Short Myths in Philippine Folk Literature

Philippine Folk Tales


Collection of Short Myths in the Philippine Folk Literature


MGA ALAMAT or myths form an important genre of folk literature. Together with legends and folktales, they constitute the large group of folk narratives in prose. A myth is “a sacred narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present form” ( Dundes, 1984: 1).

The readings in this collection are classified under the following headings:

  1. The Gods and the Creation of the World
  2. Early Conceptions of the Universe
  3. The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars
  4. The Great Flood
  5. Establishment of Natural Order
  6. Origin of Man
  7. Relationship between Gods and Men
  8. Acquisition of Culture and the Origin of Fire
  9. Origin of the Water Features
  10. Origin of Land Features
  11. Origin of Animals
  12. Origin of Plants

The Gods and the Creation of the World:

Philippine myths show that our ancient peoples believed in one supreme god and in a number of lesser gods and goddesses. Sometimes the name of the god is not given, he is simply referred to as the Supreme God, great Being, or God the Most high. Most of the time, their names were given, and these names varied with the different tribes: Bathala for the Tagalogs, Mangetchay for the Pampangos, Gugurang for the Bicols, Lumawig and Kabunian for the Bontoc and Igorot, Liddum for the Ifugao, Mahal Makakaako for the Mangyan, Laon for the Visayans, Magbabaya for the Bukidnons, Sualla or Tullus for the tiruray, Melu for the Blaan, Makalidug for the Manobo of the Agusan Valley, Diwata for the Bagobo, Manama for the Munuvu, the couple-god Kadaw La Sambad and the Bulon La Mogaw for the Tiboli.

In many myths, the supreme god is the creator of the world. Sometimes people were merely told that the god made the earth and no further details. In some myths, the creation of the world was not the work of a supreme being but rather the outcome of a struggle between hostile forces.

Early Conceptions of the Universe:

Stories of creation contain scattered references which indicate the early Filipinos’ conception of the universe. This universe consists of the Skyworld, the earth or middleworld, and the underworld. Almost all the different regional groups believe that the universe has many layers with which each layer is inhabited by different kinds of being. Part of the early Filipinos’ concept of the universe is the belief that once upon a time the sky was low, and many myths attest to this belief.

The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars:

Myths about the sun, the moon and the stars explain the following:

  1. why the sun and the moon shine at different times of the day,
  2. why the sun shines more brightly than the moon,
  3. why there are spots on the face of the moon, and the sun,
  4. the origin of the stars.

A central motif in many of these myths is the enmity or quarrel of the sun and the moon.

The Great Flood

Mythology speaks of such world calamities as a great fire and a deluge that happened a long time ago, and myths describing such calamities are worldwide in occurrence. In the Philippines, there seems to be no myth about great fires, but flood myths are quite common. In majority of the myths, the flood occurs as a punishment for the people’s failure to fulfill their sacrificial obligations to the gods or to observe God’s laws. Other reasons or causes of the flood are given in the myths. A Nabaloi version blames the flood on the negligence of the woman guarding the river. She fell asleep and wood and thrash clogged the river and caused it to swell and overflow.

Establishment of Natural Order:

Myths try to explain many kinds of natural phenomena: why there is rain, rainbow, thunder, lightning, earthquake, eclipse, and the like. The rain is believed by many as the tears shed by a man longing for his vanished wife, a Diwata (fairy) throwing out water in the sky. The rainbow is believed to be the flower loving daughter of Bathala, who was cursed by the latter to stay on earth forever because of her failure to attend a family council ordered by the Bathala. Other believed that the rainbow is not a person but a road from the sky to the earth that a man built so that his star wife and child could visit him without any difficulty. The origin of the lightning and thunder are stories about the marriage of a god and a mortal wife. The earthquake is what early Filipinos believed as the movement of the body part of a great being or by the movement of the post or being that supports the earth. Others believed that the eclipse of the moon occurs whenever the moon is swallowed or embraced by a monster –huge snake, lion, or gigantic tarantula.

Origin of Man:

The creation of man in myths follows immediately after the creation of the world. Philippine myths explain the origin of the first people on earth in three ways: (1) man came to earth from heaven/skyworld; (2) the first man and woman emerged fully formed from two nodes of a piece of bamboo, from two stumps of banana plant, hatched from two eggs of a bird; and (3) they were created by a god and his helpers out of earth or some other material.

Relationship between Gods and Men:

Myths portray some of the gods and goddesses as being in frequent and intimate communication with the mortals on earth. This is especially true among the tribes living in the mountains of the northern parts of the the main Island.

Acquisition of Culture and the Origin of Fire:

After the creation of man, he has to have fire to keep his surroundings warm and to use for his own needs. How fire was brought to man is explained in different stories. Many believed that fire came to man as a gift from the gods or that it was stolen from a giant as it was told in the folktale Biag ni Lam-ang (life of Lam-ang) of the North.

Origin of the Water Features:

Like so many Philippine legends explaining the origin of rivers revolve around the fate of lovers. Legends have also been woven around some popular spring resorts in the country, among them Sibul Springs in San Miguel Bulacan, Tiwi Hot Springs in Bicol, Salinas Salt Spring in Nueva Vizcaya, Mambucal Springs in Negros Occidental, and Mabinay Spring in Negros Oriental.

In legends explaining the origin of lakes, a common motif is the sunken city in which a god causes a town or village to sink to punish its inhabitants for some great sin.

Of many waterfalls in the country, a few has been immortalized in legend. One was formed because it was dug by a genie in a futile attempt to recover a golden crow which had fallen and which had been given to a princess by the god of the mountain. Other lakes said to have been formed by the inundation or flooding of what were once villages.

Origin of Land Features:

Legends about land features explain the origin of mountains and volcanoes in general and some specific and famous volcanoes and mountains. A motif that is found in few of these mountains are the rising from the common grave of faithful lovers. Others come from the grave of huge animals or a giant who lived in it pulled it out from its foundations and carried it and moved it to a different place to show its strength.

Origin of Animals:

Animal legends present an interesting array of Philippine fauna, especially of the smaller specie–birds, fishes, and insects. Of beasts, legends deal mostly with monkey, rarely with cats and rats. There seem to be legends of the origin of monkeys in every region of the Philippines. Motifs varied from one place to another. One motif is that that those who became monkeys are hungry children who are denied of proper food by their mothers and stepmothers. In lowland Filipino legends, it is usually a lazy boy who is transformed into a monkey. In these motifs, the transformation into a monkey happened as a form of punishment for laziness and selfishness. In some stories, irreverence in children may also change them into monkeys.

Legends about other small animals like birds vary from one place to another. Common motif includes girl or boy cruelly treated by their parents or step-parent. They run away and become a bird, oftentimes by merely wishing to escape the cruelty of the parent. Some birds that make peculiar noises are also subject of legends. The owl was said to be an old woman who kept weeping and crying for her dead son Juan to come back to her. An interesting legend about the bat says that it is once a rat on which the wings of a bird got stuck. He was however, rejected by both the birds and the rats, and so in shame he hides during the daytime and flies only at night.

Origin of Plants:

Plant myths and legends abound in Philippine Folklore. They give highly fanciful accounts of the origin of various kinds of plants, flowers, and fruits. Among the most widely known of these are those about rice, the staple food of the Philippines. Legends believed that rice was only known by the gods until they gave people the detailed instruction on how to plant, have a good harvest, and cook it. Other motifs include, lovers eloping, a child hiding and running away, and a lover who died in behalf of his/her love.