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 LOVERS IN PHILIPPINE EPICS AND FOLKLORES           It has been said and written many times that the best and most passionate lovers both i...



        It has been said and written many times that the best and most passionate lovers both in myth and real life romances are soul mates in the spiritual world. Myths and legends all over the world are full of stories of love and romance born out of destiny. Many great epics were also written behind many lovers' adventures. Even the greatest book ever written, the Bible, are teeming with love stories, from Adam and Eve, to Jacob and Rachel, to David and Bathsheba.

        Philippine epics and folklores also have their share of Romeos and Juliets, not to mention ancient mythical tales of soul mates and the first man and woman. From love stories carved in bamboos or written in goat-skin parchments to legends and epics illustrated in the pages of komiks, to folklores transformed into modern romances on the pages of pocketbooks. Here are a few glimpses of the richness of Philippine culture.


Nestor Redondo’s illustrative rendition of
Genesis: Adam and Eve, and the Days of Creation
        There are many arguments as to the beginning of humankind. How did the first man and the first woman came to be? Charles Darwin believed he and his kind are descendants of apes. Sorry for him.

        The biblical account tells us that God created man in His own image. The first man was Adam and from his rib his mate Eve was formed by God to be his companion (Genesis 2:23): “And she was called wo-man because he came from man.” This is actually the more popular and traditional second account of creation found in Genesis. The first account (Genesis 1:27), on the other hand, narrates “So God created human beings, making them to be like Himself. He created them male and female,” which suggest that the first man Adam was created simultaneously with his wife, the name of which was not mentioned in the first Genesis account. In some Judaic text and the Talmud, Adam’s first “mate” was named Lilith. She refused to assume a subservient role to Adam and left the Garden of Eden (In modern times, she is considered an icon of the women’s liberation movement). Left alone, Adam became lonely, so God put him to sleep and from his rib He created Eve. That would explain the second account.

        Ever wonder, in the biblical Genesis, how they were able to procreate when Eve was the only woman? While it may be given that incest was allowed in the beginning of creation, there is another explanation. If you read the accounts narrating the descendants of Adam (Genesis 5), you’ll notice that only the male descendants are mentioned, there were no female name mentioned. Remember, however, that in the beginning God said “He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27 and 5:2) So, in the beginning, at birth, every man is born with his future wife, his soul mate. They were, in “modern” sense, paternal twins and given only one name. This would also explain how Cain had descendants. When he was driven out of Eden to be a “homeless wanderer,” his wife – twin sister – was with him.

        In the entire world there are many stories narrating the beginning of time and the birth of the first man and woman on earth. As many as the cultures and subcultures of the world are such stories.

         In the Philippines, there is the story of Malakas at Maganda. There are many versions of this story. The most popular Tagalog version tells of a bluebird with the tip of its tail feather like a big human eye perched on a huge bamboo after many days of flying. When it saw a tiny lizard walking on the bamboo, the bird tried to catch it with its beak. It pecked at the bamboo several times. There was a loud thunder and the bamboo cracked in the middle. Out came a man and a woman named Malakas and Maganda. They both had brown skin and supple bodies. Malakas had strong arms and agile feet. Maganda, on the other hand, was extremely beautiful, equally agile and industrious. In today’s Filipino language, “malakas” means strong or powerful, and “maganda” means beautiful. They were the first couple in the Tagalog legends of creation.
Si Malakas at Si Maganda
as portrayed in Nestor Redondo’s illustration.
        The tale of the Limokon bird of the Mandayas of Mindanao is another version of this story. Once upon a time, a limokon bird laid two eggs. One was laid at the mouth of a river; the other at its source. When the eggs hatched, a strong man and a beautiful woman climbed out of the broken shells. Years passed without either of them knowing about the other's existence.

        One day, the man was fishing in the river, when long, long strands of hair swirled around his legs and gripped them tightly. He slipped and fell, and would have drowned had he not been a very good swimmer. Angrily, he walked upstream to look for the owner of the hair. He was surprised to see a lovely woman washing her long hair on the riverbank. He took her for his wife and they became the ancestors of the Mandayas.


        How did the first man and woman learn to make love? In the Bible (Genesis 1:28), God commanded the first man and woman to “Go forth, be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” There was no instruction manual for beginners for the act of coitus. What was simply mentioned was that Adam “knew” his wife and she, afterwards, conceived. The word “know” in a biblically scholarly context is attributed to mean “copulate” or “to have sex.” That is, before the word sex was first coined, where else but in the later chapters of the Bible.

