Food Origin Myths: Two from the Philippines

I’ve been reading various myths on the origins of different foods lately. It’s an interesting and slightly gruesome genre. So many different countries tell stories of how fruits and grains (staple foods, usually) spring originally from someone’s body — often someone divine or supernatural, but not always. And quite often (but not always) female as well. A Mother Earth metaphor, indeed.

I began this blog with one such story: the Bicolano origin myth for bananas. In that story, bananas sprung from the hand of a enkanto (kind of like a fairy) who had lived as a human so he could marry a human woman.

Page 1The first page of The First Bananas. Click on the image to read the story.

Today I have one from Aklan, in the Visayas:

The First Mangos

Once upon a time there was a wealthy man named Thunder (Daeogdog). He had a terrible temper, but luckily he had a gentle wife, Mabuot (which I think means “kind”) to balance things out. Daeogdog and his wife had a beautiful daughter named Agahon, which means “morning”.

When Agahon was old enough to marry, suitors came from all around to ask for her hand. Daeogdog picked from them a man named Maeopig, who also had an uncontrollable temper, but I imagine must have been very rich. Agahon didn’t want to marry him — who would want a husband like that? — but her father insisted.

Agahon asked her mother to help her change Daeogdog’s mind, and her mother tried. But the more the two women cried and begged, the more stubborn Daeogdog got. It’s a typical reaction to have, when someone suspects they are making a mistake, but doesn’t want to admit it — don’t you think? Especially when they’re bad-tempered to begin with. I think that Agahon’s pleading, and her mother’s tears, too, must have told Daeogdog deep down that marrying his daughter off to Maeopig would be a bad idea. But he’d promised her to the man, and he wasn’t going to back down.

“He’s the one I’ve chosen,” he told his daughter. “I’ve decided, and you must marry him.”

And so they started the preparations for the wedding and the wedding feast. But Agahon locked herself in her room.

All the guests showed up for the wedding feast — it was a big wedding — but they couldn’t find Agahon. They searched the house, they searched all over the village. Nothing. Finally they found her, dead, near a spring outside the village. She had stabbed herself; the knife was still in her heart.

Daeogdog was beside himself with grief (I told you he knew that he was wrong). Agahon’s parents buried her beside the spring, at the spot where they had discovered her body. The night after they buried her, Agahon appeared to Daeogdog in a dream.

“Don’t cry,” she told him. “I’ve left you something to remember me by. Visit my grave, and you’ll see.”

The next morning, Daeogdog and Mabuot went to the grave, and they found a tree growing on the spot. The tree’s branches were heavy with sweet, fragrant, heart-shaped fruit: the first mangos.

NewImageUnripe mangos on the tree. Image: Wikipedia

My version of the story is based on the one in Readings in Philippine Literature, edited by Celedonio G. Aguilar.

There’s another version of the story that I read somewhere, I don’t remember where (but by coincidence, it was posted just today by someone else) that says that “mango” means “heart”. I don’t speak Aklanon, or any other Visayan dialect, but I can’t find any evidence that this is true. “Heart” is puso in Tagalog, and kasing-kasing in Visayan.

10 thoughts on “Food Origin Myths: Two from the Philippines

    • That’s a good point. Life from decay would be something you could observe, too: seeds sprouting, or noticing the insect life that seems to spring from decaying fruit (or corpses)….

  1. Pingback: How Rice Came to Earth: A Javanese Folktale | Multo (Ghost)

  2. Thanks for sharing. I studied Classics in college, so I dealt with many origin myths. The previous commentor is right. Many of them start in chaos and with each new beginning, it seems that the previous generation must be destroyed (as gruesomely as possible). I’m thinking of Zeus aggressively overtaking his father.

    • The Titans, right? I’m doing this from (fuzzy) memory, so forgive me if I got it wrong.

      It’s interesting to think about what that violence symbolizes. Life from death/decay: biological processes. A new world violently arising from the old: one kingdom/regime replacing another, perhaps?

      I’m indulging in crackpot pop anthropology — I know….

      • You’re definitely right. In these ancient societies, they really only had the life/death/decay model to process their world around. I’m thinking also of Prometheus who created Man from clay but then was punished for stealing fire for human use. He had his liver pecked away everyday by an eagle to only have it regrow the next to be used for the same fate.

        • Slight change of subject: Last night I was reading a collection of essays by Jorge Luis Borges called “On Writing” (Penguin 2010). He’s got an essay called “The Homeric Versions” about the various translations of the Illiad down the years. It might interest you.

          Warning, though. His style when he was young (wrote it in 1932, he was about 33) is pretty baroque. The translator swears it’s in the Spanish, not just the translation. Reading young Borges is like reading mature Henry James…

  3. Pingback: Life From Death: Dema Deities | Multo (Ghost)

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