The Bontoc Legend of Lumawig | Culture Hero

culture hero is a mythological hero specific to some group (cultural, ethnic, religious, etc.) who changes the world through invention or discovery. A typical culture hero might be credited as the discoverer of fire, or agriculture, songs, tradition, law or religion, and is usually the most important legendary figure of a people, sometimes as the founder of its ruling dynasty.

The pre-Christian Bontoc belief system centers on a hierarchy of spirits, the highest being a supreme deity called Lumawig. Lumawig personifies the forces of nature and is the legendary creator, friend, and teacher of the Bontoc. A hereditary class of priests hold various monthly ceremonies for this deity for their crops, the weather, and for healing. The Bontoc also believe in the “anito”—spirits of the dead who must be consulted before anything important is done. Ancestral anitos are invited to family feasts when a death occurs to ensure the well-being of the deceased’s soul. This is by offering some small amount of food to show that they are invited and not forgotten.

Lumawig is regarded as the savior of the Bontoc Igorot,  a ballad, of how in the long ago he came down to earth to marry and teach the Igorots the way of life, is sung as prayer at each cheno. The cheno is a great cañao (feast) given by the wealthy families once in a number of years, at which the marriages of their sons and daughters are duly celebrated. The story of Lumawig runs this wise:


The Bontoc Legend of Lumawig


Kabunian, who lived in the Sky, had three sons. These sons worked daily in their father’s field. However, it happened that Lumawig, the second son, while in the fields, used to look down to the earth. And when his brothers asked him why he kept looking down to earth, he answered, “I want to go down and get married and live with the people on earth.” The father, hearing Lumawig’s reply, said, “You must prepare all your equipment and take your spear and precious beads so that your children on earth may inherit them. Also take your dog, rooster, bag and betel nut.”

Obtaining his father’s blessing, Lumawig descended from the Sky to Mount Calawitan and tried to observe all the barrios and villages. Asked by the Sun why he was observing the villages, Lumawig retorted, “I want to marry in one of those places.”

So the Sun said, “Take my spear and precious shell belt for the woman you want to have for a wife.”

Descending from Mount Calawitan, he went to a mountain near Talubin. Not liking the dialect of the people of the village nearby and seeing that the residents were afflicted with goiter, he proceeded to Mount Makiches, overlooking Pinged.

There he observed that the people’s method of cutting their hair was not correct, so he left the place. From Makiches, he went to Sabangan and found that the people there had faulty haircuts too. So he went to Mount Patongale. There he saw the Alab people living in a constricted territory. Not liking to stay in a place of limited territory, he ventured northward and saw the village of Bontoc. As if charmed by some form of magic, he came to like the place. He planned to make the place his home.

Rodel Tapaya, When Lumawig went down the Earthworld,

As he was resting on a mountain side overlooking Bontoc he saw two sisters working in the fields. Sticking his spear on a rock, he sat down to watch the sisters at work. (To this day, the rock on which he sat is still there. It also bears distinctly the mark of his spear.) Ordering the Sun to shine as hot as it could, he sat watching the two women at work from morning till the cool of day. He observed that one of the women was more industrious than the other.

Coming down to Lanao where the two sisters were picking black beans, he struck his spear before him and began to address them. To the younger sister, Lumawig said, “I wish very much to marry you. May I know your father’s name?”

The girl answered, “My father’s name is Batanga.” Lumawig asked the two sisters what they were doing and Fucan, the younger of the two, answered, “We are harvesting black beans.” Lumawig then asked for a bean pod. Fucan immediately gave him one. Taking hold of the pod, Lumawig slapped it against the rim of the girl’s basket and lo, the basket was instantly filled with beans. Lumawig told the girls to take home their harvest. However, upon reaching home, the two girls asked their father that they be permitted to return to the field as a man was waiting for them there. Fucan informed her father that the man had proposed to marry her, meanwhile asking him his opinion about it. The father replied that he had no objections to the marriage provided that Fucan liked the would-be groom. So the girls returned to the fields and brought home Lumawig.

