Philippine Folklore: Maria Makiling of Mount Makiling

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By kellepics – Pixabay – CC0 Creative Commons

Maria Makiling

As is often the case in many parts of the Philippines and around the world, mountains and volcanoes became associated with legends, myths and ancient traditions and Mount Makiling is strongly associated with a mythical female entity named Maria Makiling. She is also known as Mariang Makiling and is considered to be a spirit or forest nymph known as a diwata or lambana in Philippine folklore. Before the Philippines were colonized she was known as Dayang Masalanta or Dian Masalanta who could be called upon to stop or prevent natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or storms. She is also identified with the amount of fish caught in Laguna de Bay which is part of her realm and appears to be a spirit of abundance influencing the functioning of the natural world. She was seen as a benign spirit of nature that poor people could approach and ask for help whenever they needed it.

It is said that it is Maria who goes through the forest after a storm fixing broken branches and trees and repairing the nests of birds that have been damaged. She walks through the forest healing the broken wings of butterflies and clearing away debris from the forest floor and streams. Wherever she walks the sun shines and the birds sing and the flowers bloom and the animals frisk and play as she tidies up the forest after the storm.

Maria and the Mountain

It is not known whether Maria Makiling was named after the mountain, or whether the mountain was named after her. However, some people think that when seen from different locations Mount Makiling looks like the profile of a sleeping woman and this is said to be Maria.  In Philippine mythology, there are other similar supernatural entities who are also mountain goddesses or spirits such as Maria Sinukuan who are found on Mount Arayat, Pampanga and Maria Cacao of Mount Lantoy, Cebu.

Tradition says that Maria Makiling is a beautiful young woman in the prime of life and never grows any older. She is said to have long black shiny hair, bright sparkling eyes, and a light olive complexion. Her personality mirrors the enchantment and serenity of the mountain environment she is found in and she is also associated with the mists that often appear on Mount Makiling. In some traditions, her skin or hair is said to be white but in most stories, she wears radiant white clothes confuses people into believing the wisps of mist they saw through the trees on the mountain was Maria. According to tradition she lives in a small hut sometimes situated in a village while other traditions say her hut is on the mountain and can only ever be found if she allows it.

Tradition and Superstitions of Maria Makiling

Maria Makiling stories were part of the Philippines oral tradition long before they were written down. Some are not actual stories but more like superstitions which abound about her. One tells how that every now and then men who went into the forests on the mountain would not return. It was believed Maria had lured them away to her home hidden somewhere in the mountain wilds to be her husband. There they would spend the rest of their days in happiness and marital bliss alone with Maria in her hut hidden on the mountain.

There is another tradition that says that although anyone can go into the forest to pick and eat fruits no fruit should be taken home because this may anger Maria. Offenders have been known to lose their way and this is believed to be caused by Maria changing the paths to take them into thick thorn bushes, or become beset by stinging insects she has sent or led them into. If this happens the only thing the victim can do is leave the fruit in the forest and reverse all clothing which is seen as proof that they no longer carry the fruit of the forest with them.

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Mount Makiling – By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC Mount Makiling – BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Transforming Ginger into Gold

One of the best known stories about Maria Makiling is that she can transform ginger into gold which she does usually to help someone. In these stories, she often lives in a village as one of the community and is called upon to help one of the community in some way. Sometimes it is a mother with a sick child, or perhaps a husband may be seeking a cure for his sick wife.

However, when diagnosing the problem Maria recognizes the signs of malnutrition and poor diet rather than a disease or sickness and gives them ginger to take home. Invariably, by the time they get home the ginger has turned to gold which they can then sell or exchange. One foolish villager finding the ginger becoming heavy threw it away rather than carry it home.

In some traditions, Maria is a well-loved and respected part of the local community for her kindness and help. However, there is also a tradition that says that the villagers became greedy and went to her garden pulling up plants to see if they were gold. This distressed her so much that she ran away to live on the mountain.

A Loser in Love

In many legends, Maria Makiling is cast as a rejected lover. One story tells how she had fallen in love with a hunter who had wandered into her territory. The two soon formed a relationship and became lovers and the hunter would climb up the mountain everyday to see her and they promised eternal love to each other.  However, Maria was shocked to discover that her lover was being unfaithful and had married a mortal woman.

