Creating the Heavens - Visayan Creation Story
Hello everyone! Kumusta ka? Welcome to Episode 5.
So, while there’s a lot more myths, folktales, legends, and deities to talk about from the traditions of the Tagalog people, I’m still not sure how to best go about sorting through that material. It’s a lot, and I think it’s all worth talking about. But for now, I’ve decided to shelve the issue and go ahead with my original plan and go through all the creation stories of the major ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines. Once that’s done, hopefully I’ll have a better idea of what to do going forward.
I started off with the Tagalog creation story because that’s the group my family is a part of, but now I’m going to finish off the alphabet and then loop back up to the start.
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The Visayan are the largest ethnic group in the Philippines, living in the Southern-most part of the Luzon region and across Mindanao. Much like the Tagalog people, before the Spanish arrived, the Visayan had a pantheon of deities led by one supreme being, something that could easily be misinterpreted or twisted into a pseudo-monotheism that could then become a stepping stone to complete conversion to Christianity. I went into more detail about what I suspect was the process in the last episode. While it’s a different group, I suspect the conversion mechanism is largely the same.
However, they also had an animistic aspect to their religion. In these systems, nature itself is believed to have a strong, spiritual component and that these spiritual energies bear an influence on everything, particularly—or most relevantly—on people. In animism or in beliefs with animistic elements, all things have some life (though the exact definition of that term would have to be debated) and all these life forces need to be in balanced or will seek balance often in spite of human beings who have a tendency to disrupt it. Divine charges or missions often center around restoring that balance or maintaining it as nothing is believed to be more important.
Traces of this belief can be found in this group’s creation story. So, for now, I have a story to tell you. Part one, anyway.
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There was a time when the world consisted only of a great expanse of water stretching out endlessly beneath a sky just as large and solitary. The water was ruled by the goddess Maguayan. In her kingdom, her daughter dwelt. Her name was Lidagat, and she was the sea. Meanwhile the sky above was ruled by Kaptan who himself had a son, Lihangin—the wind.
There was no animosity between the two gods. For a while, they found that a co-existence defined by indifference suited them best. They did not wish for or need much more than what they had. It was boring, however, to live in a state defined by consistency and stillness. Perhaps it is for this reason that the two deities arranged for a marriage between their children. But perhaps not. Perhaps the reasons are as endless as the possibilities within existence, perhaps they are beyond human comprehension and are thus are things we cannot find, or if they are obtainable, perhaps they are merely things hidden in the pockets of existence that the light of our eyes cannot reach. With gods and the times beyond people, a person cannot be sure why the gods chose to act as they did.
The reasons may not be clear. But we know that with the blessing of the rulers of water and sky, the sea and wind were married. Their union was sealed and produced four children. Three sons and one daughter.
Of their sons, the eldest Likalibutan was a being with a body of rock. His form was strong, and his spirit, brave. The second son, Liadlao, made of gold, was always happy and sought the happiness of others. It was as if it were happiness itself that was the material that made up his body and fueled his existence. And finally, there was the youngest son, Libulan who was made of copper and timidiness, who did not always wish to be seen or known but sought the comfort of his family’s presence.
As for their daughter. Her name was Lisuaga. She was a great beauty. Her body was made of silver and benevolence. She was sweet and gentle and good. And she had a special fondness for her youngest brother and his timid nature.
The sea and wind loved all these children. They did all they could to make their children happy. And—in fact—they were happy for many years. Centuries, perhaps, but the gods did not concern themselves with tracking time like human beings do.
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But then, after a time, Lihangin died. Lidagat soon followed. The children were grown by then, but even for the aged, the loss of parents does not come without strife. Fortunately for the four of them, Kaptan and Maguayan were still living, and they loved their grandchild as much as their parents did. So they watched over them, provided for them, cared for them, and guarded them from all harm that could come to them—Maguayan from the water and Kaptan from the sky.
After the death of his father, Likalibutan as eldest son had assumed dominion over the winds. It was a strong power, and he took great pride in it. However, in time, Likalibutan grew bored with it. He wanted more. He needed more. He deserved more. It was his right to have more. But at first, it seemed like there was nothing more for him to have. He had already inherited all the powers his father had. His mother had none, and his siblings were powerless as well. It seemed like the world was empty, devoid of anything Likalibutan could claim as his own.