        All over the world, many folklores and pseudomythical stories came to exist trying to justify how the first man and woman learn the act and art of sexual intercourse. The Sumerians, the oldest dated civilization on earth, believed that the first human, Adapa, was created by their gods Enki and Ninki by mixing the blood of a slain god with clay and taught him how to copulate and procreate. This is millennia before the Kama Sutra was even conceived in India.

        In most “creation” stories, it is given that humans learned sexual intercourse by watching the animals do it in the same manner they understood that copulation is connected to childbirth. But how did the animals learned it? Talk about “animal instinct!”

        Scientifically speaking, animals and humans are genetically hard wired for sex as a biological imperative. This is supposed to be the “scientific” explanation. While animals, however, copulate through mere instinct, humans have higher cognitive abilities. They learned through experience that emotions like love and lust play a great role in sex.

        In an Ilocano or Igorot legend, sex was taught by a bird to the first man and woman. Like in the Tagalog and Mandayan stories, after the first man and woman emerge, they need to learn how to procreate to be able to populate the world. In the Ilocano tale, a talking bird named In-inyutan was tasked to teach the rudiments of sexual intercourse to the first couple. The bird asked the different animals to demonstrate to the couple the way to do it. Soon they were able to mimic the act and do it themselves. They always remembered the name of the bird and shout it aloud as a tribute whenever they felt like doing it. In some version the name of the bird was Iyutan, which in vulgar Ilocano means “copulation.”

        Philippine folklore is not apart from the rest of the world with regards to stories of man’s (and woman’s) first sins.

        One Yligueynes legend from the Visayas tells of the first century of creation. The god Kaptan planted a reed. When the reed grew, it broke into two sections. The first section became the first man, Sikalak. The other became the first woman, Sikabay.

        One day, Sikalak asked Sikabay to be his wife. She refused because they were brother and sister that came from the same reed. They then decided to ask the large fish of the sea, the birds in the air, and the guardian of the earthquakes under the earth. All of them agreed it was necessary because Sikalak and Sikabay need to populate the earth. They made love, the first case of arranged incest came to be, and the world was empty no more.

        A couple of generations after, in the island of Panay lived Pandaguan, the grandchild of Sikalak and Sikabay. He was married to his cousin Lupluban and had a son, Anoranor.

        Pandaguan was fond of fishing, and invented the first fishing net. One day he caught a shark and brought it ashore, thinking that it would not die. But the shark died and the shocked Pandaguan wept aloud.

        Kaptan heard Pandaguan’s cries and sent flies and the weevil to see what happened. When he learned about the shark’s death, he got angry and killed Pandaguan with a thunderbolt. The soul of Pandaguan was punished in the infernal region. After thirty days, Kaptan took pity on Pandaguan and returned him back to the world of the living.

        Now it so happened that while Pandaguan was supposedly dead, Lupluban went to live with a man named Maracoyrun. It was the first case of adultery on earth. When Pandaguan returned to their home, he did not mind his wife’s absence. He invited some friends and they feasted on a stolen pig. That was the first case of theft on earth.

        After the feast, he started to look for Lupluban. He sent Anoranor to fetch her. But Lupluban refused to return, believing that Pandaguan was dead and could not possibly return to the world. Pandaguan was irritated and in a fit of jealousy killed himself, the first case of suicide on earth. He went back to the infernal region. Since then, everybody who dies can no longer return back to life.

Aliguyon and Bugan,
illustrated by Jose Miguel Tejido
on the cover page of
Mae Astrid Tobias’ book Halikpon:
A Retelling of an Ancient Ifugao Chant

        Long, long, long before the Al-Dub TV romance fever, there was the “Ali-Bug” legend. The hero of the Ifugao Hudhud (literally means “song of harvest”), Aliguyon, was a great and powerful fighter. He was invincible in battle, could catch spears in the air, and fought many combats to win his wife Bugan, who was the daughter of his father’s arch-enemy. Bugan was just a child when Aliguyon fell in love with her (This is probably before the time of the Greeks, who invented pedophilia – the “love of children.”). One episode tells of his duel with Pumbakhayon, Bugan’s older brother, a warrior of equal strength from the village of Daligdigan. They fought for one and a half years, rested, then fought again for another one and a half years, until a compromise was reached.

        Aliguyon and Pumbakhayon attended a feast of truce set by the elders. After sharing some food and wine, Pumbakhayon agreed to allow Aliguyon to take Bugan as his child-bride, while Pumbakhayon married Aliguyon’s sister, Aginaya. Aliguyon took care of Bugan in his house and protected her until she started menstruating and was old enough to marry, copulate and have children. The enemies became inlaws and they all live in peace and happiness.

