The Mangmangkik: Tree Spirits in Ilocos Norte

“Bari Bari

Dika agunget pari

Ta pumukan kami

Iti pabakirda kami”

In older times, Ilocanos, especially those from Ilocos Norte would sing these verses before cutting trees in the mountains.

The literal translation of the bari bari is “do not feel bad my friend for we cut as we are ordered”. This is done so that spirits in the trees, the mangmangkik are not offended. If these spirits are offended, they can inflict grave illness upon the offending human.

These creatures are usually invisible but can appear in human form, as in the Ilocano story “Ni Juan Sadut” (Juan the lazy) where a mangmangkik appeared in human form to the protagonist because he did not ask permission from the spirit to cut down the tree.

There is no clear definition of the nature of the mangmangkik. Though Isabelo Delos Reyes in “El Folk-Lore Filipino” suggests that they are old anitos found in trees that have existed since the Spanish context. Delos Reyes uses ‘anito’ to refer to secondary gods that came to be like tutelary patrons, likening them to the many Greek gods and spirits.

Delos Reyes says that the mangmangkik are human beings that were struck dead by lightning, by a caiman or by a big knife and got buried at the foot of some tree in a tomb, from whom one has to ask permission before entering the mountains to cut trees or plants. (Delos Reyes cited Padre Concepcion in his General History of the Philippines for this definition of the mangmangkik).

Illustration by emirajuju IG: https://www.instagram.com/emirajuju/

Maximo Ramos in his “Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology” also gives the same description of the mangmangkik. He likens them to the elven spirits of Western myth and describes them as a spirit that protects trees from being chopped down. One must ask for permission from the mangmangkiks before chopping any tree, otherwise, something bad might happen to the loggers. Though he names them as Mangmangkit instead of Mangmangkik.

The mangmangkik show similarities to other tree-dwelling spirits in Philippine myth such as the magtitima of the Bukidnons, the annani of the Ibanags, and the pinading of the Ifugaos.

 


A Mangmangkik poem

by the Spirits of the Philippine Archipelago

I remember the lightning
The smell of burning skin
The bright flash
Made me see

The caiman
It stole my body away
And took it for its own
Separated me from my flesh

The knife
They took it from me
And put it in my back
Cutting my soul apart

My grave marked my new home
The roots welcomed me
They nourished my spirit
And I became one
With the branches and the leaves

You will never own me
With your blades and steel
My home will remain

We will not be cut down
Not by the likes of you
Say your prayers
Sing your songs

I survived the Lightning
I survived the Caiman
I survived the knife

I will survive you

 

Sources:
El Folk-lore Filipino. Isabelo de los Reyes, trans. Dizon and Peralta-Imson. 1994. (Original Spanish Manuscript Printed 1889)
Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. Ramos. 1971.

ALSO READ: TIBURONES: The Flying Sharks of Philippine Folklore

 



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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.