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Legend of Sinukuan

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Sinukuan: More than Just a Legend

The Filipinos are richly endowed with a creative imagination. A perfect manifestation of this is the existence our rich ethnic literature, ranging from folk speeches and songs to narratives. In almost every province, there are native epics and legends. In recent accounts, according to National Artist Virgilio S. Almario, there are 28 documented Filipino epics. Biag ni Lam-ang of the Ilocanos, Alim and the Hudhuds of the Ifugaos, the Diawot in Mansaka, Guman Dumalinao of the Suban-ons are just few examples of these epics. As for legends, we have the Legend of Mt. Mayon, the Legend of the Banana, The Legend of the Pineapple, The Legend of the Makahiya, the Legend of the Frog among others. Ancient Filipinos search for explanations for natural phenomena and their closely knit relations with nature have ignited their imaginations and led them to create legends. The Kapampangans are a perfect example of this. Mount Arayat, a mountain located in a town in Pampanga with the same name has aroused the imagination of ancient Kapampangans to create the legend of Sinukuan. Mount Arayat, also known as Mount Sinucuan of Arayat, is a dormant volcano whose last eruption dates back some 500,000 years ago. According to the theory of Fray Martin de Zuniga, this mountain which is visible from Manila Bay, was created by a giant whirlpool at the beginning of time. Old Kapampangan folklore says that it used to be located in the present site of the Candaba Swamp in Candaba, another small town in Pampanga. Evangelina Hilario-Lacson, in her book entitled,

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Kapampangan Writing: A Selected Compendium and Critique mentioned that, according to the legend, Sinukuan got extremely disappointed with the people of Candaba that he lifted up the entire mountain and transferred it to its present site in Arayat, thus, leaving behind the basin like swamp that has been home for hundreds of migratory birds in Candaba. Another account by Don Pedro Serrano, tells the reason for the wrath of Sinucuan. According to him, Sinukuan tried to establish relations with the Candabeños. He built a bridge made of humungous rocks that would connect him to them. What he had in mind was to give the Candabeños everything they need without making them work for it. Before the bridge was finished, he asked his Aeta servant to buy darac, hay or palay husk used as feeds for pigs and pay using ginger roots that eventually turned into crude gold. When the Candabeños found out about this, they devised a plan to abduct and kill the servant the next time he would visit their town. As soon as Sinukuan learned about what happened, he immediately severed his ties with the Candabeños and punished them.

Sinukuan is a believed to be a god who resides in Mount Arayat. He is also referred to as Suku or Sukwu in other sources. His name was not derived from the Tagalog verb which means to surrender. Fray Diego Bergano, a Spanish friar who wrote a Kapampangan dictionary said that suku is defined as, "an indeterminate end". Other sources say it means invincible or respected winner or victor.

Pre-Hispanic epics and legends were not written down, what kept them alive was the oral tradition, the handing over of stories from one generation to the next through word of mouth. Priestesses called babaylans were the ones who are privileged to be tasked to chant these epics to the people of their community.

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Quoting one source that describes Philippine ethnic literature, it says, "Philippine ethnic literature is a rich repository of ideas, ideals, and sentiments, preserved through centuries of oral transmission. " The oral tradition was our means of reliving these great stories despite the constant repression by our colonizers. When the babaylans eventually vanished, the oral tradition still continued to flourish. This was through parents or grandparents passing on to their children these stories in the form of bedtime stories and the like. A downside of the oral tradition is that it has become a venue for the creation of a plethora of versions of these epics and legends and since written accounts of these stories were made on a very much later date, versions close to the original are very difficult or in some cases impossible to find. This is very true for the legend of Sinukuan. Emerson Sanchez, in 2001, conducted a fieldwork to search for a written Kapampangan version of the legend that is closest to the original orally transmitted story, but his efforts were in vain. The versions he found were usually written in English and Spanish and the Kapampangan versions he found were according to him, "[seem to be] creative adaptations or embellished versions, and not the exact written version of the orally transmitted folk narrative. Perhaps another factor why there are a lot of variations of the legend of Sinukuan is the dynamic characteristic of Philippine literature, our pre-colonial epics and legends have adapted to the changing times. They have become flexible depending on the experiences of the people or the situations they are in. Quoting from Robby Tantingco,

"Suku was a giant, a god, a sorcerer. He was evil, he was benign. He was a man, he was a woman. He was generous but he was capable of cruel pranks and punishments. He was the most handsome man on earth but he could magically transform himself into a beast and even into

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a mosquito. Kapampangans could not make up their minds about what he really was. Maybe he was whatever Kapampangans projected him to be, according to their individual fears, aspirations and imaginations, or maybe according to historical conditions and experiences of each generation."

