Bicolano Origins - Creations Anew
Hello Everyone! Kumusta ka? Welcome back to our regularly scheduled programming. Using that term, rather loosely, of course. I’m still winging this project to a great degree.
After all, for the longest time, my Filipino identity was nothing but a sort of hallow credential or statement I could say when asked about myself but lacked any sort of personal meaning. It was a fact of my existence that I had no influence in or control over, if you will, but it was still mine. Or It’s almost like I was asked to hold a bag for someone else, and this bag is undoubtedly their bag. Or it was. But since then, they’ve walked away, and it’s been a while, so I guess this is technically my bag now? But I’m not sure what to do with this object that is only considered mine on some non-enforceable technicality.
And that’s not just a rehashing of past ideas. That’s a segue to a more unexpected discovery of mine. Not a great segue, really, because it will take me a while to get there. I guess I’m just setting your expectations at what I think is a good place in light of an unexpected discovery I made when working on this episode.
But first. Today, I’m moving on to the next creation myth in my quest to go through all the creation stories of the major ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines, having started with my group, gone down through the alphabet and I’m now returning to the top.
The Bicolano are the fifth largest ethnolinguistic group in the Philippines. Traditionally, they resided in what can be called the Bicol Peninsula, a peninsula of the Luzon Island and some of the neighboring islands of the south-east coast.
So they’re pretty close to the Visayan people, right? Good observation. If you made it. If not, hey just take the point. The tally marks of this podcast are inconsequential but can still make you feel good. And, actually, that’s another part of this forced segue happening right there.
When looking up this story, I ended up knee deep in the records of H. Otley Beyer and the account he left in his work. If you don’t remember who Beyer is, he’s considered the Father of Filipino Anthropology. Once he arrived in the Philippines, a place that always fascinated him, he jumpstarted the subject field and built up university departments devoted to that line of study. I’ve always found him to be a less than ideal but sympathetic figure. And because of that, while I’ve been critical of his ideas, I’ve never been completely blocked off to the possibility that he could be right. When the thought was appropriate.
So when I found this account, and realized something that I’ll go into in a little bit, I was caught off guard, yes, but I didn’t think Beyer had made a mistake or blown off the task or had handled the subject with anything less than his due diligence. And when you consider how close in geography the Bicolano and the Visayan are… well, it’s not that absurd of a thought.
Also I think it helped that the piece I pulled up is attributed to a different scholar Rosario Bonte, so whatever problems I have with Beyer are probably irrelevant.
But what am I describing? What is this thought I had? I’m getting to that.
Basically, there’s a large aspect of the Bicolano origin story that aligns almost perfectly with the Visayan one. And I mean that they align pretty precisely. The similarities between these two stories can’t be ignored, though when you broaden your perspective to include other deities and other myths, the differences come out in full force.
But I can’t do that right now. At least, with the precedent being what it is, I can’t. Or I’m reluctant to do so. Which all leaves me in a difficult situation, not to make this about me, but this is my podcast, so there’s that. (Music fades out and new music fades it) But ultimately, do I tell the same story twice, or do I skep this story and move on to the next one?
Now that wasn’t the first way I phrased this question to myself, but it proved to be the most illuminating. Because, in that question, I was acknowledging that this was a different story, if only because it belonged to a different set people. They were technically different stories with a great deal of similarities. And—by virtue of that small but important different—this story deserved to be told all the same.
And so, I’m going to include it here, a shortened version, by many standards, but next week, I’ll have another story for you along the lines of how the world came to be for this group of people.
So maybe this compromise, if that is what it is, isn’t great, but this is a process, and as long as I pay the fees attached to hosting my podcast as I am currently doing, then I can always go back and pick up more stories and let these tales and traditions find more people to treasure them.
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But for now, I have a story to tell you.
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Though most people do not realize it, there was a time before the universe as we know it. There was a time when there was not even a world. When everything was empty. Even the moon, the sun, the stars, and the earth were all absent. Their resting places as of then had not even been conceived. It truly was a very different existence than what we know now. Far emptier, on one hand. For all there was a never ending expanse of water beneath an equally endless sky.
Each one was its own kingdom. And in each of these kingdoms resided a god, impossibly strong and powerful. The kingdom of the sky belonged to the great god Languit. The kingdom of the water was ruled by Tubigan. These two deities rules over their neighboring kingdoms peacefully, each respecting the claims and rights of the other. They did not quarrel. They created no reason to quarrel. They did not envy. They did not spite. They did not mock.
