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The name "Bakunawa" is derived from the Cebuano and Bisaya term baku (to cover) and nawa (causer). According to Filipino folklore, the mythical creature Bakunawa, is often referred to as the “Moon-Eater” or the “Eclipse Bringer”. Read the story below to find out how Bakunawa came to be known as the reason for lunar eclipses! Then take our quiz to test your knowledge.
Once upon a time, in the ancient land of the Philippines, Bathala—a supreme god—created seven moons that lit up the earth. The moons illuminated each of the dark nights of the week and every evening was bright and glowed with beauty because of these moons.
This, however, caught the attention of one particular dragon—Bakunawa, a huge serpent-like dragon that coiled around the earth and ruled the oceans. Bakunawa lived deep in the ocean and was surrounded by darkness his whole life. Bakunawa saw the seven moons form in the sky and was amazed, he had simply never seen such beautiful things before! He was mesmerized by the moons’ radiant light and wanted to have them all.
The towering and ferocious Bukanawa yearned to possess all the moons and so one night, he sprung from the pitch-black ocean and bolted towards the sky—he opened his mouth as wide as he could around one of the moons and with one powerful swoop, swallowed it whole. As he did so, a huge wave of earthquake shook the ancient land of Philippines.
Bakunawa returned to his dwelling, satisfied that he had devoured a moon. Unfortunately, he soon realized the moon inside him was melting away like candle wax.
Bakunawa was furious! He wanted to take a moon that would last and so the next night, Bakunawa leapt towards the sky once more and swallowed another moon. But this too melted away. Bakunawa was infuriated and let out a loud roar in annoyance. "Well, there are many more moons in the sky...I will eat them all if I have to!" he huffed.
Night after night he took a moon from the sky, and each time it melted away inside him.
Soon, Bakunawa had devoured all—but one.
The ancient Filipinos, who suffered from the earthquakes that Bakunawa caused when he ate each moon, knew they had to do something or their world would be destroyed. Finally, they thought of an idea—they had heard that the Bakunawa was afraid of loud noises so they gathered some pots and pans and waited for the Bakunawa to appear again...
One fateful night, Bakunawa sprung out of the ocean once more, and with a terrifying screech, sped towards the last moon and locked its jaws around it. As Bakunawa's teeth grabbed hold of the seventh moon, the earth began to be engulfed in a deep and terrifying darkness.
The ancient Filipinos ran to the ocean while banging their pots and pans and shouted together "Return our moon!”. Bakunawa was so startled by the loud sudden noise that it spat out the seventh moon just as it was about to swallow it whole. The dragon, frightened by the loud screams and noise coming from the people on land, hastily retreated to his caverns in the oceans while the deafening sounds grew louder and louder.
The last moon, now returned to the skies above, illuminated the dark skies once more, and the ancient Filipinos celebrated as the dragon hid inside his caves waiting for another chance to gobble up the last remaining moon.
Little did Bakunawa know, Bathala had seen what he had been doing to his moons. To prevent him from ever swallowing the last moon again and casting the earth in eternal darkness, Bathala planted tall bamboo trees so that Bakunawa would not be able to swallow the moon so easily. These bamboo trees looked like stains or dark spots on the surface of the moon from afar.
Bakunawa never gave up as he would attempt to swallow the last remaining moon in the sky from time to time. But the people guarded the moon with their own lives and remained on alert, ready to create thundering noises for the moon's return should Bakunawa return. As long as the bamboo trees remain on the moon, the dragon will never succeed in his evil deed.
Did this story perhaps remind you of another folk tale? That’s because it has similarities to the story of the Chinese legendary beast, Nian! Read Story of Nian here.
Apart from the greedy Bakunawa and formidable Nian, there are many other creatures you might have read about in our Asian Myths, Legends & Folktales series. Let’s find out how well you know them in the game below!