Nov 04
MYTHS AND EPIC CONCEPTS IN FILIPINO FILMS by Isabel Sebullen  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Nov 4, 2011

The Philippines, being archipelagic in nature, is rich in folk literature. This gives the country a wide range of epic stories that represent different ethnic groups. Many have been written about folks, myths, and literature which were handed down to the present generation through spoken words.

The notable professor Damiana Eugenio of the University of the Philippines classified our own Folk Literature into three major groups: (1) folk narratives, (2) folk speech, and (3) folk songs.

The folk narratives can be taken as myths and legend or folk tales either in verse or in stories. The folk speech includes riddles and proverbs while the folk songs can be a ballad (a song telling a story) or simply songs that tell an ancient tale of the place or people in the area.

Folk stories from different indigenous tribes in the Philippines can differ in forms but most of them tell of the lead character’s heroism. It is also about the Supreme Beings which our ancestors believe to be the creators of the world. There are some Asian influences taken from Sanskrit words.

Most of us are familiar with Bathala/Batala as the supreme being or the Maykapal in our folk tales. It originated from a Sanskrit word “bhatarra” which means great. We have also Lakampati (Laca Pati/Lacanpate), the goddess of androgynous deity who is taking care of the land, the harvest and agricultural fertility. Her male version is Lakambakod (Lachan Bacor), the god of the growing crops.

Another identifiable character is Idiyanale (Idianale) – the god of animal husbandry and aquaculture (fish farming). He was often mistaken as an agricultural deity. In our folk literature, Amansinaya (Aman Sinaya) is the patron god of fishermen. He was asked to intervene when fishing nets were cast. Another deity is Lakambini (Lacambui), an obscure deity often called by the Spaniards as “abogado de la garganta”.

I was once asked by Film Academy of the Philippines Director-General Leo G. Martinez to look for copies of different epic poetry being studied by students in the elementary, high school and college. Epic poetry can be a rich source of Pelikulang Pampanitikan, a project conceived by him but not yet in fruition due to lack of funding. The most well-known epic poems are the following:

1) Bicol Epic Poetry: The Ibalon – An origin tale, the Ibalon tries to explain how man came to be. Much like the story of Adam and Eve, it follows the tale of the first man and woman in the regions Aslon and Ibalon (now Camarines, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Albay). It is also about the adventures of the heroes of Ibalon and how they fought against monsters before establishing their own village and learning to farm. The Ibalon also has an account reminiscent of the flood story, where rains poured for days and almost destroyed the whole land.

2) Visayan Epic Poetry: The Maragtas Chronicles of Panay – This epic attempts to explain the origins of the Filipinos and tells the story of 10 Datus or chieftains from Borneo who escaped the cruel reign of the Sultan Makatunaw. Upon arrival on Panay islands, the datus met a tribe of natives called the Aetas. The Aetas eventually sold a piece of their land to the datus and they live dside by side in harmony, with the datus taking the mainlands and the aetas, the mountains.

3) Mindanao Epic Poetry – Epic stories from Mindanao were only very recently put into writing. Known locally as “Darangan”, these poems are very much like Greek mythology. The Darangan tells of the romantic adventures of noble warriors from Mindanao. A lot of the stories focus on one warrior-prince, Bantugan, who owned a magic shield and was protected by divine spirits. A lot of the stories revolved around war and love, much like Homer’s Trojan War. But what makes the Darangan extra special is that it is sung, instead of just recited, in twenty-five beautiful chapters.

4) Igorot Epic Poetry: Aliguyon – The Aliguyon follows the life of the hero after which the story is named, who is gifted with great powers (he can travel to far places without resting or eating and has never been defeated in a battle). He embarks on a series of fights with his arch-rival, Pumbakhayon, the only warrior with skills that match his. The duel lasts 3 years without anyone winning. So, in order to end things, Aliguyon decides to marry Pumbakhayon’s sister, thus unifying their tribes.

5) Ilokano Epic Poetry: Lam-ang – This tale follows the unusual life of a boy who could talk right after he was born. At nine months old, he embarked on a journey to avenge his father’s death, accompanied by his pets, a rooster and a dog. In one of his adventures, he was eaten by a sea monster but came back to life. He then went on a quest to win the heart of the famed beauty, Ines Kannoyan. When he arrived, Ines’ house is filled with suitors. But with the help of his pet rooster who knocked the whole house down and built it up again with a flap of his wings, he eventually won her heart.


1) The Killing of Satan – In this Filipino-made supernatural tale, a man is chosen by his dead uncle to battle the forces of evil. He fights a being called “The Prince of Magic,” who shoots rays from his hands, makes heads spin around and hypnotizes people. He finally faces Satan himself and engages him in a battle of magic. Top billed by Elizabeth Oropesa and Ramon Revilla, is an attempt to use myths in the movie.

2) Curse of the Vampires (1970) – Is the Filipino producer’s attempt to put in film the vampires’ tale which originally comes from England. The story tells of a son’s return to his father’s creepy estate, where he is soon transformed into a vampire after being bitten by his own mother, whom his paranoid father had been keeping in the cellar. He in turn passes on the curse to his fiancée, and later his sister Amalia Fuentes. Her blood-drinking pursuits in the surrounding village are eventually traced back to the source, and the family becomes the target of a group of torch-bearing vigilantes.

3) The Agimat Stories of the Revillas – There were several films depicting the agimats immortalized by the Revillas in showbiz. Up to now, there are some fresh sequels to the agimat stories which made a lot of money due to special effects used similar to other Hollywood movies.

4) The Enteng Kabisote Series – Every year, during the Metro Manila Festivals, kids all over the country got a taste of fairy tales through the Enteng Kabisote series which enthralled the kids with different fairy tales and heroic acts of the lead character, Enteng. Of course, the Enteng series got a lot of followers that it is usually in the list of top grossers.

Either here or abroad, myths and epic stories in films continue to rake a lot of money. It is because film enthusiasts continue to believe that tales and myths are ways to divert the attention of people from the harsh realities present in this imperfect modern world. Perhaps the only way to stop people from enjoying the temporary relief offered by these myths and epic is to offer them a world devoid of human problems like poverty, calamities, disasters, and the many evils in society.

Who can stop us from believing and engaging in the world of fantasy? There might be another escape—a painful one—death.

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