When it comes to international trends, the Filipino is never far behind in fashion, music, as well as Korean and Hollywood films, television shows, and gossip. Aside from popular culture, what many Filipinos are also aware of is world mythology, specifically Greek and Chinese myths. This is what I have observed and documented on many artworks on jeepneys that ply Aurora Boulevard route, in Quezon City. My photography of jeepney art is part of my ongoing research and documentation of public art and historical landmarks in the cities of Manila, Quezon City, San Juan, Pasig, Taguig, Mandaluyong, Makati, Parañaque, Pasay, Antipolo, San Pedro (Laguna Province), Los Baños, Baguio, Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, Sibonga, Carcar, San Fernando (Cebu Province), Naga (Cebu Province), Talisay (Cebu Province), Minglanilla, Davao, Jimenez, Ozamis, and Pagadian.
I had grown a fascination in jeepney art, with the rise of highly talented airbrushed artworks on jeepneys, as well as the common usage of Catholic religious iconography that is matched with images of world and popular culture. And the appearance of starlets, NBA players, cartoon characters, and mythological creatures side-by-side with saints seems very contradictory, to these Catholic jeepney drivers.
The Filipino’s awareness of Chinese mythological creatures, specifically the石獅 (shí shī) imperial guardian lions and the 龍 (lóng) mystical dragon, has been part of Philippine culture since the Chinese had been trading and setting up outpost throughout the Philippine archipelago, at the start of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Filipinos understand that the use of the long dragon is a symbol of protect, as well as a representation of strength.
The use of the European styled serpentine drákōn or draco is further enhanced by portrayals in film, television and fantasy art. The choice of this type of dragon appeals to the jeepney driver’s sense of machismo, hence some painting show the dragon with a scantily clad and voluptuous woman.
The representation of the butterfly-winged faierie or pyske relates to the Filipino’s continuing superstitions about in nature spirits, called encanto or encantada. The belief in these fairies is related with the ancient native religions that called these spirits as diwata. Diwata can be benevolent or mischievous, and to avoid their ire Filipinos evoke diwata for safe passage in the forests. If a diwata fancies you, then you will be protected for life.
The presentation of merewif or mermaids is related to ancient Filipino folktales of water born diwata. Most of the ancient terms for the Philippine merfolk have been lost in time, which is now replaced with the word general word “sirena”, which the Spanish colonizers had derived from the Greek myth of the seirēn or sirens. On the other hand, humanoid sea creatures are called siyoky to the Tagalog people, kataw to the Visayan people, and the magindara to the Bikolano people. The symbolism of the sirena can represent a relation to the sea, as the Philippines consists of 7,641 islands.
Filipinos are aware of Greek mythology through the watered-down and distorted versions of Hollywood films and cartoons, such as “Clash of the Titans” (1981 and 2010) and Disney’s “Hercules” (1997), the films and the real myth states that there was only one Pḗgasos (Pegasus). The rendering of many winged horses may be attributed to fantasy artists who portray the Pegasus in a herd like the Chinese 天馬 (tianma) and千里馬 (qianlima), or the Kazakh’s tұлпар (tulpar). Access to the internet has allowed jeepney drivers to use the winged horses as a symbol of personal strength, as in related to the vehicle’s “horse power”, and the free-spirited nature of flight.
The usage of images of voluptuous angels, dark elves, monstrous ogres, and other variants of mythological creatures are due to the Filipino’s exposure to Role Playing Games (RPGs), such as “World of Warcraft” (WoW). However, this does not distance the Filipino for the lingering beliefs in local mythical creatures and their foreign counter parts, such as the horse-headed tikbalang and the Greek sileni. And putting these images beside a religious icon is not contradictory to the jeepney driver, as the saints are painted to as prayers of protection towards his family, while images of myth or pop culture reflect his reality beyond faith, mixed with the desire to beautify his chariot with works of art.