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Fiction

December 22, 1985|CARLOS QUIRINO

MAHINHIN: A TALE OF THE PHILIPPINES by Antonio E. Santa Elena (Downey Place, P.O. Box 1352, El Cerrito, Calif. 94530-1352: $12.95). "Mahinhin" is the story and nickname of a young girl, not quite 12, in a small town about 50 miles from Manila. She is 5 feet, 6 inches tall, a rare height for Filipino girls of her age, and an adept fencer, wrestler and swimmer. But she does not know how to cook or sew like other younger girls. When a duck with golden plumage appears in her backyard, the bird becomes the family pet and is named Babba by her 9-month-old baby brother. Her father loses his job, and the family has a hard time putting enough food on the table. The father wants to make a roast duck of Babba, but the bird providentially gets lost in a neighboring junkyard. To forget his woes, the father gets drunk on tuba , the fermented juice of the coconut palm tree, and Mahinhin walks through the dark streets of the town to the pub to bring him back home. On her way to get the help of the local herb doctor, she meets with an aswang, an evil spirit, in the form of a fierce dog with incandescent eyes, but wards him off with her sharp bamboo spear. Her father eventually finds a good job in a fruit-processing plant in Mindanao; the company's American manager invites him to work in the United States. Seven years later, in 1957, the entire family settles in Daly City, Calif. This book is meant for American children to read. It is a simple but well-written story, and chronicles the beliefs and customs of a small Philippine town. The only error is the translation of the word mahinhin as "shy" when it should have been "modest." "Shy" in Tagalog means mahiyain , as any English-Tagalog dictionary will tell you.

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