There is a beautiful young woman with mysterious abilities living in the mountains and beloved by her neighbors because of her extraordinary kindness and generosity. She is not a creature of flesh and blood but a nymph from the fogs and mists of these dusky mountains; a bountiful recluse who defended her home against the outlaws and renegades.
No one in the Philippines isn't familiar with the name Maria Makiling, also spelled Maryang Makiling.
Maria is the mysterious protector of the natural resources and all wildlife in the Makiling mountain—a dormant volcano that separates the provinces of Los Bañoz, Laguna, and Tayabas, Quezon in the island of Luzon.
Makiling (also spelled Maquiling) means "crooked" or "bent" because the mountain forms a rugged top and breaks into irregular hills southward, thus leaning or uneven.
It rises to an elevation of 1,090 m (3,580 ft.) above sea level and is the highest feature of the Laguna Volcanic Field. The volcano has no recorded historic eruption but volcanism is still evident through geothermal features like mud springs and hot springs.
A less often mentioned possible origin for the name is that it describes the mountain as having plenty of the bamboo variety known as kawayang kiling (Scientific name: Bambusa vulgaris Schrad).
By this etymology, the mountain would have been named after the bamboo, and the lady named after the mountain.
Maria Makiling is said to be responsible for protecting its bounty and thus, is also a benefactor for the townspeople who depended on the mountain's resources.
Belonging to the Laguna region, some legends also identify the lake Laguna de Bay —and the fish caught from it as part of her domain. It is one of the primary sources of freshwater fish in the Philippines.
Bay (not to be confused with the English term for a 'part of the coast') comes from the earlier ba-e (pronounced "Bä'ï"), from either bayi (woman), bahay (house), bahayan (settlement), baybayin (shore), or baybay (boundary).
Therefore Laguna de Bay could mean 'Lake of the Woman' or 'Lagoon of the town called Bay'.
The wonders and many superstitions about the mystical and elusive Maria are fairytales passed down from older generations to the next, making her the most prominent fairy figure in Philippine Folklore.
Her appearance raises the bar when we speak of diwata (goddess), encantada (enchantress), or lambana (pixies and forest nymphs).
She's often described in these tales as a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, her skin a kayumangging kaligatan (clear pure brown) with twinkling big black eyes and long hair that almost touches the ground.
Unlike the mischievous fairies of the Western culture, she remained humble, pure, and simple, who's always being described wearing a long white gown and a calm but serious expression on her never-aging face.
This description, however, is probably not the original image of the enchantress, but a result of the idealized femininity imposed during the conservative Spanish occupation when women were always covered up and expected to display graceful elegance and submission at all times.
The abundance and serenity of the enchanted mountain complement Maria's own persona so much that she is also closely associated with the white mist that often surrounds it.
Few stories spoke that either her skin or hair is white. But in most tales, it is her radiant clothing, which makes people who see it confuse a wisp of cloud through the trees and mistook it for Maria.
The mountain's various peaks are also believed to be Maria's face and two breasts. Resembling a reclining woman or sleeping giant from certain angles, her hair cascades downwards a gentle slope away from her body.
The anthropomorphized natural phenomenon is common for the early Filipinos as a way to explain natural events in simpler terms.
Kindness and Humility
The most notable characteristic of Maria Makiling is her kindness and charitable nature.
When older folks gather firewood or pick wild fruits in the mountain, she would appear to them as a young girl offering to help. She then secretly slips gold nuggets, coins, or gems into their pile of wood or fruit baskets.
Tired hunters tell their own encounters about her inviting them to her secret home in the mountain. Providing them with a place to rest, she would serve them with a warm meal and cold drinks.
As a parting gift, she often gives pieces of ginger, usually with an instruction to take them back home for cooking. If they follow her directions, these pieces of ginger turn into pieces of gold to their surprise.
When the poor country folk on the slopes of Makiling needed clothing, jewelry, or utensils for important occasions, Maria would always lend them what they needed.
She can appear however she wants. Sometimes she likes to test one's kindness by disguising herself as an old woman begging for food from the local villagers.
When one is deemed honorable and kind, Maria will grant them gifts—a common theme in Filipino folktales, also linked to encounters with mystical hermits.
Those who refuse to help her on the other hand, face the consequence of being chased away from the mountain by the sounds of howling monsters hiding in the shadows of the woods.
To repay the generosity she showed them, the people often leave offerings to her that they believed to be her favorite fruits or some eggs. Leaving it on the grounds of Mount Makiling, the most common presentation is a hen with feathers as white as milk that is less than a year old (a dumalaga in Tagalog).
This practice of animal offerings and sacrifices goes back to the Hindu-animist worship in the islands before the coming of the Europeans.
Her dwelling place is never definitely known because those who had the luck to visit would immediately forget the way back. It is believed that one can only find it if allowed by Maria.
Unlike the other mountain goddesses from the other regions who live in caves within their respective domains, some say her home is a beautiful palace, bright as a golden reliquary, surrounded by gardens and fine parks. While others assert that they saw only a wretched hut with a patched roof and bamboo sides.
