Bakunawa

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Bakunawa
Title Bakunawa
Description Moon eater
Gender Male/female
Region Philippines
Equivalent Sea serpent/Dragon

The Bakunawa, also spelled Bakonawa, Baconaua, or Bakonaua, is a dragon in Philippine mythology that is often represented as a gigantic sea serpent. It is believed 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.

Mythology[edit]

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 Bakunawa 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.

Others tell how the Bakunawa fell in love with a human girl in one of the native tribes. The head of the tribe found out about their affair and had their house burned to ashes. The Bakunawa, finding out about this, became immersed in anger and tried to take revenge by eating all the 7 moons. When the Bakunawa was about to eat the last one, Bathala took action and punished the Bakunawa by banishing it from its home away from the sea. It also tells that the reason of the eclipses is how the Bakunawa is trying to come back to its home and deceased family.

Literature[edit]

There is a short Hiligaynon song in 3/4 time that children used to sing during lunar eclipses:

Ang bulan namon sang una, sang una Our moon long ago, long ago
Guin ka-on sang bakunawa Was eaten by the bakunawa
Malo-oy ka man, i-uli, i-uli Please have pity, return it, return it
Korona sang amon hari. The crown of our king.

Similar creatures[edit]

Other serpentine/dragon deities are also found in other myths in the Philippines. These include the Bawa, the Bauta, Mameleu or Mamelen or Nanreben, and Marcupo or Macupo of Hiligaynon mythology, Buwaya or Nono of Tagalog mythology, and Mikonawa or Mikunawa or Minokawa of Bagobo mythology.

Sword hilt ornaments[edit]

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.

Games[edit]

A children's game called Bulan Bulan, Buwan Buwan, or Bakunawa is played in the Philippines. It has 6-8 players arranged in a circle.

A player acts as the buwan/bulan (moon) while another player act as the Bakunawa (eclipse), chosen either through Jack-en-poy, “maalis taya”, or “maiba taya.” The other participants stand in a circle facing the center and holding each other's hands. The buwan/bulan stands inside the circle while the Bakunawa stands outside.

Objective[edit]

The object of the game is for the Bakunawa to tag or touch the buwan/bulan. The rest of the players try to prevent the bakunawa from doing so by holding on to each other and running around the circle as fast as they can while not letting go of the ones next to them.

For the Bakunawa to get into the circle, he or she asks one of the players, "What chain is this?" and when the player replies, "This is an iron chain," the Bakunawa should ask another player because an iron chain is supposed to be unbreakable. A player who wants to let the bakunawa in can say, "This is an abaca chain," and should let go of his or her hold. This is usually done when the player playing as the bakunawa is tired from running around.

The malatikantumanlak can also try to get in by going under the linked hands. If the player chosen as the bakunawa is fast and small enough, this can be done easily. As soon as the bakunawa succeeds in getting in, the players forming the circle should let the buwan out of the circle.

The Bakunawa then tries to break out of the linked hands to try to get out to catch the buwan/bulan. When the Bakunawa succeeds in catching the buwan/bulan, they exchange places, or if both of them are too tired, another pair from the circle of players is chosen as the new Bakunawa and buwan/bulan.

See also[edit]

References[edit]