Fire and Flood: An Igorot Folktale

A recent discussion about the new movie Noah started me thinking about flood myths from around the world. Here’s a version from the Igorot people, mountain dwellers from the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines (Luzon). It’s not only a flood story, but also tells the origin of fire.

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Once upon a time, the world was flat, and had no mountains. One day the two sons of Lumawig, the Great Spirit, wanted to go hunting for wild pig and deer. In order to drive the prey into their traps, the older brother had the idea to cover the earth with water. This would cause the mountains to rise up, driving the deer and the boar to the highlands, where they would be easier to catch.

So the brothers caused the water to flow all over the earth, and after it was covered they used their head-basket [supposedly where headhunters keep the heads of their victims; also used as a traveling basket] to set a trap for their prey. They succeeded not only in catching many wild pigs and deer, but people, too (I suppose the people became, umm, head-hunting trophies).

Meanwhile, Lumawig looked down from the sky and saw that all the earth had been covered in water, and almost all the people had drowned. Only one spot on earth had been left dry — Mount Polis — and on that dry spot were the last two people on earth: a man named Fatanga and his sister Fukan.

Lumawig called out to them, asking if they were okay.

“We’re still alive,” said Fatanga. “But we are very cold.”

So Lumawig sent his dog and his deer to fetch fire for the two stranded people. The two animals swam quickly away. They took the fire and began to swim to Polis, but the floodwater put out the fire. In the meantime, Fatanga and Fukan grew colder.

Lumawig flew like a bird to find his dog and his deer. When he found them, he urged them to try again; each of them took a brand of flame and plunged back into the water. But after they’d swam a little way, the deer’s fire went out, and the dog’s fire almost did, too. Luckily Lumawig was above them, and snatched the dog’s brand away before it went out.

Then Lumawig flew back to Polis and built a great fire to warm Fatanga and Fukan. The fire was so hot that it evaporated the water, and the world was dry like before (only now, it had mountains).

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But now Fatanga and Fukan were now the only two people in the world, so Lumawig told them that they must marry and have children, so they could repopulate the world. At first, the two were hesitant (they were siblings, after all), but they obeyed. They married and moved to the Bontoc region, and there they became the ancestors of the Bontoc people.


  • My retelling of the flood and fire story is a combination of three versions: the primary version is from Philippine Folk Tales (1916), by Mabel Cook Cole. I’ve combined it with the version by Albert Ernest Jenks, from The Bontoc Igorot (1905); and one given by William James Perry (originally from H. Otley Beyer), in The Megalithic Culture of Indonesia (1918).

    The Bontoc are one of the five ethnolinguistic groups that today are collectively known as the Igorot. The versions given by Jenks and Perry are explicitly Bontoc tales. Cole’s version isn’t so labeled, but other Igorot stories she gives are explicitly mentioned to be Bontoc, so it seems safe to assume that this one is, too.

  • Lumawig is the Supreme Deity of the Bontoc. He created the people, the animals, and the plants. Lumawig lived with the Bontoc on earth for a while (Jenks tells a version of the story where Fukan is his wife), taught them about agriculture, gave them laws, and introduced them to the custom of head-hunting.
  • Both Cole and Jenks refer to the place where Fatanga and Fukan took shelter from the flood as “Pokis,” which doesn’t seem to be a placename used today. My guess is Mount Polis, on the borders of the Ifugao province and Mountain Province. Father Francisco Antolin, in his 1789 Notices of the Pagan Igorots, mentions a mountain called “Pola or Polac”. He associates the flood story with this mountain. Antolin’s translator, William Henry Scott, identifies “Polac” as Mount Pulag, which is the highest mountain on the island of Luzon (according to Wikipedia), at the border of the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya. It’s basically on the other side of Ifugao province from Mountain Province. Mount Polis, though, is much closer to the modern-day municipality of Bontoc (which is in Mountain Province).
  • Cole also gives a brief version of a flood/fire story from the Tinguian, another indigenous people from the Cordillera region. Here’s her version, verbatim:

    Once in the very old times Kaboniyan [the Tinguian equivalent of Lumawig] sent a flood which covered all the land. Then there was no place for the fire to stay, so it went into the bamboo, the stones, and iron. That is why one who knows how can still get fire out of bamboo and stones.

  • The painting at the top of the post is Scène de déluge (1818?) by Jean Louis Théodore Géricault. Image from Wikimedia. The mountain photograph is Mount Pulag, taken by Benedict Kwok. Image from Wikipedia. Yes, I know I said Mount Pulag is the wrong mountain, but I couldn’t find an open-source photo of Mount Polis…

9 thoughts on “Fire and Flood: An Igorot Folktale

  1. oohh. thanks for sharing. I’m particularly fond of flood myths (and creation myths, too). Have you seen the Noah movie? I watched the trailer recently and I just don’t think I can take it. I have a hard time with Russell Crowe.

    • I haven’t seen Noah — I’m generally not interested in big Biblical flicks (I think of things like the Ten Commandments, and other big all-star costume spectacles from the sixties, and I’m just not tempted…). But another blogger I read was talking about the blowback the movie is getting from fundamentalists, and that led to a discussion in his comments section about flood myths from around the world…. It got me wanting to blog about some of them.

      • I have similar feelings about big budget biblical flicks (although, I have a guilty pleasure spot for the Ten Commandments–I don’t know why!). I don’t personally understand the blowback, but I totally expect one from fundamentalists.

        Either way, it lead to a great flood myth post.

        • It’s kind of like what Dr. Stein says in the comment below this one: God doesn’t necessarily come off in a favorable light (or so they say). I understand that Noah comes off as a bit of a misanthropic fanatic, too.

          It’s similar to all the hooping and hollering way back when ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ came out. I never saw the movie, but the book, I thought, cast Jesus in a pretty favorable light (as in, he DIDN’T give into temptation). But boy, were people foaming at the mouth….

  2. Lumawig seems a rather imperfect deity, but then the deity of the Bible creates man, looks upon him, decides he is “good,” and before long, creates the flood to wipe almost all of his kind from the earth. I doubt that fundamentalists would take kindly to my view, but there it is, for what it is worth. I guess gods such as these aren’t often heard to say “Oops!”

  3. Pingback: Floods, Tides and Crabs: More Folktales | Multo (Ghost)

  4. It’s interesting that the two boys who caused the flood disappear entirely from the story. It’s as if they were replaced as characters by the dog and the deer. I also wonder whether the sons were added on to the story so that the fault for the flood does not lie with Lumawig. Also interesting that contradiction re Fukan who is later mentioned in Bontoc stories as Lumawig’s wife. I have asked some Bontoc friends about some cultural contradictions and they just shrug, saying that’s just the way things have been. I keep finding your stories while researching the book I’m currently writing. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome! Hope you are finding my stories and their sources helpful to your research.
      Interesting theory, about the sons being added to get the heat off Lumawig. An alternative theory is that the story was at some point an animal-based creation story (so the dog and the deer, and maybe a hawk or some other bird were the creators/fire-bringers, rather than an anthropomorphic deity). And different versions of creation stories do tend to get mashed together, I’ve noticed.

      Along those lines, I wonder if Fukan being Lumawig’s wife in some stories is to get rid of the incest aspect of the human origin legend? Although many origin stories from around the world do involve incest.

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