Footprints

For Cultural Hybrids Seeking Home

THE FACE OF A HERO

18 July 2020

Long before the Spaniards arrived in Buglas (later called Negros) there was a fishing village with great abundance of sea snails and scallops clinging onto the rocks. One had to scratch them out, to make “karubkob,” so to speak: thus the name of their village. Headed by Pinunong Bubog, Karubkob stretched along the shorelines where the sea breeze blew yearlong, and the rainforest close by teemed with unexploited wildlife. 

Pinunong Bubog had an only daughter named Kansilay. She was beautiful, caring, and well-loved by the villagers. Whilst possessing all the feminine virtues, she also learned how to wield a sword from her father and brothers. Kansilay grew up with her much-loved Lawaan, and it was decided that after the two would have had their initiations into adulthood, they could marry.

Lawaan had his initiation rites some time before Kansilay’s. The babaylan (shaman) slaughtered a wild pig for sacrifice to the anito (ancestor spirits). The pig’s blood was then smeared on his forehead and he was challenged to a fight by the village warriors, where he performed quite well. It was now the turn of Kansilay. With her pamulanan (first menstruation), she was “abducted” and isolated in a hut for a week. She came out donning the garments of an adult woman and the village joined in a celebratory feast when, with the blessings of their parents, Lawaan and Kansilay were also formally betrothed.

Soon after, Lawaan and the other menfolk prepared to leave the village for their yearly big hunt. Lawaan was particularly eager to hopefully shoot the biggest boar in order to prove himself and to secure an advantageous dowry from Kansilay’s father. The hunt would end when the full moon was up. It was then that Kansilay and Lawaan would marry.

After the departure of their menfolk, the elders, women, and children left behind settled on their usual activities. The elders held their council meetings, the women wove fishing nets and baskets to catch fish, and the children frolicked around, listening to stories and learning the proper virtues needed by the community. As the full moon drew near, the village was filled with excitement--soon their menfolk would return.

But catastrophe would strike just when it was least expected. As the sea wind blew violently one gloomy day, a group of bandits headed by Lunok raided the defenseless Karubkob./1/ Pinunong Bubog hardly had enough time to send the women and children away to hide in the forest before the bandits sacked the village and slew their elders, including Pinunong Bubog.

When Kansilay heard what had happened, she gathered the group and exhorted them to fight, even though only a few could wield weapons. They needed to avenge their elders’ deaths. And so they searched for the Diwata (fairy) of the Forest who provided them with swords. With these in hand, they charged the enemies. Kansilay sought out Lunok and went on hand-to-hand combat with him, knowing full well she was no match against the bandit. When the rest of the women saw Kansilay mortally wounded, they took flight. Just at this time, the village menfolk arrived from their hunt to rescue the retreating women. Lawaan challenged Lunok to a swordfight and after an arduous duel killed the bandit leader. It was, however, too late to save Kansilay. With her dying breath, the lovers professed their mutual love, and Kansilay’s spirit rose to join those of her ancestors.

The villagers were filled with grief, holding a long and sorrowful lawlaw (mourning ritual for the dead headed by the babaylan) as many of their elders, including Pinunong Bubog, were dead. They especially mourned Kansilay who had fought for them. They buried her at the top of a cliff to get her close to the vastness of the sky.

Soon, a sapling was seen peeking out of Kansilay’s grave. It grew into a sturdy tree which bore many beautiful purple-pink flowers. The villagers named the tree Kansilay, or Silay in honor of the beautiful maiden who bravely offered her life to fight for her people. To this day, the city of Silay stands on her grave mound.

 

What makes Kansilay a hero? (I here refer to “hero” as either male or female). In classical mythology, a hero is one who faces danger and great adversity through feats of bravery, strength, or ingenuity. He is motivated by vengeance for a great offense done to his family, or even more often, he is in search of fame and glory. Resilient, charismatic and galvanizing, he also often possesses a tragic flaw. Think of Achilles with his uncontrolled rage, or Heracles who in a fit of insanity killed his wife and children. Still, these heroes leave behind a legacy of protection and inspiration—this, they say, is how to live immortal lives. No less than Alexander the Great himself modelled his exploits after his hero Achilles, whilst claiming Heracles as his forefather.

In our modern age, many of these heroes continue to be illusions--they are people with extraordinary talents and super-human powers, but unlike the classical models, they also more often possess moral integrity, performing great deeds for the common good./2/ Especially during periods of instability, we need these super-heroes to protect us against the super-villains, our anxieties. When Captain America, a comic character, was launched during WWII, circulation per issue was over a million copies, outstripping the most popular news magazines. Mass media today are likewise dominated by superheroes: they fight against injustice and help the weak and the oppressed. From Superman and Wonder Woman to Luke Skywalker—all profess conviction, ideals of fealty, and self-sacrifice in lieu of a search for power, wealth, or fame.

In our everyday lives, our heroes are mere mortals. But inspired more often by their courage rather than simple bravery, their heroic moments are remembered, and live on in the hearts of their descendants. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker argues that these ideals of heroism is our “immortality project,” our legacy, which gives meaning and purpose to our lives. Unlike our physical selves, he postulates, our symbolic selves will never die./3/

In his seminal book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell outlines the vastly varying images of heroes in different cultures. He then gives the singular process behind heroism: the journey of the hero starts with a departure, then a transformation through initiation, and finally a return in the spirit of self-realisation. /4/ 

So did Kansilay run away to the forest, then heard her calling, and responding to that calling, returned in a spirit of self-sacrifice, in order to fight a battle she knew she could never physically win. This, to give inspiration to her people.  

Hopefully, the Legend of Kansilay could likewise tap into the vein of heroism within ourselves.

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Notes: /1/ Anthropologists have found out that in all cultures, when the roles of protection conflict with those of provision, men assume the protecting tasks and women the providing of necessities; /2/ I would like to think that the warmth and humanity frequently exemplified by our modern heroes are at least influenced by religious myths to include Christianity, as opposed to the paganism of classical mythology; /3/ Ernest Becker. The Denial of Death. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1973; /4/ Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1972.

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Source: Chona Gosiaoco, a Hiligaynon writer and researcher on cultural and historical subjects. Report on Negros mythography. Informed by Severino Pacete, former tourism officer of Silay City.