The Bakunawa, also known as Bakonawa, Baconaua, or Bakonaua, is a deity in Philippine Mythology that is often represented as a gigantic sea serpent. He is believed to be the god of the underworld and is often considered to be the cause of eclipses.
It appears as a giant sea serpent with a mouth the size of a lake, a red tongue, whiskers, gills, small wires at its sides, and two sets of wings, one are large and ash-gray while the other are small and are found further down its body.
Tales about the Bakunawa say that it is the cause of eclipses. During ancient times, Filipinos believe that there are seven moons created by Bathala to light up the sky. The Bakunawa, amazed by their beauty, would rise from the ocean and swallow the moons whole, angering Bathala and causing them to be mortal enemies.
To keep the Bakunawa's moons from completely being swallowed, ancient Filipinos would go out of their homes with pans and pots, and would make noise in order to scare the Bakunawa into spitting out the moon back into the sky.
In Filipino folk literature, the Bakunawa is said to have a sister in the form of a sea turtle. The sea turtle would visit a certain island in the Philippines in order to lay its eggs. However, locals soon discovered that every time the sea turtle went to shore, the water seemed to follow her, thus reducing the island's size. Worried that their island would eventually disappear, the locals killed the sea turtle.
When the Bakunawa found out about this, it arose from the sea and ate the moon. The people were afraid so they prayed to Bathala to punish the creature. Bathala refused but instead told them to bang some pots and pans in order to disturb the serpent. The moon is then regurgitated while the Bakunawa disappeared, never to be seen again.
The island where the sea turtle lays its eggs is said to exist today. Some sources say that the island might just be one of the Turtle Islands.
The Dragon and the Seven Moons
A modern children's book is written about the creature. The text of the book include the following:
- Long ago, there were seven moons
- that waxed and waned together.
- The people treasured them as jewels in the sky
- from the supreme god, Bathala.
- Down in the sea,
- lived an enormous dragon called Bakunawa,
- the god of darkness and despair.
- One night, while looking at the moons,
- he thought, "The moons are so cool and smooth.
- Their brightness could light the bottom of the sea.
- I wonder if they are as delicious as they look?"
- Bakunawa decided he had to have a moon.
- "There are so many moons
- no one should notice one missing," he thought.
- With a mighty leap he flew from the sea
- and swallowed one of the moons.
- Bakunawa proudly swam
- with a glowing moon in his stomach.
- As he swam, the moon moved in his body
- tickling him and making him smile.
- But soon, he noticed
- that the moon was melting away like candy.
Other serpentine/dragon deities are also found in other myths in the Philippines. These include the Bawa, the Bauta, Mameleu or Mamelen or Nanreben, and Marcupo or Macupo of Hiligaynon mythology, Buwaya or Nono of Tagalog mythology), and Mikonawa or Mikunawa or Minukawa of Bagobo mythology.
Sword hilt ornaments
Figures of the Bakunawa's head decorate the hilts of many ancient Filipino swords. These swords originate in Panay are said to bestow upon the hangaway or mandirigma (sacred warriors) the fearful presence and power of the Bakunawa (or whatever deity/animal they have on their deity hilt) when they wield their swords in combat.
A children's game called Bulan Bulan, Buwan Buwan, or Bakunawa is played in the Philippines. It has 8-6 players arranged in a circle.
A player acts as the buwan/bulan (moon) while another player act as the bakunawa (eclipse), chosen either through Jack-en-poy, “maalis taya”, or “maiba taya.” The other participants stand in a circle facing the center and holding each other's hands. The buwan/bulan stands inside the circle while the bakunawa stands outside.
The object of the game is for the bakunawa to tag or touch the buwan/bulan. The rest of the players try to prevent the bakunawa from doing so by holding on to each other and running around the circle as fast as they can while not letting go of the ones next to them.
For the bakunawa to get into the circle, he or she asks one of the players, "What chain is this?" and when the player replies, "This is an iron chain," the bakunawa should ask another player because an iron chain is supposed to be unbreakable. A player who wants to let the bakonawa in can say, "This is an abaca chain," and should let go of his or her hold. This is usually done when the player playing as the bakunawa is tired from running around.
The bakunawa can also try to get in by going under the linked hands. If the player chosen as the bakunawa is fast and small enough, this can be done easily. As soon as the bakunawa succeeds in getting in, the players forming the circle should let the buwan out of the circle.
The bakunawa then tries to break out of the linked hands to try and get out to catch the buwan/bulan. When the bakunawa succeeds in catching the buwan/bulan, they exchange places, or if both of them are too tired, another pair from the circle of players is chosen as the new bakunawa and buwan/bulan.
- Joanne de Leon, Yuko Saito, and Katherine Rollins. "The Dragon and the Seven Moons". Retrieved on 2007-04-24.