Humadapnon: Ang Paghahanap Kay Nagmalitong Yawa (1981),
by Jose Romero and Ronelito Escauriaga.

        In the Sulod epic Hinilawod (in ancient Hiligaynon dialect, it means “stories from the Halawod River”), Humadapnon had divine ancestry, supernatural strength, and guardian spirits to save him from danger. Humadapnon’s most exciting adventure was his search for Nagmalitong Yawa, a beautiful maiden whom he saw in his dream. He boarded his golden boat, sailed in perilous seas, and was held captive for years by an enchantress, Ginmayunan, before he finally met and won the love of Nagmalitong Yawa.

        During their wedding, Humadapnon’s brother, Dumalapdap met Huyung Adlaw, the daughter of one of the guests, Nabalansang Sukla, the god of the Upperworld. Dumalapdap asked his brother to help him talk to the maiden’s parents. They went to the Upperworld. The journey took seven years. Matan-ayon, Humadapnon’s mother suggested to Nagmalitong Yawa to remarry again because it seems her husband is not coming back.

        Nagmalitong Yawa decided to marry Buyung Sumagulung, the son of an island ruler Mamang Paglambuhan. The wedding ceremony was about to begin when Humadapnon and Dumalapdap returned. The two were angered for what had happened that they killed the groom and all the guests. Humadapnon confronted his wife about the treachery and stabbed her. Later his conscience bothered him for what he did. His spirit friends also told him that Nagmalitong Yawa was not at fault and that what he did was unjust. With remorse in his heart he approached his sister Labing Anyag and asked for her help for she had the power to bring back life to the dead. Seeing that her brother was genuinely sorry for what he did, she complied and brought back Nagmalitong Yawa from the dead.

        Nagmalitong Yawa felt shame for what happened so she ran away from Humadapnon and went to the Underworld which was ruled by her uncle, Panlinugun, the lord of earthquakes. Humadapnon followed her to the Underworld killing the eight-headed snake that guarded the channel leading to the place. She ran towards the Upperworld but half-way between the Middleworld and the Upperworld she was taken away by a young man riding on the shoulders of the wind.

        Humadapnon caught up with them and challenged the stranger to a duel. They fought for seven years with no one gaining the upperhand. The long fight was being witnessed by the goddess Alunsina from above. She got tired watching the contest so she came down to settle the case. During the deliberations it was revealed to everyone’s surprise that the stranger who took Nagmalitong Yawa was Amarotha, a son of Alunsina who died at childbirth but was brought back to life by her to keep her company. Alunsina decided that each man was entitled to a part of Nagmalitong Yawa so she ordered that the latter’s body be cut in half. One half went to Humadapnon and the other to Amarotha. Alunsina then turned each half of Nagmalitong Yawa into a whole live woman. Humadapnon brought his wife back to Panay and ruled the island for centuries.

Urduja as portrayed in the 1956 painting of
Cesar Amorsolo (1903-1998)

        Who could forget the story of Prinsesa Urduja? There are many versions of this native legendary tale, and even our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, believe that her story is authentic. The one I remembered the most, however, was told by my grandmother when I was a kid. It is similar to the storyline of the 1974 film Urduja which starred Amalia Fuentes and Vic Vargas. Urduja was a famous heroine in northwestern Luzon, so beautiful and yet unmatched in her military prowess and fighting skill. She swore by her ancestor, the goddess of the wind, Amihan, that she will not marry any man lest he can defeat her in combat. Her name in ancient Ilokano-Tawalisi language means “soaring wind.”

        Many came from different tribes throughout the archipelago, and some coming from other countries like Borneo, Siam, China and Japan, and as far away as India. None of them succeeded. Then one day, Urduja bought a neck-shackled slave from pirate traders. The slave was suffering from amnesia. He doesn’t know his own name or where he came from, but he was good looking, strong and muscular. In truth, he was Sulayman, a prince, descendant from the Madjapahit empire.

        Sulayman refused to be subjugated and obey Urduja’s biddings. So, he was severely punished, but Sulayman was as strong as an ox and survived the ordeal. In the process, he regained his memory. Knowing about Urduja’s vow of marrying only the man who could overcome her, Sulayman challenge the princess to a contest. Urduja mocked Sulayman but agree to give him a chance. Sulayman won all, spear throwing, bow and arrows, sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat. Lakan kapati, Urduja’s father, however, refused to marry them because Sulayman was a mere slave. Thereupon Sulayman announced his real name, removed the shackle from his neck revealing a mark of the throne of the Madjapahit symbolizing he is a prince. They were married, and Urduja soon learned to love his fated prince. Unfortunately, barely three months after, Sulayman was mortally wounded when he used his body to shield the pregnant Urduja from a barrage of enemy arrows. After the birth of her only child, Urduja never loved again.

