BANTUGAN: A Maranao epic hero

Bantugan (also Bantugen or Bantogen) is the hero of the second division of the Darangen of the Mëranaw of Lanao del Sur. The pre-Islamic oral epic, which shows Southeast Asian as well as Indian influences and presently exists in Islamic context, was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2002 and was inscribed in 2008 in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity being a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The recorded Darangen, which means “something that’s chanted or sung” in Mëranaw, was about 17 cycles in iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochoic tetrameter.


A marriage takes place between Datu Gibon and the princess Aya Paganay Bai from the kingdom of Minangoaw a Rogong, who is found after a long quest. Datu Gibon transforms the settlement into a kingdom by taking five other wives from neighboring kingdoms. The first wife resigns herself to her lot and leads the musical ensemble to welcome the other wives.

Years pass and Datu Gibon dies. Tominaman sa Togong, his son with Aya Panganay Bai, is proclaimed his successor. He ends up with eight wives. He sires 15 children, one of whom is Bantogen.

Bantogen has just returned from his many forays into foreign lands, courting and winning women. One of his loves, Lawanen, turns out to be one of his sisters. Totally distraught, Lawanen is convinced by Bantogen that the tragedy has been willed by the gods.

Then a fight ensues between Bantogen and Madali. Bantogen thinks that Madali is responsible for the destruction of Bembaran, while Madali thinks that Bantogen has come to take Princess Danangkap. They later recognize each other as first cousins, and they embrace. APAC New APAC New Zealand

The king of Berbaran learns that his brother Bantogen has been courting Babali Anonan. He decrees that no subject should ever talk to Bantogen when he returns. The members of the royal council think that the edict is too cruel, but they submit to it any way. Except for his son and his sister, no one else talks to Bantogen when he arrives in the kingdom. He makes his farewells to everyone and women weep.

Despondent, Bantogen runs in the heavy rain, removes his clothing, lays aside his blade, and lies down under the balete tree. He summons Magaw, his guardian spirit, who brings him to All The Land Between Two Seas. There, Bantogen is nursed by Princess Timbang, who gives him a hammock and areca nut-betel chew. She calls for a healer to bring him back to health, but Bantogen dies.

The king of All The Land Between Two Seas has Bantogen’s body placed in a royal bed, adorned with flags and flowers, at the center of a great hall. Since he is stranger to the people of All The Land Between Two Seas, gongs are beaten to summon people who can identify him. Although 10,000 come in answer to the call, none of them knows him.

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Finally, Bantogen’s parrot arrives, grieves over its fallen master, and faints. Revived with water, the bird identifies the dead man. The king places the body in a ship, while the princess sends the body back to Bembaran to make the sad announcement. The king of Bembaran faints upon hearing the news; the people are struck with grief.

When Mabaning and Madali learn about Bantogen’s death, they ride their magic shields and fly to the skyworld to retrieve the dead warrior. Mabaning disguises himself as a beautiful woman to make the Angel of Death thinks he has been given a wife by the gods. He asks the Angel where he can find korna, the fruit of heaven. As the Angel leaves him to obtain one, Mabaning loudly asks where Bantogen is. A tiny voice floats from a corked bottle, where Bantogen’s soul is kept. Mabaning grabs the bottle and joins Madali. They zoom back to Bembaran. The hero’s soul is released, and Bantogen is brought back to life. There is great rejoicing in the kingdom.

Later, Bembaran is invaded by enemies who thinks that Bantogen is dead. With magic, he defeats the invaders. The war being over, he sails to distant lands and kingdoms, and marries several women. Maginar, Princess Manoyod, Princess Maginawan, Princess Timbang of All The Land Between the Two Seas, Bolontai a Pisigi, and 40 other lovely ladies. Sailing back to Bembaran, he is met by his wildly admiring people, but he escapes and hides from them.

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Bantogen and Bolontai Mingginaon, sister of the ayonan or ruler of Bagombayan, are engaged to be married. While Bantogen is in Bembaran, Misoyao, the second son of the ayonan of another kingdom, invades Bagombayan to kidnap Bolontai Mingginaon. Bantogen arrives and engages Misoyao’s forces. Despite his powers, Bantogen tires. His sons — Alongan Pisunyanan, Daidaimarinindo, Watakaiabarat, Barobarosaragat, Ginaasanaorai, Misunaiasasabai and Monasuman-payongan — arrive in time to the rescue. A savage battle ensues, which leaves Misoyao with only five wounded warriors alive. He retreats with them, leaving behind a great army of corpses. ~Edgar Maranan and E. Arsenio Manuel, “Daragen.” CCP Encyclopedia of the Philippines Art, Volume IX: Philippines Literatures (Manila, 1994).


The article was originally published in Agung, the official newsletter of the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA), in its July-August 2016 issue. It is reposted with permission from NCCA.

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