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Bontoc Folk Tales as narrated by Albert Ernest Jenks

The paucity of the pure mental life of the Igorot is nowhere more clearly shown than in the scarcity of folk tales.

 |  13 min read

Bontoc Igorots seated in front of a thatched hut, Luzon, Mountain Province, the Philippines, 1932. New York State Archives

The following is from The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Bontoc Igorot, by Albert Ernest Jenks

I group here seven tales which are quite commonly known among the people of Bontoc. The second, third, fourth, and fifth are frequently related by the parents to their children, and I heard all of them the first time from boys about a dozen years old. I believe these tales are nearly all the pure fiction the Igorot has created and perpetuated from generation to generation, except the Lumawig stories.

The Igorot story-tellers, with one or two exceptions, present the bare facts in a colorless and lifeless manner. I have, therefore, taken the liberty of adding slightly to the tales by giving them some local coloring, but I have neither added to nor detracted from the facts related.

The sun man and moon woman; or, origin of head-hunting

The Moon, a woman called "Ka-bi-gat′," was one day making a large copper cooking pot. The copper was soft and plastic like potter's clay. Ka-bi-gat′ held the heavy sagging pot on her knees and leaned the hardened rim against her naked breasts. As she squatted there-turning, patting, shaping, the huge vessel-a son of the man Chal-chal′, the Sun, came to watch her. This is what he saw: The Moon dipped her paddle, called "pĭp-i′," in the water, and rubbed it dripping over a smooth, rounded stone, an agate with ribbons of colors wound about in it. Then she stretched one long arm inside the pot as far as she could. "Tub, tub, tub," said the ribbons of colors as Ka-bi-gat′ pounded up against the molten copper with the stone in her extended hand. "Slip, slip, slip, slip," quickly answered pĭp-i′, because the Moon was spanking back the many little rounded domes which the stone bulged forth on the outer surface of the vessel. Thus the huge bowl grew larger, more symmetrical, and smooth.

Suddenly the Moon looked up and saw the boy intently watching the swelling pot and the rapid playing of the paddle. Instantly the Moon struck him, cutting off his head.

Chal-chal′ was not there. He did not see it, but he knew Ka-bi-gat′ cut off his son's head by striking with her pĭp-i′.

He hastened to the spot, picked the lad up, and put his head where it belonged-and the boy was alive.

Then the Sun said to the Moon:

"See, because you cut off my son's head, the people of the Earth are cutting off each other's heads, and will do so hereafter."

"And it is so," the story-tellers continue; "they do cut off each other's heads."

Origin of coling, the serpent eagle

A man and woman had two boys. Every day the mother sent them into the mountains for wood to cook her food. Each morning as she sent them out she complained about the last wood they brought home.

One day they brought tree limbs; the mother complained, saying:

"This wood is bad. It smokes so much that I can not see, and soon I shall be blind." And then she added, as was her custom:

"If you do not work well, you can have only food for dogs and pigs."

That day, as usual, the boys had in their topil for dinner only boiled camote vines, such as the hogs eat, and a small allowance of rice, just as much as a dog is fed. At night the boys brought some very good wood-wood of the pitch-pine tree. In the morning the mother complained that such wood blackened the house. She gave them pig food in their topil, saying:

"Pig food is good enough for you because you do not work well."

That night each boy brought in a large bundle of runo. The mother was angry, and scolded, saying:

"This is not good wood; it leaves too many ashes and it dirties the house."

In the morning she gave them dog food for dinner, and the boys again went away to the mountains. They were now very thin and poor because they had no meat to eat. By and by the older one said:

"You wait here while I climb up this tree and cut off some branches." So he climbed the tree, and presently called down:

"Here is some wood"-and the bones of an arm dropped to the ground.

"Oh, oh," exclaimed the younger brother, "it is your arm!"

Again the older boy called, "Here is some more wood"-and the bones of his other arm fell at the foot of the tree.

Again he called, and the bones of a leg dropped; then his other leg fell. The next time he called, down came the right half of his ribs; and then, next, the left half of his ribs; and immediately thereafter his spinal column. Then he called again, and down fell his hair.

