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Literature: Biag ni Lam-ang

Lam-Ang, The Ilokano Epic Hero

The Ilocano Biag ni Lam-ang is the oldest recorded Philippine folk epic and the only complete epic to come down from the Christian Filipino groups.

Biag ni Lam-ang (English: “The Life of Lam-ang”) is an epic poem of the Ilokano people from the Ilocos region of the Philippines. Recited and written in its original Iloko, the poem is believed to be a composite work of various poets who passed it on through the generations, and was first transcribed around 1640 by a blind Ilokano bard named Pedro Bucaneg. Its earliest stages of composition occurred during the pre-Hispanic period of the Philippines, and it is one of the greatest pieces of Ilokano literature in the Philippines.

The narrative is a mix of adventure and romance with exciting and unpredictable plot turns. The epic poem details the customs, culture, traditions, and beliefs of the pre-Colonial Ilokano people. The story presents some of the qualities and values espoused by the ethno-linguistic group–adventurous, hardy, and brave–as personified by the hero, Lam-ang. The moral of the epic is that life is full of trials and problems; one must be strong and must accept this reality.

From WikiPilipinas – Hip and Free Philippine Encyclopedia

At birth, Lam-Ang was already able to speak. He gave himself his own name, chose his own godparents and also asked for his father. But Lam-ang’s father, Don Juan, went away to fight an evil tribe of Igorots nine months before Lam-ang’s birth. Don Juan died at the hands of the tribe and was beheaded. His head was set as a prize at the village’s center. Due to Don Juan’s absence at the birth of his son, Lam-ang set out to find his father.

With the assistance of a different tribe of Igorots, Lam-ang was able to avenge his father’s death. Using a single spear, he defeated every one of the headhunters of the warring Igorot tribe.

When Lam-ang went to bathe in the Amburayan River on his way home, the water was immediately dirtied by his blood-stained body. The water became so muddied with blood that all its living creatures crawled out of it and died.

The day after his return, Lam-ang told his mother, Ina Namongan, that he wished to take a wife. As Lam-ang was endowed with supernatural powers, he was able to foretell that he would marry a woman called Ines Kannoyan who lived in a place called Calanutian. And so Lam-ang set off on his journey to win his wife. With him were his pet rooster and dog. On the way, Lam-ang had to fight a large-eyed man called Sumarang, whom he defeated in the encounter.

Ines Kannoyan was very beautiful. When Lam-ang arrived, Ines Kannoyan’s house was so crowded by her suitors that Lam-ang was able to enter her house only by walking over the suitors’ heads and climbing through a window.

Ines Kannoyan was impressed by Lam-ang’s strength and abilities. By flapping its wings, Lam-ang’s rooster was able to bring down Ines Kannoyan’s long house. And with a bark, Lam-ang’s dog was able to raise the long house again.

Despite having won Ines Kannoyan’s favor, Lam-ang still could not marry her because her parents wanted a dowry from the hero. At this, Lam-ang promised to come back in a week with his mother and the dowry.

Lam-ang went home to prepare a rich dowry. He had a house adorned with gold and filled it with gifts of fruit, jewels, and other riches. When Lam-ang returned to Ines Kannoyan’s family to present the dowry, they were so impressed that they had they held the wedding immediately.

After this, Lam-ang was asked to catch fish from the Aburayan River. Diving into the water, the hero was swallowed by the great river monster, Berkakan. Ines Kannoyan was in terrible grief over the death of her husband.

Lacay Marcos, an old diver from the village, was asked to retrieve Lam-ang’s remains after Berkakan had expelled them. Lam-ang’s rooster and dog performed magical rites over his remains, and Lam-ang was brought back to life.

General Information

  • Complete Title: Historia a Pacasaritaan ti Panagbiag ni Lam-ang iti Ili a Nalbuan nga Asaoa ni Doña Ines Cannoyan iti Ili a Calanutian
  • Year Transcribed: 1640
  • Acknowledged Author: Pedro Bucaneg (a blind Ilokano bard)
  • Ilocano Version/s (PDF Download):
    Biag Ni Lam-Ang (Ti bersion ti Imprenta Parayno ken ti bersion ni Leonardo Y. Yabes) Distributed by Rimat Multimedia, Inc.
  • English Version (PDF Download):
    The Life of Lam-Ang (Translated by Angelito L. Santos) Distributed by Pantas Project Philippines