Most ancient Filipino stories are told in Tagalog, the native Filipino language. According to Mr. Emmanuel Pimmantuan, “Tagalog remains an important language in recording and keeping stories in the oral tradition”. The following creation story, translated from its original Tagalog to English, interestingly includes an explanation of modern Filipino history, expresses the origins of the ancient Filipino social hierarchy and the origins of man and woman, and accounts for the creation of the Filipino archipelago.
The Story (A Summary)
The world had only the sea and the sky, and between the sea and the sky, flew a beautiful kite. Unfortunately, this lovely bird had no home, and in frustration, began to stir up the sea. The sea angrily crashed against the sky, and the sky threw pieces of land to quell the sea’s anger. Then, the sky ordered the kite to live on an island.
During this exact time, the sea breeze and land breeze were married. Together they had a child, named bamboo. One day, Bamboo was gently floating against the sea, and accidentally struck the feet of the kite. The bird, furious at the Bamboo, pecked the innocent stick into two pieces: one piece became a man, the other piece, a woman.
Then the earthquake called on all the fish and birds to decide what shall be done with the man and woman. The animals decided for the man and woman to be married. Together, the man and woman had many children.
The children began to aggravate their parents, and their father beat the children with a large stick. The children fled in fear to all parts of their great house - some into hidden rooms and fireplaces, others concealed themselves in the walls, and others fled outside and into the sea.
Those who ran into hidden rooms, became the chiefs of the island. Those who concealed themselves became slaves. Those who ran outside became the freeman. Those who hid in the fireplace became the negroes. And those who fled to the sea…they returned as the white people.
The Filipino social hierarchy is determined by the hiding place of the children, and the social structure is composed of several tiers – white men, chiefs, freemen, negroes, and slaves. The Hindu caste system, personified in the Rig Veda, is similar to the Filipino class structure. For example, another version of the Filipino legend expresses “the banishment of the man and woman’s four sons to four corners of the earth” (Folklore and Myth). And because of regional landscapes, the children acquired regional traits, such as “reddish skin from eating clay” (Folklore and Myth), and these new colors served as categories for further social organization. The Hindu caste system is also partially based off color. The Brahmins, usually of a stronger Aryan background, were much lighter than the Sudras and Untouchables, who had a more indigenous ancestry and were darker-skinned.
In the Filipino myth, the explanation of the “white people” is clearly a modern inclusion. When the Spaniards, and later, the Americans, arrived in the Philippines, there was heavy resentment amongst the Filipino people. This bitterness is displayed as cowardly in the Filipino creation myth. Mr. Pimmantuan, a Filipino-American, explained that in the Philippines, the “ideal of honor” is culturally and socially important. Running away and hiding are two separate issues. For the Filipinos, the children who ran to the sea were not hiding, but escaping their fears, and therefore, were cowards. Colonialism, in the Filipino mind, is cowardly. This account is similar to the Aztec story of Quetzalcoatl, in which the Aztecs foretell of Quetzalcoatl returning as a beautiful human. Yet, in the 1800’s, the Aztecs mistook the white-skinned, yellow-haired Spaniards for Quetzalcoatl, and the mistake led to Aztecs’ disastrous downfall. Modern-day interpretations of the Quetzalcoatl legend now specify the return of Quetzacoatl as the advent of Spanish colonialism. Some Filipino versions of the Tagalog story do not say “white people”, but rather “foreigners”. Many historians and Filipinos now believe that “the ancient Filipino people interacted with foreigners even before the arrival of western colonials”. (Cruz).
Within the social tiers of the Filipino hierarchy, is the issue of gender inequality (or equality in the Filipino case). Several interpretations of the Filipino creation myth express that man and woman are equal, as both were created from the same bamboo. The value of equality significantly differs from the present day Judeo-Christian view (as presented in Genesis). According to Dr. Penelope V. Flores, an education professor at San Francisco Univeristy, “the first man and woman came from a bamboo reed at the same time – an equal relationship, not subordinate to each other. This gender equality says much about the [Filipino] indigenous social structure before western influences. It is opposite the Judeo-Christian belief of the woman shaped from the rib of the first man, thus in a subordinate relationship”. Despite modern Filipino-Catholic culture, the ancient value of gender equality remains today. (Manasala).
From the sea grows beauty and The Egyptian and
Filipino myths separate two natural elements. According to the ancient Egyptians,
the world is separated by Geb, the earth, and Nut, the sky. Similarly, the Filipino
version of creation separates the sky and water. The separation attempts to
enclose the known world in a finite space. The two elements in question serve
as boundaries for a seemingly infinite space and justify an ethnocentric mindset.
The Greek myth and the Filipino myth are similar in plot. In the Greek version of creation, Chronos eats in his children, in an attempt to thwart a royal mutiny.