Coconuts and The Creation: A Tagalog myth

In the beginning there was only the earth, and the clouds in the sky. And there were three living beings, three gods: Bathala, a giant who lived on the earth; Ililangkalulua, a serpent who lived in the clouds; and Galangkalulua, a winged head who had no set home, but wandered from place to place. Each one thought that he was the only living being in the universe.


Bathala lived all alone on the earth. There was nothing else there — no ocean or waters, no plants, no animals. Nothing but the hard, dry rocks. Bathala wandered around the rocks, along the plains, and up and down the mountains. He had no one to walk with. Sometimes he lay on the ground and looked up at the clouds, watching them float past and reshape themselves. At times, the clouds looked like the vast flat plains of earth; other times they looked more like flying mountains. He had no one to share his observations with. Sometimes he thought about creating people (he was a god, after all), other beings who could walk the plains and look at clouds with him; but how would they live? There was nothing on earth for mortal beings to eat, or to drink, or to give them shelter….

In the meantime, in the sky, Ililangkalulua wandered among the clouds, feeling much as Bathala did. Sometimes Ililangkalulua got bored with the sky, so he would come down to earth, to slither around the mountains and rocks. One day, Ililangkalulua was down on earth, sunning himself on a nice flat rock, when Bathala happened by.

Since each of them thought that they were alone in the universe, you can imagine the shock. Ililangkalulua found his tongue first.

“Who are you? What are you?”

“I am Bathala, king of the universe,” said the other.

“What!?! I’m the ruler of all!” And Ililangkalulua challenged Bathala to a fight.

They struggled for hours, shaking the earth (the first earthquake?) until finally Bathala killed Ililangkalulua. He burned the body and buried the ashes. Then he went back to wandering the earth, alone.

Some time after this Galangkalulua, who had been traveling the whole universe, among the stars, here and there, landed on earth. He too ran into Bathala, but Bathala was less surprised this time, and apparently Galangkalulua had less of a temper than Ililangkalulua — or didn’t care who called himself ruler of the universe. Now Bathala had someone to point out the shapes of the clouds to, and to share his dreams of creating other beings, and Galangkalulua had someone to listen to his tales of comets and black holes and all the other things that he’d seen in his travels. Galangkalulua settled on the earth with Bathala, and the two became close friends.

But eventually Galangkalulua grew ill; despite all of Bathala’s care, he was dying. On his deathbed, he said to Bathala:

“You’ve been very good to me, and I don’t want you to be alone after I die. It’s time for you to create the other beings that you’ve always dreamed of. When I die, bury my body in Ulilangkalulua’s grave, and wait. I’ll give you something that will help you.”

And Galangkalulua died. Bathala did what Galangkalulua asked, and buried him where he had buried Ulilangkalulua.

Out of the grave grew a tree. Its leaves looked like Galankalulua’s wings and its trunk like Ulilangkalulua’s body. On the tree grew large nutNewImages, with white flesh and water in the center. The nuts had two holes like eyes, a third like a mouth, and a bump like a nose — it was Galangkalulua’s face! This was the first coconut.

Now that there were sources of food and drink and shelter, Bathala created the first people. The people built houses out of the coconut tree’s wood and leaves, and used the nuts for food; to this day, coconuts still provide food, drink, shelter, clothing, and a variety of useful things.

And that was the beginning of the world.

  • I think we can count this as another dema deity myth. My retelling is based on the version from Types of Prose Narratives (1911) by Harriott Ely Fansler.
  • I have no idea why the god in the sky would be a giant serpent. There’s another version of the story where the serpent god is named Dagatkalulua (“sea spirit”), which makes a bit more sense. There is a Visayan myth about a fight between Bathala and the god of the seas (Dumagit), which caused the Great Flood.
  • Bathala was the creator deity of the Tagalogs. The name apparently derives from the Sanskrit bhattara or batara (“noble lord”) and is probably related to the Indonesian batara (“god”). There is also an Indonesian god (several versions, it seems) named Batara Guru.
  • According to Charles Coleman (The Mythologie of the Hindus, 1832), in Batak mythology Batara Guru is the god of justice, and has two brothers: Sori Pada, the god of mercy; and Mangana Bulan, the original source of evil, like Satan or Loki. Supposedly Mananga Bulan has more to do with human affairs than his brothers do. According to Wikipedia, the brothers were hatched from three golden eggs laid by the divine blue hen Manuk Patia Raja (manuk = chicken or hen = manok in Tagalog).
  • William Skeat (Malay Magic: Being an introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula, 1900) links Batara Guru with the Hindu god Shiva. It’s not too big a leap from there to imagine a link from the three brothers to the Hindu trinity: Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer). I’d love to make a direct connection between these trinities and Bathala/Ililangkalulua/Galangkalulua, but it doesn’t seem that obvious.
  • Ulilang Kaluluwa means “orphaned spirit.” Galang Kaluluwa means “reverend spirit” (“holy spirit?”).
  • The first image is “Oannès: I, the first consciousness of chaos, arose from the abyss that I might harden matter, and give law unto forms” by Odilon Redon, from his series of lithographs, The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Source: The Public Domain Review. Oannes was a mythical being from Mesopotamian mythology, a merman who came from the sea and taught humans writing, the arts, and sciences.
  • The coconut photo is by Kulmalukko. Source: Wikimedia

3 thoughts on “Coconuts and The Creation: A Tagalog myth

  1. I think the story offers not only a creation myth, but perhaps a little bit of wisdom about relationships. Bathala discovers, to paraphrase Woody Allen, that, while relationships are difficult, “We need the eggs” they offer. Or, in this case, companionship and coconuts!

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