Sun, Moon and Stars - An excursion in the Philippine Mythology


Between us and the nature a shimmering civilization world has been shifted. In its  labyrinthine corridors and niches we follow our work – shielded from nature and  its most prominent phenomena: sun, moon and stars. Up to our younger presence they have been permanently reflected companions of man. They shared the time, showed the great cosmic dimensions and embeddings and they asked for adoration and interpretations. 

Sun and moon were sublime religious cult objects in lost civilizations. Remember the sun cult of the Incas, the Egyptian sun god Re, the Greek sun god Helios or the moon divinities Isis and Luna. Divine power was awarded to them. On the other side and far away from scientific laws, their actions and motives have been seen quite human. No other interpretation schemes were available. 

The Philippines also know a variety of cosmological legends. Unlike the Germanic cosmology sun and moon take a central position in the Philippine legends. However, there is no evidence for the existence of a magnificent sun or moon cult comparable to the Egyptian one. Surely - nowadays in the Philippines the legends are also demoted to fairytales. But these fairy tales or legends still find a broad reception in the country, which still has – aside from formal religions - an animistic background. 

The Philippine legends are no stringent and related system of narrations but disparate legends more or less independently developed by single tribes.  That is the reason, why we get for certain questions different answers.

The tales – presented here – are a little bit shortened. More interested readers should follow the original narrations. They know more dialog scenes and they are more picturesque.  

I. The original state of world 

Some legends assume a three layer model of the world. It knows  

(a)    a sky world with Gods. Sometimes the sky world has a chief God like the world creator God Bathala, the reproduction God Maknongan or the sky God Captan

(b)     Then we have a sea- or earth world and

(c)    less frequent - an underworld with certain representatives.   

These worlds are related to each other. They touch each another and stay in permanent interaction.  In some stories men are already existent, in others they get created.  

II. How was the world created?  

The probably most comprehensive narration of the creation of the world offers the story “How the World Was Made”(1), which cannot be assigned to any particular tribe.

It is generation-story in which God descendants want to participate in divine power. The attempted coups fail, however. The vain fight with the gods has as pleasant consequence the birth of sun, moon, stars as well as men. Here the shortened story which knows initially only a two-layered world (sky and water) and also explains the formation of different races of men. 

Once only a sky and a water world existed – there were neither land nor sun, moon or stars. The sovereign of the sky world was the tall God Captan; the water was the kingdom of the God Maguayan. Captan got a son with name Lihangin ("wind") and Maguayan a daughter with name Lidagat ("sea"). The two gods agreed to marry their children, so that the sea became the bride of the wind.   

The married couple gave birth to three sons and a daughter. The first son Licalibutan had a body like a rock and was considered as strong and courageous. The second son Liadlao was made of gold and was always happy, while the third son Libulan had only a body made of copper; he was considered as rather weak and shy. The body of the beautiful, gentle daughter Lisuga consisted of pure silver. At first everyone all three lived in the best harmony. 

Then Lihangin ("Wind") died left control of the winds to his oldest and strongest son Licalibutan. Later, Lidagat ("Sea") also died. The children were now orphaned, only the grandfathers took care for them. Proudly that he now mastered the winch, Licalibutan strove for more influence. He asked his brothers whether they would join an attack against the sovereign God Captan. First they hesitated, but then they followed the intentions of the eldest brother.  

They climbed up to the sky, but they could not open the big steel sky gate. But when Licalibutan called his strongest winds, the sky gate broke. They found a furious Captan there. When they left the sky, God Captan stroke them with three thunder strikes. The thunder strikes had terrible consequences: The copper Libulan melted to a ball, the golden Liadlao flow on earth and the rock body of Licalibutan broke into many parts falling into the sea. His broken body parts became islands. In the meantime the left Lisuga missed her brothers and she went to the sky region. But God Captan was still angrily. She got also a thunder strike and her silver body broke in thousands of pieces. 

