5 Epics & Fables From the Philippines You Probably Never Heard Of
4.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (3 Votes)

There are some stories that have been passed down to us through the generations that tells the tales of our people in long enchanting epics and folklore. Some that are well known are the Biag ni Lam-ang of the Ilokanos, the Ibalon from the Bikolanos, the Hudhud from the Ifugao, the Hinalawod of the Sulod of Panay, and the Darangen of the Maranao.

However there are a few that majority don’t know of, hidden in old Spanish texts, notably of Francisco Alcina in his Historia de las islas e indios de Bisayas (1668). These epics and fables are not in their entirety as they have been summarized by Alcina and much of the rich verses and sequences that tell of what the heroes and heroines in the epics do, the challenges, exploits, deeds, and interaction with the spirits, ancestors, deities, and mythological creatures, are for the most part left out. However we do know that these people were in the minds of their people, some which were as recent during the time of Alcina.

Here are the epics mentioned by Alcina and a few fables that otherwise would have been lost in history.

1.) Kabungaw & Bubung Ginbuna

On the coast of Ibabao were two celebrated lovers, the man called Kabungaw and the woman Bubung Ginbuna. Before they were married, these two had been in love for a long time, and once when he had to go on a certain rather long voyage, in company with others who were setting out on a pangayaw raid, he left instructions with his sweetheart that she should go straight to his parents house to get whatever she needed for comfort. (He only had a mother or sister since his father had already died.) She went one time when she had to get a little abaca to weave clothes for her lover, but was so ill received by her swain’s mother and his sister, who was called Halinai, that after abusing her by word, they did not giver her what she had come to get, so she went back displeased and determined not to return there or even be seen by her lover again. He learned this as soon as he returned and asked if she had requested anything, and the bad sendoff she had been given instead, so after much brooding, he refused to go up into his house until he learned where and with whom his lady was living.

He did many things and particular deeds until he learned that she was on a little island where she had fled with her slaves. He was almost drowned the times he went in search of her and escaped only by means of supernatural aid, until on the third attempt he reached there, and died near the house where she was living, until he was recognized by a slave who reported it to his lady. She went down drawn by love, and in her presence he recovered the life he lost in her absence, and both rejoicing, they were married. They remained there as lords of that little island, which they called Natunawan in allusion to the love they had felt on first sight, because natunawan means that they melted together with happiness, or Nawadan, which means “lost footsteps.” There, they say, not only men followed them from the mainland, but even plants, attracted by the goodness of the land and the good reception from those settlers.

2.) Datung Sumanga and Bugbung Humasanun

There was, so says the singer, a princess in the island of Bohol of great repute and fame called Bugbung Humasanun, the most renowned among all the beauties and of the greatest fame for her talent among all the damsels, so secluded and enclosed in her chamber that nobody ever saw her except by sheerest chance. Her visage was like the sun when it spreads its first rays over the world or like a sudden flash of lightning, the one causing fear and respect, the other, joy and delight. a great chief desirous of marrying her called Datung Sumanga one day arrived below her house and, giving a salute, asked for the said princess without going up by calling out her name and surname and the other names which she had been given for her beauty. Irritated by his call, and either angry at his boldness or pretening to be, she sent a maid to ask who he was, and learning his name, acted angrier still that the courtesy had not been shown according to their custom, and replied, why had he come in person? Had he no slaves to send, perhaps not even someone he esteemed like a son whom he trusted as faithful and could send as a friend? So, without replying or speaking a  single word, the chief had to go right off rebuffed.

So selecting an Ayta slave, he ordered him to go as intermediary and ask that princess for buyos, and told him not to come back without them. The slave go between went with his message and asked for the buyos in his masters name, repeating the words of courtesy and praise which were customarily most polite.  To this she responded with the same courtesy, saying that she had neither bongs to put in the buyos nor leaves to make them, for the bongas which she used came from where the sun rose and the leaves which she added from where it set. And she said nothing more.

When her reply was received by the suitor chief, he immediately ordered his slaves to embark to go and search, some to the east for the bongas, and others to the west for the leaves, just as the princess had asked for them. This they did at once, and the same one who brought the message was sent back with them, and handed them over and asked her to make the buyos for his lord. To this the lady replied that she could not make them because she had no lime, since her lime was only found in a certain distant and isolated island. With only this reply he returned. So the datu immediately ordered ships launched at sea and sent them flying to find the lime in the place indicated. This the slaves carried out promptly, and returned with all speed and delivered the lime, which the same experienced messenger took at once and gave to the lad on behalf of his master, asking her for those buyos. Her response was that she was not about to make them until his master went in person to Tandag town on the coast of Caraga and made a mangayaw raid there and brought her those he captured.

