A few years back, somebody on social media suggested that I wrote about the legend of Juanang Ilaya for this web site. I replied that I would consider it, but if I was being honest, I only had these exceedingly vague recollections from my childhood more than half a century ago of being told to behave or I would be taken by this Juanang Ilaya. I never fully understood who or what she was; and neither could those who used to admonish me give definitive enough explanations for me to remember for the rest of my life.
A Google search only yielded pages upon pages mostly of worthless returns. Juanang Ilaya, therefore, continued to be unviable as a topic for an article until I chanced upon this obscure 1925 Anthropology paper written entitled “Magic Tales from Lipa” written by one Amparo Reyes1.
Before I go into the details of Reyes’ paper, just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, the Tagalog word “ilaya” means interior (or deeper into a territory) or the upper or elevated part of town2. Thus, to say “pa-ilaya” is to go farther inland into a place or upwards to an elevated part of town.
According to Reyes, the town of Lipa was where Juanang Ilaya was born. Taking this claim at face-value, then we all assume that the legend itself was also born in the same town. Because of the dearth of materials written on the subject, it is not possible to corroborate this from Internet searches alone. However, there will likely be those among the elderly around the province who will be able to say if there are other versions of the same legend set in other towns around the province of Batangas.
|Juanang Ilaya was originally a maiden of great beauty. Image credit: Wikimedia Foundation, entitled "Filipina-Spanish mestiza wearing baro't saya."
Reyes’ depiction of Juanang Ilaya was less the spook character that she had ultimately become with the passing of the years and more that of a passionate woman whose heart was badly broken by the man whom she loved. She described her as “the most beautiful and most fascinating of all the maidens of Lipa where she was born.”
She had suitors from all around the province but spurned them all because her heart was captivated by a youth named Mario, “renowned for his bravery and courage.” Unfortunately for Juana, Mario had one crucial failing. Reyes wrote that he “used to fall in love seven times a day” and that he “loved many and fooled many.”
Yet Juana had complete faith in him and would not entertain other young men in her own home for fear that this would make him jealous. One day in the month of May, Mario went to see Juana to bid her goodbye. He was leaving for Manila to further his career. She did not know it yet at the time; but it would be the last time that she would set eyes on him.
Years passed without a word from Mario until one day, the postman arrived with a letter from him to let her know that she had married a girl in Manila. Juana went into “a state of delirium” and “ran away following the course of a winding valley near her home.”
The path she took, presumably, was “pa-ilaya” and how her legend would be born. Reyes wrote, “She walked and walked until she reached a large tree called “baliti3” where she rested and tried to console her heart.” She would make this baliti tree her home and, for reasons Reyes failed to explain, become a witch. Her parents would look everywhere but “could not find a trace of her.”
Near the baliti tree was a stream “of pure, cool and clear water,” which was visited by “men and boys from the village nearby” to get drinking water and which Juana often haunted “to quench her thirst and to find consolation for her broken heart.”
One day at twilight, presumably many years after Juan had run away4, a handsome young farmer tired from the day’s kaingin5 wandered towards this same stream to rest and probably get a drink of water. When he turned, he “beheld a beautiful young woman dressed in a red skirt and camisa6. She was tall and lovely in countenance.”
The young farmer was “so bewitched by her beauty that he instantly proposed to her.” Juana took the farmer to her baliti tree but when he chanced to look at her feet, to his utter surprise he saw that these were those of a horse. He instantly remembered the rumors of the Juanang Ilaya and tried to escape, except that she was faster than him.
“I love you. Do not run away. Stay with me and do not fear,” Juana begged the man. Partly because of fear and partly because he continued to be captivated by Juana’s beauty, the farmer stayed with her for a few days. Thoughts of his parents, however, made him lonely and sickly so that he felt he had to ask Juana to let him go with the promise that he would be back.
Reluctantly, Juana did, telling him, “Although I know you will not fulfill your promise, yet I am willing to fulfill your request. Take these seeds, plant them and you will find them useful.” After handing him the seeds, he disappeared before his eyes.
Spooked, the farmer bolted to run away from the place. When he reached the stream, he found “an old, ugly, dark, wrinkled woman” who bade him to stop for a while. The woman said, “I thank God I have fulfilled the yearnings and desires of my broken heart. You saved me from my endless suffering caused by a young man like you.” Then she proceeded to tell him that she had transformed herself into a beauteous young woman to entice him.
Next, she handed him a cane and told him, “Bring it with you wherever you go and it will be of great use to you. It will save you from dangers which sooner or later will come to you. Depart from me now.” She instantly disappeared from his sight.
Thereafter, the farmer became “renowned for courage and bravery for no bullet could pierce his skin and no sword could penetrate through his body.” The seeds given by Juana which he planted would grow into bamboo trees7. From these, he would built a house where he would live till he died.
After the trees were cut down, people “could hear a sweet wailing song sung by a lovely maiden near the place where the bamboo trees were cut down. But every time people tried to approach the place, the woman suddenly disappeared and the song gradually died away in the air.”
Notes and references:1 “Magic Tales from Lipa,” by Amparo Reyes, online at the H. Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2 “Ilaya,” online at Tagalog-Translate.
3 The National Language Commission, which would standardize how Filipino words were to be spelled, was not formed until 1937. Hence, “baliti,” which is how some in Batangas continue to pronounce the word to this day, is contemporarily spelled “balete.”
4 Reyes did not pay much attention to laying down a timeline to her story, pretty much leaving it to the reader to make assumptions.
5 Kaingin was a method of clearing land for cultivation by cutting down and burning trees.
6 A camisa was a shirt or a blouse.
7 Most readers will probably be more familiar with bamboo being regenerated by planting cuttings, but yes some species of bamboo do indeed bear seeds.