Bernardo Carpio: Legendary Strongman of the Philippines

Bernardo Carpio

EARTHQUAKES

In the Philippines, several etiological myths and legends attempt to explain the cause and origin of earthquakes. One of these tells of a culture hero named Bernardo Carpio, a legendary strongman whose struggles to break free from an underground trap causes earthquakes. In some stories, he must continuously hold back two massive stone slabs toppling in upon him to prevent himself from being crushed to death.  There are many different versions of tales about Bernardo, and presented here are some of the legends and folklore of how he became associated with causing earthquakes.  

GIANT, OR HUMAN?

Legends of Bernardo mostly center around a mountainous region of the Philippines known as Rodriguez today. In earlier times, the region was known as Montalban and is still sometimes referred to by that name today. The area has a geological fault system and known for earthquakes. 

He is often associated with the Montalban Gorge, formed by the Marikina River, a part of the Pamitinan Protected Landscape, and the Pamitinan Cave, which was once known as The Cave of Bernardo Carpio.  According to this local legend, the old gods punished Bernardo for insolence, chaining him to the Montalban Gorge, where he must stand forever, preventing two mountains from colliding together by the strength in his arms and body. In some stories, he is a giant of enormous stature and strength. In others, he is human with extraordinary muscular power and master swordsman, and some say whatever his fingers grasped died. However, all tales concerning him commonly present him as a man of exceptional strength and courage sharing many attributes with other cultural heroes and legendary strongmen in other parts of the world.

EARLY YEARS

In one version of the legend, Bernardo was the son of Don Sancho Díaz of Cerdenia and his lover Jimena, the sister of King Alfonso of Spain. King Alfonso was very protective of his sister and kept her in seclusion. One of the king’s generals, Don Rubio, had designs on her she rejected his advances in favor of Don Sancho, who was the one she truly loved. Despite her brother forbidding her any liaison with men, a baby boy was born to Jimena and Don Sancho. The child grew fast, quickly gaining extraordinary strength; anything he grasped broke in his hands. The priest who baptized him suggested they name him after Bernardo del Carpio, the legendary Spanish hero, and the baby was Christened Bernardo Carpio.

Rejected by Jimena, the jealous Don Rubio let it be known to King Alfonso about his sister’s love affair and the baby. As a result, the king imprisoned Don Sancho, intending to punish him further by blinding him, and doubled the guard on his sister. At the King’s command, Don Rubio adopted Bernardo as his foster son.   Bernardo soon grew big and incredibly strong and became a master swordsman. He fought for the King in many battles, becoming his greatest knight. However, when Don Rubio revealed his parentage to him and how the king had mistreated his parents, Bernardo became bitter and resentful.  

He had fought against many of the king’s pagan enemies thinking that his sovereign, being a Christian, was morally superior to them. After this news, his entire perception of the King changed. For Bernardo, the revelation had turned his whole life upside down and bitterly challenged Don Rubio to a duel and killed him.

He found the King’s treatment of his parents shocking. He now him as was no better and maybe worse than the same pagans he had fought against for him. He could not understand how he could, on the one hand, claim belief in a God of love while treating two human beings who had found true love together so cruelly. After ensuring his parents’ release, he decided he would no longer fight for God and King but fight for God and redeem the human race from wickedness and battle against sin.

REDEMPTION OF HUMANITY

Another legend tells how the Spanish engaged a shaman, known as engkantado in the Philippines, to use magic to trap him. The engkantado lured him to a cave under the mountains of Montalban, using a powerful magical talisman known as an agimat to trap him between two massive boulders, which continuously fell towards each other.  To save himself, Bernardo had to use his herculean strength to hold the boulders apart to prevent them from toppling upon him. However, in doing so, he could not let go of one without being crushed by the other. The talisman of the engkantado was of equal power to his physical strength, so he could not escape.

Some of Bernardo’s friends searched for him and found the cave hoping to rescue him. Unfortunately, a series of rockfalls blocked their way, killing several of them and forcing them to abandon him, and he remains to this day. Local people believe that when an earthquake occurs, it is Bernardo adjusting his shoulders or shrugging them to make them more comfortable. However, a powerful earthquake is seen as a sign he is fighting to free himself.

