The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak

Early the next morning, Epefania said goodbye to Old Woman Intan and set out to the nearby mountains on foot. It was a journey of only half a day because Old Tolong was nestled in a narrow strip that connected, or divided, the sea and the mountain ranges of Cuernos de Negros. She did not feel tired, not even when the thickness of the jungle pricked and scraped her skin, nor when the stones were replaced by monstrous boulders, and her feet and knees stained the earth with blood. The cool breeze from the mountain tops made the going bearable, and while she sometimes stumbled, she only had to stand up, regain her footing, breathe in the freshness, and feel her body quickening with new resolve. She had prepared simply for the trip, taking only a jar of water, a small bar of the thickest baye-baye wrapped in banana leaves, and a sturdy branch–no, a big twig–from the mango tree that had swallowed her mother.

Epefania trudged on until she felt the noon sun high above her, casting short shadows everywhere. When the air soon became thin, she knew she was nearing the foot of the mountains. She slowed her pace. Then she poked gently at the soil here and there, until she found a spot that was a perfect amalgam of clay and stone. There, she began digging with her twig. And as she dug, she sang:

Didto sa amo, ang akong kasingkasing gahilak:
Hinaot unta, Kan Laon, nga imong dunggon ang akong pagbati.
Ingna ang bukid nga dili na sya mohuyop ug hangin.

(From where I am, my heart sheds profuse tears:
I implore Kan Laon, god of the mountain, to hear my plea,
And tell the mountains not to send the cooling breeze.)

There was a sigh from the hole in the ground, and in her thoughts she heard the mountains grumbling and shifting in the distance. She knew that she had done what she came to do, and began to set out for home.

But the trip was different this time. The mountain breeze no longer blew. In its place there was a creeping, heavy humidity. Everything seemed steep in sweat: trees, blades of grass, soil, insects, birds, animals… Soon, Epefania, too, felt parched. Just when she felt that she was about to pass out she realized she was finally home.

Old Tolong sweated all day long. Soon the reports came: some old people and small animals were dying. “There is no breeze anywhere,” someone remarked. “Nonsense,” somebody else said, “Cuernos de Negros has always sent us a cooling breeze. This will soon pass.”

But it did not.

Epefania wearily set out for Tiyay’s house where the old woman glowered at her while feverishly fanning herself. And yet, no matter how much Tiyay tried, nothing came of her exertions. There was no cooling air, even from the fan.

Epefania said to Tiyay, “I have done what you told me I must accomplish to calm my heart. Cuernos de Negros no longer breathes. And I love your son.”

But Tiyay only glowered some more. Then she got up in a huff, and threw away her useless fan, which joined a heap of other fans on the ground. Epefania turned to go home, where the orange light burned even brighter.


The next day, she woke up early, and said goodbye to Old Woman Intan. “Don’t do anything more, Paning,” her grandmother said. “We can barely breathe. Don’t bend too much to the will of an unreasonable heart.”

But the young girl did not reply. She only knew that there was a chasm in her heart that needed filling, and that fulfillment came with a name. She set out for the nearby seas, bringing with her another jar of water and another packet of baye-baye to sustain her on the short journey, as well as a small bag of mango leaves she had taken from the yard, which she had grounded into the finest powder.

She was tired when she arrived at the shore because Old Tolong was still sweltering and no matter how much she drank from her small jar of water, the humidity clung to her body, and dried her throat. When she reached the nearest beach, the sound of the lapping sea waves against the stretch of sand was hypnotic. They seemed to echo the strange beating of her heart.

Epefania opened the packet that contained the powdered leaves, and felt their coarseness on the thin skin of her palms. She stared into the horizon for a few moments, and when she felt the time was right, she cupped them, brought her fists close to her face, and then she began to sing softly into the cavern of her hands:

Didto sa amo, ang akong kasingkasing gahilak:
Hinaot unta, Tau-mari-u, nga imong dunggon ang akong pagbati.
Ingna ang mga hangin sa tibuok kalibutan nga dili na sila mohunong sa ulan.

(From where I am, my heart shreds profuse tears:
I implore Tau-mari-u, god of the sea, to hear my plea,
And tell the winds from all around never to stop sending the rain.)

Then she flung the ground leaves into the air.

There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere–certainly not wind. The sky seemed to compress itself into an indescribable denseness, and suddenly there were torrents pouring everywhere. It seemed like a malignant rain that fell in sheets, in cataracts. But the waters did not rise. Nor was there any wind, only driving rain. Everything in Old Tolong was drenched. And still the heat and humidity clung like a curse.

The townfolk were unprepared for the strange behavior of the world around them. “It’s Laon!” they shouted. “We must have insulted the old mountain god with our devotion to the white man’s saints!” And so, each one knelt in the direction of the northern volcano where the old mountain god slept, paying no heed to the girl passing by. If they had seen Epefania, they would have wondered about the strong, fearful aura tinged with red that sprang from her face. She was on her way back to Tiyay’s house, and never thought once over her skin crinkling in the unbearable combination of wetness and humidity.

The old woman was waiting for her. Still she did not speak. But now in her face was a kind of confusion. Epefania said, “Cuernos de Negros no longer breathes, and the walo-walohas come. I love your son.”

Tiyay did not say anything. She got up in a huff, and went into her house. Epefania turned to go home, where the orange light burned even brighter.


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