At first Captan accused Maguayan, the God of the water, he would have instigated the rebellion. No, said Maguayan, at this time I slept deep in the sea and he succeeds in calming Captan. Finally both are very sorry for the death of their grandchildren. They did not have the power to reanimate them. But they could change the rests of bodies: The golden Liadlao became the sun, the copper Libulan changed to the moon and the silver pieces of Lisuga were transformed to many shining stars. 

The two gods didn't want to give the despicable Licalibutan a light, however, he should turn as progenitor of a new man race. The sky God Captan gave the water God Maguayan a seed of a bamboo tree. It was planted into the earth of the land islands (Licalibutan´s former body). From the scions of the bamboo tree a man ("Sicalac") and a woman ("Sicabay") was born. Sicalac and Sicaby got babies. The first son was called Kibo, the following daughter Saman and the third child, a son, got the name Pandaguan. Later Pandaguan has a son with names Arion.   

One day Pandaguan caught a gigantic shark. The shark looked so big and powerful, that Pandaguan believed he was a God. He asked the people to show the shark divine honors. Now the gods got apparently jealous and they see her monopoly claim at risk. They got out of sky and sea and asked Pandaguan to throw back the shark into the sea and to admire only them as divine natures.  

But Pandaguan could not be intimidated. Hadn't he conquered a shark big as a God? If so – then he could also be the winner in a fight with the gods. When the sky God Captan got information about the intentions of Pandaguan, he sent a small lightning to Pandaguan as a warning. He did not want to kill him. A further collective punishment included the  worldwide diversion of the small group of people.  

Now new human races come into being.Pandaguan is thrown by the lightning for thirty days on the ground, but when he gets up again, his body, like also those of his descendants, is black. The first son Arion was sent to the north and remained white. Libo and Saman were expelled to southern regions, there the sun scorched her bodies so that they and their  descendants developed a brown skin color. A son of Saman and a daughter of Sicalac were expelled to the east. When they arrived there, they were very hungry. But they found only yellowish clay as food. Therefore they and their children got a yellowish skin color.  

From Bilaan (Mindanao) another genesis story(2) with the title "The story of Creation" is handed down. In this story the creation of soon and moon is not mentioned, but we add it here, because it is a little bit macabre and funny. It shows us a careful God, which has some preferences for skin and hairs:

Once in primeval times there an incomparably tall creature with name Melu lived on the clouds. His teeth were made of pure gold. Perhaps he was an obsessional neurotic.  Following a strong desire for cleanness he rubbed continuously his skin with his hands to get a radiant white skin. Finally an annoying heap of rubbed off, dead skin shacks was on his side.  He wondered what he could do with heap of skin. 

He decided to create the earth. He worked hard und formed the earth. After all he made two figures which were similar to him but considerably smaller. Finally everything was ready, the figures still lacked only the noses. Tau Tana came from the underworld and wanted to help him. First Melu didn't want to accept his support. But then Tana won the dispute for himself and he designed the noses. But the holes of the noses were turned up in the direction of the forehead. Through strokes the figures came to life.  

But one day a strong rain started and the people almost would have drowned by the rain coming into their nostrils. Melu – sitting on a cloud mountain -  saw the arising danger. He went down to the earth and turned the noses of the people in the right direction. After that the people were very grateful to him. Before he went back to the sky, he asked the people for further troubles. The people said they would be so alone. Melu told them they should collect all their hairs and dry skin remains. On his next return to the earth he would create further man companions from that. And this resulted in so many people living on the earth today. 

III. Myths about the creation of celestial body 

There are myths, which describe the birth of sun, moon or stars as a rather internal, heavenly process. In other myths human activity is a prerequisite for the creation of the stars. Let's first have a look on "endogenous " explanations. At least two stories are offered here. 

1. Endogenous Explanations - The genesis of the moon 

We refer to the narration (3)  " Why the sun shines more brightly than the moon ". Here the existence of moon is the result of a tragic fight. 

The creator of world Bathala had a son named Apolaki and a daughter with name Mayari. The eyes of these two children lighted up the world very much to the satisfaction of the people and animal. There was no sun or moon.    

