Nightmares and Hawaiian Stones

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In my last post I shared the legend of Pele’s curse: the belief that taking lava rocks or sand from volcanos in Hawaii (especially Kilauea) brings bad luck because of the goddess Pele’s anger. As I mentioned, this legend is a tourist legend, and not a part of traditional Hawaiian folklore or mythology. As far as I can tell, it’s not particularly believed by non-indigenous residents of Hawaii, either.

But I did find a fairly similar item in a collection of local-but-non-indigenous folk stories. This anecdote is interesting to me, for a few reasons. First, the story.

My mother told me. One day when a man was walking he kick a stone. The stone roll away [from] where it was. That night when the man was sleeping the stone came to him and started to smash him. The wife thought why he was struggling on so she asked him what he did today but the man said nothing. The second night it happen the same way but when the wife asked him the same question he said nothing. The third night the wife couldn’t stand it so she prayed. Then the man knew what he did so he went back to where he kick the stone and put it where it was. This stone was a stone which belong to the old Hawaiian.

Gwladys F. Hughes collected this story from a 14 year old, Kauai-born, ethnically Japanese girl in Waialua, Oahu, in the winter of 1946-1947. The girl was an eighth grader at Waialua High and Intermediate School.

This story caught my attention because it’s somewhat similar to the “take a rock, suffer bad luck” tourist legend that I had been researching: sort of the “locals’ version” of that belief. But then I realized it’s also similar to another piece of folklore that I explored before starting on the Pele legends: the Filipino stories of the batibat, and the phenomenon of bangugot.

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Hunting for the (Male) Batibat

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It started as a quote in Maximo Ramos’ The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore. Ramos was explaining how rural Filipinos often prefer to sleep on the edge of the room, rather than the middle, for protection against the viscera sucking version of the aswang — the kind who climbs on the house and drops its tongue down between the chinks of the roof to suck out its victims innards.

Sleep towards the edge of the room, Ramos warned, but not too near a post:

for the posts may harbor a tree-dwelling mythical demon like the bangugot or batibat. This is a nightmare-inducing, insanity-causing creature resembling the genii of the Near East. It is said to have refused to leave its tree when it was felled and stubbornly to have gone on living in a crevice of cavity in the wood, emerging to sit on a tenant’s chest and suffocate him by plugging his mouth with its phallus and his nostrils with its testicles.

Huh. That deserves more investigation, I thought.

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The Berbalangs: A Legend of Filipino Ghouls

640px KEPPEL 1853 pg112 FRESH WATER LAKE CAGAYAN SOOLOO

Buried in the pages of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1896 is a dry-sounding article called “Cagayan Sulu, its Customs, Legends, and Superstitions,” by one Ethelbert Forbes Skertchly. It starts out as a typical amateur (for I assume Mr. Skertchly was an amateur) anthropologist’s paper of the time would, with a physical description of Cagayan Sulu — now known as Mapun — an island in the southern Philippines, about eighty miles from Borneo, closer to Malaysia than to most of the rest of the Philippines. The paper meanders on, through descriptions of the flora and of the fauna, of the people, their dress, their customs, their industry. Mr. Skertchly gives us a couple of short folktales, including a charming one about a crocodile spirit covered in diamonds. I imagine a typical Asiatic Society member of the time perusing the paper after dinner, the journal in one hand, a brandy or perhaps a pipe in the other, perfectly relaxed. Nothing new here.

But then Mr. Skertchly veers off into a first-person narrative that would be right at home in a collection of classic English ghost stories: the tale of the Berbalangs of Cagayan Sulu.

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The Origin of Sex Differences: A B’laan myth

01 LucaCambiaso Circa1560

Once upon a time, there were no men and women, only people. This is how the difference came to be.

Before there were people, there was the Supreme Deity, Melu. Melu had two assistants, Fiu Weh (the good spirit) and Tasu Weh (the evil spirit). Fiu Weh and Tasu Weh served as sort of the yin and yang of creation.

When Melu decided to create people, he assigned the job to Tasu Weh. Tasu Weh created people out of clay, and he gave them sex organs. But rather than split the sex organs fifty-fifty among his creations, he gave everyone both. The penis he put on one knee, and the vagina on the other.

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Trese: A Filipina Occult Detective Comics Series

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When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions.

When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.

One of the things I did over the long Memorial Day weekend was read all the Trese comic books I could get my hands on (since I’m in the U.S., that isn’t very many). Alexandra Trese is a mysterious woman who owns a nightclub called The Diabolical and investigates supernatural crime in Manila. Budjette Tan has been writing the series since (I believe) 2005. It’s tremendously popular, and I can see why.

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Floods, Tides and Crabs: More Folktales

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Yesterday, I shared a flood story from the Igorot, a mountain people from the northern Philippines. Today, I have a short flood story from the Bukidnon, an indigenous people from the southern Philippines (Mindanao). According to this story, the flood wasn’t caused by any angry or careless deity (or the deity’s sons) — but by a crab.

This is verbatim, from Mabel Cook Cole’s Philippine Folk Tales (1916).

A long time ago there was a very big crab which crawled into the sea. And when he went in he crowded the water out so that it ran all over the earth and covered all the land.

Now about one moon before this happened, a wise man had told the people that they must build a large raft. They did as he commanded and cut many large trees, until they had enough to make three layers. These they bound tightly together, and when it was done they fastened the raft with a long rattan cord to a big pole in the earth.

