Episode 9 - Bicolano Origins Part 2 - Things Familiar and Things Vastly Different
Hello Everyone! Kumusta Ka! Welcome to today’s episode, which if you have been keeping track, should be the second half of the Bicolano Origin story. But if you have been following along, you would know that I ran into some difficulties when it came to this particular creation myth. (Pause) You know, you should go back and listen to that episode if you want to know what happened. (Pause) Okay, fine, I’ll just tell you.
Basically, the Bicolano origin story is a lot like the Visayan one. And if you’re asking me how similar, I don’t feel comfortable answering such a very pointed question. Yes, they are very similar, but they differ in ownership, which to me is a crucial difference. One that justified a retelling, albeit a truncated one, of the Bicolano creation story. It was part of a compromise that I devised, wherein I would offer a shortened version of that familiar story and a relative short new story the following week that was still partially about beginnings of the world as we know it.
But I also owe you a few added remarks or things of note about the indigenous religion, right? That’s how the past episodes went.
Okay, yeah, but actually, I’m tempted to debate semantics here because how many episodes does it really take to establish a pattern here because I’m pretty sure you have some unrealistic expectations going on.
And that is me deflecting again. I think I’ve admitted before that this podcast was a half-baked idea at launch. It was important in a sentimental sense but not in a thought through sense. I wanted to dive into my Filipino side and document it for someone else like me who felt distant and needed a nudge to circle back around. It didn’t have to be a perfect nudge. But it had to exist.
And I’m rambling again. Now that I’m getting more comfortable doing this podcasting thing, I’m not filtering myself as much as I used to do, and I’m sure that may be annoying.
But my point—and I do have one—is that I didn’t think this through, which would have included anticipating any and all possible problems I could and likely would encounter. Ignorance isn’t any sort of protection, though. Last episode was the first time I ran into what might have been a foreseeable hiccup, and this episode is the second.
Because I wasn’t sure what additional detail or information to include herein that you haven’t already heard before. And look, I don’t mean for this set of episodes to be defined by my complaints about my own poor planning, but here we are.
Ultimately, many of the bit-sized details of the Bicolano religion—elements of animism, polytheism, and the presence of ancestral spirits—are things you’ve heard about before. Those are cursory details that define religions as a whole, but this isn’t the time for more detailed things. Not in this (quote) unit.
(Music fades out and new music fades in)
Right now, I just wanted to tell origin stories. Partially because I didn’t know what else to do, partially because I find them interesting, partially because I find them fun and fascinating. Partially because those stories aren’t being told and untold stories have a nasty habit of dying like my grandfather’s did. (See pilot). Partially because so many other stories like this get told all the time. And I wanted these to have that same treatment.
But none of that greenlights diving deeper into the nuances that set these religions apart at the moment. And while I’ve always known, anticipated, and accepted that for now there was quite a lot I would have to leave out with every intention of circling back around later, it’s not ideal. It’s not a great arrangement, but I never promised you a great podcast, only a documentation of my adventures. And those were always going to be a little disorganized.
Even so, I still think there’s a takeaway here I can and should offer you.
For one, I think expecting clear and hard distinctions between the larger beliefs of these religions was foolhardy from the get go. They are close groups, both in terms of geography and physical relations. Exchange was inevitable and is part of human development to the point that it would be inhumane to deny it here.
On the other hand, I can dive a bit into the pantheon of deities for some sort of inspiration. Because we haven’t met the Bicolano Supreme Deity yet, and he’s got his own stories to tell. And I think you would enjoy one of those.
His name was Gugurang, a supreme deity who ascended to power by defeating his predecessor and declaring his former equal to be his inferior. Yep, you heard that right. Here, we get a tumultuous order of gods who are vying for power. Those who succeed then must feel all more powerful to the people below. Or so I imagine. But can’t you follow my logic here? If a god was strong enough to take power as opposed to just being given it, then you can’t have any doubts that this deity could easily smite you.
So I picked out a story that both conveyed this idea and also seemed pretty interesting if you—like me—had to study Greek mythology in school and remember far too much about it.
(Music fades out)
But let’s set that aside for now. And let’s go.
(Music fades in)
In a time not so long ago but long enough to be nothing more than a distant memory whispered in the winds around us, the gods of good and evil lived in a forced harmony. Though neither could remember the day, they had reached an understanding, and perhaps, because they saw that this was a good balance that protected the created world and kept everything in order, they chose to keep vows they could not remember making. And all was good.
