Monday, July 2, 2007

Phil. Epic Poetry

Philippine epic poetry

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Centuries before the Spaniards came, the Filipinos already had their own cultural traditions, folklore, mythologies and epics. There were substantial writings by early natives that Jesuit historian Fr. Pedro Chirino noted: "All of the islanders are much given to reading and writing. And there is hardly a man, much less a woman who did not read and write." (Relacion de las isles Filipinas-1604)

Stories of epics, done in poetry displayed tremendous vitality, color and imagination. Tales of love and adventures about native heroes, endowed with powers from the gods, battle monsters, and triumphs over formidable armies, rode the wind, traveled in flying shields and protect the earliest communities of the islands.

Established epic poems of notable quality and length blossomed. And early historians like Padre Colin, Joaquin Martinez de Zuniga and Antonio Pigafetta have all attested to the existence of these epics. There were even reports of a dramatic play given by natives at the arrival of Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565.

Epic poems and songs about the exploits of enchanted folk heroes were performed during festivities and proper occasions. Most often, these epic poems (folk epics or ethno-epics) were titled after the names of the hero involved, except for some which carry traditional titles like the Kalinga Ullalim; the Sulod Hinilawod; the Maranao Darangan; or the Bicol Ibalon.

Stories about folk heroes of long ago were described as "Old Time History" because; they can be used to study the lifestyle and beliefs of the people who produced them. They were also referred to as "Lost", because they were soon forgotten by natives influenced heavily by Spanish and "western" colonization. The famed orientalist, Chauncey Starkweather , stressed that : "These epic romances are charming poem in the Malayan literature."

But there are those who perpetuated myths that in the early days of Spanish intrusion, priests in their zealous rage against paganism destroyed all existing records, as well as all forms of writing and art works, regarding ancient Philippine folk heroes. But this is not true. The colorful and fascinating literature of pre-Hispanic Filipinos are still here. Giving the new generation an over view of a heritage that is an unusual and invaluable source of joy and information. Regarding the life style, love and aspirations of early Filipinos. It is from these, wonderful epics, where a Filipino can find his or her national identity. It is from these that a Filipino can feel heroic, truly pulsating with splendor of a magnificent and authentic cultural force.



The Hud-Hud tells about the lives of native Ifugao heroes. The most notable was about Aliguyon of the village of Gonhandan. Aliguyon was endowed with supernatural powers and limitless energy. He could travel long distances without food and rest. He could even arrive at his destination as perked up as he made his first step. Aliguyon was invincible in battle; he could catch spears in mid flight and fought overwhelming combatants. At first, he was obsessed in killing his father’s enemies. But it turns out that his old man had no enemies and suggested for him to marry a worthy girl instead. One episode tell about his duel with Pumbakhayon, a warrior of equal strength and agility from a village called Daligdigan . They fought for about a year and a half, rested and fought again for another year and a half. Then, the two reached a compromised deal and Aliguyon married Pumbakhayon’s sister Bugan. Likewise, Pumbakhayon married Aliguyon’s sister Aginaya. The Alim on the other hand, deals with the legends of Ifugao gods and goddesses. One of them was Punholdayan who lives in "Kabunian" the Ifugao heaven.This epic had some similarities to that of the Hindi’s Ramayana.

Mindanao Epic Poetry

The people of Mindanao had rich literatures that exist only in their minds and memories. Only recently that these epic poetries were put in writing, so these can be studied by the public. Locally called "Darangan", these epic poetries were similar to those of that Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey.

The Darangan tells of the sentimental and romantic adventures of noble warriors, one of them, is about a warrior-prince called Bantugan.. Prince Bantugan was the brother of the chieftain of a village called Bumbaran. Bantugan owned a magic shield, was protectedby devine spirits called "Tonongs" and was capable of rising from the dead. Once his enemies attacked Bembaran, thinking he was dead. In the nick of time, Bantugan’s soul was recovered and he saved the village.

There is also an episode, where Prince Bantugan was on a quest and fought his enemies with his magic Kampilan (Native sword). Soon, he got tired and fell on to the water. A crocodile delivered him to his enemies, but he regained his strength, escaped his captors, and commands an oar less ship and won the battle.