Naturally, Maria was devastated and concluded she could never trust the local people again realizing she was so very different to them and came to believe that they were just taking advantage of her good nature. Therefore, she withdrew her consent which allowed the trees and bushes to bear fruit and she stopped the animals and birds roaming the forest for the hunters to catch and stopped the fish from breeding in the lake. From then on she withdrew to the mountain and was seldom seen except occasionally by the light of the pale moon as she wandered through the forest alone.

Another legend tells how Maria would watch over a farmer she had fallen in love with. Because of this protection, the people said the farmer was living a charmed life or had a mutya that protected him. He was a young man of good nature though rather shy and reserved.  He would never reveal anything to his family or friends of his visits to Maria. Then one day the army came into his village recruiting single young men to fight a war. So that he would not have to enlist he decided he would marry a village girl.

Visiting Maria for the last time he tells her of his decision. She tells him,

“I believed you to be devoted and in love with me. I have the power to protect you and your family, but I now see you lack faith in me and need and earthly woman for your earthly needs.”

After telling him this she left and was never seen by the villagers again and no trace of her hut could ever be found.

The Curse of Maria Makiling

Another version of the story was supposed to have happened during the later years of the Spanish occupation. This tells how Maria was wooed by three suitors. One was a Spanish soldier named Captain Lara. Another was a student named Joselito who was studying in Manila and the third was a poor farmer named Juan.

Of the three, Maria Makiling preferred Juan despite his humble status. The two rejected men plotted together to frame Juan for the crime of setting on fire the Spanish barracks. Juan was taken and tried and sentenced to be shot as an enemy of the Spanish. As he was about to be shot he called out Maria’s name.

High up on the mountain she heard his cry but was too late to save him. Fearing her anger Joselito and Captain Lara fled to Manila. On discovering how Juan had been framed and shot she placed a curse on Joselito and Captain Lara and all men who cannot accept rejection in love. Maria’s curse quickly took effect and Joselito fell sick with an incurable illness and died and Captain Lara was killed fighting revolutionaries.

According to the legend from that time onwards Maria was never again seen by humans and whenever someone loses their way on the mountain they remember the curse of Maria Makiling and also of the great love she had for Juan.

© 30/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 30th, 2017 zteve t evans

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The Tikbalang in Philippine Folklore: A Shapeshifting Trickster

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Tikbalang of the Philippines – By Rodsan18 – CC BY 2.5

In Philippine folklore, a tikbalang is a bizarre, shape-shifting, trickster spirit that haunts certain places in the wildlands of the country.   It is said to be a tall humanoid creature that dwells in the forests and mountains of the Philippines and often described as a reverse form of a centaur.  Where the centaur has the body of a horse and the torso and head of a man, the tikbalang has the head of a horse and the body of a human.  Although descriptions vary they are generally described as being tall and bony creatures with limbs that tend to be disproportionate to their body.  For example, because its legs are so long and skinny, when the creature squats down its knees are higher than its head.  It is usually said to have animal-like feet usually similar to horse hooves.   In some traditions, it is said to have evolved from an aborted human fetus that was held in limbo and sent back to Earth.  In some traditions, tikbalangs can change their shape into that of humans and can also become invisible.

Shapeshifting Tricks

One of the tricks of the tikbalang is to change its physical form into that of a relative, friend or someone closely associated to any traveler that it may come across in the wilds. It then appears to the victim in this familiar form pretending to know the way deceiving them into being led through the dark woods or along remote mountain paths to a place far from the help of others.  When the time comes the for the tikbalang to reveal itself the victim may experience the smell of tobacco before the face and the body of their guide blurs as it changes from the that of the victim’s, relative or friend, into its own true monstrous form.

Those few victims unlucky enough to experience such an encounter have been known to stumble into to villages or towns muttering or raving incoherently.   It is said that people who have tried to help them say that the unfortunate person will tell how they were pushed and struck and knocked to the ground repeatedly.  All through this ordeal all they could do was giggle nervously like they were children.  The more they resisted the more they were abused but once they stopped resisting they found themselves alone in the forest in the night completely disoriented.

