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Bakunawa: A moon eating serpent-dragon in Philippine mythology

by Kiko Cueto

Recently updated on April 11, 2024 07:35 pm

TODAY, a total solar eclipse will be passing through many areas in the United States. The next will occur on August 23, 2044.

While it would not be seen in the Philippines, did you know that like other Asean countries, we have a Solar Eclipse myth about a serpent-like dragon that causes eclipses – and they are called Bakunawa.

Want to find out more? Read on Republicasiamedia’s cryptic files.

Sun eaters

In cultures across the globe, there had been those that bore striking similarities. From the great flood myth of the Bible which had various reiterations in various cultures, there is also that of the solar eclipse which our ancestors foretold which carries striking similarities and differences in other countries.

For many, it bore a bad omen from the gods who are angry and are about to punish humanity.


But here in the Philippines we have our own mythical creature that seems to devour the sun.

Courtesy: Owlcation

Called a “bakunawa” (sea serpent), it is said to consume the sun after being attracted to it. 

In China, they believe that a dragon eat up the sun. In Vietnam, a frog was identified as the sun eater.

But for the Inuits of the Arctic region, to them, a solar eclipse happens when Anningan, the Moon god, had caught up with his sister Malina, the Sun goddess, after their fight.

But in the Philippines, the Bakunawa is not only associated with eclipses. It is also believed to be causing earthquakes, rains and strong winds.

Courtesy: Alfred McCoy

For our Filipino ancestors, the Bakunawa served as a geomantic calendar to which there were rituals being done by babaylan priestess. 

Bakunawas are usually said to have a looped tail and a single horn on the nose. 

Versions in PH culture

In Cebu, pre-colonial natives had a belief that the supreme god, Bathala created 7 moons to light up the sky. 

However, the Bakunawa was emancipated by its beauty, rose from the ocean and swallowed the moons.

This angered Bathala and made them enemies.

So as to keep the moons from completely being swallowed by the Bakunawa, Filipinos during ancient times would bring out their pans and pots, and bang them to scare the Bakunawa, and spit the moon back to the sky.

Other tales said that the Bakunawa fell in love with a human girl in one of the native tribes.

The head of the tribe found out about their relationship and burned their house. This angered the Bakunawa, and tried to take revenge by eating all seven moons.

When it was about to eat the last one, Bathala punished the Bakunawa by banishing it from its home away from the sea. 

Solar eclipses are likewise being linked to bad omens bringing about destruction. In some cultures, pregnant women and children are asked to stay indoors.

The Myth

This is a fascinating story. 

Until research was done, many of us didn’t even know of a legendary sun eating dragon in the Philippine mythologies.

The story of Bakunawa and the Seven Moons was first recorded in the Mga Sugilanong Karaan 1913 by Buyser. 

It gained wider recognition after it was published in 1926. It was part of the Mga Sugilanong Pilinhon (Folk lre Filipino) collection.

This is where Buyser ends with his personal experience surrounding the belief in Bakunawa.

But many bad events that occurred after a solar eclipse were purely coincidental. Because of such occurrences, it is easily attributed to it.

However there is one thing that is dangerous about solar eclipses.

Looking at a solar eclipse directly can greatly damage one’s eyes as the light can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina (the back of the eye) that transmit what you see to the brain. 

Such damage can be temporary or permanent and occurs with no pain. 

So when you are looking at an eclipse, many are sure to wear shades or any fancy scientific based device. It will help you

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Until then always stay safe, aim for your dreams and be kind always and all ways. 



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