Biag ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang) was a pre-Hispanic epic poem handed down from generation to generation by Ilocano people of the Philippines until it was written down by the legendary Ilocano poet, Pedro Bucaneg, around 1630.
Bucaneg, which is known to be blind since birth, was eventually known as the “Father of Ilocano Literature”. Equally to Bulacan’s “Balagtasan” of Francisco Balagtas, here in the North, we have “Bucanegan” in honor of Pedro Bucaneg.
Biag ni Lam-ang tells a story with epic grandeur and tales of borderline absurdity. This, I mean, is that on Namongan’s famous childbirth there were four people who would force Lam-ang out of Namongan’s womb.
And even so, Lam-ang manages to speak seconds after his birth, choose his own name and godparents, and vows to take vengeance against his father’s murderers as soon as he learned about it. He waited for nine months at his ancestral home at Nalbuan, now a part of La Union.
According to tradition, he, alone, would challenge an entire tribe of Igorots but left only one tribesman at his mercy and lived to tell the tale of his exploits.
The blood and dirt of all his fallen enemies would adhere to his skin. After the battle, he took a dip in the Amburayan River and upon immersion; upon the stench, all of the fish and aquatic life died as filth awash. Maidens of the nearby village attend to aid him soon after.
Yet, the story here is not the absurdity of desire or strength of Lam-ang’s revenge but his dedication to his beloved Ines Kannoyan who was known to have lived at Calanutian, Sinait, Ilocos Sur.
Ines Kannoyan was the embodiment of great beauty and many men would line up to woo her, in fact, even creatures and characters of mythology. Lam-ang encountered, one of which, the proud and pompous giant Sumarang to whom he would soon defeat in a duel.
And, Lam-ang took it to the extremes to make the lady’s attention his own; he sent two magical pets at her keeping. One of which is a white rooster, that its crow could tear an entire house apart, and then a gray dog, who could reassemble an entire building at his bark. And these took Ines’ parents’ attention.
Traditionally, men offer dowry twofold to all of the combined wealth of the woman they intend to marry, at least that was a challenge for Lam-ang. He offered two ships full of gold, this made the Kannoyan’s parents left in awe, and then they were married.
But these were not enough. Tradition also states that a newly married man should swim in the river in search of the elusive fish called “rarang”. And there, Lam-ang met the whopper of tides and waters, the Berkakan.
In Bucaneg’s manuscript, it is well debatable if the Berkakan was a Shark or a Crocodile, but logically, the location was a river, it must be a Crocodile.
Alas, in Berkakan’s mouth, Lam-ang faced his doom.
This edifice commemorates the epic battle of which Lam-ang soon recovered with the help of Ines and her magical pets. His bones were gathered. The rooster crows and the dog bark simultaneously. Soon, Lam-ang’s body was restored to life.
The epic of Lam-ang reflects the history and lore of the Ilocano people in the Philippines. With every twists and turn, the valiant and proud people from the North have endured across conquest, tribulations, and skirmishes.
Biag ni Lam-ang tells how in Ilocano society the love for our family and ties of blood is our best priority. Through it, Ilocandia never truly survived without the familial warmth.
Perhaps we will wrestle our own Berkakan, one day, in search of our own “rarang” not for ourselves but for the people who holds our deepest regards. One must be strong to accept and face the taunts of reality.
Here, at Kapurpurawan White Rock Formation at Burgos, Ilocos Norte, the effigy of the long remembered epic that stands up until today is waiting for every would-be tourist to turn their heads and reminisce the past, the origin, the tales, myths, and culture of Ilocano heritage and the lessons it conveys.