Tagalog Myths: The Legend of Macapuno

Philippine Folk Tales

The Legend of Macapuno

In pre-Hispanic days, there was a lagoon that connected with the River Pasig, where later stood the Chinese Parian, near present Botanical Gardens. The Pasig lapped quietly against its banks. Sailing slowly past on the current were floating islands of water-plants, including patches of those resembling cabbages called quiapo, which that suburb is named after. Crocodiles–ancient, scraggy-skinned specimens–abounded, and water-fowl filled the mornings and evenings with their calls. Where the lagoon and shore met in a labyrinth of waterways, the green fronds of the nipa-palm flourished, and forest trees grew about the edges, raised a few feet above the level of the river. This lagoon was later used as a water-entry for the trading champans and cascos with the Chinese, but gradually it filled up after the Parain was transferred across the Pasig to the Alcayceria.

Upon the arrival of the Castilians to the Islands, the petty rajahs and rulers of the settlements were–almost without exception–men of Borneo or, to more accurately, of the the sultanate of Brunei, which claimed everything north to Manila Bay. Such places as Sapa (Sta. Ana) were ruled  over by Lakantagan, a Bornean, whose son by a “Bornean woman” named Pasay–it is said–gave his name to that settlement. So Kainta, Kalilaya, and Komintang (Tayabas and Batangas) of Panay, and Bago and Ilo of Negros were Bornean rulers, as was possibly Lakandola, the grandson of Lontok and Kalangitan. A daughter of Lontok married the ruler of Sapa (Baliuag), a colony planted from the original Sapa (Sta. Ana), who was called Balagtas. Bunayog, the ruler of Bua (Nebuy, the chief settlement of Camarines); Panga, ruler of Lupa; Kayayao ruler of Sabang, settlements of Bicolandia; and Sumaclob, rajah of the Cuyos were all men of Borneo who paid tribute to Brunei before its decadence about the end of the16th century.

Its copper money, at least, was current in the beginning of this century here in the Islands.

Some generations before the caravels of Legaspi entered Manila Bay, this lagoon was home to a family of the rajah class who had been exiled from Brunei for some reason connected with the execution of the Sultan, a cruel and avaricious ruler. Reduced to the lowest circumstances, Rajah Madia and his wife Kimay made the banks of the lagoon their home. Without the usual regiment of slaves and with no means of obtaining them, their household consisted of their only daughter, Macapuno, a girl of extreme beauty and affability and a princess in her own right; the aged brother of Madia, named Tidoy; and Tidoy’s two sons, Kamanchille and Guanar, both growing into manhood. The river, marsh, and forest supplied their simple wants, as it did those of their neighbors on the lush banks of the Pasig.

Although many asked for the hand of the beautiful and modest Macapuno, none was of sufficient rank to satisfy Madia and his wife. Attractive and lovable she grew into womanhood, but lacking a noble suitor, she busied herself solely with the tasks of the household. If she had dreams, she kept them to herself. In time, age overtook her parents, who died and were buried according to Bornean customs. Kamanchille and Guanar, haughtily refusing to take service with the datus of Lusong, became expert warriors and hunters, supporting their cousin Macapuno, and their aged father Tidoy, a once-renowned warrior. A year or so passed in this manner for the reduced family living in exile on the banks of the lagoon by the Pasig.

The day came when a wandering hero (bayani) from Brunei passed by, saw the beautiful  Macapuno, and fell violently in love with her. She in turn did not discourage his advances. Having nothing but his arms and valor and pleasing address and appearance, Luanbakar proposed to marry her, but the cousins, Kamanchille and Buanar, as heads of the family, were fiercely proud of their high descent and, following age-old custom, suspicious of all strangers. After conferring with the viejo Tidoy and Macapuno, they allowed him to follow the regular condition of an unknown suitor of Malaysia.

This custom stated that the admirer should labor for a certain period for the family of the maid, until the elders were satisfied that a good choice had been made and that the suitor would prove an eligible match for the girl. Luanbakar readily agreed, and the first task appointed him was the construction of a long dike in order to make part of the lagoon into a fishpond. This pond, supplied by the tides from the Pasig, would prove a profitable undertaking in breeding the fish among the roots of the mangroves and nilad. The work progressed for some time, the dredging and building being done by hand alone. This was varied by hunting trips in the commons, and Luanbakar proved his industry and dexterity on all occasions, partly allaying the suspicions of the two cousins.

Because the fishpond was but a short distance from the house, Macapuno would carry food to the bayani engaged in his labor of love for her, and in the flush of youth, they were naturally attracted to each other. But the cousins of the princess believed that the stranger had not waited for the rite of marriage and, out of revenge planned, to kill him as he had not followed the strict custom. They reasoned that to doing so would save their honor, notwithstanding that the task allotted him had been practically completed and that their cousin and the bayani were as good as married. In accordance with Malayan custom, a wrong remains un-righted until death overtakes the guilty. It is equally un-redressed if the avenger fails to make himself or his aims known to the victim. The boys then plotted the death of the stranger, either singly or in the company of each other.

