What is the Ibálong Epic
The Ibálong, is a 60-stanza fragment of a folk epic from the Bicol region of the Philippines, based on the Indian Hinduepics Ramayana and Mahabharta. The epic is said to have been narrated in verse form by a native poet called Kadunung. The Ibalong portrays deeds in heroic proportions, centering on 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.
It has been suggested that the entire Bikol narrative was documented by Fray Bernardino de Melendreras de la Trinidad and later translated to Spanish. A sixty-stanza portion was later included in a written discourse on the Bicol Region by another Franciscan, Fray Jose Castaño in 1895 (“un pequeño fragmento inedito en verso”). Unfortunately the Melendreras version has been lost to time, so what is left of the Ibalong – at least its sixty stanzas – is the text in Spanish.
Summary of the Ibálong Epic
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 Dagatnongsettlement in the Kalabangan Gulf. The Malbogong Islet formed in the Bicol 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.
At this point, the Ibálong epic-fragment ends abruptly, and Kadunung promises to continue the story some other time.
The Ibálong Epic Legacy
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 Bikolano people’s resilience against the typhoons that annually beset their region.
It stresses the humble accomplishments and peaceful pursuits of the early Bikolanos – 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.
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 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.
Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong have become a staple in the heroic landscape of Philippine komiks. The epic has also been performed in theaters like in Tanghalang Pilipino’s Ibalong the Musical by Rody Vera.
The 60 Stanzas of the Ibálong Epic (Spanish and English)
Cuenta, Cadugñung la historia, Delos tiempos de Handiong, Con esa lira de plate, Dulce encanto de Aslon.
Cadungung, kindly narrate to us, Historic times of great Handyong, Sing with your lyre of silver toneThe sweet enchantment of Aslong.
Que solo cantar tu puedes, Tanta belleza y primor, Tantos ocultos misteriosComo encierra esta region
For only you can put in song, Such beauty and renown that bring, The mysteries that now enshroud, This glorious land of long ago.
Canta, y dinos su reyesLa prosapia y valorLa guerra, que sostuvieron, Hasta vencer a la Oriol.
Sing, then, and tell us of its kings, Their proud past and their valiant roleIn war which they fought snake Oryol, Until they had defeated and its fall.
Dinos tambien por tu vidaLa historia del viejo AsogLa del joven Masaraga, La del vetusto Isarog.
Do tell us also all aboutThe life of the old Asog, Of the still young Masaraga,And ancient moss-covered Isarog.
Que tu fuiste el tierno vate, El mas dulce seductorDe cuantas vieron el lago, Que a la Tacay sepulto.
As tender bard enticing highSeducer sweetest that is why, Among those who had seen the lakeIn which was buried Fair Takay.
Canta, pues antentos todos, A tu hermosa narracion, Sentados aqui nos tienes, A la sombra de un daod.
Then, sing to us now you are freeWe shall listen to lovely song attentively, Out in the shade, right where we sit, Here underneath the Dao Tree.
Oid pues, hijos del Bicol. Dijo Cadugῆung veluz, Los hechos del viejo suelo, Patria hermosa de Handiong.
You Sons of Bicol, listen then, Responded quickly Cadungung, To the great deeds in this old clime, This beautiful land of king Handyong.
Es el Bicol una tierraL lana, feraz, de aluvion;Del mundo la mas hermosa,La mas rica en produccion.
The Kabikolan is a realmWith fertile fields of wide plains,Fairest in the World, that nature gives,The richest in what planting yields.
Baltog – The first Bicol hero
Fue Baltog el primer hombre, Que esta tierra habito. Oriundo de Botavara, De la raza de Lipod.
Baltog was the first hero known, Who pioneered this lovely place, He was of Botavara landHis birth Lipod, which was his race.
Al Bicol llego siguiendo, Un jabali muy feroz, Que sus sembrados de linzaUna noche destruyo.
