11 JULY 2020
When Miguel López de Legaspi first arrived in the Philippines, one of his chroniclers wrote in 1567 the story he had heard from the natives regarding the origin of the world.
BIRTH OF THE WORLD
In the beginning of the world there was nothing but sky and water. One day, a hawk was flying between the sky and the water. Finding no place to alight, it provoked anger from the water so as to make it fight the sky. The offended sky in turn threw pieces of land down to the water--they scattered about and formed islands. On its part, the hawk was relieved, for then it found some places to rest.
As the hawk was relaxing along a seashore, the current threw a piece of bamboo at its feet, which the hawk then grabbed and pecked open. Now, the bamboo had two sections, and a man emerged from one section, whilst a woman appeared from the other. It is said that this met with the approval of Linog, the earthquake. And so the man and woman married and in time they had many children.
When the parents got angry, they hit their children with sticks, driving them out of the house. The many children fled in all directions. Some stayed and hid in the inner rooms of the house--from these the grandees or the nobles are descended; others ran down the steps into the yard--from these the timawa or plebeians are descended. There were also the children who remained huddled under the kitchen sink, from these the slaves are descended. /1/
As we can see, the story endows an animal and forces of nature anthromoporphic qualities. But we should not take the narrative lightly, applying our current knowledge of the world, or using rationalistic principles. Myths are not meant to be interpreted literally. Instead, they are metaphors people use to express their deeper truths in order to comprehend their world--where they come from, who they are, and where they are going. As such, they are considered sacred, much as the Egyptians worshipped their fantastical animal gods, and many pre-historic peoples prostrated themselves in homage to the sun. As far as I know, origin or creation myths are present in all cultures, and if we wish to understand these cultures, we should get into their myths. For example, we see that the idea of the steep social heirarchies in Philippine society goes back to the creation of their world.
The following are two lesser origin myths. Perhaps, more accurately, they could be called "legends", accounts believed to have occurred in some remote past, more localised, and do not have the sacred element of true myths.
THE BIRTH OF BUGLAS, along with the next story, THE BIRTH OF SIETE PECADOS (Isles of the Seven Sins), purport to explain how some physical features of the Ati world were formed. The tales, orally transmitted from generation to generation, have survived to this date, albeit in many altered forms. I think it is important to record these "myths" before they pass into oblivion, as the aborigines are being decimated, or are losing their identity through assimilation in the dominant culture./2/
BIRTH OF BUGLAS
The Atis of Negros believed that their home was once part of Aninipay, an island in the western side of the Visayas, now called Panay. Why they moved to Negros, why they called it “Buglas", and how they themselves got to Buglas, are part of a narration handed to them by their ancestors:
The Dahunans, the tribe of the Atis, lived peaceful, nomadic lives in Aninipay. They supported themselves by hunting wild animals and gathering fruits and nuts. One ordinary day, as they were about their daily routine, they felt a cataclysmic trembling of the earth. In no time, the shaking intensified--the ground vaulted up, then plunged down, creating cracks and crevices everywhere. With increasingly gaping holes, lush forests were swallowed up, and hills rose from the belly of the flat meadows. The earth split open, sea water engulfed the now fragmented land. A large chunk, bigger than Aninipay itself, was torn apart, ejected eastward.
When the shaking stopped, some Dahunans saw themselves stranded on a separate shore, completely detached from Aninipay where some of their fellow tribesmen had been left behind. Then, they saw another small mass of land between Aninipay and where they stood. They called this new small land Himal-us. (This was later renamed Guimaras by the pre-Spanish Ilonggos). The now biggest island they named Buglas, from the Ati word ‘buklas’ or ‘bugras’ which means ‘snatched from’: Buglas was snatched from Aninipay. /3/
According to geologists, the Philippine archipelago, including Negros and Panay, were formed over millions of years after repeated collisions of the ever-moving tectonic plates, resulting in volcanic eruptions. But the Atis possibly believed or at least entertained the possibility that in some indefinite time, this one event as described above actually took place, thus becoming part of their tradition.