But Bathala got old and died. Soon afterwards both children got into an argument, who would be the better autocrat over the world. Apoldi referred to his male strengths, Mayari insisted on equal rights. The dispute intensified and the two started to beat themselves with wooden bars. Mayari received a blow into her face and got blind on one eye.  

Apolaki was very sorry for his deed and he offered her friendship and a mutual change in the power over the world. Mayari agreed and as of this time Apolaki with his clear eyes rules over the world as sun during the day and gives her the warm light. Mayari rules at night over the world. Then the world has only a dim gleam because Mayari is blind on one eye. 

It is noteworthy, that in this story – and also in other Philippine cosmologies -  the moon has a female sex and the sun a male sex.  A comparable assignment knows the Spanish and French language (la luna // el sol -- La lune // Le soleil). In the following tales we took  the gender of the German or English language.  

The birth of the stars  

In the Visayan myth “The Sun and the Moon” (4) Sun and moon are married with each another.  Here and in many other Philippine cosmologies the sun is featured more negatively. 

One day the ugly and quarrelsome sun was very angry about the moon and she chased after him. She almost had reached him but then she lost her power and she fell back behind him again. These vain hunting last up until today. The first child the two was a big male star. It happened that he also became the victim of the permanent annoyance of the sun. She cut him into small parts and scattered them like rice over the whole sky. Since then there are so many stars. 

In the same narration it is told, that another child of sun and moon was a gigantic crab. The story provides a fantastic explanation for the appearance of low and high tide as well as the eclipse of the moon. 

The crab is so powerful, that every time when it opens or close an eye there is lightning on the earth. If the crab lies deeply in its hole in the sea, then it is high tide. When it  leaves its hole, then a vast amount seawater streams into the hole again and it is low tide on land. As its father, the sun, the crab is also very pugnaciously. Then she tries often to swallow its mother, the moon, and an eclipse of the moon is the result. If the people notice an attack of the crab, then they try to frighten the crab by loud calling and raging in order to save the well-liked moon.   

2. Exogenous explanations – Participation by man  

Below two narrations, which show, that people contributed to the creation of stars.  

(a) “ How the sun, the moon and the stars came into being” (5) 

This narration has regional modifications. It appreciates the value of the human work. Here it is a married couple, in an other story an old spinster, which give the cause for a new structure of the cosmos.  

At the beginning of the world everything was quite different: The starless sky was so low that it could be touched with hands. Under the blueness of the sky was a lot of land, habited by only few people and some tame animals. The light on the earth was only dim. 

To the inhabitants belonged a hardworking, happily married couple that worked the whole day on the fields. In the evening they prepared a meal for their hungry stomachs. The man cracked the rice with a pestle, the woman then cooked it with different ingredients. So the days passed. 

One day the couple prepared again the supper. A fat chicken was cooked in the pot on the on the stove. The woman had hung up her comb and her long pearl necklace on the near firmament. The man was hungry, therefore he cracked the rice with a lot of eagerness. But his pestle pushed always against the firmament. He got angrily and he called to the sky: "Why are you so low? If you would widen, you wouldn't disturb me at work.“  

After these words the sky began to widen. The burning stove, the comb and the pearl necklace rose to the sky. The burning stove turned into the sun, the comb became the shining moon and the pearls of the torn necklaces found themselves as scintillating stars dispersed at the firmament.  

(b) “Why the moon ascends on sky” 

The following fable(6) is sentimental-beautiful. At its beginning we find a lonesome, sad sun. But by human sympathy she finds finally the longed-for partner. 

There was a time without moon. The sun lived alone. She was sad and donated only a sparse light which let the harvests of the people hardly prosper. The island farmers complained more and more frequently to her Datu (chief) about the bad harvests. He should look how the bad situation could be improved. The Datu met his councils. Finally the "oldest and most erudite” wise man was sent to the sun to discover why the appreciated sun provides only such a miserable light. Very fast the reason was found, "King Sun" longed for a queen. However, the wished queen had to be of royal descent and it was only the daughter of the Datu, who could fulfill this prerequisite.  