As Luanbakar was busy finishing the dike, Kamanchille with his hunting spear appeared before him one day, inquiring if the wild boar he was pursing had passed that way. The bayani replied, “No,” adding that these animals rarely take to the river to hide. The cousin kept insisting on his story, and Luanbakar turning his head towards the young man, saw him with his spear poised and pointed in his direction. The same instant this was launched with such ferocity that it entered his side below the ribs, passed through the body and hurled him into the water, while Kamanchille taunted him for his flouting of immemorial custom. Terribly wounded, Luanbakar climbed the dike, extracted the spear, bound the mortal wound tightly with his sarong, and saw Kamanchille in full flight after  his treacherous deed.

Certain of him imminent death, Luanbakar grasped the spear and pursued the flying Kamanchille, shouting for him to wait and he would show how the wild boar could die. Gaining on the youth, the latter glancing over his shoulder, tripped over a mangrove root and fell. At this moment Luanbakar threw the lance with such dexterity that it passed completely through his slayer, and at the same time, he fell exhausted beside the body of his enemy. In the moment before their deaths, he whispered in the ear of Kamanchille that the Great Bathala would be their judge, that he forgave the cowardly blow, and that he would so testify. And so they died together.

Macapuno, noting that Kamanchille did not return after passing that way and apprehensive of his attitude came to the dike. It was deserted, but the trail of blood told the story as she followed it to where they lay side by side in death. Tears welled from her eyes for the fate of her relative and her lover, and for some time, she gave herself up to silent sorrow. Stifling her grief, she piled branches on the pair and returned to the house resolved to say nothing and to keep silence over the affair. Guanar, returning later, asked her about the whereabouts of the two, and she replied that the bayani and Kamanchille had gone hunting and awaited him in a distant part of the forest which then extended through Paco–named after its edible ferns–to the nyun of Sapa itself. Grasping his spear, he left hastily for the supposed rendezvous, sensing that his brother was leading the stranger to his death.

Upon his departure Macapuno took a wooden spade and returned to the scene of the tragedy. The night had set and turned dark and stormy. Rain from over the distant mountain pattered on the forest canopies and the lagoon. The wind blew in fitful gusts, chilling her during her terrible task. Without aid of light, she excavated a deep grave in which she placed both bodies, weeping bitterly the while, the work taking some hours to finish. After washing herself in the waters of the river, she returned to the house and prepared a meal for Guanar. He returned about midnight carrying a deer which had fallen to his spear and remarking that he had not found a trace of either his brother or the bayani, although he had searched the entire forest. Macapuno assured him they would return the next day without doubt. The succeeding day Guanar himself continued the work on the fishpond.  Upon noticing the traces of blood he reported it to Macapuno, who replied that it is probably that of some wounded animal in the fight.   While the explanation did not satisfy Guanar, he said nothing.  Some months passed, and the hunters did not return nor was anything further heard of them.  The ancient warrior, Tidoy, passed on, and they were still more alone.   She took the child across the Pasig, entrusting it to an old woman to bring up.   No mention was made of its parents, but princess left with the old crone all her ornaments as recompense–all the property she had left in the world.

Macapuno return sadly to her menial tasks with nothing but memories.   The daily gnawing of conscience tormented her.  Unable to stand these, together with the buffetings of fate, she arrayed herself in her best garments, carefully weighted them with stones, went to the end of dike and threw herself into the river, thus ending the tragedy.  Guanar, finding her absent, searched for her high and low, finally discovering her corpse on a sandbar near the mouth of the Pasig.  His sorrow was great, but no amount of remorse could alter the facts.  Recovering the body he dug a grave on the bank in which he buried the unfortunate Macapuno, but he had nothing to mark the spot.

Looking around he saw a coconut floating past in the current.  This he retrieved and planted it in the grave to permanently mark it.  Returning to the lonely house, he in turn became disconsolate, brooding over the circumstances that left him the sole survivor of all his exiled family.  He resolved to return to the land of his birth and take service under some datu (exiled family).  He paddled out to the island of Takaykay from whence he took passage in a boat bearing the tribute to the Sultan of Brunei, the last of his race.

Years past and the coconut planted on the grave of Macapuno grew up into a noble palm bearing fruit in turn.  While not so tall as its species, its graceful fronds hid an abundance of small round nuts.  But these were entirely different from the ordinary variety, being solid, full of meat, and much sweeter to taste.  The wandering traders of Kalilaya and Bai took these nuts to propagate, and they were thus in high demand.

May not the palm have absorbed the agreeable qualities of the unfortunate princess–her perfection of form, her sweetness of temper?  That at least is the legend, for this variety of coconut is known by all and is called Macapuno.

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