The Ibalon

(from the Bikol region)

Yling, a bird reputed to talk, asks Cadugnung, a wise man, to sing of the ancient story of Handiong. This is the story he tells:

Bikol was a land of wide plains and fertile fields; anything planted in its soil yielded bountiful harvests. The first man was Baltog, originally from Botavara and of the race Lipod. His "linsa", or gabi plants, were the lushiest in the place, but were destroyed by a great Tandayag boar. Furious, Baltog pursued the boar and killed it, not with a lance but by breaking its jaws with his own strong arms. The supersized boar had jawbones as wide as two arms extended, and tusks which measured about two-thirds longer than the handle of his lance. He hung the gigantic jawbone on a talisay tree near his house in Tondol. All the people who came from as far as Panicuason were struck by the monstrous size of the dead boar.

Soon after, Handiong came to Bikol and destroyed the wild creatures roaming the land. In Ponong he slew, after a ten-month fight, the beasts with one eye and three throats, winged sharks under the sea, wild carabaos, and man-eating crocodiles bigger than boats. To the mountain Kulasi, he exiled the "sarimaw", and buried in Hantik all the serpents whose voices rang like sirens.

One elusive snake, however, he failed to subdue despite all his effort. Known as Oriol, the snake was sometimes serpent sometimes woman. To Handiong, Oriol was a challenge, for even if he would bind her a thousand times, she would scoff mockingly at him and cleverly untie her knots. With sweet words she would entice Handiong, who would search the forests for her. But she was seductive as well as deceitful. She would thwart his labors and interfere with his battle, although there were occasions when she helped fight and kill the animals infesting the place. In the fight with giant crocodiles, which colored red the Bikol river, he emerged unhurt, while the apes of the pongo and orangutan variety who had watched with horror, were finally driven to the mountain Isarog.

Having thus freed the land from wild beasts, he devoted himself to a settled life. He exhorted his people to plant "linsa" and rice. He built the first boat ever to ply the Bikol river; its rudder and sail were contributions of Guimantong, one of his men, who also invented the plow, harrow, and roll, including the ganta and other measures, the yoke, bolo and hoe. Hablon invented a weaving loom and bobbins. The native of Dinahon worked on the jar, claypot, stove, earthen bowl, and other household utensils. Sural carved a Bikol syllabary out of a stone from Libong, and polished to shine by Gapon.

Handiong and his men built towns. The houses of varying sizes hung from the branches of the "banasi" and kamagong trees. The reason was that it was only up in the "moog", as the houses were called, that one could escape the heat and swarming insects and wild animals.

Laws were set to insure protection of life and honor, and accord equality to all without distinction. With this, respect for rights of heritage and succession were guaranteed, and slave and master kept to his own place.

Suddenly, the great deluge caused by tempests brought havoc and destruction to the growing civilization. The catastrophe completely transformed the land. Three volcanoes, Hamtik, Kulasi, and Isarog, erupted simultaneously, and caused a strip of land, now known as Pasacao, to rise from the sea. Torn apart from the mainland was Malbogon, now an islet, where lived two witches named Hilan and Lariong. The Inarihan river turned its course and overflowed to Ponong. In Bato, a big mountain sank, and, in its place, up came a lake which supplied fish to all of Ibalon. The Dagatnon tribe, from which had come the Dumagats from Cotmon, was wiped out as the gulf of Calabagnan overflowed.

Handiong had a close companion, the young warrior Bantong. To him, Handiong entrusted the job of getting rid of Rabot, a fierce monster, who was half-man and half-beast. How many of the people that came near his lair were turned into stone by the beast? The plague of the land, he was also known as the great liar.

Smart Bantong first tried to find out about the monster’s habits. And he guessed right: Rabot slept heavily all day long as he simply rolled over the ground. After watching him for days, Bantong slew the monster in two parts and brought the corpse to Libmanan where Handiong viewed the remains amidst the loud rejoicing of his people.

But the sight of Rabot shocked Handiong. For a long time, he remained stupefied. Why and what else happened is not known as Cadugnung stops his narration and promises to talk about it next time.

"Ibalon" is a 240-line "fragment of a certain manuscript in verse," which is contained in Fr. Jose Castaño’s account of the origin, superstitions, and beliefs of the ancient Bicolanos, and published in 1896. "Ibalon is one of the only two epics that come from Christian Filipinos (the other one being the "Biag ni Lam-ang). The rest come from the non-Christian groups.

Learn this Filipino word:

haláng ang bituka

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