It helped, of course, that each was absorbed with the activities of their own children. Each god had a child of his own to mind and raise up. Languit had a daughter called Dagat, and Tubigan had a son called Paros.
These two children saw each other across the thin divide between the sky and water. In passing once as each went about their lives, but in that moment, singular moment a connection formed between them. A faint one at that but one that resisted common sense or description. It was just so real and powerful. But they knew it was there, whatever it was. They fell in love and petitioned their parents for the right to be married, in doing so they would be bonded together for their futures. They would never have to be without each other. And that was exactly what they wanted.
With no ill blood between them, the two gods agreed to the arrangement rather quickly. They could certainly see that it was advantageous to be aligned with one’s equal and greatest rival. But more than that, it would make their children—their good and loyal children—happy beyond measure.
For those reasons, the two were married, and in that bond, Dagat became the sea, and Paros became the wind. In this way, their natures became merged together. All that they were—past, present, and future—overlapped and could never be torn asunder.
And just as the gods predicted, this union was a happy one. At first and always. The promise of a lifetime together had been enough to make them happy. But, in time, they would find more reason to be content. Four children were born to them. Three sons—called Daga Aldao and Bulan—and a daughter—called Bitoon. Though they were all born from the same loving union, they were all very different beings. Daga was the embodiment of strength with a massive body composed of the hardest rock. Aldao was the embodiment of joy with a golden body. Bulan, on the other hand, lacked the strength of his eldest brother and the shine of his other brother. He was weak, both in his copper body and in his soul. And then there was their sister: Bitoon, beautiful, kind, and made of silver.
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Despite their differences, all were loved greatly and doted upon by their parents and grandparents. They made for a happy family.
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But it could not always be that way. Dagat and Paros were not the invincible beings their fathers were. While they were strong in so many other ways, they were not immune to the passage of time. It did not show right away. It did not happen right away. It was a slow and gradual process at an age in which time did not seem relevant, but eventually, Paros passed away, leaving the power of the winds to Daga—as eldest son.
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With this new power, the young man needed guidance. He needed the assistance of someone wiser to help him assume proper control of this gift, to soften the effects of his tempter, and to help him maintain his good and proper nature. But such assistance would not come. Before she could help her son understand and assume his new responsibilities, Dagat too passed, leaving the universe in mourning and her children to the care of their grandparents.
And in that care, they were still loved. But they were not watched over and guided with the same diligence they had been before.
Daga did not hesitate to wield his new found power. Such was his right as his father’s heir, and such did not guarantee his destruction. But from that first taste of power, Daga was intoxicated, hypnotized by that rush to forget everything he had been taught to believe. He lose sight of the lessons his fathers had carefully taught him and all the virtues his mother had instilled in him. He forget everything except for the sense of exhilaration that overcame him when he thought about getting more. He wanted more power. He needed more. He would not accept anything less than becoming an all-powerful being. Like his grandfathers were.
One day, emboldened by the creation of a particularly strong windstorm, Daga approached his two younger brothers with a desire to attack the kingdom of Languit. The desire alone sent his brothers recoiling. After all, this was their grandfather—who had loved and doted on them all their lives. It was not right. It was not just. And they were horrified by the thought and how easily their brother spoke those words.
He was not the elder brother they knew. Or at least, it was difficult to recognize him. His newfound power had gone to his head and shifted its contents around.
They refused to help him, but when Daga flew into a rage—summoning the winds to avenge the perceived affront, they both relented from fear. Bulan first, but Aldao soon followed.
For several days, they prepared to strike. It was not long—certainly not long enough for Daga to realize the grave mistake he was making. The sliver of goodness that remained within him was struggling to break free, stifled by the weight of Daga’s arrogance. It spurred him forward, convincing him that there was no need to be cautious, that he was powerful enough to take on his grandfather. With his brothers’ help, of course. But once he overtook Languit and assumed control. There would be no need for them. Or for Tubigan.
But those were things he could deal with at another time. First things first. He took a deep breath and called his brothers to join him in their expedition.
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It was not a long trip. Languit had never been that far from his grandchildren. While it was true that after the death of his child he had retreated and spent much of his time resting, he had never turned his back on what little family he had left. The weight of his grief exhausted him, but he would always be strong enough for his grandchildren.
