Arts & Entertainment
These Characters from Filipino Mythology Would Make for Really Original TV Series
Hurry, before Marvel steals these ideas.
ILLUSTRATOR Jon Tolentino
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The country is in no short supply of its own gods and goddesses, given that our archipelago of 7,641 islands has a mythos for every indigenous tribe and every region. And guess what: They're all public domain, too. But, aside from it being legal to borrow ideas from any of these mythologies and pantheons, there's the added bonus of it being relatively fresh material that hasn't been become, IDK, a widely read comic book or a major Hollywood motion picture. 

True, some of them have appeared as supporting characters in GMA fantaseryes such as Indio and Amaya, but we think it’s time for a truly Filipino, truly original superhero. So, having reviewed our Filipino literature notes and having remembered how awesome these mythological deities and creatures are, we'd like to make a case for a TV series based on any of these stories. 

Bathala

Origin: Tagalog

Supreme god and grand controller of the universe. A lot of stories about Bathala have to do with the creation of the world and the Philippine islands. These stories also pit him against fellow deities such as the snake Ulilang Kaluluwa and goddess of sea Aman Sinaya.

For the latter, the story goes that they had a huge fight where Bathala threw rocks from mountains at Aman Sinaya which eventually became the islands of the Philippines. The goddess of wind, Amihan, intervened as peacemaker and the two gods eventually sorted out their differences. As a peace offering, Bathala, planted a seed on the ocean floor. A bamboo reed grew from which the first Filipinos, Malakas and Maganda, came out.

Another rival is called Sitan, the guardian of Kasamaan or Kasanaan, a pre-colonial concept of hell. Stories about Sitan’s Kasamaan and his battle with Bathala for the battle of mortal souls were documented by Franciscan missionary Juan de Plasencia in 1589.

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Kan-Laon

Origin: Negros

In ancient Negrense language, Kan-Laon translates to “Exalted One” or even “Eternal One” and in some variations, “He Who Rules Over Time.” As the all-powerful deity in Negrense mythology, they attribute the creation of the world to Kan-Laon and it was said that he used to mingle with the mortals. He lived on top of a tall mountain where people can talk to him.

One story goes that tobacco farmers asked his permission to use his land and he agreed to do so, given that they don’t cross the line where his house was located, near the top of the mountain. Years passed and the farmers complied with this rule until they ran out of land. A farmer brazenly decided to plant behind the line and the others followed. When Kan-Laon found out about this, he got angry and the tobacco plants dried up and settled in bundles beside him. The farmers begged for forgiveness and another chance to plant on his land but Kan-Laon said they can’t until he finished smoking everything they planted. And he ascended on top of the mountain, which became a volcano that emits smoke–which they say is Kanlaon smoking the tobacco leaves.

After this incident, he has never showed himself to mortals. The volcano, now known as Kanlaon, is said to be guarded by the magkupo, a huge serpent with the rooster’s crown and a rooster’s powerful crow.

The Negrense attribute the creation of the world to Kan-Laon. He, however, made himself accessible. He lived on top of a tall mountain where people could talk to him. ILLUSTRATOR: Jon Tolentino

Magwayen

Origin: Visayas

Magwayen is the first goddess of the sea and water. She was created by Kanlaon to balance Kaptan, the Sky God. Fisherfolk pray to Magwayen for a bountiful catch to feed their communities or barangays. Though prone to violent outbursts that results to storms and tsunamis when angered, Magwayen is often depicted to be relatively levelheaded compared to Kaptan, who is quick-tempered.  The Cebuanos believe she may also be Kaptan’s wife and that she returns to the sea when they quarrel while in Negros, they believe her to be Kaptan’s rival. The two dueled to see who will inherit the world Kan-Laon made and this went on for generations until their children, Lihangin and Lidagat, fell in love.

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When her daughter Lidagat died, Magwayen followed Lidagat’s soul to sulad, the underworld, and even became the ferrywoman of souls, just so she can become close to her daughter.

