July 27, 2018

Batangas Legend: the Origin of the Locust

Photo of a flight of locusts in Batangas, c. 1905.  Image source:  “Census of the Philippine Islands Taken Under the Direction of the Philippine Commission in the Year 1903.”
Photo of a flight of locusts in Batangas, c. 1905.  Image source:  “Census of the Philippine Islands Taken Under the Direction of the Philippine Commission in the Year 1903.” 
[Keywords: Batangas legend, legend of Batangas story, legend of Batangas English, locust infestation, Philippine–American War, Philippine Insurrection, Miguel Malvar, J. Franklin Bell, hardships in Batangas, locust swarm Batangas]
The surrender of General Miguel Malvar in 1902, which ended what the American Imperialists called the “Philippine Insurrection,” did not mean the end of the suffering that the people of Batangas had to go through. Earlier, because Malvar’s army was being such a pest to the United States Army, General J. Franklin Bell ordered all civilian inhabitants of the province to live in concentration camps.

This ploy successfully isolated Malvar’s troops from the civilian population, effectively starving them out. The conditions inside the camps, meanwhile, were such that they were conducive to the outbreak of diseases like cholera, measles and dysentery1.

The suffering did not end with the release of the Batangueños from the camps. They had to contend with a drought, famine, a rinderpest2 epidemic and the scourge of locust swarms. The last rather tended to occur occasionally in Batangas, and there were documented swarms in the 19th century during the Spanish era.
[READ: “The Hard Luck and Suffering in San Juan and Balayan after the End of the Philippine-American War in 1902”]
For the locusts to appear when Batangas was beset with all sorts of problems, however, was the reason why the legend of the locust was born. The legend was documented by one Aurelio P. Arguelles in a paper entitled “Batangas Folk Tales,” written in 19163. Although ostensibly a story of the origin of the locust, it also told of the need for compassion during difficult times, something reflective of the era.

Arguelles’ story is provided below almost verbatim save for minor grammatical changes to conform to the standards of this site and annotated in brackets where necessary.

The Origin of the Locust
by Aurelio P. Arguelles

Many years ago, in the town of Sagana [Tagalog for plenty], there lived a man who was especially favored by Bathala, the God of the Universe. The name of this man was Maramot [in Tagalog, selfish]. He was an honest, helpful and industrious man. For this reason, he became the favorite of Bathala. Being only a worker without money, he had to work very hard to earn his living. He worked steadily and honestly for many years so that after the passage of time, he was no longer the poor Maramot but a wealthy and energetic landowner.

But with Maramot’s change in economic status, there also came a marked change in his personality. It seemed that the immense fortune which he gradually acquired through his persistent labors had undermined his character. Now, Maramot was no longer the thrifty, helpful and honest man – he was greatly changed because he grew to be the cruelest of men.

He seemed to have lost his humanity. He became friendless and without a heart. This rather radical change was observed by Bathala, who regretted it very much. He could not altogether believe that such a complete change could ever have occurred, especially in Maramot, his thrifty and honest favorite. So he devised a plan with which he himself could try Maramot so as to correct him if possible.

Bathala, being the Almighty, had only to wish for anything and then it was done. He consequently commanded the god of the plants and of water to deprive the land of fruits and rain. This god was instructed to leave the luxurious plantations of Maramot untouched. Such was the imperious command of Bathala, so the wide land became dry and barren like a desert.

While such was the condition outside of Maramot’s dominion, within was an exact contrast. Within, there was life and prosperity while outside was poverty and hunger. People were wildly clamoring for food; all were imploring help from heaven. They soon found relief at the door of Maramot’s house. But not all were given relief. He bolted his doors against those who could not afford to meet the exorbitant prices he affixed upon his barrels of grain. Poor men were driven away to die of hunger by the wayside.

Such was the conduct of Maramot. So, when Bathala saw this, he disguised himself and went to Maramot’s residence as an old man. He was to try his fate with the heartless landowner. He soon came to the house; and at the door he met Maramot. He at once related to him [Maramot] the story of his life and of his wants. He asked for help in the name of the great God who gave him his immense fortune. But Maramot, upon hearing the words of the poor old man, instead of being touched by the misfortunes of the poor, was rather incensed and angered. He immediately ordered his servants to drive away the poor man. But the old man pleaded and insisted, so Maramot, at the height of his cruelty commanded the servants to flog him to death. But all these, Bathala would never permit.

Maramot had barely given his command when he heard a terrible commotion – earth and fire rolling. There was smoke, fire and dust everywhere. What do all these mean? Where was his great residence? Alas, Maramot was now standing amidst the ruins of his great fortune. He stood amazed and frightened to see his luxurious home, his rich barns – all were dwindling under the mystic but powerful charm of fire. There was a great thunderclap and in the midst of the thunder and lightning, Maramot saw his master and his god, Bathala.

He repented, but all was in vain; his repentance was all too late. Soon, the sky was cleared of smoke, and Maramot stood with longing eyes towards heaven. He noticed numerous and dot–like things flying up above him. They were in the shape of grains. But there was no more grain in the barn. They were transformed into flying insects such as were seen by Maramot.

These were what is now known as locusts and these small destructive insects were created and let loose by Bathala, who commanded them to visit and destroy all of the rice plantations of all those landowners who would prove to be heartless among his followers. Such was the sad effects of the locusts that from that time on, they have always been sent as instruments for punishing those wealthy but heartless landowners and, thus, ravaging their plantations of rice.

Such is the origin of locusts as believed by folks at home [in Batangas].
Notes and references:
1The Zones of Batangas,” by Glen A. May, published in “The Philippine Studies,” 1981.
2Rinderpest” was a cattle disease. Wikipedia.
3Batangas Folk Tales,” by Aurelio P. Arguelles, 1916, online at the Henry Otley–Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.

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