By Abdon M. Balde Jr.
WHAT REALLY IS THE EPIC FRAGMENT OF IBALONG?
I pause from narrating the stories of my personal travels in order to brief and familiarize the uninitiated and those who have not read the epic fragment titled “Ibalong”. It would be easy for them to follow my adventures if they know the story and the provenance of the narrative.
The narrative that came to us in verse of 60 stanzas in old Spanish language was supposedly a transcription done sometime in 1840s by the Franciscan Friar Bernardino Melendreras of the tales told by a wandering bard in Bikol. The writer Jesus Calleja Reyes who wrote the book “Maharlika” about the old Bicol Region claimed that he met an old man who could still recite/chant some parts of the story. The old man lived near the banks of the Agos River which flowed between Bato, the last town of Camarines Sur and Polangui, the first town of Albay. According to Reyes the narrative was indeed in verse form. It’s unfortunate that his transcription is lost and could not be found by his descendants. The narrative was taken by Fray Jose Castaño and made it the last part of his long essay, thus, the narrative did not have a title. Castaño described it as “un pequeño fragmento inedito en verso”. There were claims that the said verse was part of the 400 pages manuscript of Melendreras titled “Ibal” and which included a long poem about the 1814 eruption of Mayon Volcano by a local poet he called “Homero de Ibalon”. Unfortunately, I could not find any complete copy of “Ibal” by Melendreras.
The story in verse form started with the voice of Yling—who could be a maiden—urging an old bard or story teller named Kadunung to narrate the ancient stories about the heroes who came to the region to rid the land of monsters and ogres.
After a brief description of the mountains and the rivers and the enchanted places and lakes of old Bikol, Kadunung told the story of Baltog, who was probably of the tawong lipod race. Baltog planted linza (taro) in Tondol. But his crop was destroyed by a giant boar, which might have come from Lingyon. He hunted the boar, killed it bare handed and hang its detached jaws on the branch of a Talisay tree. Thus, ended the story of Baltog in the narrative.
Next came Handiong and with his warriors, they killed the ferocious animals that plagued the land. There was a long list of monsters that must have come from hell or Gagamban, the abode of Asuang, the evil god of the Bikolanos. Many of these monsters were caught and killed, and “exiled” in caves or drowned in rivers, or chased to Isarog—except for the wily woman-serpent Oryol whom they failed to snare. But Oryol changed heart and helped Handiong slay the rest of the monsters.
Having rid the land of monsters, Handiong went on to rule the land in peace. He introduced a specie of rice, introduced boats with rudder and other farming implements. Sural invented the art of writing on stones from Libon, polished by Gapon, and Hablon invented weaving, and Dinahong made pots of clay.
Then came the simultaneous eruption of volcanoes. Hantik, Kulasi and Isarog erupted. An inland island was formed in Malbogong. Half of Mount Asog collapsed and Lake Buhi was formed. A sandbar was formed in Pasakaw. The river Inarihan changed its course.
After the calamities passed, there came a monster named Rabot who could turn anyone into stone. One rainy day the young Bantong cut Rabot’s head with his minasbad and presented it to Handiong, who was stunned to see its ugly face. Then suddenly, Kadunung stopped and promised to continue his tale another day. The day did not come. Thus the tale remains unfinished. Here was the last stanza:
60: “Aqui suspendio Cadugñung
su primera narracion
dejando para otro dia
de continuarla ocasion.”
The 60 stanzas in verse was the last part of the essay ““Breve noticia acerca del origen, religion, creencias y supersticiones de los antiguos indios del bicol” written by Fray Jose Castano and published in Madrid, Spain in 1895.
This was the narrative that I longed to complete—filling in the gaps in the story and continuing it until the last days of Handiong and Oryol—in order to make it a true epic. While it may be speculative, I believe I have gathered enough materials that would enable me to write a long narrative, still faithful to the tales in the narrative, but which shall comply with the requirements of an epic:
- Tale of a hero or heroes of unbelievable strength and valor;
- Vast setting that cover an era;
- Involves supernatural and mythological characters;
- The universal struggle between the ultimate good and evil;
- Sustained elegant narrative style; and
- A noble ending or death for the major character.
The narrative as epic became controversial among many writers, some of them went on to claim that the true author of the narrative was Melendreras—that it was not a native tale. I do not believe that a Franciscan friar tasked of spreading the words of Jesus and evangelizing the Catholic faith would invent and spread tales like the Ibalong. Some say that the narrative being in Spanish must have been originally in Spanish and not in Bikol. Would you say the same of “Biag ni Lam-ang” where there are a lot of Spanish words and some characters even had Spanish names such as Don Juan and Dona Ines?
Many other writers embellished the tale with other side stories that are not in the narrative. Many of these were results of not reading the verses as originally written:
- Celso Al. Carunungan wrote that the Ibalong “relates the mythological origin of the first man and woman of Aslong and Ibalong,” there is no such story in the narrative—the only woman in the tale was that of the half-serpent Oryol;
- Carolina Malay wrote that “Kimantong built the first boat” to ply the Bikol River—it was Handiong who built the first boat;
- Armando Malay wrote that “Hardly he (Baltog) settled down when a giant boar appeared and destroyed the cornfields that Baltog had planted—it was linza and not corn that Baltog planted;
- Again Armando Malay wrote: “Handiong retired to Mount Isarog”—which was not in the narrative;
- Doris Trinidad wrote that Baltog grappled with the giant boar “at full moon”—which is not in the narrative;
- Teofilo del Castillo wrote about the giant boar as “man-eating”—while in the narrative it did nothing but destroy the linza planted by Baltog;
- J. Villa Panganiban in his book “Panitikan ng Pilipinas” wrote that Baltog is the son of Handyong, the king of Samar;
- F. Landa Jocano wrote that Handiong was only “one of Baltog’s admirers and friends”—in the narrative at no time did Baltog met Handiong.
Note: I drew the map of the settings of Ibalong to show that while most could be found in Camarines Sur, the rest were in Albay.