Soon after this the floods came. White water poured out of the hills, and the sea rose and covered even the highest mountains. The people and animals on the raft were safe, but all the others drowned.

When the waters went down and the raft was again on the ground, it was near their old home, for the rattan cord had held.

But these were the only people left on the whole earth.

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The Divided Child: An Ifugao Folktale

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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.

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Mangita and Larina: A Filipino Fairy Tale

This is a story from the 1904 collection Philippine Folklore Stories, by John Maurice Miller. It features two sisters, one dark, the other blonde, which makes me think that the story postdates the start of the Spanish colonial period. Certainly, the idea of a beautiful, good sister, and an evil, proud sister is a familiar motif in Western fairy tales (shades of Cinderella, anyone?).

This story caught my eye because it reminds me of when I was a little girl, with my coloring books. At some point, I had one of those big boxes of Crayolas, the 64-count size; this was back in the days when Flesh was still a crayon color. Or not — Wikipedia tells me that Flesh was renamed Peach in 1962, which was certainly before my time — but I remember that there was a crayon that was supposed to be flesh-colored, except it wasn’t the color of my flesh… .

NewImageThe original version of the Crayola 64-count box.
Image: Kurt Baty, Wikipedia

Coloring books (at least mine) usually tell a story, with heroes and heroines, good guys and bad guys. I would always color my favorite characters — the good guys, the princesses and their princes — with black hair and brown skin (Tan was the crayon I used, as I remember). The characters I liked the least, I colored with yellow hair and Flesh-colored skin (well, okay, maybe Peach). If I really disliked them, I used Apricot. And the characters I was neutral on had brown hair (different shades, if I was feeling nit-picky), or even red. Goldenrod-colored skin.

I know — it’s terrible. But in my defense, I was only four. I would be much more flexible about my crayon usage now.

Anyway, here’s the story, verbatim from Miller’s collection. I’m not sure, but I think the vegetation that he refers to might be kangkong, or swamp cabbage. It’s a tasty vegetable, if you can find it.

Enjoy.


Mangita and Larina

This is a tale told in the lake district of Luzon. At times of rain or in winter the waters of the Laguna de Bai rise and detach from the banks a peculiar vegetation that resembles lettuce. These plants, which float for months down the Pasig River, gave rise, no doubt, to the story.

Many years ago there lived on the banks of the Laguna de Bai a poor fisherman whose wife had died, leaving him two beautiful daughters named Mangita and Larina.

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The Living Head

Apologies for not having posted for a while. I hope to pick up the pace again, soon, but in the meantime here’s a short, sweet (and mysterious) food origin myth collected in Panay (one of the Visayan islands in the Philippines) in 1904.


Once upon a time lived a man and his wife who had no children. They desperately wanted a child, and so they prayed to their God, Diva:

“Please, Lord,” they prayed. “We want a son so badly. He doesn’t have to be perfect, we’ll gladly accept him however you see fit to give him to us. Even if he were nothing but a head, we would be so happy.”

Ask and you shall receive. Diva took pity on the couple, and he gave them a son — a son who was nothing but a head. His parents were as happy as they promised they would be, and took loving care of Head (that’s what they named him, apparently). Head grew up to be a good son to his parents.

One day the chief’s daughter passed the house where Head and his parents lived. Once Head laid eyes on her, he fell hopelessly in love, and thought of nothing but marrying her. He begged his mother to go to the chief and ask him for his daughter’s hand. Head’s mother refused.

“The chief would never let his daughter marry only a head.”

But Head gave his mother no peace. Finally, just to quiet him, Head’s mother went to the chief and told him of her son’s request. Of course, the chief refused. Head’s mother returned home with the news.

Heartbroken, Head went downstairs into the garden and began to sink into the ground.

“Head, come back up,” called his mother. “It’s time to eat.”

“Sink! sink! sink!” cried Head.

“Head, please, come back up,” called his mother again.

“Sink! sink! sink!” was all Head would say, and he continued to say it until he sank beneath the ground and disappeared. His mother rushed down to try to take him back up, but she couldn’t. Some days later a tree sprang up from where Head had disappeared; the tree eventually bore large round fruit almost as large as a boy’s head.

And that’s where oranges came from.

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My retelling is based on a version collected by Berton L. Maxfield and W. H. Millington and published in 1906 in The Journal of American Folklore. The article, Visayan Folk-Tales I, is available free from JSTOR, and contains several more stories.

I confess — I don’t really get this one. I suspect it’s an imperfectly remembered version of a more elaborate dema deity myth, but who knows. I found an interesting Ifugao story about coconuts having sprung from a buried head, but I want to do a little research on that one before I retell it… .

Wikipedia tells me that oranges probably originated in Southeast Asia, which I never knew; I tend to associate them with the Mediterranean.

I also can’t find anything about a Visayan deity named Diva, but diwatas are nature deities, like enkanto, who live in trees and give blessings to people who bring them offerings — and curses to people who disturb them or the trees that they live in. The term diwata probably comes from the term devata, which denotes a Hindu demi-god. Deva is the Sanskrit term for a deity.

Someday, I would like to seriously track down how the Hindu pantheon and mythology worked its way from India eastward into Indonesia and Malaysia and eventually to the Philippines. Someday….

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”.

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