Lakapati and Mapulon

Origin: Tagalog

Lakapati and Mapulon may be the kindest god and goddess couple in Tagalog mythology. While Lakapati, also known as Ikapati, oversees the agricultural life of the natives, Mapulon is the god of seasons and others also attribute him to be the god of medicine and good health. What’s interesting about this couple is that Lakapati is actually a hermaphrodite, being the goddess of fertility as well. S/he is often depicted with both male and female parts.

It was said that Mapulon pursued Lakapati for a long time, similar to how Filipinos practice courtship. Their partnership was widely accepted, despite their biological sex and was said to be symbolic of the egalitarian practices of ancient Tagalogs. Their union produced a daughter, Anagolay, the goddess of lost things.

Haliya and Bakunawa

Origin: Bicol, Hiligaynon

Arch-enemies of epic proportions, Bakunawa is a sea serpent that eats moons, while Haliya is a moon deity. Before, the world was said to have seven moons and only one remained because Bakunawa ate them all. (Incidentally, this is also why the word "bakunawa" became synonymous with eclipse, starting when Fr. Ignacio Alcina wrote the book Historias de las Islas e Indios de las Bisayas in 1668.)

In one version of the story, Haliya is the last moon standing. She wards off Bakunawa by making noises and gong sounds. In other versions, Haliya is the brother of Bulan, a weak and docile god who became a beautiful and pale moon that Bakunawa wants to devour. Haliya protects her brother and together with the other gods, punished Bakunawa for eating the other moons.

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Like Bulan, Haliya is said to be extremely beautiful and hides her face behind a mask to avoid pursuers. Occassionally, she bathes in the earth’s waters, under the moonlight. She is the goddess of moon and has a cult composed primarily of women who admire the goddess’ strength and resolve.


 

Apolaki

Origin: Tagalog, Pampanga

The sun god and patron of warriors. Apolaki is arguably the counterpart of Mars in Roman mythology. In Kapampangan mythology, he is comparable to Aring Sinukuan, god of war and death. Other stories state that he is son of Anagolay and Dumakulem, and also the brother of Dian Masalanta, the goddess of lovers. There are other sources that also say he is the son of Bathala himself from a mortal woman. In this version, the mortal woman gave birth to two children, Apolaki and Mayari. When they were born, their eyes shone so bright, they lit up the entire world.

When Bathala died, Apolaki and Mayari fought over who will take over their father’s throne. After a long and bloody war, that culminated in Apolaki blinding one of Mayari’s eyes, the siblings came to an agreement that they can share the rulership of the world. Apolaki rules over day time and Mayari takes over the night, which is said to be darker because of her blinded eye.

During early colonial times, the people of Pangasinan were said to have been scolded by Apolaki. The god was supposedly angry at them for welcoming the Spaniards, men with white teeth, when it was a custom to them to blacken their teeth as a symbol of beauty. Locals reported this to a parish priest who was expectedly perplexed.

Sinukuan

Origin: Tagalog, Kapampangan

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Many may remember her from the children’s story “Hukuman ni Maria Sinukuan,” where she is portrayed as a diwata and guardian of Mt. Arayat. In this specific story, she is like a judge who investigated what caused the death of a bird’s eggs which eventually led to the culprit—a mosquito with a sword that is looking for his enemy, a crab. (This is also why they say mosquitos buzz in people’s ears—to look for where their enemy crabs are hiding.)

However, this version of Sinukuan is said to be the Spanish or Catholic version of this deity, especially with the addition of “Maria” in the name. Originally, Sinukuan may refer to the powerful male Kapampangan god, named Aring Sinukûan. It was said that Sinukuan taught the natives the art of metallurgy, wood cutting, and rice planting. Of course, he also guides them during wars.

