The Ibálong, also known as Handiong, or Handyong is a 60-stanza fragment of a Bikol full-length folk epic of Bikol region of Philippines, based on the Indian Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharta. The epic is said to have been narrated in verse form by a native poet called Kadunung. It was passed on orally until it was presumably jotted down in its complete Bikol narrative by Fray Bernardino de Melendreras de la Trinidad. The Ibalong portrays deeds in heroic proportions, centering on white men or tawong-lipod who were warrior-heroes named, among others, Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong. They came from Boltavara, settling and ruling Bikolandia and its inhabitants. The epic is set in the land of Aslon and Ibalong. The mountains Asog, Masaraga, Isarog, and Lingyon were prominent features of the area.
In its oldest known text, the folk epic does not have a title. The oldest existing account of it is written in Spanish.
A non religious festival is being celebrated annually in honor of the epic Ibalong as a celebration of the geography of Ibalon. It is unusual because Spaniards introduced saints and fiestas and all religious-related activities except Ibalong. It is also a celebration of the province’s people and their resiliency, given the string calamities that regularly befall the region given its typhoon-proned geographical location.
The full-length narrative is presumably jotted down by Fray Bernardino de Melendreras de la Trinidad (1815-1867), a Franciscan missionary in Guinobatan, Albay, when he got acquainted with an errant Bikolano bard referred to in the epic as Kadunung. It was put afterwards into Spanish by Melendreras in Ibal, a 400-age manuscript in verse on the ancient customs of the Indios of Albay.
The sixty-stanza portion was later included in a treatise on the Bikol region by Fray Jose Castaño in 1895. However, no credit was given to Melendreras by Castaño in the work, and so students of the Ibalong have since presumed that it was recorded and translated by Castaño himself.
Summary of the Ibálong in English prose
The epic opens with Iling requesting the bard Kadunung to recount the tale of the glorious Ibálong of long ago. Forthwith Kadunung described the ancient land and spoke of its first hero, Baltog, a White Aryan, who had come from Boltavara (Bharata-varsha or India). He planted a linsa patch in Tondol (now in Kamalig) which, one night, was foraged by a giant wild boar (Tandayag). The furious Baltog chased the Tandayag, killed it with his bare hands, and hung its enormous jawbones on a talisay tree in front of his house in Tondol. For this marvelous feat, he was acknowledged chief of the local hunters. The clans of Panicuason and Asog came over to marvel at the monstrous wild boar in Ibálong.
Next to come was Handyong. With his followers, he fought the monsters of the land. But Oryol, a wily serpent who appeared as a beautiful maiden with a seductive voice, was one whom Handyong could not destroy. Meanwhile, Oryol admired Handyong's bravery and gallantry. Because of this, Oryol helped Handyong clear the region of ferocious beasts until peace came to the whole of the land.
With Ibálong rid of wild creatures, Handyong turned to making wise laws and planting the land to linsa and rice. A period of invention followed: boat, farming tools, weaving looms, claywares, kitchen utensils, tree houses, and even a syllabary. Together, the people built a society with culture. It was a golden period in Ibálong when even slaves were respected under the laws of Handyong.
Then came a great flood, freed by Unos, that changed the features of the land. Three volcanoes, named Hantik, Kulasi, and Isarog erupted simultaneously. Inundations caused lands to sink, from which Lake Buhi came about, or rise, as in the strip of seacoast in Pasacao, Camarines Sur, and wiped out many settlements, especially the Dagatnong settlement in the Kalabangan Gulf. The Malbogong Islet formed in the Bikol River. The Inarihan River altered its course. A lofty mountain sank at Bato, forming a lake.
Despite the calamities, Ibálong grew powerful under Old Chief Handyong, whose constant companion and good friend, by then, was the young Bantong. Although given a thousand men to destroy the half man and half beast Rabot, who could change its enemies into rocks, Bantong slew it single-handedly – to the loud cheers of his thousand warriors that reverberated throughout the forests and mangroves swamps. Brought to Ligmanan, the corpse of Rabot was horrible to behold. The Great Handyong himself was shocked at the sight.
Curious ending of the Ibálong
The fragmentary epic ended at that part where Bantong killed the fierce half-man and beast, Rabot. Curiously, Handyong was saddened by Rabot's death. In her study of the Ibalong Epic, the Bikol scholar, Ma. Lilia F. Realubit, explained that the reason behind this is that Handyong might have "mourned the passing of an era, when men were proved men by monsters and the skill of the hunt, when magic and ceremonial incantations infused life and explained his questions about life and nature and the supernatural."
