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Filipinos Animal Myths


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

In the fables of the Filipinos the animals often speak together
in a common language. The dove, however, is the only one that
comprehends human speech, and it is a creature of uncommon shrewdness
and intelligence, like the hare in the Indian myths and Br'er Rabbit
in the stories of our Southern negroes. Once the dove was a child. In
shame and anger that its mother should refuse to give it some rice she
was pounding for panapig (a sort of cake), it ran out of the cabin,
took two leaves of a nipa, shaped wings from them, which it fastened to
its shoulders, and fluttered into the boughs of a neighboring tree,
changing, in its flight, from a child to a dove. It still calls
for panapig.

Darwin is read backward by the natives, for they say that the monkey
was a man, long, long ago, and might have been one still but for his
manana habit, so general in the Spanish colonies. He had a partner
whom he greatly vexed by his idleness, and once, when this partner
was planting rice, he glanced up and saw the monkey squatted on the
earth, with his face between his hands, watching the labors of the
industrious member of the firm,--for nothing makes loafing sweeter
than to see somebody else work. Enraged, the busy one caught up a
cudgel and flung it at the monkey, who was thereupon seized with a
sudden but futile activity, and started to run away. The club struck
him in the rear so mightily that it entered his spinal column and
stayed there, becoming his tail.

In the Moro tradition of the flood--a tradition almost world-wide--Noah
and his family got into a box when the forty days of rain began,
and one pair of each kind of bird and beast followed them. All of the
human race except Noah, his wife and children, were either drowned or
changed. Those men who ran to the mountains when they saw the flood
rising became monkeys; those who flung themselves into the sea became
fish; the Chinese turned into hornbills; a woman who was eating seaweed
and kept on eating after the waves broke over her became a dugong.

In Mindanao, Basilan, and Sulu the pig is held in suspicion and its
flesh is not eaten. The reason for this aversion is that the first
pigs were grandchildren of the great Mahomet himself, and their
conversion to these lowly quadrupeds fell out in this way: When Jesus
(Isa) called on Mahomet, the latter, jealous of his reputed power,
bade him guess what was in the next room. Christ said that he did
not wish to do so. Mahomet then commanded him to prove his ability
to see through walls, and added that if he made a mistake he would
kill him. Thereupon Christ answered, "There are two animals in that
chamber that are like no other in the world."

"Wrong!" cried the Prophet, plucking out his sword. "They are my
grandchildren. You have spoken false, and you must lose your head."

"Look and see," insisted Christ, and Mahomet flung open the chamber
door, whereupon two hogs rushed out. It should be added that while
the divinity of Christ is denied in some of the Oriental religions,
he figures in many of them as a great and good man, gifted with
supernatural power. Moros charge as one reason for killing Christians
that followers of Christ disgrace and belie mankind in teaching that
men could kill their own god.

On Mindoro the timarau, a small buffalo that lives in the jungle,
has given rise to rumors of a fierce and destructive creature that
carries a single horn on his head. It is a wild and hard fighter, but
it has two horns, and is not likely to injure any save those who are
seeking to injure it. A creature with an armed head has lingered down
from the day of Marco Polo, because in the stock of yarns assembled by
that redoubtable tourist the unicorn figured. This was the rhinoceros,
which is found so near the Philippines as Sumatra. The gnu of Africa
is another possible ancestor of this creature, a belief in which
goes back to the time of Aristotle; but the horse-like animal with
a narwhal's horn that frisks on the British arms never existed.

And, speaking of horses, it is strange that centaurs should figure
in the mythology of a country like Luzon; but a mile from the church
at Mariveles is a hot spring beside which lived a creature that
was half-horse and half-man. As in ancient Greece, there is little
doubt that a belief in this being came from the wonder excited by
the first horsemen.

Sea-eagles in the East are large and powerful, and are believed to
have long memories. According to report, a man living near Jala Jala
once stole a nest of their young and carried it to his house. It was
a year from that time before any retaliation was attempted. The birds
then appeared above his premises, swooped down on his wife, clawed
her face and beat her with their wings until she was half-dead; then
picked up her babe and carried it away before the eyes of the helpless
parents. Next year they came again, and another infant, a few months
old, was stolen. The man tracked them to their nest, which had been
built high on a cliff that no one had ever scaled before. Nerved by
grief and anger, he climbed it. In the nest were the skeletons of
his children. As he clung to the rock, hanging over a dizzy space
and looking on these sad relics, the father bird came swooping from
the sky and began to strike at him with claws and wings. In the face
of such an assault the man could not descend in safety. Death was
sure. He could only hope to kill his enemy, too. As the bird drew
near he leaped from the rock, caught the eagle about the neck, and
the two plunged down to death together.

An animal god especially to be feared is Calapnitan, king of the
bats. He is so powerful and capable of mischief that in exploring a
cave where bats are likely to have congregated the natives will speak
in the most respectful terms of this deity, for he would be sure to
hear them if they spoke flippantly of him, and might swoop from the
cave roof and whip their eyes out with his leathern wings or tear them
with his claws. Hence they bow their heads and speak with reverence
of the Lord Calapnitan's cave, the Lord Calapnitan's stalactite,
even recognizing his temporary ownership of their clothing, arms,
lights, and so on, and alluding to their own jackets as the Lord
Calapnitan's. By carefully refraining in this manner from giving
offence the Filipinos have succeeded in keeping their skins entire
while guiding white travellers through the caverns in their islands.

Next: Later Religious Myths And Miracles

Previous: Old Beliefs Of The Filipinos

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