Arriving Bicol he did scour, Because of great fiercest boar, Destroyed his linsa plants one night, And he pursued it furiously.
Cuando le tuvo acostado, Al suelo tiro en lanzon, Y con sus brazos herculeos, Las quijadas le partio.
Baltog then downed the hunted game, Without his thrown lance, he just cameWhen he had cornered it, in combat fair, Herculean arms he broke its jaws.
Cada quijada tenfa, Una vara de largor, Y los colmillos dos tercios, De la asta de su lanzon.
Both arms extended was the length, Of every jawbone in its stance, Believed at once its curling tusks, Two thirds length of his mighty lance.
Al volver a sus EstadosLas dos quijadas colgo, De un talisay gigantesco, En su casa de Tundol.
Returning home from hunting spreeHe hung the jawbones on a tree, A big talisay there it would be, Near Tondol house for all to see.
A los viejos cazadoresCausaron admiracion, Estos trofeos gloriosos, De su rey el gran Baltog.
Old hunters then, did praises singIn honor of their Great Baltog kingTo see such wonders chase could bring, For glorious trophies to people bring.
Fueron a verios las tribus, De Panicuason y Asog; Y dejeron que, en sus dias, No hubo jabali mayor.
People of Panikwason and Asog tribe, Arrived to view enormous hog, Said in their days saw not a boar, As big as that killed by Baltog.
Le llamaron Tandaya, De los montes de Ligñon, Por su exacto parecido, Con el monstruo Behemot.
They called it the Tandayag boar, Of Lingyon Hill there its fold, Because its likeness exactly told, The Behemot monster bold.
Despues de este vino al Bicol, Con gueteros Handiong, Quien de monstruos la comarca, En poco tiempo limpio.
Soon after this to Bicol came, The grand Handyong, with warriors band, Resolved to destroy their very stand, All monstrous creatures of the land.
Batallas para extingirlos, Mil y mil el empeño, De todos siempre saliendo, Con aires de vencedor.
To wipe them, battles fought galore, Handyong whom truly they adore, In all the thousand victory he fought, Against all monsters they conquer.
Los monoculos trifauces, Que havitaban en Ponon, En diez lunas sin descanso, Por completo destruyo.
Three-throated beast with just one eye, Had made inhabit Ponong’s dryland, For ten restless months they attackedT, ill he had destroyed and all did die.
Los alados tiburones, Y el bufalo cimarron, Que por los montes volaban, En menos tiempo amanso.
The winged sharks that ploughed the deep, Carabaos roamed in their wild style, Cavorting happily in mountainsides, He did imprint his taming marks.
Los buayas colosales, Como los balotos de hoy, Y los fieros sarimaos, Al Colasi destierro, All the gigantic crocodiles
The size of bancas of today, Fierce Sarimaos with their wiles, To Culasi exiled away.
Las serpientes, que tenian, Cual de serena la voz, Del Hantic en la caverna, Para siempre sepulto, Oriol
The serpents whose voice did enthrall, Like the siren’s tempting call, In Hantic’s wide cavernous hall, Forever they were buried all.
Pero no pudo vencer, Por la mas maña que se dio, A la culebra sagu, Conocida por la Oriol.
However, he could not defeat, Even to used cunning and deceit, Against the snake’s sagacious wit, The most elusive one, name Oryol.
Esta culebra sabia, Mas que el famoso Handiong, Y a sus ojos fascinaba, Con afable seduccion.
More learned and wiser than Handyong, Whose fascinating eye, lovelier to see, As if it were a sweet gesture, Beckoning him seductively.
Mil lazos Handiong le pusoY de todo se burlo, Los nudos desenredando, Con sagacidad mayor.
Handyong bound it a thousand waysIt only scoffed and mocked around, With its crowned sagacity, It always untied the knots.
Con palabaras seductoras, Muchas veces le engaño, Que en eso de fingimientos, Era gran maestra Oriol.