In some stories, this hut is situated in the village amongst the people, where Maria Makiling once lived before she fled to the mountains after having been offended for some reason.
The distinct differences of these accounts led to the theory that most of them are probably just romanticizing. But it may also be due to the fact that Maria Makiling, like many persons in comfortable circumstances, might have had several dwelling places.
A Demoted Goddess
She favors appearing after a storm, scurrying over the fields. Whenever she passed; life, order, and calm renewed.
She strolls around the woods to straighten broken tree trunks, replace nests on the branches, mend the wings of birds and butterflies, and clear the streams of fallen twigs and logs.
As she walks around, all traces of the unchained elements were wiped away; roses and orchids bloom, birds chirp with glee, and deer run around once again.
The truth is that Maria Makiling was originally venerated in the pre-colonial Philippines as a goddess known as Dian Masalanta who was invoked to stop deluge, storms, and earthquakes.
they had another idol called Dian Masalanta, who was the patron of lovers and of generation
— Juan de Placencia, Spanish friar
She was the patroness of Mount Makiling; the goddess of fertility, love, childbirth, and the protector of lovers.
She belonged to the Tagalog Pantheon as the daughter of Anagolay—the goddess of lost things, and Dumakulem—the strong, agile guardian of mountains. She's the sister of Apolaki, god of the sun.
She was also considered the goddess of peace and was often overlooked because she was the youngest of all the eternal beings. She was the kindest and most loving of all the goddesses who only desired peace for everyone and loved all things like an innocent child.
Recognizing her passion for humanity, the supreme god Bathala gave her the duty of peacemaker among the warring tribes.
But it was Dian Masalanta's deep love for a mortal man that angered her family members for breaking what they consider to be sacred laws. By this, she was banished to the world of mortals.
Despite the punishment she received, she was happy to be among the people that she loved.
The name Maria Makiling is the Hispanicized evolution of Dayang Makiling.
Dayang is the Austronesian word for 'princess' or 'lady', and Dian comes from Diyang—another form of Dayang.
Masalanta or magsalanta means 'to be destroyed', from the root word salanta—which was defined with a list of meanings such as 'poor', 'needy', 'crippled' or 'blind' by the Vocabulary of Tagalog Languages written by Juan de Noceda and Pedro del San Lucar in 1754, and the earlier Buenaventura dictionary in 1613.
The name literally means "to be destroyed there"—which sounds odd for a supposed goddess of peace and love, right?
In truth, these Tagalog words are commonly used whenever there is a calamity and could be translated as 'victimized', 'damaged', or 'having misfortune'.
Being used in her name, it refers to the state of the people who invoke her, rather than of the goddess herself and what she represented.
So the more accurate meaning of her name is 'the princess that poor people asked to for help in times of disasters'.
When colonizers arrived on Philippine shores, they stomped the earlier Animistic religions to convert Filipinos to Catholicism. They demonized the earlier diwata and remodeled them as lesser spirits and elementals.
In the case of Diyan Masalanta, her worship diminished considerably, now reduced as a petty enchantress or dryad.
But Mary Joyce Caballes of thepinaywriter.com put forward a very interesting theory about the survival of Dian Masalanta's fertility rites today in the form of the Obando dance rituals held in the festival of Bulacan province, celebrated every month of May.
This popular practice is performed by childless couples hoping to conceive and single individuals looking for love praying to Saint Clare of Assisi and two other Catholic saints.
In fact, it already existed and was originally anitist (the worship of anito or ancestral spirits) in nature before the arrival of the Spaniards.
Perhaps Dian Masalanta, along with Lingga (the phallic god of medicine) and Lakapati (the goddess of fertility), was originally called upon during this ritual.
But of course, some very Catholic modern Filipinos might not want to associate it with paganism.
She was a fantastic creature, half nymph, half sylph, born under the moonbeams of the Philippines, in the mystery of its ancient woods, to the murmur of the waves on the neighboring shore … one can see her passing in the distance over the reed grass so lightly and airily that she did not even make the flexible blades bend.
— Dr. Jose Rizal, Philippine National Hero
Supernatural or Superstition?
Because stories about Maria Makiling were part of an oral tradition long before they were documented, there are numerous versions of her tales as expected. Even several superstitions sprung out of her legends.
One famous superstition is that every time mountaineers would disappear into the forests of Mount Makiling, people say that they were most likely abducted by the enchantress.
Whenever there are hiking accidents near the mountain, they would say it was Maria that caused it or the spirits that follow her.
If Maria takes a liking to a particular mortal man who wanders into her land, she would take him to be her husband and bring him into her home. He would then spend his remaining days in matrimonial bliss in the fairy realm, lost and unable to return to his real human family forever.
Another superstition says that if one takes anything from the mountain without asking for permission from Maria Makiling, they risk angering her. They get lost or beset by insects and thorn pricks.
The only solution is to leave them behind and to turn one's clothing inside out to prove that they are not hiding anything from her.
Tales of Love
The most obvious pattern in her legends is the stories about her falling in love with a mortal man that goes all the way back to the myths of Diyan Masalanta.
