The world is full of beautiful things, so many in fact that none of us will be able to experience all of them in the short time we have on this earth. Some of us go mad with the thought that there could always be something better for them than what they have. There will always be a nicer car, a more expensive shirt, more stylish shoes, or a seemingly more attractive significant other. The desire to acquire more than we have is born in the consumer culture that permeates our society. There is a constant flow of advertisements, films, celebrity news, fashion updates, etc. that remind us that our value is predicated on the things we own. We are bombarded with messages that tell us that there is always more, but we are never taught about the consequences of overreaching.
The Hinilawod epic, a 28,000 verse poem from the precolonial Philippines, explores not only the desire for more, but also the consequences of it. Over the course of four acts, the story follows generations of one family, each with their own unique plot that feeds into the others that follow. For the purposes of this particular article, the focus will be on the second act, which follows the exploits of the demigod Lobow Donggon, whose lust and power earned him not only the glory and women he sought, but also the most humbling experience of his entire life. Not being a Tagalong speaker, and this being a traditionally oral piece, I had to read through several different abridged versions in English. I am sure that there is much more to the story than I am able to convey in a short summary of one act, but here we go!
Lobow Donggon was the son of the goddess Alunisa and the mortal warrior king Datu Paubari. He was born a triplet; his brothers were named Humadapnon and Dumalapdap. When they were born, their mother had a shaman perform a magical ceremony, which brought in the north wind and immediately turned them from babies to fully grown men. They were handsome with glistening brown skin, strong backs, and shimmering black hair. Lobow Donggon was believed to be the strongest of the trio. Stronger still was his desire for female companionship and the honour of single combat. He had heard that there was a maiden named Angoy Ginbitinan of Handug, who was said to be the most beautiful in the land. He pursued her. Her family would allow for him to marry her only under one condition: he had to kill the monster Manalintad, who was a great and terrifying beast. After an epic battle, Lobow Donggon killed the monster and brought its severed tail to Angoy Ginbitinan’s father as proof of his victory.
After the wedding, Lobow Donggon and his new bride travelled home. On the road back he overheard a group of young men talking. They were on their way to a contest for the hand of Abyang Durunuun, sister to the lord of the underworld and fabled to be the most beautiful woman in the world. His interest was piqued. Almost immediately after returning home with his new bride, Lobow Donggon set out on a quest to win the hand of this fabled beauty. Blocking his path to her was another, even greater monster than the first he had faced. He killed it with his great sword and won his prize. Lobow Donggon took Abyang Durunuun as his second wife and returned home with her.
He was not home for long before his eye caught fire for another woman, this time it was Malitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata, the wife of Saragnayan, the Lord of Darkness. She was said to have been the most beautiful woman in all of earth and heaven. Feeling powerful from his past victories, Lobow Donggon challenged the Lord of Darkness to a duel; Malitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata would serve as the prize. His challenge was accepted and after an intense struggle, Lobow Donggon was defeated. For his bravado, the Lord of Darkness shamed him by tying him to a post in the pigpen beneath his house. There Lobow Donggon stayed for several years until the sons born of the wives he left at home were strong enough to rescue him from captivity. They defeated the Lord of Darkness, untied Lobow Donggon from the pigpen, and carried him home.
This act of the Hinilawod epic teaches us what it means to lose sight of what we have. Lobow Donggon has barely enough time to get to know his new bride before he is off looking for another. Regardless of the beauty and pedigree of his new bride, Lobow Donggon is quickly distracted by the prospect of finding a new wife that might raise his status even higher. With each victory he feels empowered and takes on a bigger challenge. He was even willing to take on the Lord of Darkness for a woman that was already married, and he paid dearly for it. At home he had two dutiful wives, both pregnant and waiting for him to return, despite the disregard with which he treated them. In a world where everything is disposable, we are often guilty of the same.
The bloated consumerist gourmand that is our society repeatedly reminds us that what we have and who we are not good enough. If we do not acquire we do not have value. If we are not on a constant search for the novel and rare, we are unmotivated and less deserving. If we do not have the right friends, we are not worth entertaining. We are fed this false sense of urgency that demands we move quickly to obtain the latest version of a product we already own. If we do not, then we risk missing out on essentially the same experience with “new and improved” written on the package. The constant pursuit of newer and better eventually takes its toll. Many of us end up spending more time and money than we should. Some of us sink into credit card debt; others have an ever mounting piles composed of long forgotten purchases they discarded after the high of the initial acquisition had passed. For those of us unable to maintain this lifestyle, there is depression. We doubt our intrinsic value because of our inability to stay current with the constant flow of novelty.
Some people may look to superficial instead of more profound relationships in search of validation. We surround ourselves with people that care more about us going out on Saturday than the things that keep us up at night. These relationships will often leave us feeling lonely, especially in times of trial and tribulation. Sometimes these friendships can be toxic, full of neglect, abuse, and negativity. We know on many levels that these relationships are not good for us, but like Lobow Donggon in the pig pen, we too are bound into these circumstances because of decisions we make.
Like many of us, Lobow Donggon loses himself to his base desire for more. If he were only satisfied with what he had instead of chasing a woman that was not for him, Lobow Donggon could have spent those lost years with his wives and children instead of sleeping chest high in pig shit. The truth is we all have our own chest high piles of pig shit. It can take many forms: debt, depression, superficial relationships, or any other of the multitude of consequences that exist in the universe.
What saved him, and what can save us is returning to our roots. By returning to our roots I don’t exactly mean some lame pie-in-the-sky teen movie about a road trip to grandma’s house with a second rate sound track of 90’s pop music. What I mean is real introspection. Spend some time alone and ask yourself real questions about your life. What kind of relationships do you need to feel at peace? Are you selecting the right people to build those relationships? What do you want your life to look like several years from now? What are you doing today to make that desire a reality? What things are in your life today that are causing you disharmony? What is preventing you from removing them from your personal space? Lobow Donggon had plenty of time to ask himself these questions in the pigpen. When he was granted freedom, it was not through his own strength. His liberation was granted by the love and honour of the sons he left behind. Lobow Donggon’s quest for women and glory was over; he returns home and lives out his days in peace and happiness.
The most powerful message of this particular act in the Hinilawod epic is in the decision that Lobow Donggon makes at the end of the act. He chose to stay at home instead of trying to regain his former fame. He was a demi-god, with strength and gifts from the gods that men could only dream of. He could have sought out more monsters and found more young and beautiful wives, but he didn’t. He recognized what truly matters to him and decided to stay where he could be fulfilled in a way that killing monsters and stacking trophy wives simply could not. On that note, I leave you with this thought, you may be locked in your own pig pen, choked by the fetor of decisions you may now regret. This will not last forever. Focusing on the things that truly matter will find you the strength you need to find liberation. Once you find that strength, your bonds will break and you will find yourself in the embrace of a joy you never knew existed.
Be good to yourselves and each other.
Adam H.C. Myrie
More on myths from the Philippines: http://precolonailphilippinesmyths.blogspot.ca/