The Bisayan Creation Myth
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Throughout the world many groups of people have created their own diverse creation stories to help explain our existence. While often times they may be seen as a fabrication of the human imagination, there are often elements of truth to the history of that certain group of people and their culture. Some myths depict the genealogy of the group, of where their ancestors came from while others describe the creation of the entire world. Our ancestors that called the islands of what is now known as the Philippines as their home were no exception to this human trait of understanding where we came from. Many of the different ethnic groups throughout the Philippines have their own creation myths, some very similar to another while others are vastly different. In this post I will talk about the Bisayans creation story and how it shaped their lives and culture.

We have very few accounts of the creation myth that was believed by majority of the Bisayan groups but we know what they did believe in and how they came to be. The most prominent record we have is from the written account by a soldier name Miguel de Loarca, one of the early Spanish settlers in his Relacion de las Yslas Filipinas in June 1582. In this account he describes the islands and the people in great detail. He divides his account into 11 chapters, which I will talk about in more detail in a future post. In one of these chapters called, Which Treats of the Belief Held By the Natives of the Pintados Islands Concerning the Creation, he describes the creation myths between the two groups of people, those living in the mountains and those living in the coasts.

As our stories and myths were recorded through our oral histories instead of written, we have no writing from our ancestors on these myths. We also have to take into note that the description of the myths by Loarca is just a mere summary of the elaborate epic, an art of literature that the our ancestors used in telling their stories. What might have been a creation myth that was spoken with many words and could take hours to days to recite has been summarized for the convenience of Loarca. We do not know how the myth was actually told to the many generations prior to the Spaniards and we must make do with the information Loarca and others have recorded.

So with that in mind here is the summary of the two prominent myths among the Bisayans between those in the mountains and those in the coasts. The first one is by those living in the coasts.

“The people of the coast, who are called the Yligueynes, believe that heaven and earth had no beginning, and that there were two gods, one called Captan and the other Maguayen. They believe that the land breeze and the sea breeze were married; and that the land breeze brought forth a reed, which was planted by the god Captan. When the reed grew, it broke into two sections,which became a man and a woman. To the man they gave the name of Sicalac, and that is the reason why men from that time on have been called _lalac_; the woman they called Sicavay, and thenceforth women have been called _babayes_. One day the man asked the woman to marry him, for there were no other people in the world; but she refused, saying that they were brother and sister, born of the same reed, with only one knot between them; and that she would not marry him, since he was her brother. Finally they agreed to ask advice from the tunnies of the sea, and from the doves of the air; they also went to the earthquake, who said that it was necessary for them to marry, so that the world might be peopled. They married, and called their first son Sibo; then a daughter was born to them, and they gave her the name of Samar. This brother and sister also had a daughter, called Lupluban. She married Pandaguan, a son of the first pair, and had a son called Anoranor. Pandaguan was the first to invent a net for fishing at sea; and, the first time when he used it, he caught a shark and brought it on shore, thinking that it would not die. But the shark died when brought ashore; and Pandaguan, when he saw this, began to mourn and weep over it–complaining against the gods for having allowed the shark to die, when no one had died before that time. It is said that the god Captan, on hearing this, sent the flies to ascertain who the dead one was; but, as the flies did not dare to go, Captan sent the weevil, who brought back the news of the shark’s death. The god Captan was displeased at these obsequies to a fish. He and Maguayen made a thunderbolt, with which they killed Pandaguan; he remained thirty days in the infernal regions, at the end of which time the gods took pity upon him, brought him back to life, and returned him to the world. While Pandaguan was dead, his wife Lubluban became the concubine of a man called Maracoyrun; and these people say that at that time concubinage began in the world. When Pandaguan returned,he did not find his wife at home, because she had been invited by her friend to feast upon a pig that he had stolen; and the natives say that this was the first theft committed in the world. Pandaguan sent his son for Lubluban, but she refused to go home, saying that the dead do not return to the world. At this answer Pandaguan became angry,and returned to the infernal regions. The people believe that, if his wife had obeyed his summons, and he had not gone back at that time, all the dead would return to life.”

Depiction of Pandaguan by FranzDG in his comic with the same name.

Depiction of Pandaguan by FranzDG in his comic with the same name.

Now we will read the account written for the creation myth among those who lived in the mountains who were called Tinguianes.

