The Divided Child: An Ifugao Folktale


Búgan was the only child of the god Hinumbían and his wife Dakáue. They lived in Luktán, the highest level of the Sky World. Búgan’s parents wanted her to get married, but she wasn’t interested in any of the available bachelors in Luktán. So her parents sent her down to a lower sky region, but there was no one there she wanted to marry, either. Then they sent her down to the lowest sky region, Kabúnian, which is the level just above the earth, and tried to set her up with Bagílat, the god of lightning.

Nothing doing, said Búgan.

“That Bagílat, he’s always running all over the Sky World, from the north to the south, from the east to the west, sending lightning bolts down to earth and destroying the plants and the trees. Why would I want to marry him?”

“In that case,” said Bagílat’s father, “maybe you should just go back home, to Luktán.”

But Búgan didn’t want to go home. Instead she went down to earth, to a place called Pangagauan, where she saw a young Ifugao man named Kinggauan, digging pits to catch deer and other game in. He was a poor man, so poor that he’d worn out his only clout [loincloth] and had to go about naked. He must have been handsome, too, because when Búgan saw him, she was filled with pity and decided that she wanted to marry him.

She went home to ask permission from her parents, which they gave (I guess they really wanted her to get married), and so she went down to earth with a pot of cooked rice, and a brand new clout (bahág). But when she approached Kinggauan’s hut, he was too embarrassed to come meet her, because he was naked.


“Don’t be embarrassed,” she said. “I have a clout for you.” And she tossed the clout into the open doorway. He put it on, but he still didn’t want to let her in.

“It’s bad luck to meet a woman when one is hunting,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll have good luck. Let’s eat the rice that I brought, and spend the night in your hut, and tomorrow we’ll go out and see how lucky you are in the hunt.”

And that was that. The next day, the two went out to the game pits, and discovered that they were full. Kinggauan spent the rest of the day slaughtering the game (except two little piglets, a male and a female, which he gave to Búgan) and hauling the meat back to the hut.

On the following day, Búgan asked Kinggauan why he lived in such a tiny hut, in such a remote place. Kinggauan told her that his parents were miserly, and wouldn’t help to support him.

“We’ll see,” said Búgan. “Let’s go back to Kiangan [the oldest town in the province of Ifugao].” And so they did. They went to the house where Kinggauan’s parents lived and sat themselves down, much to his parents’ surprise.

“Who is this woman?” asked Kinggauan’s mother. Búgan explained who she was, and that she had seen Kinggauan when looking down on earth from the Sky World, and out of pity came down to visit him and bring him game. Kinggauan’s parents didn’t fully believe her, but Búgan sent them to their son’s hut, where they saw the abundance of meat that Kinggauan had recovered from his pits. After that, there wasn’t much that his parents could say.

And so Kinggauan and Búgan lived as man and wife, in Kiangan. Eventually, Búgan gave birth to a healthy son; the couple named him Balitúk. The two little piglets grew up, and bred, and soon the couple had a large herd. Kinggauan’s luck with the hunt continued, and the family were happy and prosperous.

But their prosperity made the other townspeople jealous, and they disliked this strange woman, with her strange habits. Sky people don’t eat like Earth people do; Búgan ate only rice, fowl, and flesh; she wouldn’t touch fish or vegetables. So the townspeople, to drive her away, began to surround the family’s house with fish, and vegetables, and garden crops. The smell of the food made Búgan ill, with a fever and a rash. And so she moved out of the family house, to another hut. But the townspeople continued to harass her, surrounding her new home with all the foods that they knew would make her sick.

Finally, Búgan got tired of this, and decided to go home, to the Sky World. She wanted to take her family with her, and she tried to carry Kinggauan up to the sky in a hammock, but he was too frightened to go up with her. What to do? He couldn’t go to the Sky World, and she couldn’t stay on Earth.

So Búgan took a knife, and cut their son in two, just above the waist. She gave the top half to her husband — because the top half would be easier to bring back to life — and kept the bottom half for herself. The entrails and organs she divided evenly between the two halves of the body. Then Búgan went up to the Sky World and made her half of Balitúk whole again, and brought him back to life.

And of course, poor Kinggauan didn’t know how to reanimate his half of his son. The corpse rotted, and eventually, the stench made it up to the Sky World, and to Búgan.

Crying with grief, Búgan came back down to earth. She took her son’s head, and turned it into an owl. She threw the ears into the forest, where they became tree fungi. She turned the nose into another type of tree fungus, one that looks shells. From the entrails she made the bill of the ído bird [a sparrow-like bird with a long tail].

The tongue had begun to rot, so from it she made an illness that causes people’s tongues to swell. From the ribs she made poisonous snakes. From the heart she made the rainbow, and from the hair, maggots. From the intestines she created rodents [possibly squirrels], and from the bones of the arms she made the rotten branches that fall from trees upon passers-by.

And then Búgan went back to the sky.


This story is taken from H.Otley Beyer’s “Origin Myths among the Mountain Peoples of the Philippines,” The Philippine Journal of Science, vol 8, 1913. It is available online via the Hathi Trust.

