The Visayans are a Philippine ethnic group native to the whole Visayas, to the southernmost islands of Luzon and to most parts of Mindanao. They comprise the largest ethnic group in the country, numbering at around 33 million as of 2010.
“The Visayan still holds to many of the old superstitions, not because he has reasoned them out for himself, but because his ancestors believed them and transmitted them to him in such stories as these. [The Creation Story is] A very old explanatory tale. In a slightly varying form it is found in other parts of the Islands.” – Mabel Cook Cole, 1916
Prior to the arrival of Catholicism, precolonial Visayans adhered to a complex animist-Hindu system where spirits in nature were believed to govern all existing life. Similar to other ethnic groups in the Philippines such as the Tagalogswho believed in a pantheon of gods, the Visayans also adhered to deities led by a supreme being. Such belief, on the other hand, was misinterpreted by arriving Spaniards such as Jesuit historian Pedro Chirino to be a form of monotheism.
Visayan Creation Myth
Thousands of years ago, there was no land, sun, moon, or stars, and the world was only a great sea of water, above which stretched the sky. The water was the kingdom of the goddess Maguayan, and the sky was ruled by the great god,Kaptan.
Maguayan had a daughter called Lidagat, the sea, and Kaptan had a son known as Lihangin, the wind. The gods agreed to the marriage of their children, so the sea became the bride of the wind.
A daughter and three sons were born to them.
Likalibutan had a body of rock and was strong and brave; Liadlao was formed of gold and was always happy; Libulanwas made of copper and was weak and timid; and the beautiful Lisuga had a body of pure silver and was sweet and gentle. Their parents were very fond of them, and nothing was wanting to make them happy.
After a time Lihangin died and left the control of the winds to his eldest son Likalibutan. The faithful wife Lidagat soon followed her husband, and the children, now grown up, were left without father or mother. However, their grandparents, Kaptan and Maguayan, took care of them and guarded them from all evil.
After some time, Likalibutan, proud of his power over the winds, resolved to gain more power, and asked his brothers to join him in an attack on Kaptan in the sky above. They refused at first, but when Likalibutan became angry with them, the amiable Liadlao, not wishing to offend his brother, agreed to help. Then together they induced the timid Libulan to join in the plan.
When all was ready, the three brothers rushed at the sky, but they could not beat down the gates of steel that guarded the entrance. Likalibutan let loose the strongest winds and blew the bars in every direction. The brothers rushed into the opening, but were met by the angry god Kaptan. So terrible did he look that they turned and ran in terror, but Kaptan, furious at the destruction of his gates, sent three bolts of lightning after them.
The first struck the copper Libulan and melted him into a ball. The second struck the golden Liadlao and he too was melted. The third bolt struck Likalibutan and his rocky body broke into many pieces and fell into the sea. So huge was he that parts of his body stuck out above the water and became what is known as land.
In the meantime the gentle Lisuga had missed her brothers and started to look for them. She went toward the sky, but as she approached the broken gates, Kaptan, blind with anger, struck her too with lightning, and her silver body broke into thousands of pieces.
Kaptan then came down from the sky and tore the sea apart, calling on Maguayan to come to him and accusing her of ordering the attack on the sky. Soon Maguayan appeared and answered that she knew nothing of the plot as she had been asleep deep in the sea. After some time, she succeeded in calming the angry Kaptan. Together they wept at the loss of their grandchildren, especially the gentle and beautiful Lisuga, but even with their powers, they could not restore the dead back to life. However, they gave to each body a beautiful light that will shine forever.
And so it was the golden Liadlao who became the sun and the copper Libulan, the moon, while Lisuga’s pieces of silver were turned into the stars of heaven. To wicked Likalibutan, the gods gave no light, but resolved to make his body support a new race of people. So Kaptan gave Maguayan a seed and she planted it on one of the islands.
Soon a bamboo tree grew up, and from the hollow of one of its branches, a man and a woman came out. The man’s name was Sikalak and the woman was called Sikabay. They were the parents of the human race. Their first child was a son whom they called Libo; afterwards they had a daughter who was known as Saman.
Pandaguan, the youngest son, was very clever and invented a trap to catch fish. The very first thing he caught was a huge shark. When he brought it to land, it looked so great and fierce that he thought it was surely a god, and he at once ordered his people to worship it. Soon all gathered around and began to sing and pray to the shark. Suddenly the sky and sea opened, and the gods came out and ordered Pandaguan to throw the shark back into the sea and to worship none, but them.
All were afraid except Pandaguan. He grew very bold and answered that the shark was as big as the gods, and that since he had been able to overpower it he would also be able to conquer the gods. Then Kaptan, hearing this, struck Pandaguan with a small lightning bolt, for he did not wish to kill him but merely to teach him a lesson. Then he and Maguayan decided to punish these people by scattering them over the earth, so they carried some to one land and some to another. Many children were afterwards born, and thus the earth became inhabited in all parts. Pandaguan did not die. After lying on the ground for thirty days he regained his strength, but his body was blackened from the lightning, and his descendants became the dark-skinned tribe, the Negritos.
As punishment, his eldest son, Aryon, was taken north where the cold took away his senses. While Libo and Saman were carried south, where the hot sun scorched their bodies. A son of Saman and a daughter of Sikalak were carried east, where the land at first was so lacking in food that they were compelled to eat clay.
And so the world came to be made and peopled.
John Maurice Miller, Philippine Folklore Stories (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1904), pp. 57-64
Mabel Cook Cole (1916) “Philippine Folk Tales”