Aklat Mirasol unveils indigenous stories for children

Images courtesy of Aklat Mirasol Publishing House

Conflicts and an unfamiliar culture often come to many people’s minds when they think of the people of Mindanao. Similarly, the indigenous people of the Philippines are often subjects of curiosity to many for their ways that are unfamiliar to most people.

A group of women editors, however, have banded together to break these stereotypes and paint a picture of Mindanao and the indigenous peoples of the Philippines that aims to describe them beyond curiosity and novelty through a series of books that highlight their way of life and culture.

Carla Mortel-Barricaua, Rowena Festin and Pia Perez

Aklat Mirasol Publishing House is among the publishers featured at the return of the Manila International Book Fair held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City from September 15-18.

Named after a flower that looks amazingly like the sun and is said to often gaze in its direction, Aklat Mirasol is envisioned as a women’s publishing house dedicated to creating books for Filipino children and young adults.

“It was named Aklat Mirasol in recognition of the vision of a world where children and young people are immersed in reading despite the proliferation of online games. Like the sunflower, its face is always turned towards the light, towards children and young people who read and think critically,” its founders said.

Focus on the children of Mindanao, indigenous people

Currently, three books are published by the independent society founded on April 8 this year.

Growing up in Mindoro, Rowena Festin would see how the Mangyans were considered “uneducated” and “uncivilized”. When she came of age and found herself gifted with words, Festin dutifully wrote about the indigenous peoples of her birthplace.

“I remember my encounters with the Mangyan when I was in high school, every Christmas when we were part of the feeding programs for the Mangyan at our school. It was the first time that I had met Mangyan children up close,” recalls the winner of Palanca.

“Ako si Dumay Gawid, Hanunuo Mangyan” showcases the indigenous culture of the Hanunuo Mangyan through their clothing, weavings, and embroidered designs on their weavings and baskets.

Illustrated by Ma. Victoria Esquillo and written for preschool and school-aged children aged 2 to 7, the book also tells about the Mangyan writing system, Surat-Mangyan.

Veteran journalist and editor Carla Mortel Baricaua wrote “Narinig Mo Na Ba Ang Agong” to enlighten her readers on the struggles and plight of the indigenous community.

The story first appeared in the manual “Ang Agong: Halina’t Magsaya, Matuto at Maglaro”, a collaborative project between TFPCDI and the Association for Children’s Rights in Southeast Asia (ARCSEA). The manual was translated into Manobo and Cebuano and distributed to daycare centers in the Arakan Valley, north of Cotabato in 2007.

“Narinig Mo Na Ba Ang Agong?” tells the story of three Manobo children and their experience of reclaiming their ancestral lands from a foreign company. It is illustrated by Ginella Solis.

“As a children’s book, I hope it reaches more readers and opens the door for more readers to learn more about the lives, struggles and culture of our Indigenous communities,” Baricaua said.

Human rights lawyer and NGO worker Pia Perez has written about the father’s life. Fausto Tentorio or better known as Fr. Pops to the people of Cotabato in “Nasa Arakan ang Puso”.

Written for children aged 7 to 12, with illustrations by Bayani Olaguer, it tells the story of the Italian missionary’s love for the Lumads and the indigenous community.

“Nasa Arakan ang Puso” is Perez’s first children’s book. Besides publishing children’s books, Perez is also the founder of ARCSEA.

The three books represent the first two categories of books published by Aklat Mirasol.

The Mga Kwentong Pambata Tungkol in Mindanaw The series is entirely devoted to the history and situation of the people of Mindanao. The child characters in this series describe their experiences in relation to their life as Filipinos in Mindanao and their ancestral land. The series Nais Kong Magpakilala in Iyomeanwhile, aims to introduce young readers to the different Filipino ethnic groups, as well as Filipino culture and lifestyle.

The section for Mga Akdang Pangkabataan leans toward the contribution of young adult books that chronicle the experiences of young adults as contributing members of society. This section publishes books that will help young people to understand, accept and respect people, regardless of their appearance and beliefs. A title in this category should be released in 2023.

“Through the Mirasol books, I want children to fully understand that although people are different from each other, there are no uncivilized or uneducated people. Each ethnic group has its own culture and district experiences that must be respected,” Festin said.

The books are in physical form and can be obtained by contacting Aklat Mirasol on their official Facebook account. These will soon be available through Shopee.