The Visayan’s Timekeeping in Pre-colonial Times.
The Visayans divided the daylight hours into a dozen or more specific times according to the position of the sun. Between dawn and noon, they called it nasirakna, shining, and nabahadna, climbing, and then iguritlogna, time for hens to lay, and makalululu, when your bracelets slid down your raised arm if you pointed at the sun. High noon was odto na an adlaw; followed by two points of descent in the afternoon, palisna and ligasna; until midway to setting, tungana. Natupongna sa lubi was when the sun sank to the height of the palm trees seen against the horizon; and sunset was apuna; or natorna, when the sun finally disappeared. Day ended with igsirinto, when it was too dark to recognize other people.
Beyond the day, however they distinguished no time period shorter than one month. This means they did not recognize either the Eurasian seven-day or Javanese five-day week, neither of which, as a matter of fact, was based on any celestial cycle. But they reckoned the days of the month precisely—that is, the days from one new moon to the next. Just as they divided the hours of the day by the movement of the sun, so they identified the days of the month by the appearance of the moon in the night sky.
The new moon was subang the first night it could be seen, or more colorfully, kilat-kilat, a little lightning flash. When it appeared as a full crescent the next night or two, it seemed to have opened its eyes (gimata) or closed its mouth (ungut)—like a baby on a mother’s breast. Then came a “three-day moon” or high new moon, hitaas na an subang, followed by balirig, the fourth or fifth night, and next it was “near the zenith” (odto). When it appeared as an exact half disk—what western calendars call the first quarter moon—it was directly overhead at sunset, and therefore odto na an bulan. Then as it continued to was, it “passed the barrier” (lakad), and when it was lopsided both before and after the full moon, it looked like a crab shell (maalimangona).
The full moon was greeted with a variety of names—paghipono, takdul, ugsar—but most significantly as dayaw, perfect or praiseworthy, fit recognition of its spectacular shape and sunset to sunrise brilliance. And as it began to wane—that is, darken (madulumdulum)—a night or two later, it set on the western horizon just before dawn and so was called banolor, to exchange or take by mistake—like a man who dies just before a son or grandson is born. The fifth or sixth night of waning was parik, to level or flatten, because it then rose so late the witches had many hours of darkness in which to beat down the earth by stomping of their feet during their dances. Katin was the third quarter, so it had crossed this second barrier (lakad na an magsag-uli) by the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth night, and then got ready for the new moon again (malasumbang) about the twenty-ninth. This was the dark of the moon, or what the Spaniards called conjuncion (meaning the conjunction of the sun and the moon) when the moon disappeared for a night or two. To the Visayans, it was then dead, lost, or gone hunting.
These phases of the moon were common time markers known to all. They would say, for example, “Duldulman an bulan [The moon begins to wane today]” or “Paodtononta an bulan [Let’s wait for the quarter moon]” (Sanchez 1617, 37, 188). And nasubang nga tao was a newcomer or upstart. But the Visayan month was a lunar month—a 29 and a half days and 43 minutes to be exact—so twelve of them did not add up to a year, but only added up to 354 days like seen in lunar calendars used today such as the Islamic Calendar. They were therefore not the equivalent of months in the Western calendar, which are arbitrary divisions unrelated to the moon, approximately one-twelfth of a solar year of 365 days. Thus, unschooled Visayans—plebe imperita, as Father Alcina said—calculated months in the Christian calendar as beginning with a new moon, and observers familiar with the twelve-month year, both 16th century Spaniards and 20th century Filipino’s, tend to equate the two: the use of a moon-based calendar with lack of education. But Miguel de Loarca (1582, 164, 166) wrote more carefully in 1582.
“They divide the year into twelve months though they do not name more than seven, and these are lunar months because they count them by the moons. The first month is when the Little Goats [Pleiades] appear, which they call Ulalen. The next month they call Dagankahuy, which is when they clear off the trees to plant. The next they call Daganenan Bulan, which is when they pile up this wood in the fields. The next they call Elkilin, which is when they burn the field. The next they call Inabuyan, which is the time of the bonanzas [fair winds when the monsoon is changing]. The next they call Kaway, which is when they weed the fields. The next is called Irarapun, which is when they being to harvest the rice. The next they call Manululsul, which is when the harvest is finished. The other months they take no account of because they have nothing to do in the fields then.”
What Loarca called months were seasonal events connected with swidden farming: they do not appear in early Visayan dictionaries as the names of months, nor do any other names. Rather, the year is defined as the time between one harvest and the next, a time which naturally varies according to whether the monsoon rains come early or late and in what quantity. Alcina (1668a, 3:40) explained the word tuig, year, as follows:
“It is a word with which they also counted the years, but without computing or numbering the months, which from harvest to harvest they would count as eleven or twelve distinct and past, and which they called tuig, and although they now confuse it with the year, it was not a single year but an indefinite time because that word means to them the same as “time” does to us.”