The gates of his kingdom were locked and secured to the hearty clouds Languit had built his kingdom upon. Daga approached them first, silently. He gestured for his brothers to wait, to stand back until the real battle could commence. Certainly, he could take on the gates by himself. They need only wait. At his command, they nodded in agreement. They could wait, certainly. They wanted to wait. In fact, they did not want to do this at all, but both brothers were too weak to give his hesitation any proper voice. They hoped Daga would change his mind. But it seemed unlikely.
Daga struck the lock of the gate with his strong hands. But at first, it held firm. He struck it again and a third time, but each time, the lock held in place. Crafted by Langui, the lock would not give way to one beneath its creators. It remained unwavering, unmoving.
Angered, Daga flew into a rage, summoning all the powers of the wind that he had at his disposal and attacked the gate with all of his might.
This time, it was enough. The gate gave way, and the three brothers proceeded inside. Their defenses were raised, and their minds were geared for battle.
As the brothers entered their grandfather’s domain, the god was awakened by the roaring of the winds and the rattling of his gate. When it burst open with a loud crash, Languit arose fully. His mind was sharp. He instantly understood what was happening. He was quick to know but quicker to anger.
And that feeling consumed him.
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Languit took to the air, filling it up and towering over his grandsons. His eyes were burning. His face was stricken with his rage. Two of the brothers cowered in fear from the sight before them, the sight of the unbridled anger of their grandfather. It was something they had never seen before, though they found themselves occasionally trying to imagine it when their minds wandered into darkness. It had always been soemthing they could never fully comprehend. But all the same, they knew to fear it. And now it was before them, and they found that it was worse than their darkest dreams.
While his brothers trembled in fear, Daga stood tall. He let the winds blow as a show of his power and he faced up at his grandfather for a moment, prepared to fight. But most of all, prepared to win.
Languit was only angered further by the sight of his petulant grandson before him, the sight of his grandson rejecting all the love and care the god had given him over the course of his life, the sight of an arrogant fool stepping out of line. Languit sneered as the younger brothers caught his eye behind the eldest. They too had taken a stand against him, and though they were not strong enough to maintain it, the sin had already been committed. And the damage had already been done. Their fate had already been sealed.
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And so, all three were punished. The enraged Languit sent out three bolts of lightning, one for each of his grandsons. With one strike, each of his grandsons were destroyed. The metallic bodies of Bulan and Aldao melted into balls of copper and gold. But Daga’s body took the most damage as Languit thought he deserved as much. The lightning struck the rock of Daga’s body and tore it apart. Shards fell into the water kingdom below, jutting up above the surface of the water, making the land we stand on today.
Meanwhile, their sister Bitoon was oblivious to her brothers’ fate. They had left her out of their plans and said nothing about where they were going. Their absence was noticed, but Bitoon did not seek them out right away, trusting that they would return to her as they always did. And yet, they did not come, and her patience soon fled.
As her brothers’ met their end, Bitoon rose up and sought them out. But she did not know where to look. She had no way to find her brothers, but rather than fall into dismay at her helplessness, she looked up towards her grandfather’s kingdom. A flicker of light caught her eye, and she believed it simply to just be an idea. And with no second thought, she took up to the sky and sought out the being she trusted above all others.
The shards of Daga’s body passed her as she went, and while she was startled, she did not understand what she was seeing at first. It was not until she got to the molten bodies of Bulan and Aldao that she realized the extent of the horrors that had just unfolded. (Music fades out and new music fades in) But by then, it was too late for her to run.
When Languit saw her, his rage convinced him that she too had the same intent as her brothers. The sweet Bitoon—loving and beautiful as she once had been—had turned on him as well. His fury was ignited anew, and she too was struck with another bolt of lightning. With so much anger behind it, her body also was shattered into many pieces.
With his grandchildren dead, Languit descended from the sky and sought out Tubigan who was sleeping deep within the water. Languit believed that it was Tubigan who encouraged the attack. But Tubigan arose and defended himself, citing that he too was resting. They had both been resting, worn down by such long lives and such intense loss. It was something they had bonded over once upon a time. The deaths of their children had sealed them together in an unbreakable way.
At the mere mention of that shared pain, the bond between them was renewed. Languit was pacified, but with his anger set side and the threat gone, sadness took over. And they wept.
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There was no way to bring them back. They knew this, and it was a fact they further lamented. It was their one limitation, and yet, that limitation had—in many ways—led to the destruction of their entire world.