The last time he called, "Here is some wood," his skull dropped on the earth under the tree.

"Here, take those things home," said he. "Tell the woman that this is her wood; she only wanted my bones."

"But there is no one to go with me down the mountains," said the younger boy.

"Yes; I will go with you, brother," quickly came the answer from the tree top.

So the boy tied up his bundle, and, putting it on his shoulder, started for the pueblo. As he did so the other-he was now Co-lĭng′-soared from the tree top, always flying directly above the boy.

When the younger brother reached home he put his bundle down, and said to the woman:

"Here is the wood you wanted."

The woman and the husband, frightened, ran out of the house; they heard something in the air above them.

"Qu-iu′-kok! qu-iu′-kok! qu-iu′-kok!" said Co-lĭng′, as he circled around and around above the house. "Qu-iu′-kok! qu-iu′-kok!" he screamed, "now camotes and palay are your son. I do not need your food any longer."

Origin of tilin, the ricebird

As the mother was pounding out rice to cook for supper, her little girl said:

"Give me some mo′-tĭng to eat."

"No," answered the mother, "mo′-tĭng is not good to eat; wait until it is cooked."

"No, I want to eat mo′-tĭng," said the little girl, and for a long time she kept asking her mother for raw rice.

At last her mother interrupted, "It is bad to talk so much."

The rice was then all pounded out. The mother winnowed it clean, and put it in her basket, covering it up with the winnowing tray. She placed an empty olla on her head and went to the spring for water.

The anxious little girl reached quickly for the basket to get some rice, but the tray slipped from her grasp and fell, covering her beneath it in the basket.

The mother returned with the water to cook supper. She heard a bird crying, "King! king! nik! nik! nik!" When the woman uncovered the basket, Tilin, the little brown ricebird, flew away, calling:

"Good-bye, mother; good-bye, mother; you would not give me mo′-tĭng!"

Origin of kaag, the monkey

The palay was in the milk and maturing rapidly. Many kinds of birds that knew how delicious juicy palay is were on hand to get their share, so the boys were sent to stay all day in the sementeras to frighten these little robbers away.

Every day a father sent out his two boys to watch his palay in a narrow gash in the mountain; and every day they carried their small basket full of cooked rice, white and delicious, but their mother put no meat in the basket.

Finally one of the boys said:

"It is bad not to have meat to eat; every day we have only rice."

"Yes, it is bad," said his brother. "We can not keep fat without meat; we are getting poor and thin, and pretty soon we shall die."

"That is true," answered the other boy; "pretty soon we shall die. I believe I shall be ka′-ag."

And during the day thick hair came on this boy's arms; and then he became hairy all over; and then it was so-he was ka′-ag, and he vanished in the mountains.

Then soon the other boy was ka′-ag, too. At night he went home and told the father:

"Your boy is ka′-ag; he is in the mountains."

The boy ran out of the house quickly. The father went to the mountains to get his boy, but ka′-ag ran up a tall tree; at the foot of the tree was a pile of bones. The father called his son, and ka′-ag came down the tree, and, as the father went toward him, ka′-ag stood up clawing and striking at the man with his hands, and breathing a rough throat cry like this:

"Haa! haa! haa!"

Then the man ran home crying, and he never got his boys.

Pretty soon there was a-sa′-wan nan ka′-ag3 with a babe. Then there were many little children; and then, pretty soon, the mountains were full of monkeys.

Origin of gayyang, the crow, and fanias, the large lizard

There were two young men who were the very greatest of friends.

One tattooed the other beautifully. He tattooed his arms and his legs, his breast and his belly, and also his back and face. He marked him beautifully all over, and he rubbed soot from the bottom of an olla into the marks, and he was then very beautiful.

When the tattooer finished his work he turned to his friend, and said: "Now you tattoo me beautifully, too."

So the young men scraped together a great pile of black, greasy soot from pitch-pine wood; and before the other knew what the tattooed one was doing he rubbed soot over him from finger tip to finger tip. Then the black one asked:

"Why do you tattoo me so badly?"

