Bakunawa: The Filipino Dragon Picture

When you say “dragon” here in the Philippines, typically the mythical Chinese dragon, the western, Saint-George-type dragons, and even Bruce Lee, quickly come to mind. We love them dragons. Well, mainly because dragons are cool!—aside from the various superstitions that surround them. We write about them, hang pictures of them on our walls, make movies, tattoo them on our bodies, etc.

But did you know that we Filipinos have our own type of draconic creature lurking in the pages of our ridiculously rich mythology?

Surprisingly, not a lot of Filipinos are aware about this fabled beast. I have asked a number of people, some of them artists, writers –people young and old; most of them did not have any idea about it. They were even surprised to learn we have such a character in our mythology. To me, it is flabbergasting, considering how awesome this creature is. I myself only learned of it just a few years ago, so I thought I’d share the knowledge to those who would be interested.

The dragon in Philippine mythology is called Bakunawa. It is often described as a gargantuan sea serpent, huge enough (in one version) to have eaten six of the seven moons of our ancient mythology’s skies! Our ancestors believed Bakunawa trying to eat the remaining moon is the reason why we have eclipses. To me the idea is just so cool, easily making the Bakunawa king of all Filipino mythical beasts in my book.

The legends come mostly in the Visayan regions of the country which I think explains why I wasn’t aware of it until recently. I’m guessing (and hoping) that the pinoy dragon must be more popular in Visayas than anywhere else. And although all the references that I read told a different story from one another, all of them agree that Bakunawa tries to eat the moon every now and then, causing eclipses, and that it kicks ass!

Stories about the myth depend on who you are asking. In some versions, Bakunawa is simply a deity, who has an appetite for celestial bodies, while in others, they say it is also a destructive monster that kills people and destroys villages.

Other indigenous tribes also have mythical creatures similar to Bakunawa. Some have giant birds, snakes and crocodiles replacing the dragon, but they all share the same premise of being moon-eaters.

I am hoping to see more of Bakunawa and other less popular mythical creatures in pinoy pop culture. I mean the aswangs, manananggals, tiyanaks, and tikbalangs are awesome too, but we have ample (but never enough) stuff about them right now. We need to tell the kids there is a lot more where they came from.

I was happy to see Bakunawa used in GMA 7’s Amaya last year, and I’ve seen several drawings of it in the internet, and then there is this song by Jr. Kilat that goes, “Bakunawa is not a fish… It’s a drrragon!”

I work in the local creative industry and my faith in the Filipino talent is unshakable. There is no doubt in our capabilities to create new and original stuff, but it is always welcome and comforting to know that we are left with a beautiful history that is a treasure trove of culture and ideas.

Jerald Dorado
April 25, 2012
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