Undying Cordillera Trail Legends


Of many years working with Herald Express, Ah Kong hears beguiling tales in the highlands, during campfire nights when the Man in the Moon languidly smokes his peace pipe, Benguet pines rear their majestic crowns in splendid pirouette to the sky, forests are places to sleep instead of warm bed and chilly Cordilleran air gives permission for storytellers to quaff a drink of wine to warm creaking bones and parched throats.

And lately, last week, he heard of odd tales of a demi-god, an experience that surely can happen to you –  if you hit the Cordilleran lonely trails where frolicking and mischievous ghosts or “anitos” are alive and well to keep you company every step of the way until your destination.

Except for small bands of folklorists who are now a dying breed in the Cordillera region, there seems to be an absence of audience which enjoys Cordilleran oral literature.

One probable reason that Ah has explored is that highland literature is exotic in nature thus, probably not very intelligible to other persons of different socio-cultural upbringing.

Another reason is the structuring and style of narrators. For instance, a lead narrator may start by simply telling the bare bones of the legend, while others fill in the gaps.

This is where a single legend will slowly shape up, encompassing inter-connectivity of a single legend or tale to other tribes in the olden Cordillera.

Hence, this oral literature of the legends of Lumawig – the supreme being, the personification of all forces of nature in the culture and tradition of the Cordilleran highlanders –  written in as nearly as Ah’s understanding captured it.

To appreciate the undying legends of the Cordilleran highlands is to know something of the ritual of which it is a part.

For example, the elaborateness of a wedding done in the Igorot culture but with blessings of church ceremony is still steeped in the tradition of how elders call on Lumawig to protect and give fortune to the newlyweds.

Hence, legends of the Cordillerans are still intertwined with the modern everyday living of many Cordillerans, whether they live in the rural or urban settings.

For it’s often repeated, “Taking the road travelled least, spells a difference.” First, the beguiling tales.

Back in late 2015, while in Bontoc, Mountain Province trailing after a lead for a story for Herald Express’s Daily Laborer column, Ah got acquainted to the socio-cultural values of the   Bontoc highlanders as manifested in their legends.

Ah profoundly learned all about Lumawig –  culture-hero of the Bontoc people of olden days that transcended their values, ideas and spiritual heritage.

Legend has it that Lumawig, as creator of law and order, gave the Cordillera land, the people, their unique tribal languages, distributed them among the different areas in the area and gave them their crafts.

At first, legend says, Lumawig placed salt springs in Bontoc “ili,” only to get it back when the Bontoc people spoke in harsh manner. He transferred the salt spring to the people in Mainit for they spoke in a soft and pleasing manner.

Lumawig then told the Bontoc people to acquire clay and mold these into pots but this they did haphazardly or not very well. He got angry and asked the Samoki people to do the same which they did excellently.

Today, there are still salt springs in Mainit, good pottery is made in Samoki and the Bontoc “ili” are said to raise the best palay, as a result of the “weed” that Lumawig gave them in exchange for pottery-making.

If Lumawig is a god, he, too, is a comic. Legend says that in many of his travels in the highlands, he looked with dismay on the women of Sabangan for they were fond of cropping their hair at the nape.

For the folks in Talubin, Lumawig deemed them too dark; while the Gonogon folks chitter like birds to the god’s hearing.

As for the people of Alab, well, Lumawig noted them as fair in complexion. Only, their village is to narrow and low.

A mythological figure, if you will, not because of what he did to the world of the Bontocs, but rather the good fortune he brought to the fierce highlanders.

Lumawig, in Bontoc legends, was said to be indirectly responsible in the creation of major characteristics of the Cordillera region –  the mountains. And his adventures being responsible for the different features of the land, thus the origin of certain features of Cordilleran nature.

There was that time in 2016 that Ah sat with a group of old men one late afternoon on a hill overlooking Poblacion Bontoc.

One of the elders said to Ah, “Adim ngen ammo ay nan nentutuk-chuan tako idwani ket siya nan nentuk-chuan met laeng Lumawig kadwa na nan aso na isan sangad-om. Nan nentutukchuan tako   ket siya nan kanan cha a Palikot aso.” (Don’t you know that where we are sitting right now was where Lumawig and his dog sat before. Where we are exactly sitting now is called Palikot aso).

On that rock, Ah was shown where Lumawig thrust his spear downwards, determined the scratches made by his rooster and where his dog twisted itself against the rock to sleep.

As Lumawig looked down over Bontoc, the elders related, he caught the fancy of two young ladies (sisters in fact) gathering beans in the vicinity of what is now called Lanao or Lanao del Paling.

Of the two, one of them, named “Fukhan,” eventually became Lumawig’s wife, according to the elders.

Yet, another legend Ah learned about Lumawig was when he went to Tadian, Mountain Province, that same 2016, that bespoke also of certain rocks in barangay Kayan which resembles beads of a woman.

Near the rocks is slender rock standing upright and believed to be Lumawig’s spear, its sharp point thrusting skyward.

Elders there related Lumawig decided to go home to the sky, having been disgusted by the disobedience of his wife. In anger, he seized his wife’s beads and necklaces which became scattered, then turned to stone.

Lumawig then thrust his spear in that Kayan mountain which, too, turned to stone, and was used by two of his sons to climb up to the sky with their father, Lumawig.

Now, Ah has realized, after having absorbed many of the highland legends that even gods, like men, are not spared the misbehavior of women or wives. Why so?

Ah grins to realize from the legends that male gods, like mere mortals also create their own problems. Why?

If a god or mortal man decides to have many wives, caramba! Problems arise.

Well, according to continuity of highland legends, Lumawig refused to be seen when working in the fields. But his wives disobeyed Lumawig’s rule of the thumb.

In Kayan, Lumawig had a wife who disobeyed him and found him working in the fields by turning parts of his bodies into workers. Discovered, Lumawig got irate and grabbed his wife’s beads and necklaces.

His Bontoc wife, Fukhan was ordered by Lumawig not to dance in the open air but Fukhan disobeyed him.

In Sabangan legend, the story there is sexier and well, you might say, titillating. Lumawig, too, had another wife in Sabangan.

One day his wife in Sabangan crept to the fields and discovered Lumawig was using his sex organ in digging up the rocks in the fields and Lumawig saw his wife. That was how Lumawig got disgusted and angry with his wife in Sabangan.

There still remain bountiful legends of the Cordilleran highlanders, most of them entirely unknown and unheard of by many in this present time, these legends have charm and universal appeal which should make them of interest to students, scholars, researchers, and anyone who is in pursuit of knowledge.

And for the Cordilleran highlander with his notebooks and books and chasing after an education to later contribute positively to society, it’s also said, “To know your ROOTS, is to become more enlightened.