There are many ways to enter islands, as there are many ways to read myths.
On the 31th of January, at 8 in the morning, in this year of the Pig, our boat left the quiet port of Pilar. The town where we departed from is obscured by another town, Donsol. The giant “Butanding” or whale shark finds its home in the town of Donsol and ignores Pilar. There was once a story about an official who, when he found out that people had caught a butanding, decided to tie it to a boat, moor the giant sea mammal near where the people could see it. It is said he called for a press conference to announce that whale sharks do come to Pilar.
There were no whale sharks, no regular sharks even, to grace our trip. As soon as the fastcraft had left the cove, I fell into a deep sleep, the kind that terminated dreams after an hour or so. That was all I needed: To wake up after an hour. I knew what to expect, I remembered the hours upon this sea.
Everybody was asleep when I walked out of the cabin, onto the deck. Even as my memories of this trip assured me of directions, the view of the westernmost edge of island of my birth still stunned me. I felt I could touch the trees and old plants on the island to my left and the cluster of smaller islands to my left. I should hold my arms out and feel the wind. Maybe, just maybe, I would nudge the crags, catch the sand and stones raining down the cracks on the hills, onto the formed caves, into the depth of the blue, this green sea.
The boat curved to the left and pitched to the right. The sea from the vast Visayan sea and the seas that are filled by the rivers of the towns from the island designed waves disturbing the calmness of the sea. The sea was talking to me. The islands were telling stories.
It is always a terrible beauty to behold that the land on which we build our homes terminates somewhere. The end of the island is a religion by itself, a belief that is never questioned but rather embraced to honor more faiths.
If grief is to be geographically located, it should always be where islands murder the eternity of landmass to give way to another life. Perhaps, the metaphor of killing is just our way of surrendering to the power of the sea. The interminable, even when measured, of the sea is the only reason why islands are islands.
I am fated to be born on this island, I tell myself. I can be more open to the universe than those who are proud because they have been told of lies about powerful geographies, of biographies rooted in landlocked courage.
I know my islands – they end somewhere.
The travel was over and I was soon on the land of Masbate. It is called “the Mainland.” That term makes the other two islands of Ticao and Burias, not main, merely supporting territories. But I know I will witness again that entrance to this mainland. On my way home, I will examine the islands once more and recall their names.
On the 3rd of February, I took the boat that was destined by reckoning to pass through the same egress/ingress points. This time, I will summon the old myths to tell me the narratives of the islands.
Again, an hour after the boat had left the Masbate port, I went up the deck. It was afternoon at Ticao Pass.
The multiple narratives of the ancient myths speak of deities and their conflicts with each other. At the center of the tale is Haliya/Halea, the moon goddess. She is courted by Bakunawa, the huge Serpent. Bakunawa and Haliya are sometimes described as brother and sister; sometimes, they are defined by their love or hate of each other. Love and Hate, today and even more clearly so in mythic times, are the same meanings and un-meanings.
Haliya or Halea was also the ritual for the moon goddess, the benign of the divinities when islands ruled as beings. Haliya was said to have been worshipped by women and looked upon the destinies of the females. Then there was Bulan and the babaylan – the male priests who assumed the appearance of women, the anomalous mediators who guarded the secrets of this god/goddess. There were, of course, other stories.
The seas rolled again. To my right this time was the huge clump of land. It is known now as “Bagababoy Island,” or something that looks like a pig. I looked at it again. It floated like a huge lizard with massive head. It could be bigger but the other half of its body was submerged in the sea. Could this be Bakunawa? The boat moved so fast I could not determine where were those waterfalls that bubbled from the top of a cliff in Tog-oron and plummeted down into the clear marriage of the freshwater and the sea. That spot is called “Katandayagan Falls.” The “tandayag” was any serpent that had become so big for its cave – or the land – that it needed to leave its lair and live long in the vastness of the sea.
Was Bakunawa a Tandayag? Was Tandayag the Bakunawa?
In the lores of the land, the Bakunawa was oftentimes interchangeable with the Tandayag. Bakunawa was the monster that swallowed the moon during eclipses. Bakunawa, the Serpent with a Crown, was the one to be placated if one needed to work on geomancy, the magic of the earth. Make sure the orientation of the big post of y0ur house is in harmony with the head of the Bakunawa, the old men and women cautioned.
Where is Haliya? On the boat, one could not see it fully. Rounder, the island which bears the name of the moon goddess, was hidden by the bigger islands. When the boat left the sea guarded by those islands, the seas turned rough. I went down from the deck and entered the cabin. Behind me loomed the islands. They were not rocks and crags. They were the divine beings of our old, old childhoods.
Did I listen enough? Did I believe the stories they told me?
The boat was turning to the left. If it travelled straight on, away from where I could see the Bulusan, and, behind it, Mayon, the boat would be in Bulan, the town where one departs for Ticao. But my boat was heading for Pilar, the port that, as the story goes, captures mammals.
No port, however, can capture and moor myths.