During the pre-Hispanic times, Sinukuan was portrayed to be god who possessed powers over nature. He could create storms that could last for weeks. He could punish the people he despises by transforming them into animals. When Christianity came to Pampanga, Suku became a benign god, a loving god, much more like the image of the Catholic God introduced to us by the Spaniards. His three daughters were given Catholic names; one account said that they were named Rosalina, Rosa-Minda, and Doña Maria. In a version by Teodulo D, Franco in 1916, his wife, who was depicted to be a beautiful woman, was said to be named Marianusep de Sinucuan, an obvious derivation from the names of Mary and Joseph.

As I have mentioned earlier, there is a plethora of variations of the legend of Suku. There is also a dispute about his gender. Some say that he is not a he but rather, a she, an enchantress who lived in a gorgeous palace in the mountain. It is a palace that is richly adorned with jewels like rubies, diamonds and other precious stones that no human eye could look at it for a long time (Arrastia, 1915). In an account by Macario G. Naval, Sinucuan is the wife of Minga and the mother of their three beautiful daughters.

Another claim about the legend of Sinukuan was that he was actually a historical being. He is thought to be someone who has an important position in the pre-colonial society. A local chieftain perhaps, "whose otherwise ordinary human attributes and maybe slightly extraordinary

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exploits assumed mythical proportions with each re-telling of his story across the centuries." (Tantingco). The existing evidence of this claim is from a Chinese historian who has documented his county's relationship with the Philippines. The Philippines has been actively involved in trade relationships with the Chinese, to be more specific, with the Southern Chinese. The relationship that was forged between these two countries did not end there. Both countries have traded with each other not just products but along the way, they have bartered practices, beliefs and cultures as well. This relationship is so strong that the earliest written accounts about the Philippines were written by a Chinese historian by the name of Chua-Ju-Kua or Chao-Ju-Kua in other sources, in 1225. In his book entitled Chu Fan Chih: An Account of Various Barbarians, he has mentioned the Philippines or Ma'i, the pre-colonial name of the Philippines. The word barbarians here, is used without any derogatory connotations. It does not mean uncivilized and violent people as we understand its definition now, rather, it simply means people living outside their country or people different from them. Chao-Ju-Kua described our ancestors as trustworthy and industrious people in his account. In 1967, a thesis entitled, Sino-Filipino historico-cultural Relations was written by Wang Teh-ming. `[This] thesis made use of old Chinese documents [like the Dong Xi Yang Kao Vol. 5] to reconstruct the relations between the Chinese and the early settlers of Luzon.' (Mallari, 2007).

According to Filipino historian, Michael Pangilinan and linguist Hiraoki kitano, in an interview by Joel Pabustan Mallari, there were passages in the old documents used by Wang the-ming "that mentioned a certain `Suku' (or Sukwu), (the) `King of Lusung', and (the) `pulangki' (or `Fo lang Ji')" (Mallari, 2007). In 1405, 17th of October, Luzon, together with Mao-li-wua and envoys from Java, presented tributes to the Chinese government. This was recorded in the

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Chinese annals, the Ming Shi and Ming Shi Lu. In the same year, a Chinese fleet of over 60 vessels and 27,000 people under the command of Admiral Cheng Ho, visited the Philippines. This was not the last of the interactions between the two countries, a second Lu-sung mission went to china and brought presents to the celestial Ming emperor. This act was reciprocated by the emperor by sending gifts of silks, strings of copper "cash", porcelain and many others all for the King of Luzon. Who then is this king of Luzon who was also mentioned by Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in his 1567 report? Accounts say that this said to be "King of Luzon" is none other than Lakandula of Tondo. Mr. Pangilinan believes that these two persons, the one recognized by the Ming emperor and that of Adelantado Legazpi is one and the same person since both encounters happened contemporaneously with each other.

What does the King of Tondo have to do with the Kapampangans? According to Z.A. Salazar, there is a possibility that there were two major groups of settlers that lived along the riverbanks of Pasig and Pampanga rivers. These two rivers are both connected with Tondo. These chiefdoms are associated with each other as early as 900 AD.