There were three Visayan words for year—taon, tuig, and dag-on. Taon actually meant harvest—”Taon na didto dile [It’s already harvest in their place]”—and was used for calculating age: old folks were those who had seen many harvest (Sanchez 1617, 504v). Tuig was both harvest (for example, tinutuigan, what is ready for the harvest) and any recurring period of time, not necessarily annual. Tinuig na siya was said of a menstruating woman, and panuigan sang olan sang habagat was the coming of the rains either from the south or sang amihan, from the the north. Dag-on was used in the same way: panog-on sa manga kakahuyan was when everything was in bloom. Indeed, it was the flowering of trees and plants which indicated the rotation of the seasons, Katparasan (January-March), Kattaloto (March-May), Katlawaan (June-August), and Katkisiw (October-December) were the months during which tress of these names blossomed. The seasonal behavior of birds was another indicator: when the kahaw bird gave its “kahaw” call in the morning, it was time to plant.
The agricultural cycle began, as Loarca noted, with the appearance of certain stars. Most often these were the Pleaides in the constellation of Taurus which can first be seen in June, locally called Moroporo, meaning either “the boiling lights” or a flock of birds. Swiddens were prepared at that time, and seeds were sown in September when they were directly overhead at sunset, though the exact time depended on local climatic conditions. Indeed, because the rainy reason varied from island to island, in some places farmers made use of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), which they called Losong (rice mortar) or Balatik (ballista), though in Panay Balatik was what they called the two bright stars in Gemini. Still others planted when the Southern Cross was upright at sunset, a constellation that looked to the Visayans it looked like a coconut palm, Lubi, or blowfish, Butete. Similarly, the constellation Aries, the Ram, they called Alimango, the Crab.
Visayans also believed that just as the moon times the human menstrual cycle, so its phases controlled all biological growth. Starfish were said to increase and decrease in size as the moon waxed and waned; crab shells hardened and softened to the same rhythm; yellow turtles only grew at nighttime when there was a moon, black ones during the dark of the moon, and white ones during the daytime. So too, coconut trees were thought to produce one new sprout each new moon; the silk like fibers of the ulango palm had to be gathered at quarter moon; and stems of boats made from dao roots could be expected to outlast the vessel but only if cut during the waning moon. Furthermore, Visayans had a prescription for which phase of the moon was best for gathering any of a dozen varieties of abaca. though the most commonly planted variety was one that could be cut at any time.
The dark of the moon was considered sinister because it was the favorite of witches and aswang, who fled at the first sight of the crescent moon showing its horns. Fieldwork and weaving were accordingly forbidden the following day as a precaution against illness during the coming month, and a one to three day holiday was taken to celebrate the full moon because the diwata came to earth at that time. Nobody doubted that an eclipse was cause by a huge sawa, sea python, trying to swallow the moon who was known as Bakunawa, and that it had to be frightened away by noisy pounding on mortars and house floors, followed by another holiday. They treated the sun in the same manner during a solar eclipse, but otherwise rendered it no such public veneration, nor even recognized the point of its rising as a cardinal compass bearing called East.
Source: Barangay: 16th Century Philippine Culture and Society by William Henry Scott, Chapter 6: Natural Science, pages 121-124.
Early Tagalog Religion before the arrival of the Spanish.
Our earliest surviving account of Tagalog religion is a remarkable two paragraph summary by encomendero Miguel de Loarca, remarkable in that it sounds much like what is nowadays called folk Catholicism. It presents a creator god who can only be approached through intercessors like deceased relatives or the patron deities of farmers, seafarers, or warriors, all of whom are worshiped in the form of idols which receive sacrifices and adornment. It stands in marked contrast to his lengthy description of Visayan religion with its origin myths, divine genealogies, pantheon of deities, and realms of the dead, a description obviously derived from personal observation and contact with worshipers themselves, rather than a native apologist. It must be said at the offset, however that it is difficult to account for the actual practice of the Tagalog religion within this theological framework. Missionaries in the field— and in the confessional —-evinced no doubt that the multitude of deities, spirits, and ancestors being invoked by the Tagalog shamans were objects of worship in their own right, not mere intercessors. A plausible explanation for the discrepancy might be that Spanish Christians like Loarca were predisposed to fine concepts in other religions which were normative in their own.