Without waiting for an answer they began a terrible combat. When, suddenly, the tattooed one was a large lizard, fa-ni′-as, and he ran away and hid in the tall grass; and the sooty black one was gay-yang, the crow, and he flew away and up over Bontoc, because he was ashamed to enter the pueblo after quarreling with his old friend.

Owug, the snake

The old men say that a man of Mayinit came to live in Bontoc, as he had married a Bontoc woman and she wished to live in her own town.

After a while the man died. His friends came to the funeral, and a snake, o-wûg′, also came. When the people wept, o-wûg′ cried also. When they put the dead man in the grave, and when they stood there looking, o-wûg′ came to the grave and looked upon the man, and then went away.

Later, when the friends observed the death ceremony, o-wûg′ also came.

"O-wûg′ thus showed himself to be a friend and companion of the Igorot. Sometime in the past he was an Igorot, but we have not heard," the old men say, "when or how he was o-wûg′."

"We never kill o-wûg′; he is our friend. If he crosses our path on a journey, we stop and talk. If he crosses our path three or four times, we return home, because, if we continue our journey then, some of us will die. O-wûg′ thus comes to tell us not to proceed; he knows the bad anito on every trail."

Who took my father's head?

The Bontoc people have another folk tale regarding head taking. In it Lumawig, their god, taught them how to discover which pueblo had taken the head of one of their members. They repeat this story as a ceremony in the pabafunan after every head lost, though almost always they know what pueblo took it. It is as follows:

"A very great time ago a man and woman had two sons. Far up in the mountains they owned some garden patches. One day they told the boys to go and see whether the stone wall about the garden needed repair; but the boys said they did not wish to go, so the father went alone. As he did not return at nightfall, his sons started into the mountains to find him. They bound together two small bunches of runo for torches to light up the steep, rough, twisting trail. One torch was burning when they went out, and they carried the other to light them home again. Nowhere along the trail did they find their father; he had not been injured in the path, nor could they find where he had fallen over a cliff. So they passed on to the garden; there they found their father's headless body. They searched for blood in the bushes and grass, but they found nothing-no blood, no enemies' tracks.

"They carried the strange corpse down the mountain trail to their home in Bontoc. Then they hastened to the pabafunan, and there they told the men what had befallen their father. The old men counseled together, and at last one of them said: 'Lumawig told the old men of the past, so the old men last dead told me, that should any son find his father beheaded, he should do this: He should ask, "Who took my father's head? Did Tukukan take it? Did Sakasakan take it?" ' and Lumawig said, 'He shall know who took his father's head.'

"So the boys took a basket, the fangao, to represent Lumawig, and stuck it full of chicken feathers. Before the fangao they placed a small cup of basi. Then squatting in front with the cup at their feet they put a small piece of pork on a stick and held it over the cup. 'Who took my father's head?-did Tukukan?' they asked. But the pork and the cup and the basket all remained still. 'Did Sakasakan?' asked the boys all was as before. They went over a list of towns at enmity with Bontoc, but there was no answer given them. At last they asked, 'Did the Moon?'-but still there was no answer. 'Did the Sun?' the boys asked, and suddenly the piece of pork slid from the stick into the basi. And this was the way Lumawig had said a person should know who took his father's head.

"The Sun, then, was the guilty person. The two boys took some dogs and hastened to the mountains where their father was killed. There the dogs took up the scent of the enemy, and followed it in a straight line to a very large spring where the water boiled up, as at Mayinit where the salt springs are. The scent passed into this bubbling, tumbling water, but the dogs could not get down. When the dogs returned to land the elder brother tried to enter, but he failed also. Then the younger brother tried to get down; he succeeded in going beneath the water, and there he saw the head of his father, and young men in a circle were dancing around it-they were the children of the Sun. The brother struck off the head of one of these young men, caught up his father's head, and, with the two heads, escaped. When he reached his elder brother the two hastened home to their pueblo."

Born Igorot, Die Igorot

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