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The Enchantress Maria Makiling (Mountain Goddesses of the Philippines Part 1)
There is a consistent amount of stories in the Philippines about a beautiful young woman with supernatural abilities living in the mountains and beloved by her people because of her extraordinary kindness and generosity.
She is not a creature of flesh and blood but a nymph from the fog and mists of these dusky mountains. An old maid-servant, an Amazon who defended her home against the outlaws and renegades or just a bountiful recluse with a legend as timeless and just as varied.
Its a story all too familiar to me.
The first among them is the fairy Maria Makiling, or the contracted form Mariang Makiling - Maria ng Makiling(Maria of Mt. Makiling)She was the mysterious protector of the natural resources and all the wildlife in the mountain.
In school it was taught as one of the great examples of Philippine Literature, Folklore and Mythology. A fantastic fairytale about love, charity and more importantly the value and respect for nature.
But there was more to the story. Does she not have only one, but many other names known throughout the archipelago?
Come with me on a journey to the lush greens of my jungle, to the deep blues of our rivers and springs and experience the magic and fantasy of our mountain goddesses to a time long before the Spaniards came to christianize the country.
Who is Mariang Makiling?
Just ask anyone from Ph and they will tell you all about mystical and elusive Maria. Her wonders and the many superstitions attributed to her they heard from their grandparents that goes back many generations on the mayflower.
They say she is the guardian of Mount Makiling (also spelled Maquiling) which means "crooked" or "bent", a dormant volcano that separates the provinces of Los Bañoz, Laguna and Tayabas, Quezon in the island of Luzon. Situated from Laguna de Bay to a rugged top and breaks into irregular hills southward, thus leaning or uneven, the mountain rises to an elevation of 1,090 m (3,580 ft) above sea level and is the highest feature of the Laguna Volcanic Field. The volcano has no recorded historic eruption but volcanism is still evident through geothermal features like mud springs and hot springs.
A less often mentioned possible origin for the name of the mountain is that the name describes the mountain as having plenty of the bamboo variety known as "kawayang kiling" (Bambusa vulgaris Schrad).
By this etymology, the mountain would have been named after the bamboo, and the lady named after the mountain.
Maria Makiling is responsible for protecting it's bounty and thus, is also a benefactor for the townspeople who depend on the mountain's resources. Legends do not clarify whether this spirit was named after the mountain or the mountain was named after her.
And because this particular mountain belongs to the Laguna region, in addition to being a guardian of the mountain, some legends also identify the lake Laguna de Bay - and the fish caught from it - as part of her domain.
"Bay" comes from the earlier form of the word "Ba'i"(pronounced bá-ê), a short form of "babaji" and the modern Tagalog word "babae" which means "woman or lady".Laguna de Bay either simply means Lake of the Woman or Lady of the Lake.
There is a significant link between Maria Makiling and the mythical Ba'i. When the lady of the lake also became associated with the nearby mountain, the common description of her became that of the 'Lady of the Mountain'.
An Enchanting Beauty
She is probably the most prominent fairy figure in Philippine Folklore, along with her counterparts in other regions such as Mariang Sinukuan and Maria Cacao.
Her appearance and description raises the bar when we speak of Diwata/Diwani(fairy), Engkantada(enchantress) or Lambana(pixies and forest nymphs). Because of this popularity, a lot of movie and tv characters are based on her. For this reason, she is a favorite subject for artists as well.
Various actresses have claimed the role of the famous enchantress through the years
She's often described in these tales as a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, her skin a clear pure brown(the Kayumangging Kaligatan in Tagalog), with twinkling big black eyes and long and abundant hair that almost touch the ground.
Unlike the mischevious skimpy-dressed Tinkerbells of the West, she remained humble, pure and simple, always being described wearing a long flowing white gown and a calm but serious expression on her never-aging face.
This however is probably not the original image of the enchantress but a result of strict moral codes during the conservative Spanish occupation when women were always covered up and expected to display graceful elegance and submission at all times.
Nobody knows how old she actually is, some say she's as old as the mountain itself.The abundance and serenity of the enchanted mountain complements Maria's own persona so much that she is also closely associated with the white mist that often surrounds it.
Few stories spoke that either her skin or hair is white, but in most tales, it is her radiant clothing which makes people who have seen her confuse a wisp of cloud through the trees and mistook it for Maria.
However, the mountain's various peaks are also believed to be Maria's face and two breasts. Resembling a reclining woman or sleeping giant from certain angles, her hair cascades downwards a gentle slope away from her body.