Loarca and Chirino said that the Tagalog recognized a creator they called Bathala—though other informants named Molayari or Diwata—but Father Plassencia (1589b, 598) simply said, “The one they principally adored among many other idols was one whom they called Badhala.” The name itself is apparently derived from Sanskrit bhattara (noble lord). which appeared as the 16th centry title batara in the southern Philippines and Borneo. Bathala was describe as “may kapal sa lahat (maker of everything),” kapal meaning to mould something between the hands like clay or wax. Dr. Antonio de Morga, among others, thought it meant an omen bird, but author of the Boxer Codex (1590b, 379) was advised not to use it in this sense “because they did not consider it God, but only his messenger.” He was told that the first word of this god to reach the Philippines was brought by male prophets as “readers of the scriptures of God (taga pagbasa nang sulatan a (?) dios)” Boxer Codex 1590b, 367). If the story is to be taken seriously, it may be worth nothing that in Malay, betara means holy, and was a title applied to the greater Hindu gods in Java, and was also assumed by the ruler of Majapahit.
There was no single word in Tagalog for the other deities to whom Batahal was superior: when necessary, Spanish lexicographers referred to them all as anito. So Father San Buenaventure (1613, 255) commented of Bathala, “According to some he was considered to be the greates of their anitos.” Some of them had names descriptive of their functions. Lakan Bakod, the lord of fences (bakod), was invoked to keep animals out of swiddens, and Amana Sinaya, father of Sinaya who became the inventor of fishing gear, was named when first wetting a net or fishhook. These were the kind of gods the Loarca summary explained as Bathala’s agents. So too, the early dictionaries used the word abogado (advocate) when defining their realms—for example, Lakambini, the abogado of the throat, invoked in case of throat ailments. But in actual prayers, they were petitioned directly, not as intermediaries. During sacrifices made in a new field to Lakapati, a major fertility deity, the farmer would hold up a child and saym “Lakapati, pakanin mo yaring alipin mol huwag mong gutumin (Lakapati, feed this thy slave; let him not hunger)” (San Buenaventura 1613, 361).
Prominent among deities who received full-blow sacrifices were fertility gods. Lakapati, fittingly represented by a hermaphrodite image with both male and female parts, was worshiped in the fields at planting time; and Lakanbakod, who had gilded genitals as long as a rick stalk, was offered eels when fencing swiddens—because, they said, his were the strongest of all fences, “Linalakhan (sic) niya ang bakod nag bukid” (San Buenaventura 1613, 361).
Proprietary deities were appeased both for fruitful produce and protection from harm in their special domains—like Aman Ikabli, the patron of hunters, or Dian Masalanta, of lovers and childbirth. Tuba tappers who failed to make offering to Mankukutod, protector of coconut palms, before climbing a tree, ran the risk of a fall from the trunk. Nobody entered grasslands or forests without acknowledging the overlordship of Uwinan Sana lest they be regarded as trespassers, nor did seamen set sail before sponsoring a major ceremony to call on Haik, the sea god, for fair weather and favorable winds. The Tagalog environment was also peopled with lesser deities like Linga and Bibit who caused illness if not given recognition in the ordinary course of daily activities.
Images of these deities were properly called likha, but also larawan, a model or form. Wooden ones were often crudely anthropomorphic in form and large enough to be adorned with gold chains or have actual food placed in their mouth. Others were small enough to be carried around like talismans, and were made of stone, gold, shell, or clay—not necessarily always a figure but sometimes a crocodile tooth, a boar’s tusks, or an unusual stone. Little earthenware figures in the shape of a man or cat, imported from China, were held in the hand to swear an oath. But images of deceased persons were called anito, which Father Blancas de San Jose defined as “idol or soul of their ancestors.”
On the other hand, Father Ribadeneyra thought such anito were believed by the Tagalogs to have been conceived together with human beings, good ones for ordinary people, evil ones for slaves, and the less fortunate. Other missionaries, however, regularly applied the term to all idols as well as the “false gods” they represented. Father Oliver (1590b, 32), preaching in Batangas in the 1590s, likened the Old Testament “great anito called Beelzebub” to a local deity, Lakan Balingasay—“malaking Anito ang pangalan si Belzebu, na kun baga dito Lakan Balingasay.”
Father Buenaventura (1613, 361), however insisted that the term really meant an act of worship:
More appropriately would it be called an offering because anito does not signify any particular things, such as an idol, but an offering and the prayer they would make to deceased friends and relatives…(or) an offering they made to anything they finished, like a boat, house, fishnet, etc., and it was mats cooked food, gold and other things.
