Folklore and Legends from the Pearl of the Orient

Mayon Volcan image by Sinjin Pineda

The Philippines is a country which is abundant in folklore, supernatural beliefs, superstitions, and legends that have withstood through time. Prior to Spanish colonization which lasted for 333 years, the natives believed in the existence of deities residing in the forests and the mountains. Because the country is an archipelago made up of more than 7,000 islands, the indigenous Filipinos developed various belief systems, customs, and traditions.

Legends

Legends – Alamat in tagalog – of how and why land forms, water forms, and some living things such as plants, trees, and fruits came to be have been shared verbally throughout generations. Like how the pineapple looks like it’s covered with lots of “eyes”. Legend has it that the pineapple (Pinya in the local language) came from a very lazy girl named Pina who wouldn’t do the chores her mother asks her to do or cook the rice because she can’t find the ladle. Because of this, her mother wished out loud that she, Pina, “had a thousand eyes all over her head so that she can find what she is looking for and won’t have any more excuses”.  Growing up listening to this story, our teacher would ask us what the moral lesson is. A child would obviously say, it’s not good to be lazy and that we should help our parents. Recalling the story again as an adult reminds us of the cliché, “Be careful of what you wish for.”

Celestial bodies such as the sun and the moon also have a legend behind it. In this Visayan legend, it was said that the sun and the moon were both married, and they had many children – the stars.  The sun was very fond of his children but because he was very hot indeed, they burned up. This made the moon very angry that she forbade him to touch them. One day, the moon went to the spring to do some laundry but didn’t leave without warning her husband about touching the children. When she got back though, she found out that many of the stars perished because of the scorching hot embrace of their father, the sun, that she got so mad, she threw a banana tree to him and him in turn, reached for sand and threw it to her face – which is why she has all these craters on her surface – and then the sun chased her ever since.

The Philippines is situated in the Ring of Fire in the Pacific and has its share of several volcanoes. The most beautiful of these is Mount Mayon, or the Mayon volcano which is situated in Albay, Bicol. It is no surprise that this well-known land form has its own legend. It is a tragic love story about Daragang Magayon (beautiful maiden) and her lover, Ulap (cloud) who, in their sweet embrace during a battle between kingdoms triggered by jealousy and bitterness, was shot together by an arrow. It was beautifully said that “true love is hard to bury”. That was why, on the very soil that the lovers fell, the ground grew in time as a volcano because of the strong love of Magayon for Ulap. And because of her burning and overflowing affection, the volcano has a raging lava – the Mayon volcano is considered the most active volcano of the Philippines. She stands gloriously over the plains of Albay, Bicol, having a perfect symmetry, surrounded by clouds – her lover, Ulap, who jealously watches over her as he is not comfortable with the many eyes admiring his beloved Magayon.

Faeries and other beings

Other stories known locally are those of nymphs and faeries (engkanto in the local language) that live in the mountains, in very old trees, in waterfalls, and other water forms. My grandmothers from both sides of the family have narrated real experiences with these mysterious and mythical beings. These creatures are known to influence the daily lives of humans. Visits to my grandparents in the countryside during the summer enriched us with stories of the unknown. When walking through the woods and the mountains, we were always warned by our grandmother to be very careful not to disturb the unseen beings residing in these areas. We must not hurt the plants and the trees because they are houses and kingdoms of the faeries. If we had to answer to the call of nature on the way, we had to make sure to ask for permission and spit on the site as they might get mad at us and curse us for life. It was believed that people suddenly getting sick for unknown reasons were cursed by the faeries because these people have offended them or trespassed in their kingdoms. My grandparents’ house was situated near a river that connects to the sea. To this day, people in the area have maintained that the river is where the city of the faeries lies. And my aunt who has an active 3rd eye confirms this and even said that the big old tree that stands on the side of the hill behind my grandparents’ house is the hospital of the faeries. My grandmother’s sister who never married and has always been known as an old maid by the locals was said to be secretly married to a giant being and bore this creature children all of whom cannot be seen. Another grandmother from my father’s side of the family also claimed to have seen in her youth glorious beings that emerged from a waterfall. She was along the banks doing the laundry when she saw these bright creatures. They were human-like, men and women, but very tall and fair – as white as paper – and wore clothes that were not of this world. The females had long luxuriant hair of different shades and were the most beautiful of all. The males were the handsomest and they escorted these females along the waters, floating in midair. This stunned my grandmother that the moment she closed her eyes, they were gone.

Other experiences also say of being brought to the faery world. My cousin, who lives in the countryside, had one such experience as a boy. He was missing for 3 days and his family couldn’t find him. After 3 days however, he came back to them and told them a bizarre story of being brought by creatures to their world and that he was asked to stay and eat dinner with them. He didn’t eat any of their food and asked them kindly to bring him back home. Amazingly, the creatures let him go and he said that it only felt like an hour of being there, but he was already gone for 3 days in the human world.

Another being believed to be real are dwarves. They are not the kind of dwarves that we see on tv or the dwarves that helped Snow White. These are very tiny creatures that are said to live in mounds of earth, known locally as Nuno sa Punso. It said that these mounds are kingdoms of the dwarves and to step on them will bring grave punishment to the offender.

To this day, the locals in the area still believe in their existence. Just because we cannot see them doesn’t mean they are not real.

Ghouls and Monsters

The country is also rich in horror stories. Doppelgangers have been said to take the identities of people they come across and create some sort of mischief to this person’s friends or loved ones. My grandmother also lives near the sea. On the beach was this big old tree that was bare and dead, but it stood tall in the border between the dry sand and where the faint waves of the sea begin to touch. As children, we were forbidden to go near this sad looking tree that never bore fruit nor leaves because “creatures that are not like us” will imitate the way we look like and will take our place whilst we will disappear into the void.

One famous being that is notorious around the country is the Kapre. The kapre is a giant man with a messy beard and long hair and is known to smoke tobacco and resides in trees.

They’re not harmful per se, but they sometimes show themselves to people. They don’t eat humans, but some accounts say they sometimes help humans. When they are smitten by a woman, though, it is said that they would do whatever is necessary to pursue her in her lifetime. There have been local accounts of people claiming to have seen these beings. One was in my school. I studied in a Catholic school which was founded by French nuns in 1904, more than 100 years ago. The school campus is vastly occupied by very old Acacia trees, big trees that have existed from God knows when. It was a gloomy afternoon but the talk of the campus was that a girl from high school fainted because she saw a kapre sitting on one of the trees.

Other scarier monsters known by Filipinos is the Manananggal. She is said to be a normal looking woman during the day but hunts people at night especially male wanderers in the forest or pregnant women, sucking the hearts of fetuses. She transforms by severing her torso from her legs and sprouting bat-like wings attacking prey at night. Her legs are left deep in the forest and it is said that to kill a manananggal, you must look for her severed legs and sprinkle rock salt all over it before she comes back to reunite her torso with it in the break of dawn.

When the Spaniards came to colonize the country, these stories and legends have prevailed even with the indoctrination of the Filipinos by the Catholic Church of Spain. The Kastila/Españols (Spaniards) have greatly influenced the religious beliefs of Filipinos and have contributed to the culture and tradition of the country.

There are more stories that have survived even to this day. And people still are fascinated by the mystery of their existence even with the current changing mindset. There should be hard evidence and science must be used for proof. Local skeptics question the authenticity of these stories, but one must admit, it’s not always true that if a case hasn’t been proven by science, it’s not real.

 

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