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Visayan tenegre horn hilt closeup.JPG
Bakunawa hilt from a Visayan tenegre sword
GroupingDragon Deity
Similar creaturesSea serpent
Phaya Naga
RegionVisayas and Bicol regions of the Philippines

The Bakunawa (also known as Nono in Tagalog) is a serpent-like dragon in Philippine mythology. It is believed to be the cause of eclipses, earthquakes, rains, and wind.[1] The movements of the bakunawa served as a geomantic calendar system for ancient Filipinos and were part of the shamanistic rituals of the babaylan. It is usually depicted with a characteristically looped tail and was variously believed to inhabit either the sea, the sky, or the underworld.[2] Due to increasing trade contacts with South Asia and the Indianization of Southeast Asia, the bakunawa later became syncretized with the Nāga of Hindu-Buddhist mythology.

Etymology and names[edit]

18th-century engraving of a karakoa warship with a bakunawa design[3]

Bakunawa is believed to be originally a compound word meaning "bent snake", from Proto-Western-Malayo-Polynesian *ba(ŋ)kuq ("bent", "curved") and *sawa ("large snake", "python").[2][4][5] Spelling variants include bakonawa, baconaua, or bakonaua.[6] It is also sometimes known as naga, from syncretization with the Hindu-Buddhist serpent deity, Nāga.[2]


The rotation of the bakunawa in a year, as explained in Mansueto Porras' Signosan (1919). This served prominently as a geomantic calendar system for ancient Filipinos, and were part of the divination rituals of babaylan shamans.[2]

Cebuano mythology[edit]

Tales about the Bakunawa say that it is the cause of eclipses. During ancient times, Pre-colonial Cebuanos believe that there are seven moons created by their supreme god 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 moons from completely being swallowed by the Bakunawa, 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

When the Bakunawa found out about this, it arose from the sea and ate the moon. The people were afraid so they prayed to the supreme god to punish the creature. The god 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.

Others tell how the Bakunawa fell in love with a human girl in one of the native tribes.[citation needed] The head of the tribe found out about their affair and had their house burned to ashes.[citation needed] The Bakunawa, finding out about this, became immersed in anger and tried to take revenge by eating all the 7 moons.[citation needed] When the Bakunawa was about to eat the last one, the supreme god 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.

Some Filipino elders Bakunawa is a moving isle with communities mounted at the back, it is said to believe that has 2 classification the flying Bakunawa and the land Bakunawa.

West Visayan mythology[edit]

A tenegre sword from Panay with a bakunawa head hilt

Bakunawa was said to be a beautiful goddess who fell inlove with the seven moons, mostly composed of goddesses. Her love was however spurned, and she later transformed into a gigantic sea serpent which sought to swallow the moons. She almost succeeded in swallowing all of them, if it was not for Sidapa, god of death, who rescued his love, Bulan/Libulan, a boy-moon god and one of the seven moon deities. Sidapa later married Bulan/Libulan and lived with him in Mount Madia-as in Panay island. Bakunawa still attempts to swallow the remaining moon, but to no avail due to Sidapa's protection and the bangings and noises of the people during eclipses.[7]

Bicolano mythology[edit]

In the Bicolano mythology, Bakunawa is a gigantic female sea serpent deity of the deep and the underworld who is often considered as the cause of eclipses. She was once the most beautiful Naga ( mermaid with eel for a tail) under the sea, She saw Bulan when he descended to swim with the magindara and had fallen in love with him. Unnoticed by the boy moon who was already in love with the sea god Magindang, she swore to eat him instead. She transformed into a huge eel-like dragon (some say dragon with gills with the mouth the size of a lake). As the devourer of the sun and the moon, she became an adversary of Haliya as Bakunawa's main aim is to swallow Bulan, who Haliya swore to protect for all of eternity. During eclipses (where bakunawa tries to swallow Bulan), the people would light torches to make notice to invoke Bakunawa's rival Haliya. Haliya, is portrayed to always hear the people's voices in those times, and comes to always rescue Bulan successfully.[8]


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]

A Maranao kubing jaw harp handle made from horn and brass in the elaborate okir Maranao art tradition with an S-shaped naga design and a fish

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.

Traditional art[edit]

Traditional naga heads on Moro kampilan swords

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.


A children's game called Bulan Bulan, Buwan Buwan, or Bakunawa is played in the Philippines.[citation needed] 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.


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.

Pop culture[edit]

  • The Bakunawa is featured as a superweapon used by the main antagonist, Merga, in the indie platform game, Freedom Planet 2, along with other creatures derived from Philippine culture.
  • In the mobile game EverWing, Bakunawa is one of the unlockable dragon sidekicks.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tito, Genova (January 1, 2015). "A serpent, this earth and the end of the year". Business Mirror – via
  2. ^ a b c d Alfred McCoy (1982). "Baylan : Animist Religion and Philippine Peasant Ideology". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 10 (3): 141–194.
  3. ^ Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola (1711). "The Discovery and Conquest of the Molucco and Philippine Islands.". In John Stevens (ed.). A New Collection of Voyages and Travels, into several Parts of the World, none of them ever before Printed in English. p. 61.
  4. ^ Robert Blust & Stephen Trussel. "Austronesian Comparative Dictionary: *ba(ŋ)kuq". Austronesian Comparative Dictionary. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  5. ^ Robert Blust & Stephen Trussel. "Austronesian Comparative Dictionary: *sawa". Austronesian Comparative Dictionary. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  6. ^ [1], Visayan-English Dictionary by Patrick Rafferty
  7. ^
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  10. ^