Personifying a natural phenomenon is a common belief of the early Filipinos as a way to explain events in simpler terms, but also a significant reminder of the Animist and Pagan culture we once had.
The Kind Stranger
The most notable characteristic of Maria Makiling is her kindness and charitable nature.
When older folks gather firewood or pick wild fruits in the mountain, she would appear to them as a young girl offering to help. Having a good heart, she would then secretly slip gold nuggets, coins and even jewels and gem stones into their pile of wood or fruit baskets.
Tired hunters tell their own encounters about her inviting them to her secret home in the mountain. Providing them with a place to rest, she would then serve them with a warm meal and cold drinks. As a parting gift, she often gives pieces of ginger, usually with an instruction to take it to their wives for cooking.
To the hunter's and their families' surprise, these pieces of ginger turns into pieces of gold when they arrive home, but only if they followed her command. If not, they lose it and never find it again.
When the poor country folk on the slopes of Makiling needed clothing, jewelry or utensils for important and solemn occasions of life such as weddings, Maria Makiling does not hesitate to lend them. This part of the legend is also similar to another mountain goddess known as Maria Cacao..but more on her later.
She can appear however she wants.
Sometimes she likes to test one's kindness to others by disguising herself as an old woman begging for food from the local villagers. When one is deemed honorable and kind, Maria will grant them gifts, a common lesson usually found in comic books also linked with encounters of mystical hermits.
Those who refused to help her however, face the consequence of being chased away from the mountain by the sound of howling monsters hiding in the shadows of the woods.
To repay the generosity she showed them, the people often leave offerings to Maria Makiling that they believed to be her favorite fruits, some fowls or eggs.
The most common among these is a hen with feathers as white as milk that is less than a year old(a 'dumalaga' as the Tagalog say) and leave it on the grounds of Mount Makiling.
This practice of animal offerings or sacrifices goes back to the Ancestral worship of the countries in the Hindu-Malay peninzula during the classical era.
Home in the Mountain
Her dwelling place was never definitely known because those who had the luck to deal with her would wander about for a long time lost in the woods unable to return to her haven, neither did they remember the way.
It can only be found if one is allowed by Maria to find it.
Unlike Maria Sinukuan and Maria Cacao who live in caves in their respective mountains, some say her home was a beautiful palace, bright as a golden reliquary, surrounded by gardens and fine parks. Others assert that they saw only a wretched hut with a patched roof and bamboo sides up in the mountain.
In some stories, this hut is situated in the village amongst the people, where Maria Makiling once lived before she fled to the mountains after having been offended for some reason.
The distinct differences of these accounts from eyewitnesses led to the theory that most of them are probably just romanticizing. But it may also be due to the fact that Mariang Makiling, like many persons in comfortable circumstances, might have had several dwelling places.
A Demoted Goddess
The term Maria Makiling is a hispanized evolution of an alternate name for "Dayang Makiling" - "dayang" being an austronesian word meaning "princess" or "noble lady".
They say she favors to appear after a storm scurrying over the fields, and whenever she passed.. life, order, and calm were renewed. She strolls around the woods to straighten broken trunks, replace nests on the branches of trees, mend the wings of butterflies, and clear the streams of fallen twigs and logs. As she walks around, all traces of the unchained elements were wiped away; roses and orchids bloom, birds chirp with glee, and deers run around once again.
That is because Maria Makiling was venerated in pre-colonial Philippines as a goddess known as Dayang Masalanta or Dian/Diyan Masalanta who was invoked to stop deluge, storms and earthquakes.
She was the patron of Mount Makiling, the goddess of fertility, love, childbirth and the protector of lovers. She belonged to the Bathala Pantheon and youngest of all the deities. The daughter of Anagolay, the goddess of lost things and Dumakulem, the strong, agile guardian of mountains.
Ironically, "hindi iyan(contracted:di'yan) masasalanta" is a Tagalog phrase which means 'it's never gonna be ravaged(by disasters).
When the Spanish arrived on Philippine shores in 1565, they stomped the earlier Shamanic religions that existed in order to convert Filipinos to the new faith that is Catholicism.Their efforts were not fully successful at first, and many resistance against the colonization was apparent.
To further cement their agenda, they either demonized or demoted the earlier gods and goddesses and remodeled them as the lesser saints and Elementals we know today.
In the case of Diyan Masalanta, her worship diminished considerably and she is now known as a petty enchantress or dryad.
Supernatural or Superstition?
Because stories about Maria Makiling were part of oral tradition long before they were even documented, there are numerous versions of the tale. Some of these are not stories per se, but superstitions.