Together with Kapampangan god of Pinatubo, Apûng Malyari, they are second most powerful deities in Kampampangan mythology. The supreme ruler role goes to Mangechay or Mangacha, the great elder and creator goddess. During the campaign for colonization, the Spaniards tried to trick the Kapampangan that Sinukuan is actually female so that they will stop revering him. Little did they know that gender was no issue to early Filipinos and that the supreme god, Mangechay or Mangacha, is actually a female. They later added the “Maria” to make Sinukuan a Catholic figure and convince the natives to convert to Catholicism.

Tungkung Langit and Alunsina, Luyong Kabig

Origin: Visayas, Panay

Another creator and counterpart to the likes of Bathala and Kan-Laon, Tungkung Langit created order out of chaos. He is industrious and loyal but despite his efforts, his wife Alunsina, the virgin goddess from the east, accused him of having an affair. They had a big fight, which caused Alunsina to run away. Tungkung Langit did everything in his power to bring her back to no avail. He threw her favorite comb into the sky to make the moon and her jewels became the stars. However, Alunsina never came back and Tungkung Langit lived alone in the sky. Every time it rains, it is said to be Tungkung Langit’s tears and that the thunder is his voice, calling Alunsina back.

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There is another lesser deity in Panay mythology which also has the name Tungkung Langit. This lesser deity is known as the Pillar of Heaven. Similar to Atlas, this strong and mighty god bears the duty to carry the skies upon his shoulders. If he fails, the sky would fall down and crush the people below. He has a wife named Luyong Kabig, who lives in the underworld to guard its entrance and prevent undead mortals from entering its realm.


Nagmalitung Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata

Origin: Visayas, Panay

She is often referred to as the goddess of lust and seduction because of a story in the epic Hinilawod in which gods and heroes pine for her love.

Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata was born from a night flower and came to the world already in adult form. Because of her ageless beauty, she was capable of stirring lustful emotions from men. In Hinilawod, she was married to the god of darkness, Saragnayan. However, the warrior Labaw Donggon wanted her after seeing her image in a crystal ball. His sons killed Saragnayan and the grief-stricken diwata cursed Labaw Donggon to be lovesick. She exiled herself in the forest to live in peace, occasionally helping lost travelers in the guise of different animals.

It wasn’t long before she fell in love again, this time with Humadapnon and Buyung Sumagulung. Caught in another love triangle, this also ended in a violent way when Humadapnon stabbed her in a fit of jealousy. She was brought back to life when Humadapnon’s sister gave her the gift of immortality. Traumatized, she hid in the underworld but she was still found by Humadapnon. Alunsina (which in this story is the mother of Humadapnon and Labaw Donggon) then used her golden sword to divide her into two so that her two sons won’t fight over her anymore.

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In the Visayas region, yawa is also synonymous to the word devil or witch because of the pervasive stories that the deity still hides in the forest not to guide lost travelers, but to confuse them so they could lose their way. They say that it is the goddess’ revenge on humanity for killing her husband. Whenever someone’s husband didn’t return or got lost in the woods, they would blame it on a beautiful naked woman said to be Nagmalitung Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata, who would seduce their husbands and kill them afterwards.   

Anitun Tabu

Origin: Tagalog, Zambales

Known to be fickle-minded and arrogant, Anitun Tabu is the goddess of wind and rain. Ancient Tagalogs often blame her for the occurrence of ambon and before the colonial period, it was even said that it was lucky to get married while raining, because Anitun Tabu is happy. (It was only during the Spanish period that people started to blame rainy sunny days on the marriage of supernatural beings like tikbalang.)

In Zambales, she is known as Anitun Tauo, who used to be superior to many other deities. However due to her haughtiness, their chief god Malayari demoted her to being a lesser deity. Regardless, people in Zambales still offer her pinipig or mamiarag during the harvest season.

Sources:

The Aswang Project

An Ultimate Guide To Philippine Mythology’s Legendary Deities

Visayan Mythologies of the Philippines

Philippines of Old

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Nicai de Guzman
Nicai de Guzman is the Head of Marketing of Rising Tide, one of the fastest-growing mobile and digital advertising technology companies in the Philippines. She also writes for SPOT.ph and Entrepreneur.com.ph.
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