BERNARDO CARPIO AND THE MAGICAL ONE

The following legend tells of a marred couple living in abject poverty in the mountains of San Mateo, Rizal. Every day was a struggle for survival. Yet, despite the hardness of life, they were overwhelmed with joy and happiness when the woman gave birth to a strong, healthy baby boy. They named their son Bernardo Carpio, and he was their pride and joy. Like all children, Bernardo loved to play, but there was something extraordinary about him. It soon became apparent that he was an exceptional child. His fingers were so strong he could pull the nails from the wooden flooring as he crawled. When he first began to walk, any rail, bar, or banister he gripped for support crumbled by the strength in his tiny hands. New toys never lasted long because he had not yet learned how to control the power in his hands, which broke items to pieces as soon as he grasped them.

He grew up to be a physically powerful and handsome young man, his strength increasing as he grew along with his fame.  He was courageous and could defeat anyone in a fight and was courteous, polite and humble. Nevertheless, he was different from other young men of his age. He avoided parties, festivities, and social gatherings and showed no interest in even the most beautiful girls, who were all very interested in him.  Instead, he preferred to roam deep into the forest, losing himself in the solitude of the trees. He liked to be in the remotest, wildest, and thickest part of the forest, where he felt at home with the animals as his friends.

In the densest part of the forest, there lived a magical being. This being was huge and very strong and had an evil nature with a tendency towards envy, causing harm and mischief top others. This magical one had seen Bernardo and visited him on many occasions, initially admiring the handsome, strong Bernardo. Eventually, getting word of his fame, the magical one became jealous and began to hate him.

The magical one believed no one in the world, including Bernardo, could match his own power and strength and wanted to kill him. Therefore, he challenged him to a fight, thinking he would back down, but Bernardo had never hidden from a fight in his life and accepted. So the two fought a duel which Bernardo won but refused to kill his opponent.  The two fought several more fights that Bernardo won but refused to kill the magical one each time. Eventually, after one particularly long battle, Bernardo defeated the magical one and again refused to kill him. Then, still feeling full of hatred and jealousy for Bernardo, the magical one slunk off to a quiet part of the forest to rest and make a plan to get his revenge.

After a while, the magical one went to Bernardo pretending friendship and invited him visit his home in a remote part of the forest. He took him deep into the trees to a hidden grove where two massive slabs of stone stood upright. The magical one told Bernardo that this was his home and inviting him in stood aside politely so his guest could enter first.  

As soon as Bernardo reached the center point between the two slabs, the magical one vanished, and the two slabs of stone simultaneously fell into the center, threatening to crush him. Bernardo managed to get a hand on each of the slabs and, by his sheer strength, stopped them from crashing down on him. Although he succeeded, he found he was trapped and unable to let go of the slabs without being crushed to death by one or the other.

THE KING-UNDER-THE-MOUNTAIN MOTIF

The legend of Bernardo Carpio contains the King-under-the-Mountain folklore motif where a heroic king lies asleep for many years, either in a cave under a mountain or a hill. Then, at a predetermined time, or when his people are in dire peril, he will awake to save them from their enemy. This motif appears worldwide, and other examples include King Arthur, Frederick Barbarossa, or Charlemagne and also known as the king asleep in mountain motif appearing in Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, and categorized as D 1960.2. The Tagalog people of the Philippines did not have kings until the Spanish imposed their own upon them, being ruled by feudal lords. In this context, it may be the heroic savior who sleeps under the mountain and will one day awake and return to save his people from an enemy or lead them to freedom. According to one legend, chains bind him to massive boulders he struggles to keep apart. Local people say that Bernardo is adjusting his shoulders or trying to break free every time there is an earthquake. Now and then, he manages to break a chain in his struggle. When the last one shatters, he will return and lead his people to freedom. 