The Datu was horrified, he didn't want to give his only, kind daughter to the sun  as woman. And he gave order to conceal the wish of the sun from the daughter and not to let her out from the palace gardens. In the conversation with a beggar, however, Sulaymin heard about the wish of the sun. She was ready to become the wife of the sun. But the father kept on bristling.  

One day when Sulaymin played with her friends under a tree in the garden, it happened:  suddenly a creeper pant grew up on her and Sulaymin was raised to the sky. She wasn't seen any more henceforth. But now the sun started to shine more warmly and the people could see the mild light of the moon at night. Sulaymin had become the wife of the King Sun and since this time she is shining as moon.  

III. Myths abbot the appearance of the moon 

Causal for the special features of the moon mostly quarrelling with the sun are .  

The narration “The Sun and the Moon” (7) comes from Visaya. Sun and moon are married and they have many stars as children. The sun loved her children but every time, when she tried to hug her children, they were burnt. This annoyed the moon. He forbade the sun further touches of the children. But the sun didn't respect the instruction of the moon.  Again there was a dispute and a brawl fight between the two. The moon beat the sun with a banana tree while the sun was throwing sand into the face of the moon. Since this time the moon has brown markings on his surface.   

Sand is also the cause for special traits of the moon in another story from Tiniguian(8). Again is the sun the wrongdoer.   

In the course of a dispute the sun claimed: "You are only the moon. If I wouldn't give you light, you would be no good." The moon replied to the sun: "You are only a hot sun. The women like me more. If they see me in the night, they come out from their houses, and spin wool.“ This remark annoyed the sun. She threw the moon sand into the face which has dark spots since then.  

In our last story " Why The Moon Lacks Brilliance"(9) the moon is a show-off and negatively characterized.   

Sun and moon were good friends for a long time. But with the time the friendship suffered, because the moon inclined to pomposity. He told the sun: "Look, how beautiful I am! People always admire me. But, if they look to you, then they must blink or close their eyes. The truth is - they cannot see your ugly face. If I come, then they dance. If you come, then the people go under the trees or into the house to hide from you.“ 

The sun decided to teach him a lesson. She changed into a rainbow, went down to the earth and collected mussels which she crushed to lime. She did the lime into her hip bag. One day both were invited to a celebration in the underworld. The moon which was a friend of alcohol drank a lot of rice wine and couldn't stop his boasting: "Look how important I am for the people."  

Later when the moon fell in a sound sleep, the sun made her way back. Near a cross-bread which separated sky- and underworld she attached on a tree her bag filled with lime. The next morning the moon went also back – always remembering that the sun could  play him a nasty trick. He discovered the bag on the tree. "Hah”, he said,” why should I be afraid from a bag?” When he wanted to untie the bag from the tree, he ripped the bag with his spear and the sour lime trickled into his face. Although the morning star helped him at cleaning of the face, traces of the lime remained in his face. And that's the reason why  the moon has lost his brilliance.

© Wolfgang Bethge in 2005    

(1)     In " Creation Myths from The Philippines ", editor: D.L. Ashliman, Cole /sunmoon.html

(2)     See above

(3)    “Warum die Sonne heller scheint als der Mond”, in: Philippinische Märchen, Dausien-Verlag, 1978, p. 13ff

(4)     The Sun and The Moon, in:  

(5)    „Wie die Sonne, der Mond und die Sterne entstanden“, in: Philippinische Märchen, Dausien-Verlag, 1978, p. 7

(6)    „ Wie es kam, dass der Mond am Himmel aufging“, in: Philippinische Märchen, Dausien-Verlag, 1978, p. 9

(7)    „The Sun and the Moon“, in:


(8)     Heidi Annie Heider, Filipino Folk valley, The Sun and The Moon in

(9)    The Sun and The Moon, in: Terisita Velosa Pil, Filipino Folk Fiction and   valley, Quezon City center,  1977, p. 43