Bontoc Igorot women circa 1920

On their way home, Lumawig picked up a stone so huge it could not possibly be lifted by any human being, and carried it with him easily into the barrio and on to the council house, Calatec. Putting down the stone, he advised the sisters to tell their father to place the house ladder out as a way of receiving Lumawig. This the father did. After the ladder of the house had been placed outside, a symbol that the visitor was welcome, Fucan proceeded to the ato Calatec to call for Lumawig.

Seeing Lumawig enter the house, Batanga said, “This is the man who should marry my daughter.” Batanga observed that Lumawig was a refined man. According to Bontoc tradition, a visitor is supposed to be refined if he asks for water as soon as he enters a house. Batanga saw Lumawig perform this act of refinement.

Sitting beside a pig pen, Lumawig saw a pig in the pen. He asked who owned the pig and Batanga said that it was his. Then Lumawig requested that the pig’s food be brought out. Hardly had he started giving food to the pig when the pen was filled with pigs.

Lumawig also multiplied the chickens of Batanga.

The Miracles of Lumawig. Artwork by Rodel Tapaya

After sometime, however, Lumawig’s brothers-in-law became critical of him. They branded him stingy as he had many pigs but would not butcher any. So Lumawig said, “My brothers-in-law, I am giving a cañao. This cañao will have to be followed by all generations.”

As the time for the cañao neared, Lumawig took his wife Fucan to Lanao, a village below Bontoc proper, as he did not want to hear criticisms from his brothers- in-law. Later he called upon all the people of Bontoc to assemble for the cañao. The residents were surprised to see Lumawig’s house empty. There were no pigs to be butchered, no rice to be cooked. Still, Lumawig ordered fires to be built and the cauldrons for the rice prepared. Then the cauldrons were miraculously filled with rice. There were also some for the meat. There being no pigs in sight, the people began to wonder. So Lumawig faced Mount Calawitan and called for the pigs to come down. Instead of pigs, a herd of deer came running to where Lumawig stood calling. He sent the deer back and called again. This time, droves of pigs came racing down from the mountain. As there were many pigs, Lumawig ordered the people to catch one pig each. The people obeyed and each was able to catch one save his brothers-in-law who had scorned him. Fucan asked why her brothers were not able to catch their share of the pigs. To which Lumawig replied, “Let them catch the pigs if they can. I have instructed the pigs to escape from your brothers because they have scorned me.” However, upon finding his brothers-in- law tired, he let them catch a pig each.

After the chase, the pigs were butchered for the cañao. Lumawig ordered the elders of the barrio to divide the meat equally, giving each one a share. The remaining pig meat was put in the five cauldrons in order to cook it. He also ordered the people to bring pine trees with which to support the cauldrons. But the trees brought were found to be very small. So Lumawig himself went to the mountain called Gadcad and seized two of the bigger pines and threw them to Lanao where they were used to hold the cauldrons. The meat cooked, the people partook of the great feast.

The people were dispersed after the feast, except the old men who remained to continue their prayers in favor of the performer of the cañao. The following morning, Lumawig butchered a pig to close the cañao ceremony.

Immediately after the big cañao, Lumawig gathered the people together and told them that he was going to teach them the methods of warfare. He took the men to a mountain called Inchaquig and there they lured the Sadanga people to a fight. After heavy fighting, and no one being hurt among the Sadanga men, he ordered his men to retreat towards their homes. The people felt thirsty and started to complain. The loudest complaint was heard from one of Lumawig’s brothers- in-law. Incensed at the murmurings, Lumawig struck his spear against a rock and cool water issued forth. All were ordered to drink except Lumawig’s brother-in- law, who was asked to drink with Lumawig. The turn for Lumawig’s brother-in- law to drink came. While he was bending to sip the water, Lumawig seized him and thrust him head first into the rock. The water freely flowed through the body of Tangan, the complaining brother-in-law.

Bontoc Igorot warriors pose with their weapons and shields .

The people returned to Lanao and while there heard a lengthy discourse on the art of warfare from Lumawig, who also ordered the rock through which he had thrust one of his brothers-in-law to fall down and issue water from underneath it. To this day, water flows from under the rock. Having taught all he wanted to the people, Lumawig told his wife Cayapon (Fucan’s name had been changed to Gayapon) that he was returning to the Sky. He wanted arrangements with his wife that they be divorced since his work on earth had already been accomplished. He assured his wife that during his absence, she would find another husband, a widower.

