The Philippines has rich customs and traditions that can be classified as something that is truly Filipino as they embody local values, beliefs and practices that had been held sacred through the centuries. Add to these are practices which may be unique to various tribal groups. 

Sixty-four-year-old Fil-Aus writer Norma Hennessy who was born in Benguet province, in the Cordilleras, Philippines has written the book, The Last Spirit Child to share with the readers about a custom practised by certain tribes in the Cordilleras. This was based on a true story.

The Australian Filipina has noted postings on social media about the book and caught up with Norma.  We are glad to share this Q&A interview with Norma to know about the book and a bit about her persona.

* What the book is about?

One infant born as a twin was cast to be buried alive or cast away per the custom of the tribe because of the belief that twin borns are offsprings of spirits. Only one must live. It was a custom that was eradicated after this case in which the doomed infant was cast away instead and was eventually adopted. It’s the story of that last spirit child’s survival and eventual escape from the shadow of gloom that tended to trail her.

She was cast away from the tribe that she was born into because the situation of her birth dictated that she must not be allowed to live amongst the tribe by their primitive customs and traditions. She was believed to be a dark spirit’s child. She was adopted by Christian parents and was raised with unconditional love and affection. But there were shadows that continually trailed her. So often, it’s not physical harm that pierced her soul the most. She was the last twin to escape being buried alive before the custom was stopped. This is her journey.

* What inspired you to write the book?

Customs and traditions come and go, and heritage takes on a different direction moving forward, every time. The event that propelled the story was that it was the last case where a twin born was either outcasted or buried alive in consonance with primitive tribal tradition.

I wanted to express my pre-occupation with heritage-pride; that apologism for past beliefs or practices that run against current beliefs do not bring back or correct a past. But we learn from them by starting a new chapter and moving on.

* How long did it take to finish?

It was a collection of journal entry recollections that spanned years. I had the original manuscript drafted in 2013 but I procrastinated in its publication. I reviewed it this year. From compiling, summarising to final edit, the final outcome took three months.

*What was the part of writing and having it published that you enjoyed the best?

For this one, it was the compiling and reviewing of the entries that I enjoyed best.
I had been journalising thoughts and events through the years so when I put together the compilation as part of the book, it brought me back to memory lane.  I got reminded of things that have long been forgotten but when they resurfaced as memories, they triggered nostalgia and new realisations about the present.

* On the flip side, what were the challenges you encountered?

On the premise that the book content has already been stored in a computer file as a Word format, it would require some cumbersome effort to prepare it as print-ready.

One other challenge was the financial aspect of getting it to print, published and marketed since I decided to self-publish a print version.  The process of getting it print-ready for online publication through an online publisher, is where you have to meet set normal standards on the aesthetic presentation of a book. So there is the line editing on the storyline which you may need an editor’s services for.  To get the book print-ready, it has to be in a kind of pdf format in Adobe.  You need to get the Word file converted into print-ready pdf.  And then you’ve got the laying out of the pages, designing the cover and getting the ISBN (international serial book number) and prepublication identifiers.  You can do away with the nitty-gritty by working with a publisher but that would entail costs that are separate from printing, publication and promotion cost.

* Where can people get more info about the book?

 It will be available online so anyone can Google “The Last Spirit Child” (the title) and information such as where it can be availed of, should come up.

*Aside from The Last Spirit Child, what other books have you written?

I wrote my first book - “A Journey in Antipodean Land” in 2004; it’s a book on Filipino heritage in Australia.

I co-wrote two other community books with Dr. Dante Juanta (former hon. Consul for South Australia) in 2010-2012.

Early this month, I published the first volume of my Ilocano book of anthology about historical figures around the world “Samut-samot iti Tarikayo”.

* What advice can you give those who have interest in writing a book but hesitating to do?

Writing is a passion. I am assuming that those who want to write a book has a passion for writing. I am not sure that I am an authority on advising anyone to write. But if I use my experience as a basis, it would be a good start if you have a definite objective and a subject matter. From there you could think up sub-topics. You can then organise the sub-topics together towards your objective. So I’d say you have to keep writing.

If you can put the writing straight onto Word in the computer, it would make it easier for you to go back and forth to pages where you would like to make changes.  Alternatively, writing under the ‘notes’ feature on your Ipad or your mobile phone can be an alternative. When it gets too long in one memo or note entry you can start another note entry and continue your writing under that new one.  You can have as many note entries as you like so it is best to put dates when you wrote them. You can then email those writings to yourself and retrieve them from your email to put them into Word format. At the same to me that by emailing it to yourself would also be a way of securing it as a retrievable file.

 Also, there are publishing and writing-aid sites on the internet if one wants to try. You get guided to finish a book. It could be helpful to use the online offered service, too.

* Lastly, what is your definition of success?

We tend to believe that when we achieve a dream, that means success.

For me, I take life as a ‘moving forward’ so every step ahead that I get to make which is an improvement of my previous self is a success.


Norma Hennessy (nee Banaga) is the firstborn of two children. Her mother Rosario was from Abra and her father Jose was from Tarlac. She had a younger brother who passed away in his teens. She is an FEU alumnus, having finished Bachelor of Science in Commerce - Accounting major in 1979.

Her now husband Anthony was introduced to her by her good friend and colleague (now her kumadre), Margie.  They were both working in the sales and marketing of a resort at the time.  Anthony was born in Port Lincoln, South Australia. He was working for an American exploration - navigation company and was temporarily based in the Philippines when they met.  They got married in the Philippines and both their children, son Sean Patrick and daughter Antoinette Margeaux were both born in the Philippines.

She was 40 when she and the family moved to Australia in 1997. She worked in sales and tour and travel operation in the Philippines and Registered Training Organisation administrator in Australia. Simultaneously, she started art in the Philippines and had her first major individual exhibition at the Golden Jubilee of Gregorio Araneta University Foundation in 1996. She has been based in Adelaide, South Australia and her first solo exhibition at the Adelaide International Fringe in 1998. She has been actively involved in the arts in Australia ever since.

Norma was interviewed by Radio Tagumpay, Triple H 100.1FM, which airs on Mondays, 2-4pm.  Listen to her interview aired on Monday, May 2, 2022 here.  

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