- One famous superstition is that everytime mountaineers would disappear into the forests of Mount Makiling, people say that they were most likely abducted by the enchantress. Whenever there are hiking accidents near the mountain, they would say it was Maria that caused it or the spirits that follow her.
- If Maria takes a liking to a particular mortal man who wanders in her land, she would take him to be her husband and takes him into her home. He would then spend his remaining days in matrimonial bliss in the fairy realm, lost and unable to return to his own human family forever.
- Another superstition says that one can go into the forests to pick and eat fruits one might like, but never ever carry any of them home. In doing so, they risk angering Maria Makiling and get lost or be beset by insects and thorn pricks. The only solution is to throw away the fruit, and then to reverse one's clothing to present as evidence to Maria that they no longer carry her fruits.
Tales of Love
Perhaps the most obvious pattern in her legends are the stories about her falling in love with a mortal man. Because who wouldn't want to be the object of a beautiful and powerful goddess' affections?
(The Spurned Lover)
Maria Makiling fell in love with a young and handsome farmer.
This beloved by Maria Makiling tilled fields that always bloomed abundantly even when the fields of his neighbors lay dry and barren. His animals and fowls remain strong and robust even when famine and pests killed his neighbor's flock. Indeed this young man was blessed and protected by a beautiful and unseen spirit!
But even mutyas suffered from broken hearts.
Time came when the Spaniards wanted to gather all the strong and able men to serve in the army and fight the many wars going on. The married men in the villages were not forced to join the army. Because of this, the other men fled to the mountains. But Maria Makiling's beloved chose to marry a village girl. On the eve of his wedding, he was walking along the grassy paths of the forests. Suddenly, in the mists and shadows of the evening, Maria Makiling floated before him and said;
"I have loved you with all the love I am capable of in this world of mortals and know you will marry someone else. I had hoped that you would have faith in me. I had hoped that you would love me in return. But you need an earthly love. I could have protected you and your family. I shall go my way from hereon, and you go your own. Now I leave you to your fate!" She vanished as was never seen again.
(The Three Suitors)
Maria was sought for and wooed by many suitors. Three of whom were the Captain Lara, a Spanish soldier; Joselito, a Spanish mestizo studying in Manila; and Juan who was but a common farmer.
Despite his lowly status, Juan was chosen by Maria Makiling.
Spurned, Joselito and Captain Lara conspired to frame Juan for setting fire to the cuartel of the Spanish. As a result, Juan was shot as the enemy of the Spaniards. Before he died, he cried Maria's name out loud.
The diwata quickly came down from her mountain while Captain Lara and Joselito fled to Manila in fear of Maria's wrath. When she learned what happened, she cursed the two, along with all other men who cannot accept failure in love. Soon, the curse took effect. Joselito suddenly contracted an incurable illness and the revolutionary Filipinos killed Captain Lara.
Disappearance and Modern Sightings
As time went by people saw less of Mariang Makiling. Now lovers get married without receiving her jewels and other presents. Hikers get lost in the woods for hours without help. Many fear that she has disappeared forever, avoiding any contact with mankind. An invisible presence, always felt but rarely seen.
A common story is that of a group of hikers left their camp dirty with human waste and empty cans and bottles. Searching for water, the hikers find themselves befuddled, coming back to the same place over and over again. Only after they cleaned their camp did they manage to find water.
The Lady in White
In the University of the Philippines Los Baños, that sits on the foot of Mount Makiling, students tell stories of a woman in white who is sighted walking down the long uphill road heading to the Upper (College of Forestry) Campus. Sometimes, the woman appears to be trying to hitch a ride down the mountain. Invariably, the observers are said to be frightened and just ignore the woman, believing her to be Maria Makiling in the flesh.
The unusual weather patterns on the mountain area are also often attributed to Maria Makiling. Often this means sudden rains whenever particularly noisy events are held in the areas near the mountain. Locals say that the fairy does not approve of the event disturbing her peace and quiet.
Many blame Maria Makiling’s disappearance from the forest on the people who do not return her generosity.
Others say that the excessive cutting of trees and hunting of endangered wild animals have greatly disappointed her that she refuses to come out anymore.
Yet on the side of the mountain, there is a clear, quiet pool hidden among thick vegetation.
The legend persists that the vapory figure of Mariang Makiling may still be seen reflected in this pool in the mists of early dawn. And so the legend of Maria from the Crooked Mountain lives on..
Stay tuned for Part 2, The legend of Mariang Sinukuan of Mount Arayat in Pampanga.