By Abdon M. Balde Jr.
THE SUPERNATURAL WORLD OF ANCIENT BIKOL, SEGMENT 1
My search for Ibalong at ground zero has been augmented with my search in the many, many volumes of writings on the precolonial Bikolanos in the chronicles, journals, and published books on the subject. This is a compilation of the mythological characters that inhabit the supernatural world of ancient Bikolanos. It has been researched from the writings of the earliest chroniclers, some of which are not known, some Spanish explorers including Pedro de Chirino, Jose Castano, Bernardino Melendreras, Ignacio Alcina, William Henry Scott and others; and some local researchers such as Jose Calleja Reyes, Merito B. Espinas, Mariano Goyena del Prado, Elias Ataviado, and from some local story tellers.
In 2012 with the support of the Provincial Government of Albay, I conceptualized the Higantes Parade consisting of the images of the mythological characters that Bikolanos believed in and continue to believe. Local artists were recruited and pre-qualified to create giant effigies made of local materials. We commissioned a local artist, Bert Gonzales from Camalig to draw the images on paper based on my concept and stories. The drawings became the bases for the creation of effigies. We printed a book containing the initial images, titled “An Mythos Kan Albay”, which were distributed to those who would watch the parade, so that they would understand the stories behind every effigy. On the initial outing in 2012, we were able to create 50 images. The next year, 64 figures including numerous Anitos. It became a recurring event for 4 years along with the celebration of the Daragang Magayon Festival.
Here then is my brief compilation of the characters that inhabit the supernatural world of the Bikolanos: The religion of the ancient Bikolanos was polytheistic, they believed in the Good God and the Evil God, both of which had their minor deities. The Good God was called GUGURANG who resided up there in KAMURAWAYAN. Gugurang defended and guarded the households. They believed that Gugurang listened to and granted their prayers. They believed that even their petitions for exacting revenge against their enemies were granted as long as these were just. Thus, they looked at Gugurang with love and respect.
The Evil God who was the rival of Gugurang was called ASWANG whose abode was called GAGAMBAN. He was distinct from the ordinary aswang that we know today to prowl in the night in search of blood. In contrast to Gugurang, Aswang enjoyed setting up things that would cause harm to people. Fear, sickness, pestilence were all caused by Aswang. When the idea of Aswang entered their minds, they were known to burst in furious cries of fear and anguish, cursing and howling against the Evil God. Mothers who felt the presence of Aswang would hide their children at all cost for fear that Aswang or his minions would feed on their blood and entrails.
Gugurang was assisted by deities in taking care of the people. Here are few of them: BATALA was the demi-god. He was second in command to Gugurang. He took care of the affairs of tribes and communities. When Gugurang was busy elsewhere, the BATALA also managed the conduct of the KATAMBAYS and the ANITOS and all the affairs in Kamurawayan.
The KATAMBAY was the guardian of an ordinary person. It looked almost like the person it is guarding, except that it was bigger, taller, with more fair complexion, and stronger.
OKOT was the God of the forest and of hunting. He whistled and immitated the call of the animals and birds. He was of an amiable character and was often known to have played harmless jokes to men and animals. He helped hunters find their prey.
MAGINDANG was the sea God. He helped fishermen to their catch and warned them of gales, storms and big waves.
ANITOS were the spirits of kind ancestors who looked after their living descendants, helped them meet their trials, and sometime provided them their needs. They moved about unseen by ordinary eyes, but sometimes allowed themselves to be seen by their close descendants. They were normally represented in wooden images called Lagdong. These lagdongs were often seen in the Salangat (altar) and were used during Atang (thanksgiving) rites.
ONOS was the god of the storm, of deluge and floodwaters.
BALYANA was the priestess who ministered the Atang offering to Gugurang. She chanted the Soraki as she raised the votive offerings.
If Gugurang had his troop of good dieties, Aswang had his troops composed of monsters and fierce beasts. Most of them lived in Gagamban. But when there are opportunities, such as when the moon is swallowed by the BAKUNAWA, and there is darkness all over the world, these monsters would visit earth and destroy crops, disturb communities and cause harm to people. Here are a few of these beasts and monsters, some of which are still believed to exist to this day:
ORYOL was believed to be the daughter of Aswang. She is a beautiful and charming woman from the waist up but a serpent from the waist down. She has the power to change form. She is wily and difficult to subdue. She alone eluded Handiong’s traps. But she had a change of heart, she helped Handiong fight the other monsters. There is no account on what happened to her after the defeat of the monsters. There are some speculations that she may have fallen in love with Handiong and helped him govern Bikol.
KOROKORO The bird-messenger, sometimes black, sometimes brown; if heard at night, people fear that Aswang is around and ready to suck the blood and devour the entrails of sick persons or of babies. It also announces the impending death of a person, if the warbling is followed with the muffled sound of an approaching storm. Any place inhabited by a Korokoro is said to have a resident aswang in its locality.
POPO was a cruel creature from Gagamban. It had evil eyes with its debilitating effect. It was a hot-tempered and vengeful monster, its grunt resembles that of a pig. A child touched on the head by the Popo’ would grow weaker and weaker until the child dies.
The BONGGO was the most feared minister of Aswang. It has sunken eyes that flashed fire. It was a ferocious, large, muscular black humanoid. It has long, black hair, ugly hairy face and with sharp claws. It was vengeful and utterly cruel.
The YASAW was a creature that hid under the shadow of trees during moonlit nights. It delighted itself by scaring people. Should it be seen and at the same time a cry resembling that of an infant was heard or imagined, then somebody was going to die soon, for an Aswang was on the prowl.
LAKI was a styr or monster that Yasaw would turn into, when punished by Aswang for its lazyness in scaring people. It has hooves and skin like those of a goat and the ugly face of a human being. It appeared at night and surprised night travelers with its shrill, piercing sound, but it was incapable of killing people.
By Abdon M. Balde Jr.