She also added that Handyong could have “correctly foresaw the coming of a new age and aptly mourned the death of his time.” Meanwhile, some others speculate that he foresaw the subjugation and destitution of his people under a less benevolent leader - as what, indeed, happened under the Spanish colonial rule.
Parallelism with Spanish rule
The existence of various Bikol oral accounts focus on a curse allegedly cast against the Bikol people seem to bridge the gap between the Ibalong epic and the subsequent decline and destitution of the Bikolanos. Some of these oral accounts indicated such a transformation. In Sorsogon, the legend of San Bernardino embodied this turn of events against the land and its inhabitants. The legend spoke about a mighty spirit who dwelt in Mt. Bulusan and fell in love with a maiden there. This maiden did not love him back, and so the spirit was enraged. Panic filled everyone except one man - the favored suitor of the maiden. He killed the spirit to stop its violence in the area. Once killed, the spirit fell into the sea. The part of the water in which the spirit fell transformed into land. The old folks claim that the two islands with a slender strip of water between Samar and Sorsogon were the spirit of Mt. Bulusan. It is now called the Strait of San Bernardino and is considered enchanted or engkantado.
The parallelism of the events in the Ibálong and the above-cited legend with what actually happened under Spanish rule seems to suggest the total transformation of the inhabitants from a sturdy phase to becoming passive people.
There is no definite date that can be given to where the epic-fragment starts and ends, however what little is known about the legendary beginnings of Bikol might describe the area circa 4, 500 years ago. The epic-fragment portrays ancient Bikol as lush in jungle growth, teeming with fish and wild game, and dotted by mountain ranges, hills, and volcanoes. The bard Kadunung in the epic recounted this as the glorious Bikolandia, a beautiful and fertile ancient land of long ago, inhabited by strong and brave people, that existed before a catastrophe destroyed it some 4,500 years ago.
The Ibálong is an invaluable piece of literature that marks the spontaneous record of the ancient Bikol's early struggle for principle, survival, and growth. It commemorates the Bicolano people's resilience against the typhoons that annually beset their region. It stresses the humble accomplishments and peaceful pursuits of the early Bikolanos, including the implementation of just laws. Among other pursuits is the cultivation of upland and lowland crops, the construction of dwellings on tall trees, the creation of the first boat in the region, the making of utensils, tools, and wares, but most importantly, the invention of writing. The epic depicts the transition of the ancient Bikolanos from the hunting stage to the agricultural stage, from the nomadic state to the settled life.
The Ibalong teaches about courage, of how a simple act can bring about positive change. The heroes made use of this courage to lead the community out of chaos without any regard for self-glorification. This gives evidence of good leadership. However, it must also be noted that all three heroes were foreigners and not pure inhabitants of the Ibalong. This poses an argument that the locals had to depend on foreign abilities and leadership before they were able to obtain progress.
Also portrayed in the epic is the concept of social class, of slaves and masters. However, this did not hinder the growth of the community because the classes respected each other.
The Ibalong stresses the humble accomplishments and peaceful pursuits of the early Bikolanos. It is unlikely that the ancient Bikolanos had worshiped idols. Nothing is mentioned about gods in the epic except perhaps in passing, Onos, the god of floodwaters.
The very survival of these pre-Hispanic legends is direct proof of the vitality of Bikol culture. Folk history or not, this epic is valuable for it enabled the Bikolanos of today to gain valuable insights into the misty past of their land and their ancestors.
The epic is celebrated through street performances and floats on Ibalong Festival in the Bicol region since 1992. This is celebrated in Legazpi City, Albay during the month of October. The festival features the various characters from the epic while celebrating through song and dance. It is also performed in theaters like Tanghalang Pilipino's Ibalong the Musical by Rody Vera.
Obstacles that the Ancient Bikols encountered
- The obstacle of the giant wild boar that foraged Baltog's linsa crop: Even as Baltog slew this wild boar in a celebrated combat episode in the epic, this still could have awakened his potential for the hunt, inducing him into becoming a part-time hunter himself.
- The second obstacle was Oryol, who tried to keep Handyong from ridding the land of ferocious wild beasts.
- The third obstacle took the form of natural catastrophes: the sweeping deluge, the violent and simultaneous eruption of three volcanoes, etc.
- The fourth obstacle was the half-man and half-beast Rabot who led a lot, and by whose magic turned to stone all those who fought him.