This balance consisted of two gods, who some thought were brothers, who lived opposite each other. Gugurang, proclaimed to be the God of goodness by the people, lived in Mount Mayon. He was tall and muscular, with silver hair running the length of his body. It reflected the light, twinkling like the stars overhead. Asuang, the proclaimed god of evil lived in Mount Malinao. In his body, there was a great resemblance to Gugurang, and perhaps it was that which made the people think they were brothers. But his hair was very dark and accented the features of his face. In the day, it made him look quite handsome, but in the darkness, it made him look like a very different creature
Both gods lived their own lives in their mountains, distinct but joined by a need to keep peace and by a growing disinterest in that peace. In their picture-esque towers of stone, they could watch each other. And though they had vowed to not interfere, the desire was still there.
Around them, the people went about their daily lives, growing food and building homes. They were happy and obedient, having learned not to disobey the orders of the gods. Besides, there was work to be done and only so many hours by which they could do it. Crops needed to be tended to, homes needed to be built, fish needed to be caught, and children needed to be minded. But all the same, every so often, someone would look towards Mount Mayon, and it would fill them with a sense of worry and dread.
Despite being equals, Gugurang had a certain power over the people, one that Asuang did not have because the god of goodness controlled the fire that resided deep within his home and—thus—controlled the people with its might. When fire first seeped from the cracks of his mountain, the people knew the raw power Gugurang had at his disposal. The sight of fire—even after a lifetime—still filled them with awe and dread. After all, fire could destroy all their work and all their hope if he felt inclined to punish. But if he felt inclined to be generous, Gugurang could ease their hardships. He could give them more time to complete their chores. He could give them a light to chase away the monsters lurking in the darkness around them. He could heat their homes against the cold night air. But these were all things we often chose not to do. And when he did, he only gave them flickers, small embers of hope for what they could one day have.
(Music fades out and new music gradually fades in)
Or that’s what they would think when the fire would go out. But really, Gugurang knew what he was doing. He saw the careless, arrogant way the people conducted themselves. Though they did not admit it, there was still a sense of restlessness and disobedience deep in the heart of the people. It was an urge far too powerful for them to ignore. And so Gugugrang often had to punish them with earth-shaking rumbles beneath their feet. It was never meant to hurt them, only to force them to correct their ways. Discipline, some would call it, that which a loving parent must administer to an unruly child.
But Asuang did not agree. He could not see the logic, only that Gugurang had a power he did not have. And that this power led the people to worship him. Gugurang was seen as the giver of life and hope. And the people, though they knew of Asuang did not seem to care. In fact, they mocked him in whispers beneath his mountain. Or this is what he believed.
One day as another rumble filled the land, Asuang felt his discontent surge. He would never do this to the people, he thought. He would give them everything they wanted. They would never suffer under his rule. And for this reason, he was a far better god.
And so, he deserved to be worshiped, not Gugurang.
Fortunately for Asuang, he could see a way to end his plight. In his mind, he could buy the people’s love just as Gugurang had.
One day, Asuang approached the other god and asked him for a share of the fire. In his heart, he wanted to share this resource with the people, bringing them a neverending supply of life and joy. When he did that, he believed, they would love him. They would have more time to worship him, warm houses in which they could build shrines to him, and fewer fears to distract them from their love for him. It would be a beautiful life, the sort of things he dreamed about. But fearing that this would break the truce that held all of creation in balance, Asuang bit his tongue and kept these intentions hidden from the other god as he begged on the throne room floor for a bit of the resource Gugurang had in abundance.
But despite Asuang’s secrecy, Gugurang could see the other’s intentions. Gugurang had learned to read the eyes’ and search for the intentions hidden therein. He spent so much of his life doing this with the people who lived beneath his mountain that it came as naturally to him as breathing would to us. He knew Asuang’s intention was to give the people fire, and he also knew that it was unwise.
(Music fades out and new music fades in)
The two gods argued for many days and nights. Their voices would send the occasional rumbles throughout the world when words became too heated. But in the end, Gugurang won out. Really, it was a stalemate, but Gugurang had always kept the upper hand. It seemed as if things would always fall in his favor. He still had fire, after all. and Asuang could not take that away from him.