With seducing words, he was told, So many times Handyong was fooled, That in pretending she was called,Oryol, the great teacher of deceit.
Cuantas veces por el bosque, Sin descanso la siguio, Creyendo de la serena, En la seductora voz!
How many times without a rest, He searched her in to the woods, He thought that what had lured him on, Believing the voice of a siren there!
Los trabajos del gran Hercules, Las conquistas que gano, Todo hubiera fracasado, Por la influencia de Oriol.
The task of renowned Hercules, The gains that gave immortal seat, Could have been failures and defeat, If interfered like creature such Oryol.
Peromera inscontante, Ella mismo ayudo, Para vencera a los monstruos, Que infestaban la region.
But inconsistent in its act, Oryol itself did help Handyong, To all the monsters must conquer, That have infested the Bicol land.
Luchaban con las buayas, Brazo a brazo, y vencedorDe combates tan tremendos, Sin menoscabo salio.
Together they fought victoriously, Against the giant crocodiles they won, After the battles and onslaught, No scratchy wounds to him was wrought.
Los pongos y orangutangs, La miraban con horror, Porque las aguas del Bicol, Con su sangre coloro. The pongos and orangutans
Watching the fight filled with horror stung, With color due to crocodiles blood, He tinged the Bicol River red.
Eran monos pendencieros, De conocida valorPero el gigante los hizo, Retirarse al Isarog.
Those wild monkeys which were troublesome,Whose valor was widely spread, The huge Handyong drove all away , To Isarog’s mountainous dome.
Y libre ya de alimañas, Quedando asi la region, En dar leves a su pueblo, Como suno interes penso.
Now that the land set free at last, With no more beasts of prey to kill, He established better people laws, To serve his people interest and will.
Handiong y sus compañeros, Plantaron con un bolodLinzas, que dieron sus frutasTan grandes como un pansol.
Handyong’s companions to his call, They planted linsa on a hill, Producing tuber roots and allThe giant size of a pansol.
Tambien en un sitio bajoSembraron el rico arroz, Que Handiong largos siglos, El sobrenombre llevo.
Then also in a lowland site, They sowed along rich-yielding rice, That many centuries along, Known by the nickname Hinandyong.
Hizo la primera canoa, Que por el Bicol surco; Menos el timon y vela, Que fueron por Guinantong.
Handyong the first to build a boat, To Bicol River navigate on highExcept its rudder and its sail, Kimantong’s doing and supply
Este invento los arados, El piene y el pagolon, La ganta y otras medidas, El sacal, bolo y lando.
Besides he invented the plow, The harrow and the roll in tow, The ganta, other measures, too, The bolo, hoe, and yoke for cow.
Los telares y argadillos, Fueron obra de Hablom, Quien con asombra de todos, Un dia al rey presento.
They say that the loom and bobbins, Hablom one day worked hard to make,To the surprise of everyone,To king Handyong he gave away.
Invento la gorgoreta, Coron, calan, y paso, Y otros varios utensiles, El pigmeo Dinahon.
The earthen jar, pot, bowl and stove, And utensils, I can’t recall, The pygmy called Dinahong, Had invented all the workmanship.
El alfabeto fue Sural, Quien curioso combino, Grabandola en piedra Libon, Que pulimento Gapon.
Surath had mystically combined* (*Sanskrit – “perfectly combined”), Carve in stone the exotic suratin, Encountered in place called Libon, Then, was polished later by Gapon.
Hicieron ciudad y casas, En disegual proporcion, En las ramas suspendiendolas, Del banasi y camagon.
They built a houses with city zone, Unequal proportion of various sizes, And hanging branches they were prone, Of trees banasi, and kamagong.
Que eran tantos los insectos, Tan excesivo calor, Que solo en el moog podian, Pasar el rigor del sol.
With swarmiing insects all around, And with the burning sun to beat, Its only at the moog seat, Where they could go to bear the heat.
