The Gods and the Creation of the World
Philippine myths show that our ancient peoples believed in one supreme god and in a number or lesser gods and goddesses. Sometimes the name of god is not given; he is simply referred to as the Supreme God, great Being, or God the Most High. Most of the time, their names were given, and these names varied with the different tribes. In many myths, the supreme god is the creator of the world. Sometimes people were merely told that the god made the earth and no further details. In some myths, the creation of the world was not the work of a supreme being but rather the outcome of a struggle between hostile forces.
Early Conception of the Universe
Stories of creation contain scattered references which indicate the early Filipinos’ conception of the universe. The universe consists of the skyworld, the earth, or middle world, and the underworld. Almost all the different regional groups believe that the universe has many layers with which each layer is inhabited by different kinds of being. Part of the early Filipinos’ concept of the universe is the belief that once upon a time the sky was low.
Origin of Man
Philippine myths explain the origin of the first people on earth in three ways:
1. Man came to earth from heaven/skyword;
2. the first man and woman emerged fully formed from two nodes of a piece of bamboo, from two stumps of banana plant, hatched from two eggs of a bird, and
3. they were created by a god and his helpers out of earth or some other material.
Origin of Animals
Animal legends present an interesting array of Philippine fauna, especially of the smaller specie-birds, fishes, and insects. Of beasts, legends deal mostly with monkeys, rarely with cats and rats. There seems to be legends of the origin of monkeys in every region of the Philippines. Motifs varied from one place to another. One motif is that those who became monkeys are hungry children who are denied of proper food by their mothers and stepmothers. In lowland Filipino legends, it is usually a lazy boy who is transformed into a monkey. In these motifs, the transformation into a monkey happened as a form of punishment for laziness and selfishness. In some stories irreverence in children may also change them into monkeys.
Legends about other small animals like birds vary form one place to another. Common motif includes girl or boy cruelly treated by their parents or step-parent. They ran away and become a bird, oftentimes by merely wishing to escape the cruelty of the parent. Some birds that make peculiar noises are also subject to legends.
The owl was said to be an old woman who kept weeping and crying for the her dead son to come back to her. An interesting legend about the bat says it is once a rat on which the wings of a bird got stuck. He was however, rejected by both the birds and the rats, and so in shame hides during the daytime and flies only at night.
Origin of Plants
Plant myths and legends abound in Philippine folklore. They give highly fanciful accounts of the origin of various kinds of plants, flowers, and fruits. Among the most widely known of these are those about rice, the staple food of the Philippines. Legends believed that rice was only known by the gods until they gave people the detailed instruction on how to plant, have a good harvest, and cook it.
Establishment of Natural Order
Myths try to explain many kinds of natural phenomena: why there is rain, rainbow, thunder, lightning, earthquake, eclipse, and the like. The rain is believed by many as the tears shed by a man longing for his vanished wife, A Diwata (fairy) throwing out water in the sky. The rainbow is believed to be the flower loving daughter of Bathala, who was cursed by the latter to stay on earth forever because of her failure to attend a family council ordered by the Bathala. Others believed that the rainbow is a road from the sky to the earth that a man built so that his star wife and child could visit him without any difficulty. The origin of lightning and thunder are stories about the marriage of a god and a mortal wife. The earthquake is what early Filipinos believed as the movement of the body part of a great being or by the movement of the post or being that supports the earth. Others believed that the eclipse of the moon occurs whenever the moon is swallowed or embraced by a monster-huge snake, lion, or gigantic tarantula.
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