There seem to be many women named Búgan in Ifugao mythology. She was the first woman, the daughter (and/or wife) of the god Kabigat; she was the sister/wife of Wigan. I believe that Wigan and Búgan had four children, one a daughter named (again) Búgan, and one a son named Balitúk (yes, like the divided child). And I think that brother and sister got married, too… It makes me dizzy. In fact, Kinggauan’s mother in this story is also named Búgan. And if that weren’t confusing enough, I think there are also folktales about human women named Búgan….

According to Beyer, the owl and the ído bird are birds of ill omen to the Ifugao. In fact, almost everything Búgan made is something that would be considered a pestilence. Probably Búgan getting back at the townspeople for having harassed her.

The divided child story is sort of like a dema deity myth: among the Marind-Anim tribe of New Guinea, a dema is an ancestral deity who must be sacrificed to bring about the transition to the human world as we know it. Unlike Búgan, dema deities usually bring about good things, like staple crops. The ethnologist Adolf Ellegard Jensen generalized the dema concept, realizing that similar sacrificial myths exist among many agricultural peoples, like the Ifugao. Jensen’s research was in the 1930s, so Beyer recorded the Búgan story before the dema concept had been introduced into the research world. I had a mini-obsession with such myths a while back: they’re tagged on the blog as food origin myths (although the Mangita and Larina story isn’t a dema deity story, just a plain old fairy tale).

In particular, compare the Búgan story to the Bikolano story of the First Bananas. In that story, the human is the woman, who is spotted in the forest by a male enkanto, which according to my parents is more like a fairy than a deity, but nonetheless, a supernatural being. They marry, but eventually the enkanto decides to return to where he came from. He leaves his hand behind (because his wife won’t let it go), and from that hand grew the first banana tree….

Dean Fansler reported a similar divided child myth from the Igorot, recorded in 1910. In that story, the god Dumagid, who lived in the lower regions of the Sky World, came down to earth to hunt, and met a beautiful girl named Dugai in the woods (sound familiar?). They married and had a son named Ovug.

Eventually, Dumagid told the people that he had to go back to the Sky World to report back to the chief god, Kabigat, but that he would return. For some reason the people insisted that Dumagid take his wife with him (but not his son). But on the way up to the Sky World, they traveled too close to the sun, and Dugai died. Dumagid took her body back to earth, and eventually wanted to take his son back to the sky, but the people refused. So, he cut his son in half (lengthwise this time), and took one half with him to the Sky World and restored him to life. The other half began to rot, so Dumagid and his son came back down to earth and restored the other half of the body to life as well.

The first boy spoke in a voice like sharp thunder, and went back to the sky, whirling like fire — he was the origin of lightning and the crack of thunder that follows it. The second boy spoke in a low voice — the voice of the rolling thunder of a distant storm.

Finally, there’s an interesting 1992 paper by Charles Macdonald: “Earth and Sky in Philippine and Indonesian Mythology,” Philippine Studies (vol. 40, no. 2), which compares Earth/Sky myths (including Beyer’s divided child story) from both the Northern and Southern Philippines and Borneo. He also finds some commonalities with myths from indigenous peoples of North and South America. It’s a good read.

The top image is of the Nagacadan Rice Terraces, Kiangan, Ifugao province. Photo by Shubert Ciencia; sourced from Wikipedia.

The photo of the hut is from the cover of Ifugao Law, by R.F. Barton, 1919. Available on Project Gutenberg.

The bottom image is of the Banaue Rice Terraces, Ifugao province. Sourced from Wikipedia.

7 thoughts on “The Divided Child: An Ifugao Folktale

  1. What interesting stories and what a wealth of information! Thank you, Nina!. Two idle thoughts: the banana story gives a whole new meaning to the Beatles’ song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand!” And, I too heard from a fair number of married women who were my therapy patients that they were first drawn to their husband our of pity.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I suspect that if so many of your married women patients married out of pity, and then needed therapy, then it’s not the best marriage strategy….

    1. I took the story from H.Otley Beyer’s “Origin Myths among the Mountain Peoples of the Philippines,” The Philippine Journal of Science, vol 8, 1913. It is available online via the Hathi Trust (see the link above in the post).

  2. Hi! How are you? It’s me, Nancy. I’m slowly returning to blogging, this time on WordPress. I decided to read this folktale because I came across Búgan recently when Maximo D. Ramos writes about folklore and social control in his book, “Remembrance of Lents Past and Other Essays”. I’m pleased to read Búgan’s story in your blog. And I understand you when you get confused about a lot of women in the old stories named Búgan. My WordPress blog is still a few posts young but the latest talks about beliefs and superstitions among Filipino farmers. I hope you’ll let me know what you think; I’d appreciate it very much! Here’s the link:

    1. Welcome back! Glad to see you are blogging again — I will definitely check out that post, and others. I’m interested to hear about that book; I’ve read some of Ramos’s essays before and I may try to get my hands on it, as well.

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