Y leyes mando muy justas, Sobre la vida y honor, A los que todos sujetos, Estaban sin distincion.
The laws and orders just made for all, Upon their life and honor laid, He said equality to all the subjects, No distinction made both high and low.
Todos su puesto guardaban, El esclavo y el señor, Respetando los derechos, De prosapia y sucesion.
In what position to him endowed, The slave and master truly showed, Respect for rights of heritage, And of succession as bestowed.
Hubo entonces un diluvio, Promovido por el Onos, Que el aspecto de esta tierra, Por completo trastorno.
Then came a deluge on the land, Caused by the Onos force of old, So that the features of this earth, Were completely changed to behold.
Reventaron los volcanes, Hantic, Colasi, Isarog, Y al mismo tiempo sentioseUn espantoso temblor. Volcanoes Hantik, Isarog,
Culasi also burst so quick,And was felt simultaneously, The whole ground quake convulsively.
Fue tanta sacudida, Que el mar en seco dejo, El istmo de Pasacao, Del modo que se ve hoy.
So mighty was the jolting swayTo its bottom the sea gave way, Effecting isthmus in the fray, At Pasacao as seen today.
Separo del continenteLa isleta de Malbogon, Donde moran las sibilas, Llamadas Hilan, Lariong.
A torn part of the mainland formed, The islet known as Malbogong, Inhabited by witches strongThe so-called Hilang and Laryong.
El caudaloso Inarihan, Su curso el Este torcio, Pues, antes del cataclismo, Desaguaba por Ponon.
The waters flow of InarihanIts course due East ran up all wrong, So that before this cataclysm, Flowed to Ponong, where set the sun.
En Bato se hundio un gran monte, Y en su sitio aparecio, El lago, hoy alimenta, Con su pesca a Ibalon.
In Bato a big mountain sank, That generated water tank, A lake came up which now supplies, Fish consumption by Ibalong folks.
Del golfo de Calabagñan, Desaparecio Dagatnon, De donde eran los Dumagat, Que habitaron en Cotmon. From the gulf of Calabangan
Where all Dagatnong has been wiped out, From which had come the Dumagat, Who had inhabited Cotmong.
The young Bantong
Fue este reino poderoso *En los tiempos de Bantong, Compañero inseparable, Del aguerrido Handiong.
Soon this kingdom grew powerful, To golden era of Young Mantong, Who was a faithful Prince companion, Of battle-wary Old Handyong.
Le mando alli con mil hombres, Para a matar a Rabot, Medio hombre y media fiera, Hechicero embaucador.
Handyong gave him a thousand menTo kill Rabot to rid this land, Who was half-human and half-beast, Magician, liar, that plagued the land.
Todos lo que alli abordaron, Antes de esta expedicion, En piedras convertieron, El encanto de Rabot.
All the brave men, traveled in quest, Who dared to near its lair at least, Had turned at once to solid stones, By the sheer magic of the beast.
Bantong supo que este mago* (mago-magician; magi-wizard tantrik;Era un grande dormilon, vivo-smart; wise-sabio), Haciendolo asi de dia (Bantong known-supo; since-que;Sin ninguna precaucion. **-este; magi-mago) **pronoun
Being magi, Mantong had rightly guessed, That this Rabot observed heavily slept, Without precaution lay along, And that it did this all day long.
The death of Rabot
Alla llevo sus soldadosEn un dia de aluvion, Y antes que el despertara, De un tajo lo dividio.
One floody day, watched by his men, Mantong did go, his job to do, Before the waking time was due, One stoke cut Rabot into two.
Asi y todo daba gritos, Con tan estentorea voz, Que lo oyeron de los mangles, De bognad y camagon.
From the bold shout warriors of Mantong, Rose a loud dying cries so taut. That rang throughout the mangrove swamps,
The bunga, kamagong, no doubt.
Le llevaron a Libmanan, Do fue a verle el gran Handiong, Y ante su vista asustado, Por largo tiempo quedo.
