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Ibalong: Bicol’s Folk Epic-Fragment

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Ibalong, the sixty stanzas that remain of a full-length folk epic that is today little known even in Kabikolan itself, was presumably jotted down in its complete Bicol narrative by Fray Bernardino de Melendreras (1815-1867), a Franciscan missionary in Ginobatan, Albay, from a minstrel referred to in the epic as Kadungung and who could be the same wandering bard described years later by another Franciscan, Fray Jose Castaño (b. 1854), as “Homero de Ibalon.”

Put afterwards into Spanish by Melendreras in Ibal, a 400-page manuscript in verse on the ancient custom of the Indios of Albay, its sixty-stanza portion was later included in a treatise on the Bicol Region by Castaño in 1895 as un pequeño fragmento inedito en verso. But because no credit was given to Melendreras by Castaño in the work, students of the Ibalong have since presumed that it was recorded and translated by Castaño himself.

Until a copy of the Bicol original is found, it would seem that what is left of the Ibalong – at least its sixty stanzas – is only the text in Spanish.

Fragmentary that it is, but just like any epic, the Ibalong portrays deeds in heroic proportions. Its three culture heroes – Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong – share glory in freeing Old Bicol of predatory and foraging beasts, of the sarimao and other monsters.

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