Litao, The Husband of the Sirena | Philippine Myth & Folklore

Described in Isabelo delos Reyes’ book, El Folk-lore Filipino,  the litao is a male anito of the waters. In Vigan, it is a small man that lives in the branches of bamboo trees along river banks and is the husband of the sirena. The spirit sometimes goes on land disguised as a normal man and tends to the bamboo trees in his area. He curses with illness those that cuts the trees. In his human form his true nature is revealed through a strong fishy smell that emanates from his body.

Litao Illustration by emirajuju
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The Litao’s Tale

Cebuano Version

Usob atrasado napod siya, ug usob nangagho ang iyang bana.

Namalikas sa hangin ang gamay nga laki. Miginhawa siya sa bugnaw nga hangin sa suba ug niginhawa napod ug lalom sa ikatulong beses. Ang mga tamay ug hunghong sa mga espirito bug-at ug mabaga sa kahanginan. Mibuhang sila sa sangtuwaryo sa kawayan niyang panimalay hangtod sa nagdali-dali siya sa paglabay sa mga dahon ug miambak sa suba.
Sa suba niya unang nakita ang iyang asawa.

Ang tubig nagapalibot sa iyang lawas, ginatunlod siya sa habol sa tubig. Naay kahilom diari, naay kalinaw. Ginahunahuna niya ang adlaw na naila niya ang iyang pangasawhonon. Init ug igang kaayo atong adlawa ug wala siya kasinati ug kaharuhay sa iyang kakahoyan, gitusnob niya iyang tiil sa kilid sa suba ug gisikit iyang mga mata. Adto niya unang nadunggan ang iyang kanta. Gipuno niato iyang dalunggan ug gikawat ang iyang kasing-kasing. Mao tong mga malipayong panahon.

Ang pamilya sa isang asawa bisag kanus-a wala niayon sa ila, unsa pa ba? Ang mga espiritu sa suba ug ang mga espiritu sa kakahoyan gapuyo sa duha nga managlahi nga kalibutan. “ Ang mga sirena wala gitakna para sa lalang na sama nimo.” Ang pulong sa mga igsuon sa iyang asawa, nga mihiwa ug lalum kaniya. Bisag kanus-a dili gyud nila masabtan ang iyang gibati.
Dili unta to inani.Ang kaminyuan dili unta inani kalisod. Naay mga butang na dili nila matakna ug mapug’ngan, ug kabalo ang iyahang asawa niini sama sa iyang pagkahibalo. Ang mga sama nila bisag kanus-a dili magka-anak, kana kon mag-uban sila.

Kahibalo pud siya nga ang pagka-inahan ra ang makapagpalipay niini, maong atong nagsugod kini sa pagpangita wala na siya’y laing mabuhat kon dili ang musugot.
Naana siya sa pinakalawom nga dapit sa suba karon, ug milangoy siya padulong sa usa ka langob. Ang baho sa kamatayon naghatud ug kangilngig sa iyang dugokan.

Gitutukan niya ang mga gagmay nga bukog na gihan-ay og maayo, inig kakilid. Sa sunod anaa napu’y laing mga bukog na masagol ato. Mas nakasayod siya kaysa sa paundayonan ang tawhanong kahuyang ug kahumok. Ug usab pa, dili man siya tao para masabtan ang mga tawhanong pagbati, apan ang mga lay-ag sa bukog nakapagpabati kaniya og kahibudnganan.

Gilingo-lingo niya ang iyang ulo ug misalom pabalik sa taas sa suba. Iyang gisultihan iyang kaugalingon na mao kini ang makapagpalipay sa iyang asawa, ug gamay ra kato nga balor isip kabayaran. Sa iyang pagbaklay pabalik sa kakahoyan, ang mga hunghungihong sa ubang espiritu miabot sa iyang dalunggan. Wala kato nagdala ug kabalaka kaniya, kay gakadunggan niya ang kanta sa iyang asawa sa distansya.
Ang butang na mahinungdangon para kaniya kay ang maong pahiyom ra sa iyang asawa.

Atrasado napod kini ug siya nagapaabot.

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English Version

Again, she is late and again, her husband sighs.

The small man curses in the wind. He breathes in the cool river air and sighs for the third time. The taunts and whispers of the other spirits are thick on the wind. They breach the sanctuary of his bamboo home until he rushes past the leaves and jumps into the river.

The river where he first met her.

The water surrounds his body, submerging him in a blanket of liquid. There is silence here, there is peace. He thinks back to the day he met his bride. There was too much sun and he was uncomfortable in his grove, he dipped his feet in the side of the river and closed his eyes. That was the first time he heard her song. It filled his ears and stole his heart. Those were happy times
.
Her family never approved, of course. The spirits of the river and the spirits of the grove lived in two different worlds. “A sirena is not meant for the likes of you.” Those words from her sisters cut deep. They would never understand what he felt.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Marriage wasn’t supposed to be this hard. There were things they couldn’t control, and she knew as well as he did. Their kind could never have children, at least not together. He knew being a mother was the only thing that could make her happy, so when she started her search he could only say yes.

He is at the bottom of the river now, and he swims to the cave. The smell of death sends shivers down his spine. He stares at all the small bones, stacked neatly, side by side. Soon, there would be another set to join them. He knew better than to succumb to human frailties. After all, he was not human enough to understand them, but the sight of the bones makes him feel something strange.

He shakes his head and swims back up the river. He tells himself that this is the only thing that would make her happy, and it was a small price to pay. As he walks to his grove, the gossip of the other spirits reaches his ears. It doesn’t bother him, because he hears her song in the distance.

The only thing that matters to him is her smile.

She is late and he is waiting.

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Story inspired by Litao description in El Folk-lore Filipino written by Isabelo de los Reyes, translation by Dizon and Peralta-Imson. 1994. (Original Spanish Manuscript Printed 1889)

Cebuano Translation by Akiko Jane Cortel

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Karl Gaverza

Speculative fiction writer. Philippine folklore and heritage researcher.

Author of The Spirits of the Philippine Archipelago.

Currently in the middle of fixing up an encyclopedia of Philippine Mythical creatures.