The origin of the bulul wooden figures can be traced to the story of Namtogan, an important myth passed orally and recited by mumbaki during rituals.
The "bu'lul" (gods) used to come to "Pugaw" (earth) in their natural form from their home in "dalum" (the underworld). Their existence as wooden figures, however, can be traced to the story of Namtogan, an important myth passed orally and recited by "mumbaki" (priests) during rituals.
Namtogan is the only indigenous Filipino divinity with a physical disability. He is a paraplegic who is usually represented seated with arms over bent knees.
In the myth, Namtogan visited Pugaw (now Ifugao province) and married a mortal woman from Barangay Ahin in Tinoc town. Because he was disabled, the community took care of his needs, feeding and bathing him. His stay made Ahin prosper - its rice harvest became bountiful and the community livestock doubled. But the good fortune made the villagers neglect the bu'lul. Angered, Namtogan crawled away from the village, cursing the community. He then cast himself into the river flowing toward Kiangan town.
Soon after, plagues struck Tinoc, making the villagers realize their prosperity was tied to the bu'lul. The remorseful people searched for the bu'lul until they reached the Old Kiyyangan village near the Ibulao River, where they found Namtogan nestled in a large balete tree. The people persuaded Namtogan to return and undo the curse, but the god refused. He, however, instructed them to take a branch of the tree and carve his image. He also taught them about rituals and sacrifices they would need to perform in every phase of the rice cycle. The people of Ahin heeded the directives and the curse was lifted. Since then, the culture and tradition of the bu'lul had spread.
Standing bu'lul are usually regarded as granary sentinels while squatting bu'lul are cherished for healing and for ensuring bountiful harvests.
- Karlston Lapniten
- University Museum & Art Gallery