Baltog was the first white man or tawong-lipod to come to Bikol. Born in India (although India is called "Boltavara" in the epic) to the brave clan of Lipod, he introduced agriculture to Bikol by planting linsa or apay, which was a characteristic of early Indian colonizers. He slew the Tandayag Boar in a bone-wracking combat.
Dinahong, meaning "wrapped with leaves", is the original Bikolano potter who was believed to have been an Agta (Negrito) or pygmy. He helped the people learn cooking, making pots called coron, stoves, earthen jars, and other kitchen utensils.
Hablom, from the verb hablon meaning “to weave”, was the inventor of the first weaving loom and bobbins in the Bikol region, especially for weaving abaca clothes.
The central figure in the epic is Handyong. He came to Bikol with his followers after Baltog, and came to be the most famous of the tawong-lipod. He cleared the land of predatory monsters, inspired inventions, reintroduced agriculture, built tree-houses where anitos or idols were kept called moog, and set up a code of laws, establishing a golden age in his day. He is also known to have built the first boat and developed rice cultivation in flooded areas.
Kimantong is attributed to have been the first Bikolano to fashion the rudder called timon, the sail called layag, the plow called arado, the harrow called surod, the ganta and other measures, the roller, the yoke, the bolo, and the hoe. A baranggay called Kimantong is found in Daraga, Albay.
Wild carabaos were not yet domesticated for farm work back then. They freely roamed the mountains in the early days. Handyong was able to domesticate the big-bodied beasts "in a short while".
Also called buaya, Handyong defeated the giant crocodiles in combat. Handyong was assisted by Oryol in killing many of them, which lead tinged the Bikol River red with blood. The survivors were banished, along with Sarimao, to Mount Kulasi.
Long before Spaniards arrived in Bikol and introduced Christianity, the Bikolanos already believed in gods and supernatural beings. The epic-fragment contains many of the supernatural faith and religion that the ancient Bikols had. Among them are supernatural creatures.
Rabot was a ferocious half-human half-monster that could turn people into rock by magic. Rabot is ugly, a liar, and had a loud voice. Bantong slew the monster using his bolo.
The Sarimao were avenging monsters that were brutally fierce, ugly, and ruinous. They went after evildoers, usually to those with hidden guilt, who could not be brought to justice. Handyong exiled the Sarimao to Mount Kulasi. Their human equivalents are believed to be those who take the law into their own hands, who have suffered injustice.
The winged sharks mentioned were not really winged sharks but rather manta rays that would sometimes pop out of the water like flying bats. These monsters were soon restrained by Handyong to keep waters safe for his followers.
In the epic, the Dagatnong settlement was said to have been swept away by the Great Flood. The Dagatnong were the black pygmies who swelt on seacoasts, opposite of the Agta who lived in the highlands. The dagatnong originally came from Kotmong.
Volcanoes in Ibalong
Meaning "with only one testicle", it refers to the effeminate black priests of Aswang's devil-cult that had its center in the wilds of this volcano during Bikol's epic age. It may also refer to a priest dressed like a woman. Asog is now called Mount Iriga.
A big species of ants, the hantiks, gave Hantik its name. The ants are believed to have inhabited this mountain's Kalupnitan Caves, where Handyong drove and buried alive the wily, sweet-voiced serpents that masqueraded as lovely maidens.
From the word isaro meaning "put together", Isarog was the rugged volcano where the angonglood of the Bikol River forests fled to escape the wrath of Handyong.
Difference from other Philippine epics
The differences of the Ibalong from other Philippine epics may suggest culture differences of the Ancient Bikols from other ancient groups.
- The Ibalong suggests moral wholesomeness. There is no violence against another human being. The struggle of the ancient Bikolano's were primarily between people and the forces of nature. Sex was not played up in the Ibalong, unlike the usual run of many folk epics.
- The epic stresses humble accomplishments and peaceful pursuits of the early Bikolano's: the cultivation of upland and lowland crops, the construction of dwellings on treetops, the hollowing-out of a tree trunk to make the first boat in the region, the crafting of tools, utensils, wares, the implementation of just laws, and the invention of writing.
- The Ibalong is close to authenticity. The Ibalong contains Bikol names of old places and landmarks that still exist.
- The Ibalong suggests the working harmony of opposites. An example of this is the conflict between Oryol and Handyong, who ended up helping each other rid the land of predatory monsters.
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- Owen, Norman. The Bikol Blend.
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- "Ibalong: Bicol's Folk Epic-Fragment". Visit Legazpi. Retrieved 9 February 2015. - the Spanish and English translation of the epic fragment.