Footprints

For Cultural Hybrids Seeking Home

THE DEER AND THE SERPENT

24 July 2021

This story came from the Bukidnons who in pre-history migrated from present day Indonesia, dislocating the Ati from their settlements in Negros island and taking over their hunting grounds of lush forests in the surrounding plains and river banks. During the succeeding centuries, the Bukidnons were in turn pushed out of their lands by migrations from today’s Malaysia, and the Bukidnons followed the Ati to the highlands.

The Spaniards did not occupy this part of southern Negros during their time in the province as it was then still a dense jungle and considered too remote. It was only in the 20th Century when it was developed, and infrastructure were built connecting the locality to other towns in Negros. Additional migrations soon followed, firstly from nearby areas, then across the sea from the surrounding islands.

In the 1970s, the locality was finally properly settled when the large American-owned Insular Lumber Company transferred its headquarters from Sagay in the north of Negros to nearby Sipalay and Hinoba-an, the town where the Barangay of Sangke belonged.

Aside from employment in the lumber company, the locals were engaged in farming, hunting, fishing, and gold panning along its rivers and streams. Sangke is especially known for its rich deposits of minerals, supposedly with the largest deposits of gold and copper in Negros. When it drew the interest of large mining companies, a “gold rush” ensued, and every family tried their hands on panning for the metal, an activity that remains today even as the large companies have left.

A legend allegedly dating back to the time of the Bukidnons claimed that there was a deer with golden hair sometimes seen roaming the forests. She would tease hunters by first appearing near them, then as they gave chase, disappearing into the wilderness with a giggle. It was for this reason that they called her diwata sang lasang (nymph of the forest). A number of townsfolk had seen her and swore by the veracity of their story.

The Golden Deer was always seen alone. It was said that the reason for this was because she was banished from the community of nymphs for her mischievousness—her extreme playfulness had caused a serious accident to one of her sisters. Until she would have learned her lesson, the gods had taken her power to transform herself back to her true nature. And, as if to add insult to injury, a dragon-like serpent called Magkal was stationed as her guard so she could not wander and play around in the forest at will.

The gods, however, had overlooked Magkal’s character—he was playful as well. He had a toy called trabungko, a gem discharging a substance which when blown encapsulated a dancing light: the serpent loved to blow and juggle the dancing light with his snout, or kick gently with his foot until it burst, when he would have to blow another one. He would lend his toy to the diwata, and soon they became friends.

At times, the playfulness of the Golden Deer exceeded even the goodwill of Magkal, and as he remembered his task, he would forbid her again to roam around. However, especially when the night was at its coolest and the moon was full, the serpent Magkal would fall on a deep sleep, its snore reverberating through the trees. They were during these times when the diwata would steal the trabungko and sneak out to play with it as she roamed the forest till morning.

Perhaps she was lonely, so perhaps she wanted to make friends with the humans residing in Sangke. And perhaps she knew that humans loved this shiny metal. No one could say for sure. At any rate, she would excrete nuggets of gold on the ravines and riverbanks for the humans to find.

In the morning, when the serpent awakened, it would start looking for the diwata, going round and round the area, until they finally would find each other and the cycle would start all over again--initially, the guardian and ward would warily watch each other until they became friends once more, playing with the trabungko together. Eventually, out of complacency, the serpent would again fall asleep whilst on his watch. In turn the diwata would then break her guardian’s trust, sneak out, play in the forest, and probably hoping to make new friends, would drop off her gifts of nuggets of gold.

One person in the community explained his new-found wealth thus, which incited others to wait for each full moon to likewise roam in the forest or comb the riverbanks in search of gifts from the Golden Deer. Now and then, a sighting of the diwata would be reported or perhaps a nugget or two found. As far as the community knew, however, no one had become so rich that they could move for a better lifestyle in the city. To this date, hope springs eternal amongst the residents of Sangke, waiting for the coming of the next batch of presents from the generous diwata.

A corollary to this story was an apocrypha circling around, that the trabungko itself had magical powers. Anyone who found it could wish for anything to his heart’s content—much like wishing from a genie in a bottle. It was said further that as the diwata roamed the forests, she would sometimes drop the trabungko or forget it somewhere, until Magkal on waking up and finding it gone, would have to trace her every step in order to find his toy. Or another possibillity, if a local found the snoring Magkal with his trabungko by his side, they could simply sneak in and steal the toy. To this very day, many an enterprising person still search for their treasure on the hills and rivers of Sangke.

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Notes & Comments:

/1/ The story was told to Seraphin Plotria, Jr by Santiago Bulanon, a resident of Sangke, who first heard it from his grandfather.

/2/ Because of the reputed gold deposits in Sangke, many locals still refuse to sell their small landholdings to the lumber company which remains the biggest employer in the area.