Some people claim tikbalangs are purely mischievous rather than malignant spirits arguing they only eat evil people or those who do not practice the form of Catholic devotion known as the angelus.  That may be so but they can certainly be alarming and according to tradition one of the tricks of the tikbalang is to lead solitary travelers astray and get them lost.  No matter which way they turn will keep on returning to a certain place in the forest.  Sometimes this can last for days until the tikbalang tires of the game.  Sometimes the victim becomes completely lost and is never seen by his family and friends again.

Protection Against Tikbalangs

Tikbalangs have many undesirable characteristics that give the good reason for most humans to avoid them.  They are known to be tricksters who try and trick travelers making them lose their way or go round in circles.  However, the savvy traveler could ward against tikbalangs by wearing their shirt inside out.  Another way is to ask loudly for permission to pass by a known tikbalang lair, or by moving silently through the forest so as not to disturb or upset them in any way.

Superstitions and Traditions

In the Rizal Province of the Philippines, the Tagalog people have a superstitious tradition that says tikbalangs were benevolent guardians of the forests.  They were the spirits that were responsible for the forces of nature that made the trees and plants grow and the land to flourish in an area which became their territory. They were said to station themselves at the foot of large trees and stand on guard against anyone who should appear to offer a threat against their territory.

In the Philippines the people say, “ May kinakasal na tikbalang “, when ran falls from a clear sky which means a tikbalang is getting married.    Many cultures from different parts of the world have similar sayings when supernatural or trickster characters get married.  For example, there is a Spanish proverb that says when rain falls on a sunny day a witch is getting married.

Some traditions say that tikbalangs were once very beautiful women who had lived to be very, very, old.  Another says that they will only bathe during a night of the full moon. It is also believed that sometimes a tikbalang will fall in love with a mortal and become infatuated with them.

The Lair of the Tikbalang

Tikbalangs are believed to prefer to live in places where there are many trees and lots of dark, dense foliage and few humans.  They are said to like bamboo and banana groves and the tops of the Balite (Ficus indica) and Kalumpang (Sterculia foetida) trees. Sometimes they are seen sitting in the topmost branches of trees smoking tobacco.  Underneath bridges is also a favorite place for a tikbalang to live.

Taming a Tikbalang

It is possible for those who have the will to tame a tikbalang providing they go about it in the correct way.  Once tamed they can be very useful servants but it is important to remember the following points when taming a tikbalang.

Tikbalangs have a thick mane that consists of sharp spines. The three thickest spines are the important ones to identify for those who want to tame a tikbalang.  According to Philippines tradition, it is possible to tame and train a tikbalang by obtaining any one of these three spines which will give the holder of the spine power over the beast and the tikbalang will then be their servant.

However, as may be expected, it is not an easy task to get one of these spines in the first place and the creature must first be subdued.  To do this it is necessary to leap upon its back and try and tie a specially prepared rope around it.   The tikbalang will respond by flying wildly through the air trying to buck off the rider who must hang on until the beast becomes exhausted and subdued.  The rider must then seek out the three spines which may be gold in color and thicker than the rest and pluck them out.  Once the rider has plucked out these spines the tikbalang will become their servant and serve them for the rest of their lives.

© 25/04/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 25th, 2017 zteve t evans

Philippine folktales: The story of Dumalawi

The story of Dumalawi is a folktale from the Tinguan people of the Philippines collected by Mabel Cook Cole in her book Philippine Folk Tales published in 1916.  According to Cook the major characters in Tinguian mythology are often representative of heroes of times gone by whose exploits have become exaggerated and embellished by continued telling from generation to generation from the people of the “first times”.  Cook says,

“These people of “the first times” practiced magic. They talked with jars, created human beings out of betel-nuts, raised the dead, and had the power of changing themselves into other forms.”

Many of the major characters appear in many different stories but their special characteristics,  the interconnections and their personality can be discerned in each one. Sometimes they appear under different names but are still recognizable. For example Dumalawi appears in another story as Kanag along with his mother and father Aponibolinayen and Aponitolau respectively, who also appear in other stories sometimes in different guises.  Presented here is reworked version of The Story of Dumalawi.  This is followed by a few observations that seem pertinent to a complete beginner in Philippine folktales.

