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.
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).
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…