Mungan: The First Babaylan

Dear Mungan,

To the people of Bukidnon, you are the first babaylan. You are the true heroine of their beloved epic, Ulaging, even though the honor goes to Agyu and his brothers.

Your husband shunned you because of your leprosy but your brothers-in-law were kind to you.

They took turns carrying you on their backs on the long journey from the sea to the mountain top of Mt. Kitanglad.

Conflict has come to the shore so your people had to flee to the mountains.

One day you told them that you didn’t want to slow them down anymore.

So they built you a hut and went on their journeys, returning on occasion to bring you food and gifts.

In truth, they returned for instructions from you because you alone knew where they should go and how they can find food for their bodies and souls.

You taught them the virtue of sharing food. You told them that even if the meat is no bigger than a baby’s fingernail, that they must share it.

You taught them that they can achieve immortality without first experiencing death.

You taught them that they can attain the highest state of spirituality by abstaining from material wants and sustenance.

You taught them that they will lose their fear of famine and starvation.

You taught them that their bodies will shine like gold in the end carried on a magic flying ship to the world beyond the skies.

One day, just before dawn, you began to beat your gong. Slowly at first, then building up to a rhythmic trance.

It soon became light and just before the sun rose, you looked up with amazement…

The sky in the east looked like polished metal

You kept on beating your gong but never took your eyes off the Sun

Gazing at it without blinking.

You were amazed that the sound of the gong now sounds like laughter and it became so loud

When you took your gaze off the sun to look around you, all the weeds and wild plants around your hut have turned to gold

And the leprosy slowly left your body.

The Sun — source of magical power

The blinding light heals the leprous body of the gong-playing maiden

Your eyes became the conduit for the energy that would humanize the gong with the gift of laughter

Having conquered disease and death, now your scabs have turned into mountain rice birds; they flew away but one of the birds returned to you with a vial of coconut oil, a gold striped betel nut, and pinipig from the first harvest.

Mungan, all around you shines with golden light.

In rapture and spiritual ecstasy, your body is radiant with transcendent light.

To Lena, the first brother, you gave the first betel nut of immortality

And as he chewed, his speech became different

He began to speak in the words of ancient poetry

Dear Mungan, your quest for a safe homeland for your people

In the time of war and violence

Your desire to lead them to paradise

To found a new community

To lead people in times of trouble

Is hiding in the words of the ancient epic

In these millennial dreams

At the heart of it is the desire for Oneness

People of all creeds, ethnicities belong to one extended family

Who will attain immortality without passing thru death

Dear Mungan,

I beseech you now to shine your light upon us

Teach us how to gaze at the Sun without blinking

So, too, may our bodies shine like gold

So, too, may everything around us shine like gold

We are your descendants in the here and now

Flying ships carried us not quite to the world beyond the skies

But to this continent

Where we are tracing your steps

Where we are building our huts

Where we are forging Oneness

Where we are forging Wholeness

Shine your light upon us, Mungan.

Shine your light upon us.


The story of Mungan lives among the Talaandig, Matigsalugs, Kirintekens, Ilianen-Manobo, Kulamanen, Bukidnons, Higaunon, Livunganen-Arumanen Manobo of Central, Northern and parts of Western Mindanao. Her story lives within the bigger story of Agyu, the epic’s hero. As a sacred chant, the ulahing is believed to be never ending as long as there are storytellers and singers/chanters. I want to keep Mungan alive in each of us.

I culled this version of the story from the work of Herminia Coben in Verbal Arts of Philippine Indigenous Communities.

Leny is Kapampangan. Settler on Pomo and Coast Miwok lands. Founder and Elder at the Center for Babaylan Studies.

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