Filipinos Animal Myths

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.

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