SAVIOR OF HIS PEOPLE

Here we see the idea of him as a freedom fighter or savior of his people, possibly alluding to the occupation of the Philippines by foreigners such as the Spanish, United States of America, and the Japanese.  The legend later evolved that Bernardo would save his people from poverty and oppression rather than just a foreign occupier, thus providing a sense of hope and encouragement through troubled times.

© 03/11/2021 zteve t evans

Other Publications By zteve t evans

REFERENCES, ATTRIBUTIONS AND FURTHER READING

Copyright November 3rd, 2021 zteve t evans

South Sea Island Folktales: Sina and the Eel

Sina and the Eel

South Seas Myths

In many places in the South Seas there is a myth of origin of the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) and its nut.   It is a popular and well known tale in Oceania with many different variations found from region to region. Names and details vary from region to region but there is a similar structure and story-line in many of these tales.   It should be noted that in the folklore of the people of Samoa there is a legend they call “Sina ma le Tuna” which tells of the origin of the coconut tree and in the Samoan language, “Tuna,” means, “eel.” (1) Presented here are two versions of folktales that deal with this myth.  The first is from the island of Savai’I, Samoa and the second comes from American Samoa.  

The Savai’l Samoan Version

This folktale begins with a girl named Sina who was famous around the South Seas for her loveliness.  The King of Fiji, who was known as the Tui Fiti, heard of her beauty and was intrigued.  Although he was much older than Sina he decided he had to meet the beautiful one in person to see if all he had heard was true.  Calling on his Mana, which is his own personal magic, he transformed into an eel and swam to the island home of Sina.  Discovering the village pool was used by all the villagers as a communal bath he slithered into its waters hoping Sina would come to bathe.

Concealing himself at the bottom of the pool he waited patiently hoping she would enter the pool.  Many of the villagers came to the pool to bathe but he remained hidden knowing that these were not the beautiful one he sought. Eventually, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen or imagined entered the pool to bathe.  Immediately he knew it was her for such outstanding loveliness could only belong to the famous Sina, the beautiful one, he sought.   He lay at the bottom of the pool staring up through the water at her lovely face.

Eventually, Sina felt a peculiar sensation and noticed the eel staring at her.  Taken by surprise she became angry, shouting in Samoan, “E pupula mai, ou mata o le alelo!” which means, “You stare at me, with eyes like a demon!” (2). However, after the initial alarm Sina noticed the eel did not look dangerous or aggressive.  In fact it actually seemed very nice and friendly so she took it home for a pet.

Many years passed and the King of Fiji lived happily as Sina’s pet enjoying the love and attention she unknowingly lavished on him as an eel.  Nevertheless, the king was growing older and with age his magic weakened and he found it harder to keep his eel form.  Therefore, he decided that it was time to reveal his true identity and explain himself to her. 

He told her how he was the Tui Fiti, the King of Fiji, who had heard of her great beauty and come to see it for himself.  To make the long sea journey from Fiji to Sina’s island home he had transformed himself into an eel so that he could swim the great distance. In this way he could wait in the pool until she arrived and he could see her.  Once he had seen her he fell in love. 

Realizing he was too old and she would rightly reject him he had kept his eel form so that she would not recognize him as an old man.   He had been overjoyed when she had taken him as a pet because he would remain always near her and enjoy her love and care.  Sadly, because of his great age, his magic had grown weak and he could not keep his eel form much longer and would die.  Therefore, he wished for her to plant his head into the ground near her home. Sina had loved him greatly as her pet and was heartbroken when he died and granted his wish.

From his head there grew the first coconut tree.  On a coconut there are three round marks which look like two eyes and a mouth.   When the coconut is pierced to drink the milk through one of these holes the milk is taken through the pierced hole through the drinker’s mouth.  According to the legend, whenever Sina took a drink of coconut milk from a coconut she was kissing the mouth of the eel.

In Samoa in the village of Matavai, in the district of Safune on the island of Savai’i,is a fresh spring pool. This pool is called, Mata o le Alelo, from the words that Sina first spoke to the eel and is still strongly associated with the legend.