Thus, naga-anito meant to perform such an act, and pinagaanitohan was the soul petitioned. So penitents in the confessional were asked, “Naga-anito ka (Did you make anito)?” or “May pinaga-anitohang ka (have you invoked some soul)? (San Buenaventura 1614, 361). Naga-anito also included any act calling on the supernatural—for example, malimakan, taking auguries by balancing one oiled cowry shell on top of another.
Celestial bodies were also venerated as deities—Tala, the Morning Star, Mapulon, the Pleiades, and Balatik, the Big Dipper—and the new moon was always invoked for material increase and wealth. Crocodiles were especially feared and venerated: offerings of food were set out for them, and the salaksak bird was considered sacred because it was permitted to pick a crocodile’s teeth without harm. Some Tagalogs believed crocodiles had the souls of deceased human beings, and so anointed, shrouded, and buried them when dead. In Batangas, the same obsequies were given a flat headed lizard called tuko, believed to be poisonous. The balete tree was reverenced as the abode of spirits: there the most solemn community sacrifices were made, and there prominent chiefs were sometimes given a secondary burial.
Omen birds and lizards were considered divine messengers, particularly the tigmamanukan bird, manuk being the general term for any bird, lizard, or snake that crossed the path as an omen. All such encounters were called salubong. If the tigmamanukan bird flew across from right to left when men were starting out on an expedition, it was giving the labay sign of successful plundering, but if from left to right, a sure warning that they would never return. If they happened to catch one in a trap, they would cut its beak and release it with the words, “kita ay iwawala, kun akoey mey kakawnan, lalabay ka (you are free, so when I set forth, sing on the right)” (San Buenaventura 1613, 95).
The greatest religious attention was given to ancestor worship—that is, veneration of the spirits of the departed. These were generally parents or grandparents, but occasionally a popular hero known for his bravery, ferocity, and active love life. The former were considered the immediate cause of illness or misfortune, and had to be placated by sacrifices to likha kept in the house (those who could afford to do set food aside for them at every meal), or the intervention of shamans called katulunan. Their memory was carefully kept alive by himakas, a personal garment or piece of jewelery preserved as a memorial, and pahiyin tabus against mentioning their name, eating from a plate they had used, or sitting in some spot they had frequented. At several points along the Pasig River, porcelain plates were set out with offerings by descendants who trafficked along that route.
Source: Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society by William Henry Scott.
Apolaki - The God of the Sun and War
Apolaki is a God of the Tagalogs and the Pangasinan. He is also considered to be the counterpart of the Kapampangan supreme deity, Aring Sinukuan, who is also a God of the Sun and War. It is believed by some scholars that the two Gods are the same deity with different names as both are so similar both in their attributes and their stories.
Besides being a sun God and a God of war, Apolaki was also the patron of warriors and fighters, the mandirigma. Today for modern practitioners of Anito, the collective term for the indigenous beliefs of the Philippines, he is the patron God for modern day warriors and fighters, those who are soldiers, police, and martial artists especially those who practice the Filipino martial arts, arnis/eskrima/kali.
In one myth he is known as the son of Bathala, the supreme deity of the sky, and a mortal woman. Along with his siblings, the sisters, Mayari the Goddess of the Moon and Tala Goddess of the Stars (there are some variations to this. In some sources it was only Mayari and Apolaki, others it was all 3, another is that instead of Tala being one of the siblings, it was the Goddess of the Dawn/Morning, Hanan) they were all given their own attributes by their father. One day Apolaki wanted to rule the world by himself, in which the Goddess Mayari objected as she wanted for them to rule equally. They quarreled because they both wanted to rule the world. Eventually they fought each other in a long battle where their fight became intense until words were not able to express their furious rage. They both picked up bamboo sticks and fought each other with fierce blows. Eventually the fight ended when Apolaki struck Mayari in one of her eyes resulting in her to being blind in one eye. Ashamed and regretting what he had done, he stopped the fight to help his sister, asking for forgiveness and agreeing to share their rule equally. With Mayari agreeing and forgiving her brother, from that point on both ruled the world equally. Both divided their rule by Apolaki ruling half the day during the day as he was the God of the Sun, while Mayari being the Goddess of the moon, ruled the night. During Apolaki’s turn, the world is flooded with warm light because the light beams from his two bright eyes. On the other hand, Mayari bathes the world with cool and gentle light due to being blind in one eye.
However in the Pangasinan myth, he is instead the son of the God Dumakalem and the Goddess Anagolay and is the brother of the Goddess Diyan Masalanta. One record of Apolaki being a personal deity is in the The Bolinao Manuscript which mentions the Sambal priestess, Bolindauan, in 1684 who has Apolaki as her Anito (personal deity). His name, Apolaki, literally means “big lord”, from the words “apo” which is a title for lord and a term for someone who is important and given with respect, and “laki” which means big.