The Three Suitors
Maria was sought for and wooed by many suitors. Three of them were Captain Lara, a Spanish soldier; Joselito, a Spanish mestizo studying in Manila; and Juan who was but a common farmer. Despite his lowly status, Juan was chosen by Maria Makiling.
Spurned, Joselito and Captain Lara conspired to frame Juan for setting fire to the cuartel (barracks) of the Spanish, and Juan was shot as the enemy of the Spaniards. But before he died, he cried Maria's name out loud.
The diwata quickly came down from her mountain while Captain Lara and Joselito fled to Manila in fear of Maria's wrath. She cursed the two, along with all those who cannot accept failure in love.
Soon, the curse took effect, and Joselito suddenly contracted an incurable illness while the revolutionary Filipinos killed Captain Lara.
This tale is obviously biased against the Spaniards because it was told during the Philippine Revolutionary period.
The Spurned Lover
Maria Makiling fell in love with a young and handsome farmer. The young man tilled fields that always bloomed abundantly even when that of his neighbors lay dry and barren.
His animals and fowls remain robust even when famine and pests killed his neighbor's flock. He was blessed and protected by a beautiful and unseen spirit.
The time came when the Spaniards wanted to gather all the strong single men to serve in the colonial army. Because of this, some young men fled to the mountains to avoid fighting their fellow natives and other opposing forces
But Maria Makiling's beloved chose to marry a village girl instead.
On the eve of his wedding, he was walking along the grassy paths of the forest when suddenly, in the mists and shadows of the evening, Maria Makiling appeared before him and said;
"I have loved you with all the love I am capable of in this world of mortals and know you will marry someone else. I had hoped that you would have faith in me. I had hoped that you would love me in return. But you need an earthly love. I could have protected you and your family. We go separate paths from hereon."
She vanished as was never seen again.
Disappearance and Modern Sightings
As time went by, people saw less of Maria Makiling.
Now, lovers get married without receiving her blessings. Hikers get lost in the woods for hours without help. Many fear that she has disappeared forever, avoiding any contact with mankind. An invisible presence, always felt but rarely seen.
One popular story is that of a group of hikers who went hiking to Mt. Makiling and left their campsite dirty and littered all over the place. Deciding to go on with their journey, they found themselves befuddled and coming back to the same spot over and over again.
Only after they cleaned up the camp did they manage to find water as well as their way onwards.
In the University of the Philippines Los Baños—which sits on the foot of Mount Makiling, students tell stories of a woman in white sighted walking down the long uphill road heading to the Upper College of Forestry Campus.
The mystery woman appears to be trying to hitch a ride down the mountain but invariably, the observers are frightened, believing her to be Maria Makiling in the flesh.
The unusual weather patterns in the mountain area are also often attributed to Maria Makiling. Often this means sudden rains whenever particularly noisy events are held in the areas near the mountain. Locals say that Maria does not approve of the loud sounds disturbing her peace.
Acclaimed Filipino actor and director Behn Cervantes, believes that Maria Makiling made her presence known to show her appreciation during a program he once directed for the UP Alumni Association's Maria Makiling Foundation—an advocacy group formed for the protection and conservation of Mount Makiling held near the mountain.
During our launch, we had a hair-raising experience. When the phenomenal singer Dulce reached the climax of her song praising nature, she raised her arms to the heavens in veneration. As if on cue, golden leaves from surrounding trees showered the audience like petals from the heavens. The astounded crowd gasped and aahhed in unison. Los Baños' Dr. Portia Lapitan whispered to me, “The diwata approves"
— Behn Cervantes
Many blame Maria Makiling’s disappearance on the people who do not return her generosity with respect. While others say that the excessive cutting of trees and hunting of endangered wild animals have greatly disappointed her that she refuses to come out anymore.
Yet on the side of the mountain, there is a clear, quiet pool hidden among thick vegetation.
The legend persists that the vapory figure of Maria Makiling may still be seen reflected in this pool in the mists of early dawn.
And so the legend of Maria from the Crooked Mountain lives on.
Blessed Earth Mother Dian Masalanta, theunicornopal.wordpress.com
Dayang Masalanta, Goddess of Love, Childbirth and Destruction, thepinaywriter.com
The Legend of Maria Makiling, aboutphilippines.org
Maria Makiling, Wikipedia
The Legend of Mariang Makiling, wikipilipinas.org
The Diwata of Philippine Mythology, aswangproject.com
Stories of Maria Makiling, instructionalminutes.blogspot.com
Ian Spike (author) from Cebu, Philippines on October 26, 2019:
Glad you enjoyed it, thanks @JC Scull.
JC Scull on October 26, 2019:
Very nice story. Thank you for writing it.
Ian Spike (author) from Cebu, Philippines on April 01, 2017:
Walang anuman Miss Intern! The Maria Makiling story is worth telling. Thanks for the comment.
Miss Intern on March 31, 2017:
This is such a nice story. This story reminisce my childhood memories because when I was a child my Mother always telling about this story. Nice :) Magaling at Mahusay Maraming Salamat sa pagbabahagi nito :)