An American Samoan Version

Another version from American Samoa tells how the King of Fiji, heard heard of the beauty of Sina and decided he wanted her for his wife.  However, she lived on a distant island so using his magical power he transformed himself into a young eel and swam all the way from Fiji to Sina’s island home (3).

One day as she was out foraging for shellfish along the seashore she noticed the young eel looking at her from a rock pool.  She thought it looked harmless and had a friendly face and being quite small would make a nice pet.  Therefore, she caught it and put it in the container she used for her shellfish and took it home.

She kept it in a bowl in her home and carefully nurtured it and it became very placid and affectionate towards her.  Under her care it soon grew too big for the bowl so she placed it in a spring near her home.  However, the eel soon grew too big for the spring and she did not know what to do with it.  She asked her mother who suggested she put it in the large freshwater spring the villagers used as a communal bath.  Sina thought this a good idea as the large pool would give the eel space to grow and be free so she placed it in the pool and it hid its self at the bottom.

All the villagers used the pool to bathe but none of them ever seemed to notice the eel. It would come out of hiding to greet Sina as soon as she stepped into the water.   It grew very long and big but was always very affectionate towards her and very playful with her yet no one seemed to notice its presence.  One day the eel became too boisterous and playfully wrapped itself around Sina in a loving embrace.  This frightened her and after that she would not bathe in the communal pool.

From then on she bathed in the small spring near her home.  This was fine at first but somehow the eel found out where she was bathing and appeared in the water as she bathed.   Still no one else could see the eel and its behaviour alarmed her and began to make her angry and frightened.  

Determined to escape the eel, one morning just before dawn, while her family still slept, she quietly left her home to walk to the next village.  It was good distance and she would stop at a spring along the way for a refreshing drink and to cool down and rest.  To her dismay at every spring she stopped at the eel would appear staring out of the water at her.   This terrified her and she continued journeying from village to village trying to escape the eel.  Each time she stopped at the springs along the way it would appear.  Where ever she went the eel appeared and it was growing longer and longer and to her fear and bewilderment, no one else could see it.  

There came a time when it left a pool she had found it in and wriggled onto the land and followed on behind her like pet dog.  Wherever she went it followed her and still no one else could see it.   On her wanderings she came across a group of people having a meeting.  In desperation she ran and sat between the two lead speakers. 

This surprised everyone but the eel had now grown as long as a person. Now everyone could see and hear it and all sat terrified at the strange creature.  It slid through the crowd to rest before where Sina was sitting between the two speakers.   Raising itself up to look her in her eyes the eel said,

“Sina, my beautiful one, please forgive me!   Know now that my true shape is that of a human.  I am the King of Fiji.  I have used my magic to attain this eel form you see me in now.  I took this form when I first heard of your beauty and grace that I might swim the great distance from Fiji to your home on this island to see you for myself.

My intention was to woo you and win your love but I now see that the form I took frightened you and I am sorry.  After so much traveling and keeping this form my magic and power is all used up.  I am tired and my death draws near. Before I die I wanted to explain these things to you hoping you would think better of me. 

In compensation for alarming you I have a valuable gift to offer you.  When I die cut off my head and plant it outside your home.  It will soon grow into a tree that will be of great value to you and your people.  It will have long green leaves that can be used as a fan to cool you in the summer’s heat.  

These leaves will also provide good covering for the roofs of your homes.  The leaves, bark and wood you will find will have many uses that will be of great service to people.  It will also bear a nut that gives food and a nourishing drink.   The nut will have three marks that resemble human features.  To drink from the nut puncture one of these holes and you will pour its milk from its mouth!”

With that it died.  Sina felt sorrry for the King of Fiji and thought perhaps if she had known the full story in the first place things might have turned out differently.  She did as he had asked and planted his head.  As he had foretold a tree grew from it bearing long green leaves and a large nut.  The tree and the nut proved to be extremely useful to humans and became an important part of their lives.  It spread beyond Sina’s isle to neighboring islands and beyond often carried by humans and some times carried by the sea.  The same tradition of kissing the eel when drinking from the coconut applies to this legend as well.