“The Tinguianes believe that in the beginning were only the sea and the sky; and that one day a kite, having no place where to alight,determined to set the sea against the sky. Accordingly, the sea declared war against the sky, and threw her waters upward. The sky, seeing this, made a treaty of peace with the sea. Afterward, to avenge himself upon her for having dared to assert herself, they say that he showered upon the sea all the islands of this archipelago,in order to subdue her; and that the sea ran to and from without being able to rise again. They say that from this event arose the custom of _mavaris_–that is, taking vengeance for an insult received, a very common practice in this land; and they consider it a point of honor to take revenge. Then they relate also the story of the reed; but they say that the kite pecked the reed, and the aforesaid man and woman came out. They add that the first time when Cavahi gave birth to children, she brought forth a great number at once. One day the father went home, very angry, and threatened the children. The latter were frightened and fled; some into the most hidden rooms of the house; some hid in other places nearer the open air; ¬†some hid themselves within the _dindines_, or walls of the houses, which are constructed of reeds; some in the fireplace; and some fled to the sea through the same door by which the father had entered. It is said that those who fled to the most hidden rooms are the chiefs of these islands; those who remained nearer the outside are the timaguas; those who hid themselves within the walls are the slaves; those who hid themselvesin the fireplace are the blacks; and those who fled out to the sea through the open door, are the Spaniards, and that they had no news of us until they beheld us return through the sea.”

Another notable account, and the earliest, on the creation myths of the Bisayans is told by Miguel de Lopez Legazpi in 1576.

“In the beginning of the world there was nothing more than sky and water, and between the two, a hawk was flying which, getting angry at finding no place to alight or rest, turned the water against the sky, which was offended and so scattered the water with islands and then the hawk had some place to nest. And when it was on one of them along the seashore, the current threw up a piece of bamboo at its feet, which the hawk grabbed and opened by pecking, and from the two sections of the bamboo, a man came out of the one and a woman from the other. These, they say, married with the approval of Linog, which is the earthquake, and in time they had many children, who fled when their parents got angry and wanted to drive them out of the house and began to hit them with sticks. Some got in the inner room of the house, and from these the grandees or nobles are descended; others went down the steps and from these the timawa were descended, who are the plebeian people; and from the children who remained hidden in the kitchen, they say the slaves are descended.”

Francisco Ignacio Alcina, a Jesuit missionary and historian who is known for recording down the culture and customs of the Bisayans during his 36 year stay also managed to write down a summary of the creation myth in his Historia de las islas e indios de Bisayas 1668.

“After the world was made and the coconut palms had borne fruit, two coconuts, well ripened, happened to fall into the sea on whose shore their palm tree was growing, whose waters received them and carried them on its waves for many days wherever the wind and current wanted, until one day when the sea was raging, it threw them with violence against some rocks. Ready to hatch–as if they were eggs–they broke open with the blow and–as if preordained–there came forth from the larger a man, who was the first one, whom they call Laki, and from the smaller a woman, whom they call Baye. And from these two as the first parents of the human race, all people are descended.”

Though there are local variations, the creation myth as known throughout the Bisayas. In the Panay version the bamboo was actually produced by a marriage between the sea breeze and the land breeze which according to Scott most likely is the primordial pair of deities, Kaptan and Magwayen (see the first myth above by Loarca). In Leyte and Samar, the version found here is that the first man and woman came from two young coconuts that were floating on the water and were pecked open by the bird.

Sikalak and Sikabay by Filway's Philippine Almanac from XiaoChua.net

Sikalak and Sikabay by Filway’s Philippine Almanac from XiaoChua.net

Despite the local variations of the myth, we know the basics of the creation story from there being some sort of bird, the importance of the sky and sea, a bamboo reed or coconuts, and the birth of the first man and woman, Sikalak and Sikabay. It is no surprise how the Bisayans saw the sea and sky as important aspects of their lives coming from islands where if you take away the islands there is nothing but the sky and the sea which they depended on. One interesting thing to note is how both the first man and woman were brother and sister and were equals. Unlike the story of Adam and Eve where Eve was created from Adams rib, the Bisayan pair were born from the same reed, the same seed, same coconut (or two separate coconuts), thus were born as equals.

The creation myth effectively describes how the Bisayans view the world and their origins. They provide why there is death, theft, concubinage, war, social classes, and race. At the root of the myth it also describes the genealogy of the Bisayans and their divine beginnings.

 

 

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.

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