The corpse was brought to Ligmanan, Where it was seen by great Handyong, Truly shocked him very terribly, That remained in him for long.
Pues jamas el hubo visto, Un viviente tan atroz, De figura tan horrible, Ni de mas tremenda voz.
For surely he had never seen, A more atrocious living thing, Horrible form which caused a sting, And voice much louder than its ring.
Aqui suspendio Cadugñung, Su primera narracion, Dejando para otro dia, De continuarla occasion.
And here Cadungung did stay, The first part of his ancient lay, To leave a continuation way, The occasion of another day.
Characters and Settings from the Ibálong Epic
Many accomplishments and advances made by the ancient Bikols were credited to various characters mentioned in the epic.
Baltog – Baltog was the first white man or tawong-lipod to come to Bicol. Born in India (although India is called “Boltavara” in the epic) to the brave clan of Lipod, he introduced agriculture to Bicol by planting linsa or apay, which was a characteristic of early Indian colonizers. He slew the Tandayag Boar in a bone-wracking combat.
Bantong – Bantong was a brave and cunning young warrior who single-handedly killed the half-man and half-wild beast Rabot, although Handyong had given him 1,000 warriors to help him do it.
Dinahong – 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.
Ginantong – Ginantong made the plow, harrow, and other farming tools.
Hablom – Hablom, from the verb hablon meaning “to weave”, was the inventor of the first weaving loom and bobbins in the Bicol region, especially for weaving abaca clothes.
Handyong – The central figure in the epic is Handyong. He came to Bicol 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 anitosor 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 – 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.
Sural – Sural, or surat, meaning “to write” or “letter” was the first Bikolano to have thought of a syllabry. He caved it on a white rock-slab from Libong, which Gapon later polished.
Takay – Takay was a lovely maiden who, according to legend, drowned during the great flood in the epic. He is believed to have become the water hyacinth in what is now Lake Bato.
Wild Carabaos – 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”.
Giant Crocodile – Also called buaya, Handyong defeated the giant crocodiles in combat. Handyong was assisted by Oryol in killing many of them, which lead tinged the Bicol River red with blood. The survivors were banished, along with Sarimao, to Mount Kulasi.
Long before Spaniards arrived in Bicol 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.
Angongolood – The Angongolood lurked along shadowy riversides. They were hideous apes that transformed their victims into trees surprising them in a tight embrace.
Buring – The Buring was a one-eyed, three-throated creature which inhabited the swampy wastes of Ponong.
Rabot – 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.
Sarimao – 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.
Serpents – The serpents were probably relate to Oryol, a serpent with a beautiful voice and could change its image to deceive enemies. Handyong sealed all the serpents inside a huge cave in Mount Hantik.
Tandayag Boar – The word tandayag means “giant”, meaning that it could be any living being that had grown very old and enormous. In the epic, Tandayag was the boar slewn by Baltog.
Tiburon – The Tiburon were giant flying fishes which had slimy, scaly, and hardy flesh and saw-like teeth that could crush rocks. Handiong and his men did not stop until they vanquished every Tiburon.
Winged sharks – 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.
Moog – Moogs are treehouses where the ancient Bikols’ lived and kept anitos and idols.
Dagatnong settlement – 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.
Aslong – Meaning “faintly visible”, was famous for its tales of sweet enchantment in the glorious days of long ago. Presently, almost nothing is left of it but a few ridges around a shallowing crater.
Asog – 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 Bicol’s epic age. It may also refer to a priest dressed like a woman. Asog is now called Mount Iriga.
Hantik – 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.
Isarog – From the word isaro meaning “put together”, Isarog was the rugged volcano where the angonglood of the Bicol River forests fled to escape the wrath of Handyong.
Masaraga – Masaraga is believed to have been where the Sarimao had their cave. The name comes from the intensifier ma and saga, meaning “a brilliant flame” or “glaring”.