The legend of Lam-Ang
retold by Virgilio S. Almario’s
inThe Love of Lam-Ang (1983),
with illustrations by Albert E. Gamos.

        According to Pedro Bukaneg’s narrative epic, Biag ni Lam-ang, in the town of Malbuan in the valley of the Naguilian River, there lived a couple, Juan Panganiban and his wife, Namongan. When Namongan was well on the way in his pregnancy, his husband went off to the mountains to fight the fierce headhunter tribe, Ilongots. Lam-ang was born during his absence. The hero could already talk at the moment of his birth, thus he was able to give his chosen name.

        Lam-ang grew rapidly so that when he was nine months old, he had already the body and size of a full-grown man. He decided to look for his father. With the aid of magic stones and magical pets, he traveled to the land of the Ilongots. He came upon the beheaded body of his father. In a mad desire for vengeance, he killed an entire tribe of headhunters.

        Lam-ang returned home to the great welcome and admiration of his people. Despite this attention, however, Lam-ang felt something was lacking in his life. Lam-ang then met and was captivated by the beautiful Ines Kannoyan living in the place called Calunitian. Accompanied by his pets – a rooster and a dog – he journeyed to get his beloved. Ines Kannoyan’s place was surrounded by a thick crowd of suitors. Lam-ang’s rooster flapped its wings and the outhouse was toppled. This amazed everybody, including Ines Kannoyan. Then his dog barked and the outhouse rose back to its former position. All the suitors gave way in favor of Lam-ang except for Sumarang, a giant who would not yield. Lam-ang defeated him in a duel. After giving her a dowry of two gold ships full of worldly treasures, Lam-ang married Ines Kannoyan with the largest wedding feast that ever been seen in the province.

        In order to secure the union’s blessing, Lam-ang was informed that he must dive down to the very depths of the sea and retrieve a pearl from a magical oyster, otherwise the marriage would have bad luck. So, Lam-ang dove into the sea and, on his way down, was eaten by a shark. Heartbroken, Ines Kannoyan went into mourning, as did most of the town, as Lam-ang was their hero. The next day, Lam-ang’s rooster, who had magical powers, spoke to Ines Kannoyan, and told her to have Lam-ang’s bones fished out of the sea. She did as she was instructed, retrieving Lam-ang’s bones before the rooster, who then blew on them. Lam-ang was resurrected immediately, embraced his wife, and the town had their incredible hero back.

Illustrative depiction of Francisco Balagtas;
on the background a scene from Florante at Laura;
on the right foreground a side view of Selya,
taken from the front cover of
Philippine Panorama (March 28, 2004).

        In a much later epic, Florante at Laura, the immortal classic of enduring love written by Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar (1788-1862), the “Prince of Filipino Poets,” one could read the poet’s depiction of the injustices and sufferings of the Filipinos, but also an outpouring of unequaled intensity of emotion he himself experienced.

        In the epic’s dedicatory poem, Kay Selya, which he recalled and offered anew the nostalgic reminiscences of his first love, Maria Asuncion Rivera, one will be awed by the mixture of sweet and warmth with bitterness and despair.

        Here are some lines of his profound inquiring longings:

        “Nasasaan si Selyang ligaya ng dibdib?
        Ang suyuan nami’y bakit di lumawig?
        Nahan ang panahong isa niyang titig
        Ang siyang buhay ko, kaluluwa’t langit?”

        My English version/translation:
        (Where is Selya the joy of my heart?
        Why have our love forlorn and broken apart?
        Where are the moments that her one glance
        Is my life, my soul, and heavenly deliverance?)

        In the epic itself, we can find the following unforgetable lines:

        "O pagsintang labis ng kapangyarihan,
        Sampung mag-aama'y iyong nasasaklaw!
        Pag ikaw ang nasok sa puso ninuman,
        Hahamaking lahat masunod ka lamang."

        (Oh love most powerful of them all,
        Even between father and son you enthrall!
        If thou enters in any man's heart,
        Conquer all things thou certainly art.)

        The lines, however, were not specific to Florante and Laura, but to Aladin and Flerida, the two other major characters in the epic. It was about a father who would divest his son of everything, including his life, for the love of a woman. Indeed to whatever ends, no matter how noble or tragic, love is the power that be. But as in most epics of poetic love, the heroes (lovers) are reunited in the conclusion - Florante with his Laura and Aladin with Flerida - and the villains met their downfall.

        Omnia vincit amor (Love conquers all)!  Indeed!



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