Author Profile: Nikki Alfar
What inspired your folk tale "Bearing Fruit"?
This is actually from the notes I’ve written for my upcoming short story collection:
I’m a folklore and fairy tale geek—not in any scholarly way or anything, but I’ve read lotsa shit from lotsa cultures, and it’s an abiding interest of mine. So one day, my friend Andrew Drilon and I were sitting around talking folklore, and he said something like, “Okay, Pinoy folklore is rich and varied and all that, but why can’t it be sexier?” (And by ‘sexier’ he didn’t mean ‘involving sex’, because Filipino folk tales include stuff like giants that can be overcome by heroes clever enough to target their enormous, dangling tentacles. Seriously! What he meant by ‘sexier’ was, you know, titillating, tantalizing, toothsome, tasty—all those good ‘T’ words.)
And I thought, “Well, why can’t it?” which is how I ended up reworking the traditional Bontoc tale The Wonderful Orange Fruit. In the original, a young man is pressured by his parents to get married and have children; but he can’t find a woman he likes, so he plucks an orange from the tree, asks it to help him find a bride, and sends it floating down the river, where it eventually impregnates a young woman bathing. Said young woman goes in search of the guy, and at first the guy’s parents don’t believe her story, but then she gives birth and the baby looks just like him, so finally they get married and of course live happily ever after. Don’t they? It’s told from the boy’s point of view.
Me being me, of course my immediate reaction to the story was outraged sympathy for this poor chick who was just innocently taking a bath and, next thing you know, she finds herself knocked up by a citrus fruit! Any thinking female, especially one who’s been pregnant or has experienced a pregnancy scare, can tell you that these are hardly the ingredients for a simple happy ending. I mean, what about her plans for her own life? What about the responsibilities of parenthood suddenly thrust upon her unwitting shoulders? What about the judgment of others, which she totally didn’t deserve?
So I decided to try and give the poor chick a voice, and turned the orange into a mango because early readers didn’t think an orange was appropriately Filipino enough. And besides, I don’t particularly like oranges, but I do like mangoes.