’s escape is death, Bugan chooses to abandon society’s expectations and follow her heart.

These two women do bring about change in society. Lucia’s marriage to a foreigner became the way for other foreigners to enter the village and more marriages are made or contracted. Are the women happy with this arrangement? The story does not say so, but Bugan is thankful she isn’t forced to marry as some of her friends are.

How Bugan’s choice impacts the society she lives in is left open for speculation. Perhaps that is something for another story.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your story?

“Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan” was my attempt to carry on a conversation with a woman whose name is often used in Ifugao mythology. I thought that I could write this story with ease because I grew up with the culture and the customs of the Ifugao. Later on, I found myself checking and double-checking. The thing is, I am writing about a culture that exists and I don’t want to contribute to any misconceptions.

Ifugao continues to be a sacred place that I want to pay tribute to. Each time I write about it, I feel like I am saying thank you for all the glorious days that I spent in those mountains. Salamat (thank you).

William Sullivan is a writer, computer programmer, and musician living in Austin, Texas. You can find his website at http://enkrates.com.