THE BIRTH OF SIETE PECADOS
On the island of Negros sits the active volcano of Mt Kanlaon--2,435 meters above sea level, the Visayan region’s highest peak. Mt Kanloan is home to mysterious landscapes that breathe many fantastic stories, spinning legends and folktales that spread widely across the region.
Many of these enchanting tales are about Kanlaon (sometimes spelled “Canlaon”). In one, Kan was a lover of Laon. Their parents who were against the match banished the ill-starred couple into the wilderness. In another, King Laon was a benevolent ruler. When incessantly heavy rains flooded the fields of his people, he led them to build a protective mound 2,000 meters high.
The narrative of Siete Pecados likewise features Kanlaon, this time as a tyrannical king. It explains the origins of seven islets found off the coast between Dumangas town in the Iloilo Province of Panay Island and the town of Buenavista in nearby Guimaras Island. Siete Pecados can be seen from the shores of the town or from the viewing deck of ships plying between Iloilo and Negros. These islets are said to have been born out of sin and conspiracy:
In Buglas, there once lived a powerful sorcerer-king named Kanlaon and his dutiful wife Marapara. King Kanlaon was a cruel and exacting father to his seven sons. Perhaps he was right in being so because his sons were rebellious, cunning, and violent. Despite these, Marapara loved them dearly.
Marapara’s heart was greatly troubled as she saw the growing animosity between her husband and her seven offsprings. So, one moonless night, she secretly gathered her sons after she had hushed her tired husband to sleep. She had plans for their escape to the neighbouring island of Aninipay. She then led them to the shore where a boat was docked, waiting to take them across the water. Greatly relieved when the boat departed with all seven on board, she quietly went back home.
When King Kanlaon awoke, he looked for his seven sons. Marapara naturally pretended not to know anything. The king roamed around his land calling for his sons but received no answer. Realising that they had fled from him, he became livid with anger. He summoned the elemental forces under his command—raging storm, furious fire, rumbling earthquake, and gigantic waves—and they all came at his bidding.
The king disclosed how he was betrayed by his seven sons and instructed these forces to avenge the betrayal. Obeying his command, the raw powers of nature went to scour all possible directions where the king’s seven sons might have fled.
Already away from King Kanlaon’s Buglas, the sons were paddling in the small boat their mother had provided for their escape. Not far ahead they could see the land of Aninipay, and they leapt with joy! A couple of dozen more strong paddles and they would reach the shore of freedom from their brutal father.
Suddenly, the raging storm with howling winds appeared around them. The still waters grew into giant waves and began to surge onto the boat. The whirlwind spun the small vessel mid-air and the violent waves furiously hit the boat, instantly turning it into debris of wood. The seven sons of King Kanlaon and Marapara, beaten by the waves and the blustering wind, sank deep into the waters off the shores of Aninipay. The wrath of the king had reached his fleeing sons. When the storm and the turbulent waters abated, a group of seven islets appeared at the area off the shores of Aninipay. These seven islets resemble the seven sons of Marapara and the great King Kanlaon of Buglas.
Years passed, and people who heard the story started calling this group of islets Siete Pecados – or Isles of the Seven Sins. These are King Kanlaon’s seven sons who tried to flee from his kingdom in Buglas. /4/
This narrative on the origin of a place name also serves to illustrate the social mores of the Atis. Or are these the values of the people who named the place, possibly during or directly after Spanish occupation? At any rate, it is a fable that tells of the unmitigated power of parents over their children, the role of the dutiful wife in a patriarchal society, and the fitting punishment for those who dared disobey.
Notes: /1/ William Henry Scott. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society, Ateneo de Manila Press, Quezon City, 1994; /2/According to Serafin Plotria, researcher on Negros mythoraphy, there are some Atis spread out in a number of highland localities in Negros; /3/Serafin Plotria Jr., Unpublished research report on Negros mythography; /4/Esmael ‘Maeng’ Java, cultural researcher, Negros Occidental. .