The carabao used to be the Philippines' favorite animal until conservationists found a new hero in the claws of the monkey eating eagle, and then modernity saw the need of a new marketing mascot in the exotic weirdness image of a tarsier. The Philippines is almost synonymous to and own the tarsier now, like we own every talented half-pinoys all over the world as if they redeem us all from our idiocy and badly beaten pride while having their taste of success. But that is another story.
Indigenous to southeast asia, the carabao is a common symbol for hard work and toughness, being a farmer's all around animal companion. If that feels like a bucket of sweat to you, it doesn't complain even if it doesn't have sweat glands at all. The carabao cool itself by having some party in a waterhole or some mud to cover from insects, according to some wiki entry.
This seemingly dirty habit of the carabao contrasts the character in the picture book, Ang Mabait na Kalabaw (The Very Good Carabao) illustrated by Liza Flores and written by Virgilio Almario, undercovering as Rosario Calma. The illustrator's interpretation of the carabao is clean, smelling good visually, and tenderly.
The illustrations perfectly evoke the Filipino word mabait (goodness), in its variable meanings depending on context, but I find the illustrations more fittingly describe or relate to the word humility. The illustrations create an atmosphere of what kindness and humility looks like, two abstract terms that are challenging to illustrate in a single scene.
Ang Mabait na Kalabaw cover: the carabao being tough, black, dirty, and sharp, but also unafraid to show vulnerability
The book is also a counting, story, and picture book all in one. The illustrator wittingly incorporated all of these functions together.
My favorite illustration spread, because the illustration is funny and very smart. What a perfect way to illustrate generosity within the depths of your heart!
I once saw a truck-full of carabaos leaning against each other along the highway of Edsa, and they seem unhappy. But the carabao knows how to have a good time too, and of course with friends. The illustration really gives a sense of cleanliness.
If Mabait na Kalabaw shows kindness and humility, Rosa Albina embody the word vanity. What a great metaphorism for this mudpack-obsessed animal. Rosa Albina is also written by Virgilio S. Almario and illustrated by Kora Dandan-Albano.
Rosa Albina on the cover. Just look at that smirk of sarcasm, no amount of words can precisely describe such a personal expression. It only takes a single glance and you know who's the diva of the show, just a little duck face pose away from Facebook memes. One of the best example how pictures illuminate words.
A touch of personality in Rosa's gesture above—animals with expression, without resorting that much to anthropomorphism, a trend in today's illustration. It's often difficult merging them in an illustration, it takes experience and skill to do that. I wonder if the illustrator has actually made some real reference of a person to render this pose. But the interesting question is, who that person is? Hmm...
This is one of the best scenes for me, it's simple yet a visual knockout.
And the visual transformation of Rosa Albina from swagger to winner is simply amazing.
Is the symbolism of carabao still relevant in today's children's books, when most kids only want to know about magic, goth, and flirting? Definitely yes, these down-to-earth carabaos interestingly show the value of humility and good character, two attitudes slowly fading away among young generations.