Or so he thought.
(New music starts)
In the darkness of a night when the moon’s shyness compelled it to hide from view, Asuang made himself even more invisible and approached Gugurang’s mountain.
With the world being what it was, Gugurang had never erected any sort of barrier or fortifications to keep out intruders who would likely never come. After all, he had an agreement with his only rival, and the people knew better than to invade a space they were not welcome in. Asuang took advantage of this. Through the night, he slipped from tree to tree and then rock to rock as he crossed the distance between the two mountains. Time was of the essence. If he did not strike tonight, he did not know when else he could. He did not know when the next night of darkness would come or if Gugurang would discover his plan and hinder it. There was no time to waste and no mistake he could afford to make.
When he reached the mountain, Asuang entered into the crack that fire had first emerged from. This crack still led to the deepest part of the storeroom. But for a god so large, it was a tight fit. His muscular form did not easily give way to the jutting rocks built into the crack. Neither would give way for the other. But with great effort, the determined god made it inside and moved around the palace, holding his breath and moving as quietly as possible.
The palace was easy to navigate. It mirrored his own rather nicely. The hallways and rooms flowed in much the same way. The floor felt the same beneath his face. And all the trick and traps that Gugurang had were things Asuang knew quite well.
But familiarity made him complacent. His mind fell at ease, and his steps became less consistent and calculated.
Asuang’s left foot landed on a loose stone. (Music cuts) It slipped beneath his weight. And a small crackle filled the hallways.
(Music starts again)
It was nothing. Most would not have heard the sound at all. But the well-trained guards were alerted and sought out the source of the sound.
They turned the corner and locked eyes with Asuang. At first, they said nothing. In the darkness of the night, Asuang’s good looks had faded. His appearance was dependent on light. In its absence, Asuang became a heinous monster. The guards had heard about this, as all beings had. But they had assumed, it was nothing more than gossip from the townspeople. And yet, there Asuang was. A creature out of their worst nightmares.
They were shocked and still, unable to move due to their discomfort. It was not fear that seized them, per say, but the unexpectedness of it all.
Asuang seized the opportunity. Wordless, he presented a handful of the finest goal to them. They looked at each other for a moment. It was more gold than they had ever seen. It was beautiful. It would buy them many beautiful things. And what were they really giving up anyway, they asked themselves? The two gods were at peace. Certainly, Asuang didn’t have any bad intentions.
So they took the gold and step aside.
(Music fades out and new music fades in)
Unhindered, Asuang made it the source of all fire. He pulled a coconut shell from his bag, the shell that had cared all the riches the guards now made off with, running for their lives rather quickly despite being weighed down by their sins. Alone and without anyone to get in his way, Asuang opened the coconut shell and scooped up some of the fire.
The lights in the throne room flickered, and Gugurang immediately knew what his rival had done. He seethed and yelled out for Asuang with a great roar.
As Asuang was exiting the palace, the entire world shook, including the ground beneath Asuang’s feet. Believing he was free in a vaguely familiar palace, Asuang had let his guard down yet again. The rumble surprised him, but unlike before, he did not have a saving trick up his sleeve. The ground shook, and Asuang lost his footing, a dangerous mistake on the mountain. His left foot slipped. The right soon followed. And he tumbled to the ground.
His grip on the coconut shell was lost just as his balanced was. It flew from his hand and landed on the pointed edge of a jagged rock many feet away. The shell split open, and the fire escaped.
It flowed forth from its container, and unrestrained, it began to consume the world around it, bit by bit, swallowing everything in its wake. It started with the plants on the mountainside before it descended into the villages below. Those too were swallowed up, people screaming in its wake.
Asuang could not control the fire. He did not know how, and his hands were not strong enough to take the heat. But the people’s cries disturbed him.
Desperate, he fled to Gugurang’s throne room and begged him for help to control the flames. Gugurang, just as powerless, beseeched the other gods. (Music stops) And at his command, it began to rain.
(New music starts)
The rain was intense, and it almost drowned the world. But it was enough to put the fire out. However, so much damage had already been done. The world took on a somber atmosphere as the scope of the damage took hold.
The people could not even begin to rebuild their lives just yet. Not with so much gone and so many dead. Those who were the lefted exited what was left of their homes just to survey the damage, knowing that they could never forgive the god that let this happen.
(Long pause and Music shift)
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