Art and Sketch by iTrixia at DA.
Idiyanale is the Tagalog Goddess of good labor and good deeds. She is also known in some sources to be the Goddess of harvest, however that attribute is mostly known and attributed to her husband, the God Dumangan. She is the mother of the God Dumakulem and the Goddess Anitun Tabun. Idiyanale is the one who gives guidance to the people when invoked to be successful in their work.
Art and Sketch by iTrixia at DA.
Lakapati/Ikapati - The Transgendered Deity of Fertility.
Known as a transgendered deity and one of the most understanding and kindest deities of the Tagalogs, Lakapati is the deity of fertility, fertility for the fields and crops, and protector of farm animals and crops. (Note: I will use the Tagalog term “siya” to refer to he/she as Lakapati is transgendered. In Tagalog we don’t have a term for “he/him and she/her” in our language like English does since “siya” is gender neutral, meaning it refers to both he/him and she/her. Because there is no English equivalent of siya for someone who is gender neutral I will being using the Tagalog term siya here for this purpose.) Siya was the deity who gave the gift of agriculture to mankind and Lakapati literally means, “giver of food”.
In some myths Lakapati is married to Mapulon, the God of the Seasons, and gave birth to Anagolay, the Goddess of Lost Things. In another myth Lakapati was the consort of Bathala who was also transgendered, and siya was the one that began the creation of the world while Bathala finished it.
The most common offerings to siya was to put a plate of rice when there was a full moon around seven in the evening. Or if people needed Lakapati’s help with any trouble, they would offer plants and herbs of any kind. During planting time, Lakapati was worshiped in the fields by carrying around carved figures and statues of siya, same way we carry the Sta. Nino figures for worship and blessings today. During rituals and offerings in the fields, farmers would hold up a child up in the air while invoking the deity directly, saying “Lakapati, pakanin mo yaring alipin mo, huwag mo gutumin.” (Translation: Lakapati, feed this servant who is yours, let him/her not be hungry) Note: alipin does mean slave, however it also means servant and in this translation of alipin it is stating how the people are the servants of Lakapati asking for Lakapati’s blessings for the fertility and protection of crops.
Art and Sketch by iTrixia at DA.
Bakunawa ~ The Moon Eating Water Dragon Deity of the Underworld
The Bakunawa, also known as Bakonawa, Baconaua, or Bakonaua, is a deity in Philippine mythology that is often represented as a gigantic sea serpent. It is believed to be the God of the underworld and is often considered to be the cause of eclipses.
It appears as a giant sea serpent with a mouth the size of a lake, a red tongue, whiskers, gills, small wires at its sides, and two sets of wings, one is large and ash-gray while the other is small and is found further down its body.
Tales about the Bakunawa say that it is the cause of eclipses. During ancient times, Filipinos believe that there are seven moons created by Bathala to light up the sky. The Bakunawa, amazed by their beauty, would rise from the ocean and swallow the moons whole, angering Bathala and causing them to be mortal enemies.
To keep the Bakunawa moons from completely being swallowed, ancient Filipinos would go out of their homes with pans and pots, and would make noise in order to scare the Bakonawa into spitting out the moon back into the sky. Some of the people in the villages would play soothing sounds with their musical instruments, in hopes that the dragon would fall into a deep sleep. Thus, the brave men of the village hoped that while the dragon was hypnotized by the musical sounds they could somehow slay the dragon. Although the dragon was known as a “moon eater” it was also known as a “man eater”.
Other tales tell that the Bakunawa has a sister in the form of a sea turtle. The sea turtle would visit a certain island in the Philippines in order to lay its eggs. However, locals soon discovered that every time the sea turtle went to shore, the water seemed to follow her, thus reducing the island’s size. Worried that their island would eventually disappear, the locals killed the sea turtle.
When the Bakunawa found out about this, it arose from the sea and ate the moon. The people were afraid so they prayed to Bathala to punish the creature. Bathala refused but instead told them to bang some pots and pans in order to disturb the serpent. The moon is then regurgitated while the Bakunawa disappeared, never to be seen again.
The island where the sea turtle lays its eggs is said to exist today. Some sources say that the island might just be one of the Turtle Islands.
Figures of the Bakunawa’s head decorate the hilts of many ancient Filipino swords. These swords that originate in Panay are said to bestow upon the hangaway or mandirigma (sacred warriors) the fearful presence and power of the Bakunawa (or whatever deity/animal they have on their deity hilt) when they wield their swords in combat.