So he started out at once, and with his joangas, or barangays, armed with all his warriors, embarked for the said Caraga, made his attack, and took 120 persons in all, whome, before even disembarking or going to his house, he sent to be handed over to the binokot by the same messenger with the necessary guards, who did so immediately and asked for the buyos in return for his lord who was exhausted from the battle.

But still not content with this, she sent back to say she could not make the buyos until he did the same thing he had done in Tandag in the islands of Yambig and Camiguin, which the chief set out to do at once. Reinforcing his fleet and taking only a few days, he brought his ships back full of captives, some 220 persons of all kinds, whom he immediately sent to his lady, asking again for those buyos by means of that slave, to which, as stubborn as ever, she added that he had to perform the same deed with the people of the island of Siquijor and the town of Dapitan.

This he did at once and sent her all the captives, who were no fewer than n the past occasions, though still not enough to win her consent or for her give them the buyos which the gallant was asking of her.  Instead, she sent to tell him that he had to do the same thing with the towns subject to Mindanao and those of the island of Jolo. So, undaunted by even this challenge, for a lover, unless he is mad, fears as little as those who are, he started out on the fourth expedition. He weighed anchor with this fleet and went to Mindanao and Jolo, where he fought valiantly and took many  more captives than on the other occasions, and sent them all to her once more asking for his buyos, since for these he was giving her she must surely say yes and set the wedding for certain.

But not even this time was she willing to give in, but rather, sent him another demand by the fuming go-between, who told him, “Sire, what the princess said is that she esteems your favors and admires your valor, but that in order to demonstrate you really love her and so your prowess may be better known, she had hard that not very far from these islands is the great kingdom of China, a people very rich and opulent who chirp like birds with a singsong voice and nobody understands them, and she said no more.”

When her lover heard this, he fitted out his ships with stronger rigging, added more vessels, men, and arms, and undertook the fifth voyage for Grand China, at which coast he arrived safely, made his assaults on towns little prepared, captured enough to fill the ships, and made the return voyage to his land with great speed, laden with captives and spoils, which he immediately sent to his lady with the repeated plea for the buyos.

But the lady was not won over by even all of this, but rather, setting her contract sill higher, asked for the impossible, for the reply which she gave was to say that in due time and without fail she would make the buyos if he performed one more task first, which was the he should bring her something from heaven as important as what he had brought her from earth.

On this reply, seeing that she was asking for the impossible, he said, “Come then, let’s get started: we will try to conquer heaven. Prepare the ship,” he said, “and we’ll go there. We’ll make an attack on the sky; we’ll unhinge a piece of it; we’ll unfold part of one of its eight layers or levels, and we’ll seize one of its greatest thunder claps; we’ll rob the moon of a bit of its splendor, or if nothing else, at least one ray of those that are forged in its workshops. Come then, we’re off, we’re off!”

So he embarked, but in vain, and so he sailed, but without end, for all the receding horizons, he neither reached one nor could he cover them all, so he returned satisfied, and sent word to her that he had done what she had ordered but that could only dedicate, not give, the thunder and lightning to ther, for throughout the many regions he had coursed, many were heard but few were found. He added that unless she sent him the buyos immediately which had cost him so much and had so tired him out, he would come and personally remove her hairpiece and make a sombol plume of it for his ship.

On receiving this message, she began to cry and moan, terrified in her heart lest her dishonor her, and so she decided to make the buyos so many times denied. When they were made, she put them in a little casket of marble fashioned with much art, and this inside another little case like those in which ladies keep their jewels, and sent them with the slave who had so many times come and gone with messages. But when he told his lord that he had them, he was unwilling to see or receive them and sent them back instead, saying he would not accept them whole but only chewed, and that she should send one in a perfumed box of gold, all of which was a sign of her consent and pledge of their intended wedding celebrations, which they performed afterwards with the pomp and ostentation fit for their class and wealth.

3.) Pusong of Magtaon

I will tell of one brave whose memory was still very fresh because it happened not many years before the Spaniards arrived here. This one was an Indio of gigantic stature called Pusong, a native of the town of Magtaon in the interior of the island of Samar and Ibabao, who used to make frequent invasions of the towns of Calbiga and Libunnao which are on the Samar side, but not so much around Borongan because those on that coast were much more feared. Those he had killed were many when they stood up to him, and even more those who had been captured in repeated times because he was a great raider, or magahat as they call them, until near the town of Calbiga they set a trap for him in which he was killed.

