Do spirits and divinities live in remote hills? Do fairies bless and fulfill innocent wishes? Which of these stories are inseparably-related to Philippines, and are believed generation after generation? The Philippine culture is truly a potpourri of different groups, who brought with them a rich treasure-trove of myths and legends.
Philippines is a beautiful archipelago, comprising over 7000 islands; full of lush, tropical forests, white sand beaches and coral reefs. Through ancient times, waves of different people have settled on the islands, bringing their culture with them. The earliest settlers of Philippines, the Melanesian and Austronesian people, traded extensively with China, Japan, India, and the Middle East, hence, you will find that the legends from these places have blended into the traditional lore. In the 16th and 17th century, it was governed by the Spanish, from Spain and Mexico, so you will also find Spanish and Hispanic influences.
The Origin Myths
Isolated on the islands by the Pacific waters, many tribes have developed their own culture and creation myths. While most of them can be traced to ancient times with a few additions to explain the modern world, some stories have evolved recently, and are heavily influenced by Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. Some of these stories are common to a few tribes, and most of them share a few common elements. Like all folktales, Filipino myths too have several different narrations.
The Visayan Creation Myth
Visayan is the largest ethnic group in Philippines. Their creation myth explains how the Sun, the Moon, the islands, and human beings were formed.
A long time ago, there were two Gods – Maguayan, ruler of water, and Kaptan, ruler of the sky. One day, the two Gods decided to marry their children. Three sons were born from this union – Likalibutan was extremely brave and strong, Liadlao was made of gold and was always cheerful, and Libulan, made of copper, was timid and weak. Lisuga was the only daughter, she was made of silver and was very beautiful, gentle and sweet. Sadly, they were orphaned at a young age, but their grandparents took care of them and protected them from evil. Eventually, the siblings grew up to be strong and beautiful.
One day, Likalibutan, proud of his strength and power, decided to attack Kaptan’s sky kingdom. Scared of their brother, Liadlao and Libulan were coerced into joining him and they left for the sky kingdom. An enormous steel gate was blocking their way, but Likalibutan summoned the wind and knocked it down. When Kaptan came to know of this, he got furious and fired them with lightning bolts. A lightning bolt landed on each of the three brothers. Likalibutan’s rock-like body fragmented into a thousand pieces and fell down in the sea, Liadlao and Libulan melted into balls of gold and copper, respectively. Worried for her brothers, Lisuga came searching for them, but Kaptan, still fuming, attacked her as well. Her silver body too, was scattered into a million pieces. Kaptan then called Maguayan, accusing him of planning the whole thing. But Maguayan had been sleeping through the entire ordeal and didn’t have the slightest clue. Kaptan eventually calmed down, and both the gods deeply mourned the loss of their grandchildren. Sadly, even with all their powers, they couldn’t bring the siblings to life. So, they gave each of them light, except for Likalibutan. Luminous with this light, Liadlao became the Sun, Libulan, the Moon and Lisuga’s fragmented body can be seen today as the stars.
Kaptan planted a seed on a fragment of Likalibutan’s body. A bamboo tree sprouted out of this seed and from this tree, Sikalak, a man and Sikabay, a woman, emerged. This man and woman are the ancestors of all the people in the world.
The Story of Bathala
Bathala is the supreme God of Tagalogs, a very influential ethnic group in Philippines. The story is about how Bathala killed another God named Ulilang Kalulawa in a fight after which he created human life.
Malakas and Maganda
One of the creation myth is the story of Malakas and Maganda – the Filipino version of Adam and Eve. The story explains how a crow got angry and strated pecking on a bamboo and how Malakas and Maganda were born.
At one time, there was just the sky, the sea, and a crow flying between them. The crow got tired of flying, but could find no place to sit, and stirred up the sea. When the waters of the sea reached the sky, it threw rocks, to keep it down. These rocks then became the islands of the Philippines.
The crow flew down and lived peacefully on one of the islands; when one day a bamboo struck its feet. Hurt and angry, the crow started pecking the bamboo until it split in two – thus Malakas, meaning strong, and Maganda, meaning beautiful, were born. Malakas and Maganda married and had numerous children.
One day, fed up with the constant racket of the children, they started beating them up. Terrified, the children fled all over the place, and became the different people living on the Islands.
The Filipinos have a whole Pantheon of Gods like Bathala, Lakampati, Kabunian, Diyan Masalanta, etc. Most of these stories are passed orally, and some tribes have different names for the same deity. So, there is a lot of confusion about the names of Gods, and the mythology associated with them. Due to Christian and Islamic influence, most Filipinos believe in a single Supreme Being, but follow the ancient traditions. Some people also believe in their native Gods, practicing a blend of animism and Islam or Christianity. Some of the remote tribes and rural populace worship Diwatas (plant or animal spirits), and are generally more superstitious.