But then he remembered that Kaptan was still overhead, dwelling in his kingdom in the sky. He was far more powerful than his son had ever been. And with this realization, a lust set into Likalibutan and took root, corrupting his spirit.
One day, when the evil had truly taken complete control, he approached his brothers with his desire to attack Kaptan in the sky while the elder was resting and unprepared. His two younger brothers were initially appalled at the thought. After all, their grandfather had been so good to them despite the distance. He loved and doted on them, and he was the much beloved father of their beloved father. Certainly they could not, would not, or should not betray him so viciously for such a trivial desire. These were the thoughts the two younger brothers voiced aloud.
Their reasoning, or pleas as they could be called, were met with the eldest son’s anger. He had assumed that as his brothers, beings whom he shared so much with, would be loyal to him above all others and would join him in his pursuits, no matter what they were and no matter where they would take them. Such was the bond of brotherhood as they all understood it. In fact, Likalibutan believed that he was owed such uncompromising respect and that such was his right as eldest. Consequently, the rejection—though reasonable and rational—was met with nothing but anger.
At the sight of the eldest seized with a fury he could not overcome, the two younger brothers relented. Liadlao did not wish to offend his brother and damage the relationship between them. Libulan was simply too timid to keep fighting.
They agreed. And with that, their fates were sealed.
They did not attack right away. There was no need to be hasty. They all knew that it would take some time to prepare. Plans needed to be made and rehearsed. Details needed to be accounted for and laid out in whispers beneath the sky. They took the endeavor seriously. Even the two younger brothers, who still had their reservations, did their part. And in time, everything fell into place.
When all was ready, the three brothers rose on the appointed day and took to the sky. Likalibutan believed that he knew everything and had planned for everything. With his brothers by his side and the winds at his command, he believed he could take the day and vanquish his grandfather. But before the three could enter too deeply into Kaptan’s domain, they encountered large walls of steel, composed of bars more akin to slabs than bars and anchored in place by a force the three brothers did not know about.
At the sight, Likalibutan was once again filled with rage. He still believed that the prize at the end of this pursuit was his right, and all that opposed him needed to be reduced to dust. That was the only fitting punishment for an offense so heinous against the natural order. At first, with a forced calmness, Likalibutan stepped forward, placed a hand against the wall and tried to push it forward. It held strong. He pushed again with all his might, and still, it did not move. His temper flared. In a loud voice, he commanded the winds to strike. At his command, the winds blew against the walls and the locked gate, but no matter how hard the air currents struck, the wall did not move. He mustered all the force he could but still nothing happened.
Without waiting for Likalibutan to command them, Liadlao and Libulan threw themselves at the gate. At the impacts, the gate shook but did not move.
The sound of their metal bodies striking against metal wall awoke Kaptan and the anger normally buried deep within him. He arose and appeared before them. The sight of him, eyes blazing with unbridled fury and darkness, stopped them in their tracks. The magnitude of their plight finally hit them. They said nothing. They could not speak. Kaptan loomed overhead, seething. The once immobile walls now moved, almost bowing before him as he stoodoverhead. The rest of world also shook beneath the pressure.
There was no going back now. He knew what they had done, and he could not forgive them for it.
The world was trembling, as were the brothers. They all fled in terror, but Kaptan—furious about the attempt to invade his realm with such malicious intent—showed no mercy. He sent three lightning bolts towards them, one for each of three intruders.
His aim was true. He struck each of his grandsons at the core of their bodies. When struck Libulan and Liadlao were melted into copper and gold orbs. When Likalibutan was struck, his body was shattered. Fragments of rock were flung across the waters below. Some pieces were so large that they rested above the water’s surface.
With that, they were dead. Gone from this life with no way of returning.
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Not once did the brothers tell Lisuaga what was happening or what they were planning to do. In fact, they hardly spoke to her at all in those last days. In the silence they left behind, she grew desperate for them. And when they completely disappeared, she panicked. Her search for them started immediately. She needed to find them. She searched for many days but to no avail. When she ran out of places to search, she decided to take to the skies. Perhaps her brothers were up there, she thought, but even if they were not, her grandfather would still know where they were. Her grandfather knew everything.
She travelled to her grandfather’s domain and approached the dented gates of his realm. She studied the markings for a moment. Many of the markers were familiar, but she did not understand how. It took her a moment to truly realize what it was she was seeing.
