IntroductionMost of us, if not all, are familiar with the popularized Western myths. In fact, it would be a bit surprising if at this point you haven’t at least heard of the gods and goddesses once worshipped by the Egyptians, the Greeks, and/or the Romans. Even the Norse myths of Thor the thunder god might ring bells. Though while all of these myths are highly fascinating and worth studying once over, there is definitely more obscure folklore out there, even in countries where the religion might have quashed out the remains of mythological belief.
Philippines mythology contains the same elements found in
most other myths: creation, monsters, and beliefs. Though the Philippines is
largely—if not wholly—Westernized and Christianized, there are still
superstitions that most Filipinos and Filipinas have not relinquished.
Certainly, most of the monsters are still used as fairy tale fodder to scare
the children (and in some cases, to make adults wary of their surroundings).
Because of the numerous amounts of islands, the Philippines consist of diverse myths from each province. While I would really love to explore the myths in every dialect, one term is not going to cover all 175 dialects found in the country. So I’ll just be dabbling mostly in stuff I can translate.
How the World Came to Be (an ancient Visayan myth)
In the beginning, there was only water and sky. The Water
Kingdom belonged to the god Maguayan, who had a daughter named Lidagat. The Sky
Kingdom belonged to Captan, who had a son named Lihangin. To bring peace about
their domains, Captan and Maguayan proposed that their children marry. So this
Lidagat and Lihangin had four children: 3 sons (Licalibutan, Liadlao, and Libulan) and a daughter (Lisuga). Licalibutan had the body of hard rock, and he was strong and brave; Liadlao was made of gold and was always so cheerful; Libulan had a copper body and was weak and timid; Lisuga was made of pure silver and had a sweet and gentle disposition.
It came to be that the aging Lihangin and Lidagat soon
passed away. Before he died, Lihangin gave his eldest son Licalibutan control
of the winds. But a long time had passed in peace, and Licalibutan became
greedy. He wanted more than just the winds at his beck and call. So he plotted
against Captan, ruler of the Sky.
After forcing his brothers to join in the plot, Licalibutan stormed at the gates of Captan’s realm and attempted to invade. Almighty Captan, infuriated at this betrayal, summoned the forces of nature and struck each of the brothers in turn. All of them tried to run, but to no avail, they were destroyed. Licalibutan’s rock body shattered into pieces of varied size. The pieces fell into the water, and it later became known as land.
Missing her brothers, kind and gentle Lisuga headed
towards the heavens, only to be attacked by a rampaging Captan, who also struck
her dead. When the deed was done, the King of the Sky confronted Maguayan about
this attack. The Sea God was more patient and logical, and eased Captan’s mind.
Soon both gods began to despair at the loss of their grandchildren.
In honor of their grandchildren’s destruction, Maguayan and Captan set parts of their bodies into the sky. Liadlao became what was now the sun, Libulan the moon, and Lisuga shone brightly as the stars. Only the greedy Licalibutan remained where he was, for his wicked deeds deserved no honor. Instead, it was decided that his body would become the support for Captan and Maguayan’s new offspring.
And in so doing, the two gods planted on the land a bamboo tree. From this tree’s hollow branch emerged the first man (Sicalac) and the first woman (Sicabay). The two married and in turn had many offspring.
Other Mythical Beginnings
In Tagalog, the land’s creation was not so inclined to violence. In fact, it was a bird that spurred creation on. Because the bird could find no land to rest its weary wings, it made the water rise towards the sky. As a defense mechanism, the sky dropped pieces of land onto the water, to prevent it from rising up again. And so the land was made, and the bird made its nest and produced children.
In Igorot, the Great Spirit Lumawig came down from the
sky towards the unpopulated earth. He cut up reeds in pairs and placed them in
different regions. The regions became men and women who spoke different
languages. Lumawig helped the people in their early days and watched them
In Mindanao, the moon and the stars were the result of a single spinster woman. In the days when the sky was so close to the ground, a spinster woman came out of her home to pound rice. Rice is pounded by taking a mortar and smashing the bundle of grains on top of a hide placed on the ground. Before the spinster began her work, she unhooked her glittering beads from her neck and untangled her crescent comb from her hair. She hung these on the sky and began to pound. Each time she raised her mortar up, however, the end of the mortar hit the sky, which recoiled upwards. It came to the point where the sky floated up so high that the spinster’s possessions were lost to her. At night, we can still all see it: the crescent comb-shaped moon and the glittering bead-like stars are still shining in the night sky.
Clearing Things Up
To help give you a better sense of why these stories are
what they are, here are just a few explanations for things:
Lihangit and Lidagat – Taking the “Li” prefix out of their names, “hangit” can be derived from hangin, which means “air”, and dagat is “sea.” Which makes sense for Lihangit to be the son of the Sky God, while Lidagat is the daughter of the Sea God.
Liadlao, Libulan, and Lisuga – Again, take the “Li” prefix out, and calibutan means “world,” adlao means “day,” bulan means “moon,” and suga means
“light.” Licalibutan became the land, and thus part of the world, Liadlao
turned into the sun, Libulan became the moon, and Lisuga turned into the stars
in the sky.
Land masses – If you notice, in the stories I’ve summarized, everything began with the sky and the sea. The land had to be created. Because of the way the Philippines itself is arranged, most myths explain the reason for the scattered islands. Whether it’s by a giant falling into pieces or the sky raining land onto the sea.
People and races – I didn’t add so much of this in my summaries, but I do want to mention the myths about the humans a bit. What I happen to like about having read these creation myths is the fact that they explain not only how the world came about, but also how the different ethnic peoples came about. It may be because those in the Philippines did not start as one entire country speaking the same language. So that had to be explained (the gods separated them out of punishment or out of necessity). The concept of races was also an amusing bit of reading, though, again, I will leave you the choice to find that bit of information.
John Maurice Miller, Philippines Folklore Stories (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1904), pp. 57-64
Mabel Cook Cole, Philippine Folk Tales (Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Comopany, 1916), pp. 99-101, 124