This trap was that in a stream he had to cross, which was all flat stones with very high banks of rock, one of the more daring hid below it on the side, with arms ready, though not trusting so much in them as in the treachery and trap they had set for him. This one challenged him from the side where he was, with the stream in between, and when the one from Magtaon jumped over, the one who was hidden below the bank threw his spear with such great force that it passed through his body, with which he fell. And the one who had challenged him came down and they killed him–since “a dead Moro gets many blows”–in the very place where he had fallen with the first wound, and since this was of very wide flat stones, as I saw when I went there just to see what traces remained on that rock where, stretched out in the same position, they had traced and carved out with a chisel the whole body in the very posture in which he had died.

I have seen these lines or carving which still survive today, and they show that he was a remarkable man and husky because although he wore a barote (padded breastplate), the rest of his body was naked except for his bahag, and from the lines which traced his thighs, legs, arms, head, and body (he had one arm caught underneath and one leg twisted or bent), it is clear that he was a giant of a man, of greater stature and build than the tallest ordinarily are.

4.) Bingi of Lawan

There lived in this place a chief called Karagrag, who was its lord and ruler. He was married to a lady of his rank called Bingi, a name which had been bestowed on her because of her chastity, as we shall see. This lady, according to what they recount, was endowed with many fine virtues and greatly celebrated for her beauty among these natives, so much so that, moved by the fame of her beauty, the Datu, or ruler, of Albay got ready a hundred ships. This chief was called Dumaraug, which means the victor, and with all those ships he weighed anchor in his land, and within a short time came in view of the Lawan Island town of Makarato.

He unexpected arrival excited the town, but since it was well fortified by its natural location and it was the season of the Vendavales (the best time for going there from Albay) when the force of the sea and its waves were strong and turbulent, he did not venture to go straight in but took shelter instead near the beach which Rawis Point makes with very fine sand and free of shoals, where, because of an islet across the entrance from the sea, the surf is less obstructive and the sea milder and calm. From there he sent a small boat with a sign of peace to announce the purpose of his coming, which was simply to carry Bingi away as his wife, the fame of whose beauty alone had left him lovestruck and with only this would he then return to his land without making any attack and always afterward remain their friend and protector, since being more powerful than they, he could do it to their advantage.

Karagrag, rather than making reply, showed them how well prepared he was by entertaining them, and when his wife was informed of Dumaraug’s intentions, she responded at once that she was greatly surprised that for something of such little worth he had made such a demonstration and launched so many ships, that she was content with the husband she had and did not care to exchange him for any other, even one much more powerful, and that so long as he was alive, she could not think of leaving him; and if it should be her unlucky fate to fall into his hands as his slave, that to maker her his wife, she would never consent and was ready to giver he life first.

Encouraged by so bold a response, her husband Karagrag simply added that he was there waiting with his men deployed, and that although they were not many, they were very good men, and that the place where they were was very secure, and if he came to try his arms in battle, they would do their duty; and if he should defeat them, he would be lord of his wife and property, but if not, he would return to his land empty-handed, if indeed he escaped from there with his life.

With this reply, and in view of the strength and impregnability of the place for them, with no more arms than spears and shields or at most some arrows, the chief reconsidered and hesitated a bit but not for long, and without attempting anything more and risking his men, he returned home just as he had come, leaving both the chief and his wife Bingi happy.

5.) Why the Bat is Called Stupid

We will add a Bisayan fable here which gives these bats their name and the reason they go out at night. This is, that after their creation, all the birds got together for each one to choose his food, and so that they would not be taking each others’, each would choose according to his desire and taste. When this big bat’s turn came, he chose for his kind the fruit of a tree which is called tabigi here, which is beautiful to the eye, as big as a medium melon and, seen from a distance, not dissimilar to the big oranges of China. They all made fun of him because this fruit, although of nice appearance outside, inside has nothing more than a few seeds as large as eggs, although of different shapes to fill the shell; they are very hard, bitter and tasteless (although very good for curing loose stool, most especially bloody stool, though the birds did not know this quality). From this incident, he was given the name Kabug, which means dunce (bobo) in this language, or one who has little sense.  They also have a saying which serves very appropriately for no few occasions, and it is that when somebody selects what pleases the eye without checking it quality–like a beautiful woman but foolish, or a handsome man but stupid, and fruit of good color but rotten, etc.–they say of him, “Daw napili sin tabigi,” which means that, like the Kabug, he chose the tabigi fruit, good to look at but for nothing else.

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at Pinoy-Culture.com. She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.