In an article by Joel Pabustan Mallari, he says,

"The old Lakandula (Dec.16, 1503 – Mar. 21, 1589) said to be a native of Tabungao of Kalumpit Province (now Bulacan), was the sovereign chief of Tondo. Again if the initial translations done by Pangilinan are precise in identifying certain names (?) like Suku, king of Luzon and Apulaki, these entitles might refer to only one person in the name of Lakan Dula, the old lakan of Tondo, the king of Luzon, the recognized leader by the Ming emperor and that of the people in Borneo… it was during the time of Lakandula,

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when he was the suku, chief of Tondo… The Pampanga nobility were closely allied with the royal family of Tondo. The fact that Dionisio Kapolong of Candaba who was once part of the old Arayat's Balen ning Pabuit was Lakandula's son, and one of his brothers was among the captives taken in the Bangkusay battle."

A lot of people, despite these evidences have remained skeptical in believing the validity of this claim. Mr. Michael Pangilinan, and Mr. Hiraoki Kitano both believe that further research about this connection would be a great deal of help to firmly establish the truth of this claim. Despite this, I still strongly believe that Sinukuan's legend is not a mere fabrication of the minds of our Kapampangan ancestors. I believe that this is their way of relieving the greatness not just of the Kapampangans or the people of Luzon but the Filipinos as a whole.

This is where an important function of the epics and legends come in. Epics and legends have become an integral part of the early Philippine society. According to Plato in the Republic, stories about heroism play an important part in education, especially in inculcating a certain sense of courageousness and pride in the citizens of the polis. In one version of The Republic, it says, "Literature, Socrates continues, must deal only with suitable subjects, and only in a suitable manner. He prescribes in some detail as to both subject and form: in effect, the poet may tell only plain stories of virtuous people." Our epics, like their Greek counterparts, have done the same to the pre-colonial Filipino society. They have promoted the valor and excellence of our ancestors and reflected the customs and traditions they have. Damiana Eugenio affirms this by saying, "The folk epic gains greatest national significance from its lofty theme and seriousness of purpose and from the fact that it embodies the beliefs, customs, ideals or life-values of the people

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who chant them." Despite the various versions of the story of Sinukuan, certain values remained in tact. Sinukuan was always portrayed to be strong, courageous and who can endure long battles. He often wins in his battles just like in his battle with the deity of Mount Zambales. In an account by Alfredo Nicdao, he says, "The two giants saw each other and in an instant huge stones were hurled against each other. The battle went on for two days and the opponent of Suku was beaten…" (1916). Another value that was constant in the different versions of the story is Sinukuan's unconditional love for his daughters. Whenever suitors come near them, he punishes them by transforming them into animals (usually pigs) or into beasts (de los Reyes, 1915; Nicdao, 1915; Santos, 1889; Franco, 1916). These values are also manifested in our other epics and legends.

Our legends speak greatly of who we are as a people. They boast of the heroism and bravery of our ancestors. They are also manifestations of how creative their imaginations were. They also showcase our rich culture and traditions. It is just so unfortunate that for lack of written records, researches and other factors, we have little information and recollection of our legends. Modernity has also contributed to this loss. The present generation of Filipinos knows more about Korean epic-legends like Ju Mong, Hwang Ji Ni, and Jang Geum or Western heroic epics like Brave Heart and Gladiator over our Filipino legends. Reliving these legends is important for they give us a sense of who we are as genuine Filipinos being that they are untainted by any foreign influence. More than being fictitious creations of our ancestors our epics boasts of Filipino pride.

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Eugenio, Damiana L. The Myths (Philippine Folk Literatur Series: Volume 2). Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2001

---. Epics of the Philippines1

Hilario-Lacson, Evangelina. Kapampangan Writing: A Selected Compendium and Critique.2

Icban-Castor, Rosalina. Literatur of the Pampangos. Manila: University of the East Press, 1981

Sanchez, Emerson. "Looking For Sinukwan: A researcher's personal notes" Singsing Vol. 5. No. 1: 31-32

Tantingco, Robby. "The Magical, Mystical Suku of Mount Arayat". Singsing Vol. 5. No. 1:


Serrano, Pedro. "El Fabuloso Suku (The Mythical Suku)". Trans. Fr. Edilberto V. Santos. Singsing. Vol. 5. No.1: 23-28

Mallari, Joel Pabustan. "Suku as a Historical Figure". Singsing Vol. 5. No. 1: 33-35

Rouse, W.H.D. The Great Dialogues of Plato. New York: Penguin Books, 1984


1 From my readings in Araling Pilipino 12 under Prof. Mary Jane Rodriguez Tatel

2Retrieved as a monograph on March 5, 2008 in the Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies in Holy Angel University, Angeles City without any other information aside from the title and author.

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