Legends from the Philippines
Legends usually have some historical basis, are often exaggerated, and incorporate the spiritual beliefs of the people. These stories usually tell about heroic deeds or mystical places. The Filipino legends are quirky little tales meant for entertainment, and here are a few examples;
The Legend of Makhiya
This is a legend that tells us about the origin of the touch-me-not (Mimosa Pudica) plant. It tells us how a girl named Maria was turned into a plant for her safety.
Maria, a very shy girl, lived with her parents Mang Dondong and Aling Iska, in a small village. Maria would spend hours tending to her garden, which was renowned for its lovely flowers. One day, bandits raided the village, and fearing for her life, Maria’s parents hid her in the garden. While Aling Iska was praying to God for her daughter’s safety, the bandits broke into the house and hit them both on the head. After pillaging the house, the bandits fled.
When Mang Dondong and Aling Iska regained consciousness, they ran to the garden to look for Maria, but couldn’t find her. They searched for her everywhere, and started to despair, when something pricked Mang Dondong’s feet. Both of them knelt down to take a better look at the tiny plant closing its leaves. At that moment they realized, that their shy Maria has been transformed by the Gods into the plant. They named the plant Makahiya (Tagalog for shyness) and took immense care of it.
The Legend of Sampaloc Lake
Sampolac Lake is the biggest lake in San Pablo, and it is named after a giant tamarind (sampolac) tree. Though there are many different versions of this legend, the basic premise remains the same.
There was an orchard owned by a rich couple, filled with the most delicious tamarind trees. One day, a fairy decided to test their hospitality, and came to the orchard, dressed as a poor, old woman. She begged the couple to give her a few fruits as she was very hungry. The selfish couple, instead of helping the woman, let their dogs loose on her. The old woman was bitten by the dogs and badly hurt. She touched a giant tamarind tree and cursed, “Your greed shall be punished”. As the woman was walking away, the sky darkened and a ferocious storm broke out.
The downpour continued late in the night, the next morning though, the sky was clear and blue. The couple came to tend their orchard and were bewildered to find their entire orchard gone. Instead, there was water everywhere. When they looked down into the water, they could still see their precious trees at the bottom of the lake.
Legend of Mount Mayon
Mount Mayon is an active volcano, named after Daragang Magayon, a beautiful girl in this legend. This is a tragic love triangle between Daragang Magayon, her lover Panginorin, and her admirer Pagtuga.
Magayon, daughter of the Rawis’ tribal chief Makusog, was known for her exquisite beauty and grace. So renowned was she, that suitors from faraway lands came to vie for her hand. One of her admirers was Pagtuga, an arrogant and snobbish hunter. To win her, he would present her with extravagant gifts, but none of them pleased her.
Panginorin, the chief of Karilaga, hearing of her beauty, decided to visit the Rawis, just to catch a glimpse of her. When he saw her, he was immediately smitten and courted her with much devotion. Touched by his affection, Magayon too fell in love. Panginorin, then, rammed a spear in front of her house, denoting his intention to marry her, as per the custom.
The wedding was just a few days away, when Pagtuga blackmailed Magayon that if she doesn’t marry him, he will kill Makusog, her father. When Panginorin came to know of this, he attacked Pagtuga. The brutal fight ended when Pagtuga was slain by Panginorin. A joyous Magayon rushed to his side, when a stray arrow hit her. Panginorin too, was struck by a spear. Sadness spread over the entire kingdom, and the lovers were placed in a grave and buried.
As days past by, people noticed that the land on which Magayon and Panginorin were buried, was slowly rising, forming the Mount Mayon. The legend says that, now Panginorin lives in the clouds and Magayon in the mountain, and when the peak of Mayon is shrouded by clouds, the couple is kissing. The rain that follows this, is said to be the tears of Panginorin. Some days, the ground shakes, and they say, this is the angry Pagtuga trying to take his gifts back from Magayon.
Philippines has thousands of tales; some dealing with the celestial, like the Sun and the Moon, while there are others that explain the mundane, like the origin of plants (rice, pineapple, etc.), animals (monkey, firefly) or things (rainbow). These stories are mostly used to coax obedience, good behavior and discipline; from grown-ups and children alike.
Why the Pineapple has a Thousand Eyes
As the name suggests, this is the story about the pineapple fruit and why it has so many eyes. This story instills hard-work and obedience in children. It is also a reminder to never utter words that might harm someone.
There lived a girl named Pina, on a fruit plantation, with her mother. While her mother toiled night and day, little Pina would spend all her time playing with her friends. When her mother asked her to do something, she would always reply that she couldn’t find the things, even if it was right in front of her eyes. One day, her mother fell ill and couldn’t even get up to cook some food. So, she asked Pina to make some rice. But, Pina being her lazy self, said, “I just can’t find the pot, so what am I going to make the rice in?”. Her mother told her where the pot was. Then she said, “Where is the ladle, how am I going to cook without a ladle?”. Again her sick mother had to tell her the exact location. Pina did the same with salt, rice and water! Enraged by Pina’s behavior, her mother cursed, “May you grow a thousand eyes”, and went back to sleep.