So, after the divorce arrangements had been agreed upon, Lumawig went to Mount Calawitan and made a coffin for his wife and two children. Cayapon and her children were to be placed by Lumawig inside the coffin and floated down the Chico river. The coffin was made and Cayapon and the children were placed inside. Lumawig pushed the coffin bearing his wife and children into the swollen river. With a rooster in front and a dog at the foot of the coffin, Cayapon and her children floated down to as far as Tinglayan. Hearing the crowing of the cock and the barking of the dog on the coffin, the natives of Tinglayan attempted to bring the coffin to land and to pry it open. But try as they would, they could not pry it open. Later, a widower came along the river bank and saw the coffin. He was about to drive a wedge through the coffin lid when Cayapon shouted, “Don’t drive a wedge through the coffin. It will open by itself.”

When the coffin had burst open, Cayapon said to the widower, “Lumawig has sent me here to be your wife. Take me as your wife and support my children. We shall be establishing the tradition that widowers and widows shall marry again.” So the widower took the woman and her children to his house.

After the marriage ceremony had been performed, the Tinglayan people murdered one of the Mabungtot natives and performed the cañao. The people had a grand time dancing; Cayapon danced inside their house and the earth began to shake. The old man requested her to dance in the yard to be seen by all people. She went out of the house to the yard but as she proceeded to dance, Lumawig, her first husband, who had instructed her not to dance in the open, became enraged and spat on her from the Sky. Cayapon was instantly killed. She was the first person to die among the people and since then, all of her people became subject to death.

During a typhoon before their mother’s death, the two sons of Cayapon went to the river in search of wood for fuel. Along the river bank they found black beans scattered all around. They gathered the beans. Cayapon told her sons that they were the same beans she planted in Lanao years before. Then she gave them instructions to go back to Bontoc to marry and resume the cultivation of the fields of their parents. Cayapon also instructed her sons that they should follow the muddy branch of the river which flowed down past Bontoc.

Following the death of their mother, the two sons started up the river towards Bontoc. Instead of taking the muddy river mentioned by their mother, they followed the clear Ampuwet river until they came to Caneo. While in Caneo, they helped the people crush the sugar cane and the jars of the people were miraculously filled with cane juice. Then the Caneo people killed the two brothers. Upon hearing of the death of Cayapon’s sons, the people of Bontoc attempted to get revenge for their murder. But the Caneo people fled when the Bontocs went to get the dead bodies of their two comrades. The Bontoc people brought the two sons of Cayapon to Sokoc and buried them there. The carrying pole was planted over their grave. That pole has grown to be a big tree and up to the present, people offer their sacrifices beside this tree.

Lumawig before his departure to heaven, taught many things to the people of Bontoc. He taught them the art of making rice paddies that can produce large yields. He instructed them how to irrigate their fields, how to cut the rocks in order to build ditches, how to weave baskets, make cloth out of the bark of trees. Also he taught them the methods of blacksmithing, fishing and hunting. He also initiated the ato, a meeting place of the Bontocs at which the interests of the people are discussed.

Above all, Lumawig taught the Bontoc people a moral code. Some of the provisions of this code are:

1) A man must not steal.

2) One should not gossip.

3) Men and women must not commit adultery.

4) One must be temperate in eating and in drinking alcoholic drinks.

5) All people must live simple and industrious lives.

Lumawig has continued to guard his people through the centuries that have passed. On certain occasions, he descends to earth to guide his people, teaching them to be ever honest and industrious.


SOURCE: Carmencita Cawed, The Culture of the Bontoc Igorot ( 1972)

ALSO READ: IGOROT Origin Myths: The Creation

2018 © The Aswang Project

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Jordan is a Canadian documentary director/ producer. He made the 2011 feature length documentary THE ASWANG PHENOMENON - an exploration of the aswang myth and its effects on Philippine society. Currently he is in post production for "The Aswang Project" web-series, which will feature 6 myths from the Philippines. The TIKBALANG, KAPRE and BAKUNAWA episodes are available to watch on YouTube.