Bicol’s epic legend lives on
From the dustbins of history to the streets of Legazpi City.
This is the unfolding saga of Ibalong, Bicol’s epic legend, which has been revived in a festival.
Regarded as the region’s biggest non-religious festival, Ibalong is based on folklore and is perhaps the only cultural event in the country that relives an epic.
Now in its 26th edition, it is a recreation of a mid-19th century fragments of 60-stanza epic poem penned by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Melendreras about the ancient civilization of the Bicol region.
He was inspired by the accounts of Kadunung, a wandering minstrel and bard for being a fountainhead of folklore.
Cast in the mold of classic mythologies, Ibalong tells about its three legendary heroes—Baltog, Handiong and Bantong—who, with their supernatural strengths, rid the land of beasts and helped attain a golden era.
Arriving at various times in history, these warriors from a faraway land vanquished the dreaded beasts that sowed terror among the populace. Among these dreaded beasts were a giant wild boar called Tandayag and the half-man-half-beast Rabot.
Another prominent character is the villain-turned-heroine Oryol, a beautiful half woman-half- serpent who had a change of heart as she fell in love with Handiong and joined his forces to defeat the monsters of the land.
The legendary heroes cultivated the land, established a government and a justice system followed by an age of discovery and invention that helped civilization flourish.
After recounting their exploits, Kadunung suddenly stopped and promised to resume telling the story some other time.
Scholars noted that while the epic is an unfinished story, it is a living legend where the readers can freely continue the saga with their own interpretations of modern-day heroism.
The epic got into mass exposure in 1895 when editor Wenceslao Retana compiled and annotated its fragments in the book Archivo del Bibliofilo Filipino.
While the original Spanish manuscripts were lost, what exists is the portion copied by Fray Jose Castaño and included in the Bibliofilo of Retana published in Spain.
Noted Bicolano essayist Jose Ma. Panganiban supplied the title Ibalong in reference to Tierra de Ibalon, the moniker the Spaniards gave to Bicolandia.
In 1992, the late mayor Imelda Roces inaugurated the festival to rescue the epic from oblivion and make it a source of pride for the city and Bicolandia.
In 2013, playwright Rody Vera of Tanghalang Pilipino adapted it as a dance musical at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal said that the festival puts to the fore Bicol’s rich heritage and resilient character amidst adversities as can be gleaned from the epic’s story. He said that in transforming a forgotten legend into a colorful festival, the city has put a visual touch into the epic to make it more understood by the people.