Mythology and Theodicy in the Visayas


My son is taking a class “Mythology and Folklore” at his university here in the Philippines. They have been studying some creation stories here in the Philippines. Some are etiological, while some are more entertaining. One struck me especially. It is “Tungkung Langit and Alunsina”… a creation story from Panay Island.

A number of Philippine Stories can be found at Visayan Mythologies

I am using the story from the blogsite:

Once upon a time when the earth was but a shapeless, formless void appeared the god called Tungkung Langit (“ Pillar of Heaven”) and the virgin goddess of the eastern skies, Alunsina (“ The Unmarried One”).
The old Visayan folklore states that Tungkung Langit fell in love with Alunsina. After he had courted her for many years, they married and made their home in the highest part of heaven. There the water was always warm and the breeze was forever cool, not a bad weather was in sight, and the couple was happy. In this place in the heavens, order and regularity began.

Tungkung Langit was a loving, hard-working god. He wanted to impose order over the confused world. He decided to arrange the world so that the heavenly bodies would move regularly. On the other hand, Alunsina was a lazy, jealous, selfish goddess. She sat at the window of their home all day doing nothing but brush her long beautiful hair. Sometimes she would leave her home, sit down by a pool near the door, and comb her long, jet-black hair all day long. One day Tungkung Langit told his wife that he would be away for some time. He said he must make time go on smoothly and arrange everything in the world and did not return for a long time. Alunsina thought he was off to see a lover, so she summoned the breeze to spy on Tungkung Langit. Tungkung Langit caught the spying breeze and he became very angry with Alunsina. After he returned home, he told her that it was ungodly of her to be jealous since there were no other gods in the world except the two of them.
Alunsina resented this reproach, and they quarreled all day. In his anger, Tungkung Langit drove his wife away. And with that, Alunsina suddenly disappeared, without a word or a trace to where she went. A few days passed, Tungkung Langit felt very lonely and longed for his wife. He realized that he should not have lost his temper. But it was too late, Alunsina is gone.  Their home which was once vibrant with Alunsina’s sweet voice, his home became cold and desolate. In the morning when he woke up, he would find himself alone. In the afternoon when he came home, he would feel loneliness creeping deep within him.

For months Tungkung Langit lived in utter desolation. Try as he did he could not find Alunsina. And so in his desperation, he decided to do something to forget his sorrow and win back his wife’s favor. So he came down to earth and planted trees and flowers that she may notice it, but she still didn’t come home. Then in desperation, he took his wife’s jewels and scattered them in the sky. He hoped that when Alunsina should see them she might be induced to return home.
Alunsina’s necklace became the stars, her comb the moon, and her crown the sun. But in spite of all his efforts, Alunsina did not return home. Until now, as the story goes, Tungkung Langit lives alone in his palace in the skies and sometimes, he would cry out for Alunsina and his tears would fall down upon the earth as rain and his loud voice, calling out for his wife, was believed to be the thunder during storms, begging for her to come back to their heavenly palace once more.

To me this is a great story from the aspect of theodicy. How does one deal with the concept of a benevolent Creator designing a world of suffering? One option is to get rid of the Creator… but, frankly, the world sure appears to have evidence of design in it. Even many of those who have gotten used to describing cosmogeny and history in terms of accident and natural (predictable) processes seem to drift into thinking of these processes as having a certain planned efficiency to them. Another option is Dualism where the world has two competing powers in conflict. It is hard, however, to reconcile the seeming orderliness of the world with such a chaotic formation and maintenance of the Universe.  So if we accept a single Designer, must we assume such a creator as being weak or somewhat evil?

The World, in the above myth, was created by Tungkung Langit, a single god of order. Although there is a female godess here… the godess is not part of the creation (either positively or negatively) but rather the motivation for creation.

The Visayan Creation described is an act of love and sorrow, of loss and of hope. The world we live in has order, beauty, and suffering. The suffering, however, is not without hope.

To me, the Creation story in the Bible is highly etiological. It’s primary role is in telling us why we live in the world we live in, and who we are with respect to each other, creation, and our Creator. It also explains why there is suffering in the world. However, there is still somewhat lacking. After all, if God is omniscient, all-powerful, and all-righteous, the whole mess should seemingly have been fixed before it started. For me, the Creation story in the Bible is not fully satisfying until one ties in the story of the Cross. Once we bring this story in, we find that God did not simply create a world with suffering, but God is one who suffers with us. But that suffering is not meaningless… but motivated by love and directed towards hope.

“Tungkung Langit and Alunsina” reminds us of the truth we learn from the Gospels. Suffering and loss are not what what distances us from God but what draws God close to us. Suffering and loss, love and hope, are brought together in the Cross.

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