Life of Lam-ang (Biag ni Lam-Ang)- Anatomy of an Ilocano Epic
Anatomy of an Ilocano Epic
Dr Abe V. Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C TenorioDZRB 738 AM, 8 to 9 Evening Class, Monday to Friday
Lesson: Epic. What epic is popular in your place, country? How do you compare it with Lam-ang, or say, the Iliad or the Odessey?
The theme of the epic revolves around the bravery and courage of the main character portrayed by Lam-ang, who was gifted with speech as early as his day of birth, who embarked on a series of adventures which culminated in his heroic death and subsequent resurrection.
This series of adventures started with his search for his lost father who was murdered by the head-hunting Igorots in the Igorot country. While on his way, he met a certain Sumarang, whose name connotes obstruction, who tried to dissuade him from proceeding and who taunted him into a fight. The fight that ensued proved fatal to Sumarang as he was blown “three kingdoms” away with a spear pierced through his stomach. This encounter led to another when he met a nine-headed serpent who, like Sumarang earlier tried to dissuade him from going any further. The serpent having been ignored challenged him into a fight which cost the serpent its heads.
Lam-ang went on until he found it necessary to rest and take a short nap. While asleep, he dreamed of his father’s head being an object of festivities among the Igorots. He immediately arose and continued his journey until he found the Igorots indeed feasting over his father’s head.
He asked the Igorots why they killed his father, but the Igorots instead advised him to go home if he did not want to suffer the same fate which his father suffered. This was accompanied by a challenge to a fight, despite their obvious numerical superiority. But Lam-ang, armed with supernatural powers, handily defeated them, giving the last surviving Igorot a slow painful death by cutting his hands and his ears and finally carving out his eyes to show his anger for what they had done to his father.
Satisfied with his revenge, he went home. At home, he thought of taking a swim in the Cordan River with the company of Cannoyan and her lady-friends. So he proceeded to Cannoyan’s place in the town of Calanutian, disregarding her mother’s advice to the contrary. On his way, he met a woman and named Saridandan, whose name suggests that she was a woman of ill repute. He resisted her blandishments, for his feeling for Cannoyan was far greater for anyone to take.
When he reached Cannoyan’s house, he found a multitude of suitors futilely vying for her hand. With the help of his pets - the cock and the dog - he was able to catch Cannoyan’s attention. He asked her to go with him to the river along with her lady-friends. She acceded. While washing himself in the river, the river swelled, and the shrimps, fishes and other creatures in the river were agitated for the dirt washed from his body was too much. As they were about to leave the river, Lam-ang noticed a giant crocodile. He dove back into the water and engaged with the creature in a fierce fight until the creature was subdued. He brought it ashore and instructed the ladies to pull its teeth to serve as amulets against danger during journeys.
Acknowledgment: three versions of Lam-ang in different art
styles, from Internet, Wikipedia, and concerned artists.
Back at Cannoyan’s house, he was confronted by her parents with an inquiry as to what his real intention was. He had to set aside his alibi that he went there to ask Cannoyan and her friends to accompany him to the river, and told them, through his spokesman - the cock - that he came to ask for Cannoyan’s hand in marriage. He was told that if he desired to marry Cannoyan, he must first be able to match their wealth, for which he willingly complied. Having satisfied her parents, he went home to his mother and enjoined her and his townspeople to attend his wedding which was to take place in Cannoyan’s town.
The wedding was elaborate, an event that involved practically everyone in town. There were fireworks, musical band, and display of attractive items like the glasses, the mirror, the slippers, clothes and nice food. After the wedding, Lam-ang’s party plus his wife and her town mates went back to their town of Nalbuan, where festivities were resumed. The guests expressed a desire to taste a delicacy made of rarang fish.
Lam-ang was obliged to go to the sea and catch the fish. Before going, however, his rooster warned that something unpleasant was bound to happen. This warning proved true, as Lam-ang was swallowed by a big bercacan, or shark-like fish. Cannoyan mourned and for a while she thought there was no way to retrieve her lost husband. But the rooster indicated that if only all the bones could be gathered back, Lam-ang could be brought to life again.
She then enlisted the aid of a certain diver named Marcus, who was ready to come to her aid to look for the bones. When all Lam-ang’s bones were gathered, the rooster crowed and the bones moved. The dog barked, and Lam-ang arose and was finally resurrected. Cannoyan embraced him. For his deep appreciation for the help of his pets - the cock and the dog - and of Marcus the diver, he promised that each other would get his or its due reward. And they lived happily ever after.
This synopsis is based on the transcription made by Jose Llanes from a recitation by memory of the poem by an old farmer, one Francisco Magana, from Bangui Ilocos Norte, sometime in 1947. Of the six old versions of the epic which include a Zarzuela (folk stage play) written by Eufemio L. Inofinada, the Llanes version (206 stanzas) and that of Leopoldo Yabes (305 stanzas) are the most popular. Many believe that the author of the epic is Pedro Bucaneg, a blind Ilocano poet who lived during the early part of Spanish colonization. On close examination the farmer’s (Magana) version pre-dates the Bucaneg’s “Hispanized” version, because the farmer clings more closely to ethnical culture, and is richer with indigenous and pagan influences. Historians believe that Biag ni Lam-ang is an epic drawn out from oral tradition handed down through countless generations in the same way the Greek’s Iliad and Odyssey were handed down through centuries to the modern world. Historians like H. Otley Beyer, Fox, Fay-Cooper Cole and Jose R. Calip believe in the pre- Hispanic origin of the poem. Calip in his doctoral dissertation, University of Santo Tomas, 1957, further stated that “it is not a product of any single mind but as a property of the people- a floating wisdom from the centuries into the generations.” Through a long, slow evolutionary process, it floated from one century to another, and grew into several versions retaining a lucid mirror of the people of the past, reflecting their own values, environment and culture. Reference: Lam-ang in Transition by Kenneth E.Bauzon, Philippine Social Sciences and Humanities Review, Vol XXXVIII, No.3-4.(Dr.A.V.Rotor)