Bakunawa (Giant Sea Serpent)

Image Credit: Lahi

Bakunawa is a giant sea serpent.

In other stories, we have seven (7) moons a long time ago. But it was eaten by Bakunawa (Giant Sea Serpent) until only one is left. To protect the last moon, Bathala ordered the people to make noise using pots and pans to frighten the giant serpent.(Filipino mythology)

Sa ibang istorya, mayroon tayong pitong buwan noong unang panahon. Ngunit kinain ni Bakunawa ang mga ito hanggang sa isa na lang ang matira. Upang protektahan ang huling buwan, inutusan ni Bathala ang mga tao na mag-ingay gamit ang mga kaldero at kawali upang matakot ito.(mitolohiyang filipino)

According to the documentation of Maximo Ramos,

the Bakunawa was a fish-like ‘dragon’ in its appearance among the Hiligaynon (people of Panay Island in the Visayas). In the Pavón manuscripts of 1838-1839, the Bakunawa was shark-like and fish-like in appearance.

The ‘dragon’ was adopted into Philippine folklore by American writers visiting the new American territory at the turn of the 20th century. They interpreted the ‘naga,’ ‘snake,’ and ‘serpent’ descriptions as a dragon. A familiar dragon would appeal much more to the Western audience eagerly awaiting exotic tales from the far east in folklore compilations and periodicals.

When the first wave of Philippine folklorists began their incredible and monumental work, they canonized the dragon by including American written tales and by using recognizable Western descriptors (dragon, ogre, elf, witch, giant, dwarf, etc.).

Ironically it was also Maximo Ramos who solidified the dragon into Philippine Folklore with its classification in his thesis “The Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology” and the later book “The Creature of Midnight.” The original Bakunawa belief was most likely a giant fish-like snake or naga serpent (depending on the region). The original documentation for the Bisaya tale of Bakunawa and the seven moons describe it as “kining halasa” (this snake/serpent). Later translations changed it to “dragon.”

According to Resil B. Mojares (in his book Isabelo’s Archive), Bakunawa in Bisayan literally means “bent snake.”

I absolutely love ALL of the various artistic interpretations of Bakunawa that have appeared throughout the 17 years I have been studying Philippine cultures. I will, however, admit that I get a particular sense of joy when one strays from Western ideas and reverts to the original and more difficult to find serpent/ fish-like descriptions. (@aswangproject)