The shapes of her brother’s bodies were still embedded in the steel. She could see these shadows of them, and though she did not understand what had happened, dread seeped into her. She kept back and nervously called out to her grandfather for his help and guidance. At her calls, Kaptan arose again, still filled with rage and blinded to reality. He saw his granddaughter but assumed that she too was there to betray him as her brothers had done. As punishment, or what he believed was a punishment, he sent a lightning bolt to her and struck her. Though he was incapacitated by his anger, his aim again was true. The bolt struck her and shattered her body into thousands of specks of silver.
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With his last grandchild dead, Kaptan descended from the sky and to the water below. Undoubtedly, Maguayan had ordered the attack on him, or so he believed. It was easier to believe that this potential rival of his had finally acted than it was to think that his beloved grandchildren had betrayed him. After all, he had been so good to them and had loved them so dearly all of their lives. He had taken care of them unfailingly for so many centuries. No, it did not make sense to him that these children would have turned on him so suddenly. Especially the dear Lisuaga.
Maguayan had been asleep deep in the ocean all the while. She had retreated there many years before, to a place where no one could reach her. Not even the shards of her eldest grandson’s body had disturbed her when they entered her domain. For so long had she slept that undoubtedly she was innocent and completely unaware of the scheme unfolding above her.
Kaptan struck the water with high winds, sending waves up into the sky, disrupting and almost destroying Maguayan’s kingdom. This was what it took to rouse her. Once she woke, she immediately snapped to her senses and rose to greet him. He lashed out at her, sending lightning bolt after lightning bolt, but she dodged his attacks, pleading with him and almost begging him to be calm. As Kaptan’s equal and longtime companion of some sorts, she was able to hold him at bay until his anger finally receded and his senses returned to him.
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When he was calm, Kaptan stood in the shadow of the horrors he himself committed. He stood among the remains of what had once been his beloved grandchildren. Three of him were innocent, or at least, free from any malice or greed. And he had still killed them. Now that she no longer feared for her own safety, Maguayan fell into that sadness with him. For while she had not been the one that sent the lightning bolt towards them, in her sleep, she had been unable to protect them. While asleep and distant, her grandchildren—specifically her eldest grandson—had orchestrated their own demise. She could have stopped them. She would stopped them. Had she not be asleep.
Together, they wept for their grandchildren, especially for their granddaughter who had been completely innocent and good, who died out of love for her brothers. It was not fair, and they knew that. It was not just, and they knew that. This coupled with sadness afflicted them both. And they wept for many days amidst the silence of the now empty world. As powerful as they were, they could not revive the dead. Never had they been able to revive the dead, not for their children and not for their grandchildren.
But gods are never completely powerless. There was one thing they could do. Likalibutan had been right in thinking that his grandfather’s powers were numerous and beyond his comprehension. Maguayan’s were as well. So together, the two deities gave each of the three deserving grandchild a light that would endure forever and released them into the sky overhead. The golden Liadlao was given a light and sent upwards to become the sun. He now brings warmth and happiness to those beneath him. In this way, he still lives as he has always wished to. The copper Libulan was given a light and became the moon. In this way, he can still hide from the world and all that scares him.
But Lisuaga’s body had been broken into pieces when she was struck. But she had been good, completely good and innocent. And so, the extra effort was worth it. The two gods put a light in each of the thousand shards and released each bit into the sky. She became the stars above. From this place high above, she can still see her beloved brother, but more than that, she can look down onto the world and guide the lost back to their families.
But such things were not possible yet. And they would not be for a while longer. The universe only consisted of the heavens for now, but that would soon change.
The wicked Likalibutan was left where he lay. For he had been the one who initiated the plot that cost them all their lives. He did not deserve a new life himself. He did not deserve the second chance that his siblings had received. It would not have been fair, and there would have been no justice in that. However, there was something his body could do that would in some small way correct the wrongs that he had caused.
His body could be used to sustain new life, of some sort. It would not be the beloved grandchildren taken away, but it be something. Or so Kaptan vowed. With what light he had left after making the heavens above, he created a small seed, the size of a small pebble and presented it to Maguayan. But he could not bear himself to plant it. Not after Lisuaga’s death. So instead, he presented it to the goddess of the sea who carefully took it and planted it into the soil.
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