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An old photograph of Tinguan men – Public Domain

The Story of Dumalawi

Aponitolau was the husband of Aponibolinayen and together they had a son they named Dumalawi.  As Dumalawi grew from a boy to a young man his father grew very angry and dissatisfied with him and began to think up ways to kill him.  One morning he told his son to go and sharpen his knife because they would go into the forest to cut bamboo.

Dumalawi had no idea that his father hated him and wanted him dead so he did as he was told and sharpened his knife.  Aponitolau took Dumalawi deep into the forest to a place where bamboo grew.  Together they cut many sticks and his father told his son to sharpen one end of each stick into a point.  Dumalawi wondered greatly at this but did as his father told him sharpening the point of each stick making them into spears. When Dumalawi had completed this task his father said to him, “Now my son you must throw them at me so we can then find out which of us is the bravest.” But Dumalawi was not happy with that and said to his father, “No, you must throw first if you are trying to kill me!”

So Aponitolau went first and threw the spears at his son who side-stepped them and no matter how hard he tried he could not hit him.  When Aponitolau had thrown all the spears at his son and failed to hit him he then told Dumalawi that it was his turn to throw the spears at him.  But Dumalawi said, “I am sorry but I cannot.  You are my father and I cannot kill you.”

Dumalawi was very sad and full of sorrow because now he knew his father wanted to kill him but he would not throw the spears at his father.  They returned home and his mother had prepared dinner for them but he could not eat because he was too upset.

The next day Aponitolau said to Dumalawi, “Today we will go to our house in the field and repair it so that we can shelter in it when the rains come.”  So together they went to the house in the field.   When they arrived Aponitolau pointed to a place on the ground and told his son to dig there, saying, “When I was a boy I buried a jar of basi there and after all these years it should be good now.”  So Dumalawi did as his father said and sure enough found a jar of basi.  They drank it together but Dumalawi unaccustomed to strong drink became drunk and fell asleep.

Aponitolau now saw this as a good chance to be rid of his son for good.   Summoning up his magical power he created a great storm with powerful winds that lifted Dumalawi into the sky while he slept and carried him far, far, away.  Satisfied that he had disposed of his son, Aponitolau went home smiling.

The field

Dumalawi was sound asleep and had no idea that he was being carried away on the wings of a great storm.  The storm bore him many miles before gently setting him down in the middle of a great field.  Eventually, Dumalawi woke, rubbed his eyes and looked around him.  He was astonished to find himself in the middle of a huge field.  The field was so big that Dumalawi could see no houses, no trees and no people no matter which way he looked around the field.  An overwhelming feeling of loneliness swept over him at such desolation.

Betel nuts

To overcome this feeling Dumalawi used his magic to create and grow betel-nuts and they flourished in the field and bore fruit covered in gold.   Dumalawi was pleased with this and decided he would scatter the betel nuts around the field so that they could grow into people and become his friends and neighbors.  He set about this task in the middle of the night cutting the golden betel nuts into small pieces and then scattering the pieces in all directions.  When he had finished he was tired so he went to sleep.  Early in the morning he woke to the sound of many people talking and the sound of cocks crowing.  Dumalawi then knew he was no longer alone and now had friends and neighbors. He got up and walked around talking to the people and making friends and visited everyone.

Dapilisan

As he walked around meeting and visiting people he met a most beautiful maiden named Dapilisan.  He had never seen anyone so beautiful and as he talked and chatted with her he became enchanted by her and fell in love.  She introduced him to her parents and they talked and chatted with Dumalawi very cordially for a while and then he left and went on to meet other people.  Now although Dumalawi  was meeting and talking to lots of other people he could not get Dapilisan out of his mind and he saw her face and heard her voice everywhere he went.

At last after he had met everyone he returned to talk to her and asked her to marry him.  She wanted to very much but rightly said he must ask her parents first. So he asked the permission of her parents but they were reluctant to give it because they thought Dumawali’s parents might object.  Dumawali explained that his father did not want him and had tried to get rid of him.  On hearing this they changed their minds and gave their blessing to him marrying their daughter and the two were married.