© 21/07/2021 zteve t evans

FURTHER PUBLICATIONS BY ZTEVE T EVANS

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 21st, 2021 zteve t evans

Giant Tales: The Making of the Wrekin

The Wrekin, Shropshire – Public Domain

The Wrekin 

In Shropshire, England, is a large hill called the Wrekin. It is about 407 metres (1,335 feet) high situated about five miles west of Telford. It is an impressive landmark visible from miles around, including  Cleeve Hill, Gloucestershire, Staffordshire and the Black Country and even Beetham Tower, Manchester, and Winter Hill, Lancashire.  Probably because of its prominence a number of myths, legends and folklore traditions are associated with it.  Here we look at two different folktales that tell how it was by giants and there are several versions some may differ in detail.  The first concerns a Welsh giant who sought revenge against the people of the town of Shrewsbury.  The second tells how the hill and nearby River Severn were created by two exiled giants working to build themselves a new home.  

 Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr 

Long ago in the land of Wales there lived a giant by the name of Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr.  For many years he had demanded tribute from the town of Shrewsbury which was paid in the form of young maidens which he ate.  On one occasion one of the maidens managed to escape and return home to Shrewsbury and told the people of the fate of the maidens they sent the giant.  The people were outraged and refused to send anymore.

In revenge the giant decided he would drown them all by blocking the flow of the River Severn which ran through the town.  To achieve this he took his giant spade and pushed it into the ground collecting a great wad of earth which he intended to drop into the river to block its flow and flood Shrewsbury.  

It so happened that he was not the brightest of giants and did not have a  clear idea of the location of the river and town.   Nevertheless, he set off carrying his spade holding the wad of earth intending to carry out his plan.  He seemed to have lost his way and somehow missed Shrewsbury.  Eventually he grew very tired and as he approached the town of Wellington he met a cobbler returning to his home after visiting Shrewsbury market for trade.  The cobbler was carrying a large sack of assorted footwear that people had commissioned him to repair.  The giant asked the cobbler the way to Shrewsbury revealing his plan to block the river with the earth on his spade and drown the town and its people.   The cobbler was aghast at the idea but feared upsetting the giant so he quickly came up with a clever ruse telling him, 

“Well, actually Shrewsbury is miles and miles away as is the River Severn.  See this sack, it is full of shoes that I have worn out walking from Shrewsbury to this very spot and it has taken days and days to get here.”

The giant looked at the sack and saw how full it was and he was greatly  dismayed at the thought of walking such a great distance.  Feeling tired and disillusioned he dumped the great spadeful of earth on the ground there and then and in later years it became known as the Wrekin.  Scraping the mud off his boots with his spade he created a smaller heap of earth which became known as Ercall Hill and wearily made his way home.   What became of him after that this tale does not tell.

The Quarreling Giants

The second myth of origin tells how the Wrekin was formed by two giants who had been exiled from their own land and needed somewhere to live.  They decided to build a huge hill big enough for them both to live in.  To begin with they worked hard and quickly created a huge mound of earth.  They dug out a long and winding ditch which filled with water and became the River Severn.  The earth from the ditch they piled up high to create a huge mound which became known as the Wrekin.

However, the giants began to quarrel with one another possibly over the use of their only spade. One picked it up and struck the other who fought back with his bare hands.  As they were fighting a raven flew by and taking the side of the unarmed giant attacked the one who wielded the spade pecking at his eyes. This caused the armed giant’s eyes to water.  A tear fell into a small cleft in the rock which became known as the Raven’s Bowl, or the Cuckoo’s Cup.   It is said to hold water even in the hottest weather.

With the help of the raven the unarmed giant won the fight and imprisoned the other in a nearby hill he built for the purpose which is called Ercall Hill today.  The prisoner is said to be still there today and can be heard at times groaning in the night.

Folklore and Tradition

Another tradition tells how the victor hurled a blow spade at his enemy, missing him but hitting a rock making a narrow split which became known as the Needle’s Eye.  All true Salopians – that is someone born in Shropshire – are said to have climbed through the needle.  Girls who do this are advised to never look back because they will never marry if they do.

© 21/10/2020 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 21st, 2020 zteve t evans