The Ibálong, also known as Handiong or Handyong, is a 60-stanza fragment of a Bicolano full-length folkepic of Bicol region of Philippines, based on the Indian Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The epic is said to have been narrated in verse form by a native poet called Kadunung.
It was passed on orally until it was presumably jotted down in its complete Bicol narrative by Fray Bernardino de Melendreras de la Trinidad. The Ibalong portrays deeds in heroic proportions, centering on white men or tawong-lipod who were warrior-heroes named, among others, Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong. They came from Boltavara, settling and ruling Bicolandia and its inhabitants. The epic is set in the land of Aslon and Ibalong. The mountains Asog, Masaraga, Isarog, and Lingyon were prominent features of the area.
In its oldest known text, the folk epic does not have a title. Its oldest existing account is written in Spanish.
A non-religious festival called the Ibalong Festival is celebrated annually in honor of the epic Ibalong as a commemoration of the Ibalon geography. It is unusual because Spaniards introduced saints and fiestas and all religious-related activities except Ibalong. It is also a celebration of the province’s people and their resiliency, given the string calamities that regularly befall the region given its typhoon-prone geographical location.
The full-length narrative is presumably jotted down by Fray Bernardino de Melendreras de la Trinidad (1815-1867), a Franciscan missionary in Guinobatan, Albay, when he got acquainted with an errant Bicolanobard referred to in the epic as Kadunung. It was put afterward into Spanish by Melendreras in Ibal, a 400-page manuscript in verse on the ancient customs of the Indios of Albay.
The 60-stanza portion was later included in a treatise on the Bicol region by Fray Jose Castaño in 1895. However, no credit was given to Melendreras by Castaño in the work, and so students of the Ibalong have since presumed that it was recorded and translated by Castaño himself.
The epic opens with Iling requesting the bard Kadunung to recount the tale of the glorious Ibálong of long ago.
Forthwith Kadunung described the ancient land and spoke of its first hero, Baltog, a white Aryan, who had come from Boltavara (Bharata-varsha or India). He planted a linsa patch in Tondol (now in Kamalig) which, one night, was foraged by a giant wild boar (Tandayag). The furious Baltog chased the Tandayag, killed it with his bare hands, and hung its enormous jawbones on a talisay tree in front of his house in Tondol. For this marvelous feat, he was acknowledged chief of the local hunters. The clans of Panicuason and Asog came over to marvel at the monstrous wild boar in Ibálong.
Next to come was Handyong. With his followers, he fought the monsters of the land. But Oryol, a wily serpent who appeared as a beautiful maiden with a seductive voice, was one whom Handyong could not destroy. Meanwhile, Oryol admired Handyong‘s bravery and gallantry. Because of this, Oryol helped Handyong clear the region of ferocious beasts until peace came to the whole of the land.
With Ibálong rid of wild creatures, Handyong turned to making wise laws and planting the land to linsa and rice. A period of the invention followed: boat, farming tools, weaving looms, claywares, kitchen utensils, tree houses, and even a syllabary. Together, the people built a society with culture. It was a golden period in Ibálong when even slaves were respected under the laws of Handyong.
Then came a great flood, freed by Unos, that changed the features of the land. Three volcanoes, named Hantik, Kulasi, and Isarog erupted simultaneously. Inundations caused lands to sink, from which Lake Buhi came about, or rise, as in the strip of seacoast in Pasacao, Camarines Sur, and wiped out many settlements, especially the Dagatnong settlement in the Kalabangan Gulf. The Malbogong Islet formed in the Bicol River while the Inarihan River altered its course. A lofty mountain sank at Bato, forming a lake.
Despite the calamities, Ibálong grew powerful under Old Chief Handyong, whose constant companion and good friend, by then, was the young Bantong.
Although given a thousand men to destroy the half man and half beast Rabot, who could change its enemies into rocks, Bantong slew it single-handedly – to the loud cheers of his thousand warriors that reverberated throughout the forests and mangroves swamps. Brought to Ligmanan, the corpse of Rabot was horrible to behold that the Great Handyong himself was shocked at the sight.
At this point, the Ibálong epic-fragment ends abruptly, and Kadunung promises to continue the story some other time.