They had not been married for long when they decided they would hold a special ceremony to the spirits to give thanks.  Dapilisan then sent for the golden betel nuts and said to them, “Golden betel nuts anoint yourselves with oil and go and invite everybody in the world to come to our ceremony of thanks to the spirits.”  The golden betel nuts anointed themselves with oil and went off to all the towns and villages inviting all the people to the spirit ceremony of Dumawali and Dapilisan.

Aponibolinayen

Dumawali’s mother had no idea where he was or what had happened to him and did not know he was married.  She mourned for him and had not eaten since his disappearance. Suddenly she was overcome by the desire to chew a betel-nut.  She had thought to fast until he returned but the desire was very strong so she went to a basket of betel nuts she kept.  She looked to choose one and then saw that there was one golden one among the others.  Taking up that one she was about to cut it in half when it suddenly spoke to her saying, “Please don’t cut me for I have come to invite you to the spirit ceremony of your son, Dumawali and his wife!”

Aponibolinayen was delighted because she had no idea where he was or what had happened and feared her son to be dead.  She went round to her neighbors and told all of the people to wash themselves and their clothes and attend the ceremony.  So everyone washed their clothes and hair and made themselves look as good as they could.  Then they followed Aponibolinayen in a procession to Dumalawi and his wife’s  home to attend the ceremony to the spirits.  Following along behind came Aponitolau, Dumalawi’s father with a mad look in his eyes.

When the procession reached the river that they had to cross to reach Dumalwai’s home they stopped because it was too deep and swift. Then Dumalawi seeing this on the other shore used his magic to summon alligators who ferried everyone safely across the river to where he was.  The last one left to cross the river was Dumalawi’s father, but when he got on the alligator’s back it dived deep into the water and he fell off and was swept back to the bank.  Aponitolau struggled back up the bank and shouted and gestured manically at Dumalawi on the other side.  Dumawali then sent another alligator to ferry his father safely across to him.

When all had arrived Dumalawi brought food for everyone and Dapilisan his wife passed around a small jar of basi for everyone to drink from. Although there were many guests the drink was passed around and everyone had a small drink from it and there was still plenty left in the jar.

When the eating and drinking had finished Aponibolinayen spoke to everyone saying how thrilled and glad she was to have Dapilisan for her daughter-in-law and she said to everyone, “As is our custom it now time for the marriage price to be paid and we will fill the spirit house with various jars nine times over!, ”  and she called on the spirits saying, “Spirits of the springs fetch the jars to pay the price for the marriage of my son, Dumawali to Dapilisan.”

The spirits obeyed Aponibolinayen and they filled the house nine times over with various jars.  Aponibolinayen then said to Dapilisan’s mother and father,  “The marriage price is now paid for your daughter are you satisfied?”

Then Dalonagan, the mother of Dapilisa said, “There is more to pay!”

“Name your price and we will pay it!” said Aponibolinayen.

Dalongan had a pet spider and called it to come to her and told it, “You my big spider walk around the town and spin a thread as you go.  Aponibolinayen must follow on behind and string gold beads upon the thread.”

The spider obeyed Dalonagan.  Aponibolinayen called once again on the spirits of the springs and they appeared and strung the thread with gold beads.  When this was done Dalonagan pulled upon the tread and it did not break and she declared the marriage price to be paid.  Then everyone rejoiced and was happy and when the festivities at last came to a halt they all went home. Aponibolinayen asked Dumalawi to return home with her but he refused.  He told her that he and his wife wanted to live in the town he had made with the people he had made and so the story ends there at least for now for now.

A magical place

As someone who has never been to the Philippines or knows very little of the culture and history of its people the world of this story seems a magical place.  A place where people have magical powers and turn betel-nuts into humans, spirits obey people, alligators tamely ferry people across a river, and huge spiders spin threads for gold beads to be hung upon and a lot more besides. It also tell how a young man created his world out of nothing, creating his own happiness after being rejected by his father.  This is just one of many, many, wonderful folktales and part of a rich and vibrant culture that evolved in the Philippines and deserves to be told for the benefit of the world.

                                                             © 10/05/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright May 10th, 2016 zteve t evans