There were also “Darangan epic poetries that relates stories of wars about abducted princesses. Just like the chronicles of the Trojan War.

The Darangan is one of the oldest and longest Philippine Epic poetries. Several nights were needed to recite the twenty five beautiful chapters. The Darangan, sung in it’s original, possessed a sustained beauty and dignity, it might be studied for it’s esthetic values alone.

Maranaw Epic Poetry

It tells about The Maranaw people have their own heroic epic, Indarapatra and Sulayaman. the heroic exploits of Emperor Indarapatra of the kingdom of Mantapuli: The emperor had a magic spear, which he can use like a boomerang. There was a huge monster, terrorizing his kingdom and he killed it in defense. Frank Lewis Milton published and English translation of the epic through “The Philippine Magazine in 1929. These are some of the lines that shows the beauty and vividness of the epic:

The Flight of the Magic Spear – (Aliguyon)

Far above the sun set clouds,

In an arch of flaming splendor,

Aliguyon cleft the sky,

And fell upon a summit,

Of angry Budmatutun;

And thunder crashed,

And rumbled,

Through the sullen hills,

And the mighty mountain split,

Throwing high a horrid vomit,

Of burning rocks.

And the tortured land,

Rocked and trembled.

Ilocano Epic Poetry

The Ilocanos had their own, pre-Hispanic epic. Believed to be the work of many poets from various generations, the epic is called Biag ni Lam-Ang. (Life of Lam-Ang.) For the first time, the father of Ilocano poetry named Pedro Bukaneg put down the epic poem in writing around 1640. The hero, Lam-Ang could talk immediately after birth. He picked his own name, chose his own sponsor and asked for his father’s presence. Barely 9 months old, Lam-Ang fought against the headhunters who killed his father. He was also eaten by a sea monster, but was reborn from his retrieved bones. He also journeyed to get the beautiful Ines Kannoyan accompanied by his pets; a rooster and a dog. (This reminds us of an old Japanese tale titled Momotaro the Peach boy.) Ines Kannoyan’s place was filled with suitors, Lam-Ang’s rooster flap it’s wings and the long house toppled. This amazed every body, especially Ines. Then, Lam-Ang’s dog barks and the long house rose to it’s former. Lam-Ang gave Ines two golden ships filled with treasures, and then he married her.

Bicol Epic Poetry

From the Bicol province comes the Ibalon. The Ibalon relates the mystical origins of the first man and the first woman of Aslon and Ibalon, which are current provinces of Camarines, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate. Hiandong, one of the heroes of Ibalon (The others are Baltog and Bantong) was a great leader of warriors. He fought against a giant Cyclops for ten months, defeated the winged Tiburon and the fierce Sarimao and won over the seductive serpent Oriol before starting a village.

His Village prospered and soon, others invented the plough, harrow and other farming implements. Events in this epic also had a flood story similar to that of the Biblical Genesis.

Visayan Epic Poetries

The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay is a history of

rulers of the island from the time of the Ten Malay Datus (rulers)

that settled from Borneo.

The "Legend of the Ten Datus (chieftains)" narrates about the forefathers

of the Filipinos and the story of ten Bornean chieftains who escaped the

cruel regime of Sultan Makatunaw. Datu Puti along with other nine

chieftains plans to leave Borneo. Riding their native boats, they ventured

into the night and across the wide ocean. At first, the ten rulers and

their families were afraid that they might perish in the middle of the

sea. Soon, they have reached the islands of Panay and befriended with the

natives called Aetas.

The Aetas are quite friendly and decides to sell a piece of their land to

the ten chieftains. The chieftains gave the Aetas leader, Marikudo a

golden Salakot (Native head piece) After this; the chieftains and Aetas

lived in peace and harmony.