When she woke up, there was no trace of the girl. She searched and searched, and so did every single person on the plantation. After a few days, a strange fruit with thousands of little dots was seen on the plantation. When Pina’s mother saw the fruit, she was immediately reminded of Pina’s beautiful brown eyes and thus, the fruit with a thousand eyes was named “Pinya”, meaning pineapple.
The Origin of Rainbow
Every culture has their share of romantic stories; often, a sad tale of love between a divine creature and an ordinary human. This myth too tells us about a fairy and farmer’s deep love. The story is used to instill fear, and respect boundaries.
A star fairy, once strayed onto the Earth. Mesmerized by the beautiful sights, she dashed into a tree and fell down unconscious, her wings torn. A farmer found the divine creature. He took great care of her and inevitably they fell in love. The fairy and the farmer married and had a child.
But every night, the fairy would look at the stars and think about her family and friends there. So, one day she decided to pay them a visit, and took off with her son. When she reached the star kingdom, the king was furious at her for straying too far, and confiscated her wings. She couldn’t go back to her husband and became morose, looking down, for hours at the river near their house. The farmer too, would stand on its bank, waiting for his wife and child. One day, the king chanced upon the lovesick couple, and taking pity on them, made a bridge of seven gleaming colors for the fairy to climb down and spend a few precious moments with the farmer.
Mythical Creatures from the Philippines
The Filipinos, one of the most superstitious people, have hundreds of mythical creatures. Some, like the Aswang, are feared since the ancient times, while the White Lady is a modern addition. Many of these creatures are a result of Spanish inquisition, often created to scare people from wandering in the woods.
Also called Engkantada (female) or Engkanto (male); these are ageless, beautiful creatures, much like fairies, and are said to be the guardians of natural features. They usually reside in Balete or Acacia trees, and have magical powers. Maria Makiling, for example, is a very popular Diwata that protects the Mt. Makiling, and has many myths associated with her.
Aswang are shape-shifting vampires, human by day and transforming into any animal, depending on the many regional lore, at night. They eat bodies of the recently deceased, but are also said to enter a house to drink human blood, and are especially fond of fetuses.
Wak Wak or Ek Ek
These creatures are bird-like vampires, and emit ek-ek or wak-wak sound when feeding.
The Mananaggal is an evil, vampire-like creature, in the form of a beautiful woman. At night, these creatures grow wings, develop fangs, and have long tongues. They can separate the upper half of their body in the search of prey.
These are tall, hairy giants, residing in tall trees, smoking a cigar/pipe. They are not necessarily evil, but enjoy disorienting people. They can make themselves invisible, and are said to be very loyal lovers.
This is a very popular ghost in Philippines, and every town seems to have its own version, though the Balete Drive White Lady is the most prominent.
These are small creatures, much like goblins or dwarfs, living underground. They may be kind or mischievous, depending on how the person has treated them, and like to be left alone. Filipinos believe that uttering “tabi-tabi po” before entering suspected Duwende territories, will not disturb them.
Also called St. Elmo’s Fire, this is a form of ball lightning, reported by Filipinos since ancient times, with mystical powers.
Dila is a spirit in the form of a tongue, which slides down through the bamboo flooring, and licks its victims to death.
Sirena and Sireno
These are the Philippine equivalents of mermaid and mermen, respectively. Some consider them to be aquatic Diwatas, while in some stories they lure sailors to their death.
This is a friendly giant with only one eye at the center of his forehead, much like the cyclops. It is said to be very strong and has a keen sense of hearing, but can be outwitted easily.
Mangkukulam is a witch or socerer, who controls insects and uses them to harm people. These days she/he is also said to use dolls, influenced by the popularity of voodoo.
It is a monster in the form of a new-born baby, and attracts its victims by its crying. Once the person is close, the baby transforms into a monster and devours him/her.
Tikbalang is a humanoid, with head and feet of a horse. It usually lives in the woods and if disturbed, can make a traveler move around in circles. Anggitay is said to be a female Tikbalang.
Multo is a Filipino word for ghost i.e., soul of a dead person, which has returned to complete an unfinished task or due to improper burial. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term for all supernatural creatures.
These are some of the major creatures in Philippine mythology. Many of them have different names in different regions; and some like the ek-ek and wak-wak have just minor differences.
Although modernization is impacting the culture, the beliefs in these legends is strong, especially in the rural parts of the country. Comic books like Trese, Skyworld and The Mythology Class, based on the Filipino mythology, are very popular with the youth. TV shows like Marina, and video games often feature creatures and stories from mythology. There is also a group called questers, who travel to remote locales, researching the fantastic legends and myths.