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But there could always be another world, they thought in tandem. And in doing so, their grandchildren could remain with them, in some way.
Carefully, Languit and Tubigan created a series of lights and gave one to Bulan, Aldao, and the many pieces of Bitoon’s body before sending them upwards into the sky, to watch over this new world they had made. Aldao became the sun, Bulan became the moon, and Bitoon’s many pieces became the stars. Aldao would light the days of this new world and warm all beneath him. Bulan would follow in his brother’s footsteps but in his own way. He could be present but still hidden, more so when he was most fearful. It would be a rhythm all his own. And Bitoon would keep her beauty, twinkling overhead and cradling the brother that needed it most.
As for Daga, there would be no light for him. But he could be of some use to this new order. In what had been his body, new life would sprout.
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It was Tubigan’s idea, and to that end, he crafted the seed that would bear the next set of surrogate children for the two gods. They would cherish these new children for the rest of their days and protect them from all harm.
The seed took root, but it would take some time before it could grow and become what it needed to become. In the meantime, the gods busied themselves by filling up the rest of the universe with plants and creatures of the air, land and sea. They wanted to make a full world for these new children of theirs to provide for them, to entertain them, and to keep them from making those same mistakes. And to keep the world in proper order.
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Just as they finished, the bamboo tree reached its full potential. It towered over the entire land. Its thick trunk held against the now unrestrained winds and promised to bear much fruit. And it did. In time, the first man and woman emerged from the branches. More soon followed. And for a while, these people were all good at heart. They were all good and obedient children, and they minded and respected the two gods above them. And in this, the two gods were happy.
However, Daga’s arrogant nature remained deep in the soil that had been his body. A light could have chased it away, but the two gods had refused to give it one. Consequently, Daga’s arrogance remained and lay dormant until the bamboo tree pulled this essence from the ground like it was any other nutrient. And unknowingly, the tree used it to create a person, named Maisog.
He carried this defiant nature deep in his soul, and whenever it peaked out from beneath the surface, it somehow went unnoticed. He was a smart and precocious child, cherished by all for his mind and quick tongue. It was amusing to them, and so, they saw no reason to keep it in check. But this unrestrained mind and tongue soon began to question all that he was told. (Music fades out) He questioned the need to be obedient, to mind the commands of the gods he could not see, and most of all, why he needed to labor in the coves for fish as he had always done. (Music fades in) It was tedious and mindless, and there were far better uses of his time.
Regarding the latter, there was something he could do about it. Maisog constructed a large fish trap and lay it at his usual spot. Then he waited but not long. After a few moments, the trap snapped shut. In it, a monstrous beast of a whale waited for him. It’s body was far bigger than anything he had ever seen and marred by the scars of a thousand battles. Maisog’s breath caught in his throat.
Certainly, this was a god.
He hurriedly brought it back to his trap and presented it to the people to worship. He showed them the large fins, capable of building up the land beneath their feet and the large eyes that seemed to look deep into their souls and the teeth capable of eating them all. Some were won over and cast aside all that they had been told in order to worship this new being before them. The perception of power emanating from the beast was far too alluring for some to ignore.
And so, they dropped to their knees and became to pray.
It was not a large crowd gathered around the whale. But it was enough.
It was the slightest disturbance, but it was enough to awaken not only the gods from the sky and sea but also their anger. (Music shift) They shook the world with their fury. In the tremors, their commands to Maisog echoed out. The young man needed to throw the whale back to the water and return to worshipping the gods before him, giving them the respect and reverence they deserved.
The people behind him trembled, but Maisog did not have the sense to be afraid. Instead, he focused on the feat he had achieved, on the sense of exhilaration that ran through his body when he lifted the whale from the water. It had convinced him that he could take on the gods, and now, no one could convince him otherwise.
Languit knew what he was looking at: his grandson’s essence in this new vessel. It was inescapable in so many ways. Disgusted, Languit struck the boy with a thunderbolt, not enough to kill him—his death would do nothing—but enough to burn into his skin and memory the price and futility of his petulance.
With that, the two gods scattered the people, both innocent and guilty, across the earth, hoping that one community of loyal believers could be maintained, but even if that could not be, at the very least, the sins of one could not destroy them all if they were kept apart.
In this way the earth came into be as we know it, a large world of divided nations beneath warm lights and a hard unrelenting ground.
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