The Haraya is another epic poem from Panay. It is a collection of rules of

conduct told in the form of heroic tales. The "Hari sa Bukit" of Negros

island is a mythical epic of Kanlaon (Kan comes from a Persian word "Khan"

meaning "King" and "Laon" from a Malay word meaning "Ancient.")

and "Hinilawod" an epic poem made by the early inhabitants of Ilo-Ilo,

Aklan and Antique also from Panay.

The hero of Hinilawod, “Humadapnon” was of divine ancestry. He had super

natural powers and guardian spirits to protect him. His most exciting

adventure was his search for Nagmalitong Yawa: A beautiful maiden whom he

saw in his dream. He boarded his golden boat, sailed amidst dangerous

seas, and was captured by an enchantress. Finally, he found and won the

love of Nagmalitong Yawa.

Bagobo Epic Poetry

The Bagobo tribe has an epic hero named Tuwaang (Tatuwang) Tuwaang was a brave and strong warrior with various powers. In one story, he rode a lightning to the land of Pinanggayungan and later, met the maiden of the Buhong Sky who was running away from the young man of Pangumanon: A giant with great vigor. Tuwaang and the giant fought but it was an even match. So the giant used his magical powers and threw a flaming bar at the hero. Entwining itself at Tuwaang, our hero escaped this ordead and used his own magical ability to call the wind to fan the flames and let the giant be engulfed by the flames.

Other Epic Poetries

Dr. Jose Panganiban, in his book on Philippine literature mentioned that "Old Folks" in the Batangas area which anciently covered part of the Rizal province up to Morong, all of Laguna, Batangas, Quezon , Marinduque and the Mindoro Priovince, mentioned an epic that their elders used to chant but can’t remember. These are not definite stories. Only war songs and war dances accompanied with music on the "Kulintang". The "Kulintang", it should be noted, is a native "Tom-Tom" consists of a bamboo reed with "strings" raised up from its own fibers. Josue Soncuya mentions the epic that Dr. Jose Panganiban calls "Kumintang", in Chapter XIX of the Boletin dela Sociedad Historico-Geografica de Filipinas.

There was a tale around the 14th Century: King Soledan sent his sons Bagtas, manduquit and Likyaw of the house of Madjapahit to mai and Lusong which were then, part of the kingdom of Lontok. The conquest of the northern territories through singing and dancing of warriors form the integral part of the "Kumintang."

Other Epic poems being written and chanted are:

The Sud-Sud of the Tagbanuas from Palawan The Dagoy, also from Palawan The Parang Sabil of the Sulo Muslims The Ulagingen and Selch of the Manobos The Panglima Munggona and Jikiri of the Tausugs The kalinga Banna Bidian of the Ibaloys The Sulod labaw Denggen …and, Agyu of Bukidnon.

Eulogio B. Rodriguez, former director of the Philippine National Library said that "Anonymous vernacular writers of past ages had no thought of bringing glory to their own, but labored with the central idea of transmitting to prosperity in a concrete and permanent form, the great mass of Philippine legends which was only preserved by word of mouth…With their work as corner stone, later writers have been gradually adding block by block to the literary edifice to approximate something similar to a national literature of our own."

When the late American Noble Prize winner William Faulkner visited the Philippines, he was impressed by our epic poems. He stated that:

" The Filipinos have their own traditions of poetry in their folklore, in their language and dialects. This must be recorded and that’s the job of the writers. In doing that, he gives a pattern of hope and aspirations for the people to advance not merely as a nation of people but as a member of a family of nations, the human family."

External links

Portions of this article also appears in * The Ranao Blog


Schildan said...

I think it is great that the Phillipines has such a rich heritage of epic poetry. Americans perhaps have something to learn from them as alluded to in Faulkner's quotation. Americans, and many other English speaking peoples have yet to realize the full potential of the English language. Those of us who are English speaking ought to realize the great flexibility in rhyming that our language has that surpasses other languages. We should incorporate more of it into our own epics.

Paul Jean Pierre said...

Hi! I am a student from UST, Manila.
Are there any sites you can recommend in searching for the Tagalog epic, Kumintang?
I hardly find particular sites, neither blog, for the complete informations.
I am, well, surprised to see people use other people's blogs to searching.
And by the way, thank you for the information!