Tuesday, January 13, 2009


BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON. The crescent moon serves as a clever prop for a Kapampangan girl to pose in. Circa mid 1920s.

Man has always been fascinated with the Moon—that disc of light that illuminates the heavens without fail, every night. Like the Sun, the Moon has figured in the myths and cultures of people all over the world—from the Greeks who believed it ruled by goddesses Selene and Phoebe, to the Hindus who hold festivals in honor of Chandra, the Moon. In contrast, Mesopotamians and Egyptians worshipped male lunar gods—Sin and Thoth, and many ancient pagan religions centered their activities on the waxing and waning of the moon.

A full moon rising has given rise to the folk belief that this induces bouts of “lunacy “—a term derived from “Luna”, the Roman moon goddess. Another belief, although a more recent one, belief involves werewolves or lycanthropes, who were said to draw their power from the moon.

Ancient Kapampangans too, subscribed too, to the mysteries of the moon, using it to explain complex concepts of time, space and eternity. They believe that the heavens was half of an orb that covered a flat, fixed earth. “All that is contained under the vault of the sky”, they described as “meto a sicluban banua”, or “meto yato” (one earth). On this imagined domelike cover, the sun and moon “pierced the sky”—hence the term for the sky—“sucsucan ning bulan”, a spot where the moon rises and sets daily.

Our ancient forebears also used the Moon to reckon time and periods of the day. “Bulan” denotes a month—the period from full moon to full moon. “Dulum” is used to describe the waning of the moon, same with the more graphic “merunut ya ing bulan”—the moon is worn out. The moon disappears as soon as “muclat sumala”—as the day dawns.

Ancient witnesses to lunar eclipses have also assigned a local term to this dramatic phenomenon in which the Moon passes through the earth’s shadow, causing it to darken: “lauo”. There is now word to describe a solar eclipse, perhaps due to its rare occurrence. (There is an existing Philippine myth that explains eclipses: Bakunawa, a monster deity, was said to swallow whole the many moons created by Bathala, until only one remained. The act of eating the moon causes eclipse.To frighten Bakunawa and prevent him from devouring the moon, people would go out and make noise.)

While the Moon has spawned beliefs that border on fear and mystery, its imagery has also been used by folk poets, musicians and artists to fire up their Muses. A composer was clearly moonstruck when he wrote this romantic song that described a beloved as a “malagung capilas a bulan”, the beautiful half of the moon: Malagung capilas bulan/ Matang mapundat maglalawe /Batwin ca ngening cabengian /Ing pusu cu aslagan me /Ing bie cu macapanaya /Qng caburian mu banding sinta /Queca ya'ing caladua cu /Bandi meng lubus susumpa cu. (My beautiful half of the Moon/ With alluring eyes that stare/ Tonight, you are the Star/ Illuminate my heart/ My life awaits / Whatever you desire you’ll own, my love/ You have my Soul / You will have it all, this I promise you)

My favorite, however, is this old juvenile rhyme, which I used to recite as a kid with my playmates.

Bulan, bulan, (Moon, Moon)
Balduganan mukung palang. (Throw me down a blade)
Nanan me ing palang? (What will you do with a blade?)
Pangutyud keng kwayan. (I’ll use it to cut bamboo)
Nanan me ing kawayan? (What will you do with the bamboo?)
Yang gawan kung bale. (I’ll use them to build a house)
Nanan me ing bale? (What will you do with the house?)
Lulanan keng pale. (I’ll use it to keep my palay).

Clearly, while the Moon makes people do strange things, it makes a beautiful inspiration too!

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

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