June 26, 2018

The Legend of the King of Taal Volcano

"Illanoan Pirates, c. 1800s." Image source:  Wikiwand.
"Illanoan Pirates, c. 1800s." Image source:  Wikiwand.
[Keywords: Legends of Batangas, Legend of Don Pablo, Henry Otley-Beyer Collection, King of Taal Volcano]
From a 1916 paper written by one Leon Bibiano Meer, we get this all but forgotten Batangueño legend that most readers in most likelihood never heard of. The paper is entitled “Legends among the People of Batangas1” and is part of the Henry Otley-Beyer Ethnographic Collection.

The story is presented below verbatim except for minor grammatical corrections. Long paragraphs have also been broken up for easier reading. Annotations are also provided to give the reader a better grasp of the story.

The Legend of Don Pablo

Don Pablo lived around the crater of Taal Volcano. He was believed to be in possession of many sorts of amulets (anting-anting) which enabled him to do miracles and deeds of wonder. He became very popular and his name reached not only the surrounding region but even as far as the Visayas and Mindanao.

Three Moros, who were also known for their valor and miraculous power, on hearing the wonderful deeds performed by Don Pablo, at once started for Taal Volcano with the purpose of challenging this man.
Strictly speaking, the term “Moro” (Spanish for Moor) referred initially to the Berbers of North Africa and later also the Arabs. In time, the term would be used to refer to the Muslim inhabitants of the Berber region, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Malta during the Medieval Ages. Suffice it to say that the Spaniards brought the term to the Philippines and used it to refer to the country’s Muslim inhabitants2.
Don Pablo was resting under a mango tree which stood near the door of his house when the Moros came. On being asked who he was, he (Don Pablo) said that he was the servant of Don Pablo, who (he said) was at that time out fishing.

The Moros began displaying their powers. One jumped over Don Pablo’s house; the other took a big iron rod and divided it into two equal parts with his bare hands; the last one took up a plowshare (the main cutting blade of a plow) and gnawed it, tearing off a part.

Don Pablo was not surprised at all. He invited the Moros to come up to the house with him; and then told his wife to prepare for the dinner. No sooner said than done, the table was soon ready.

The first thing that was served was a big plate full of rice. Don Pablo put the so-called “tutong” (a layer of burned and hardened rice) above or at the top (of the plate). The Moros were then forced to take up the “tutong” first.
For the benefit of non-Asians who may stumble upon this article, the “tutong” is the rice at the bottom of the pot burned by overcooking. There are, in fact, those among Filipinos – and likely other peoples who eat rice – who prefer the “tutong” because of its slightly crispy texture and slightly smoky taste.
Now, Don Pablo began to use his power. Not one of the Moros could tear off even a small fraction from the “tutong.” The Moros were very much embarrassed and ashamed and began thinking of the power of Don Pablo.

One of the Moros said to his companions, “If we feel helpless with the servant of Don Pablo, how much more would we be helpless before Don Pablo himself?” The Moros, very much ashamed, left the table.

Then Don Pablo took a sugarcane stalk and gave it to the Moros, begging them to divide it among themselves. Again, the Moros were worsted; they were not able to divide the sugarcane stalk. After this, the Moros bade goodbye to Don Pablo.
Author Meer twice used the h “worsted” in the story, and from context we take it that he meant “made to look worse” or “beaten.” There is, indeed, such an English word, but it refers to a sort of yarn3. Unless the use of “worsted” is archaic to the era, then we assume that Meer was misusing it.
Don Pablo led them downstairs. He placed his mortar right in front of the leader, and then asked the Moros to jump over it. Again, the Moros were worsted, for not one of them could jump over the mortar which was only two feet high.

The Moros extended their final farewell to Don Pablo, who now introduced himself as the King of Taal Volcano. The Moros went away and never returned.
[As a footnote to this legend, it was not uncommon for marauding groups of “Moros” to reach the shores of Batangas during the Spanish colonial era, especially during the 18th century. In fact, according to folklore, the present day town of Rosario was originally a settlement in what is present day Lobo but forced to relocate inland by frequent “Moro” raids. Other Batangas towns had fortifications against such raids: Balayan, Taal, Bauan and the town of Batangas itself. To conjecture about this forgotten story of Don Pablo, it is entirely possible that this legend of a strong Batangueño king who shamed the “Moros” could have been spawned by such raids, an attempt to make the locals fear the raiders less and make them believe that the Batangueños were capable of repelling them.]

Notes and references:
1Legends among the People of Batangas,” 1916 by Leon Bibiano Meer, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2Moors,” Wikipedia.
3Worsted,” Dictionary.com.

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