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Maria Sinukuan, The Tough Transgender Fairy (Mountain Goddesses of the Philippines Part 2)

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Ian is a visual artist, lay academic and keeps an open mind about unconventional beliefs. He lives with his two dogs and seven cats.

Sinukuan by jap MKL

Sinukuan by jap MKL

Tough Love

Maria Sinukuan is said to be the enchanted lady residing in the mountains of Arayat in Pampanga province of Luzon, Philippines. Like the famous Maria Makiling of Laguna, Sinukuan is also described as having long black hair, naturally curled that almost reaches down her ankles and usually wears a white flowing robe. Her appearance is simple and immaculate, an epitome of Filipina beauty.

But far more beautiful is the character she possesses; a kind and generous heart. Never was it known of her not to help those who needed it, making her the unofficial fairy godmother of the people who live near the mountain. But in her folklore, she does not submit when people become greedy and disrespectful.

The name 'Sinukuan' comes from the Tagalog root word "sucu/suko" which means 'surrender' or 'the end', thus, sinukuan simply means "the one who others have surrendered to". So you get what kind of enchanting figure she really is.

maria-sinukuan-the-fairy-godmother-who-turned-men-into-swine-mountain-goddesses-of-the-philippines-part-2

Mount Arayat is an extinct stratovolcano with no recorded eruption. The volcano is located in a flat agricultural region. Rising to a height of 1,026 meters (3,366 ft), it's last activity probably dates back to the Holocene epoch.

The southern half of the mountain lies within the municipality of Arayat, while the northern half is part of Magalang, both in Pampanga. The volcano is a popular tourist destination, with Angeles City and the former Clark Air Base ten miles to the west.

It is believed to be several mountains merging at the center including the tallest two peaks, but in reality that's just fallacy. According to folklore, the mountain was said to have been located in the swamp to its south and was originally part of the Zambales Mountain range, but relocated because of a rival deity in Mt. Pinatubo. So now it stands alone in the plain fields with no one to bother.

Greedy Neighbors, Ungrateful Beggars

Some say she is a witch or sorceress, while others preach that she's a benevolent goddess. Here's her story and you be the judge.


Once upon a time (probably before the Philippines was colonized), Mt. Arayat abounded with unusually ample forests. Aside from the trees that bore exceptionally big fruits and vegetables all year round, it is said that animals of all kinds once roamed this mountain.

Observing the needs of the people in the nearby town, Maria Sinukuan used to regularly bring fruits, vegetables and meat to locals who needed food during hard times. Needy families often woke up in the morning to see these gifts at their own doorsteps. They knew it was her who left it there while they were sleeping. And to show their gratitude and respect they never tried to go to her hide-out in the mountain and considered her home a sacred place.

This went on for a very long time until the people became greedy and realized they can just take these things for themselves from the abundant mountain. They were dissatisfied with what the enchanted lady offered them and often complained that these weren't enough. The villagers no longer cared about the sanctity of her domain and decided to take action.

Sinukuan by Mariliza Reyes-Bulaong

Sinukuan by Mariliza Reyes-Bulaong

Compelled by greed and a thirst for curiosity, a group of young men went up Mt. Arayat one day to sought out where Sinukuan’s home was. They started for the mountain early at dawn and reached the base at sunrise until they found it at last.

They were amazed with what they saw that day. Everywhere they looked, various fruits bigger than their fists dangled from the their trees almost touching the ground and different animals and livestock roamed around the fields. So they gathered a lot from the forest, laughing and cheering while doing so.

Out of nowhere came a figure of a beautiful woman watching them, it was Maria Sinukuan. But she did not object to any of this. Instead, she merely said they can get as much as they needed but only cautioned them to not take anything back home without her permission.

Thinking she won't know the difference if they take more than they should, the young men started to fill their sacks with as many fruits and animals they could get hold of and started for home.

As they were about to begin their descent, they felt their sacks becoming heavier and heavier until the loads were pulling them down...

I can see her comparison to Circe from the Greek Oddessey

I can see her comparison to Circe from the Greek Oddessey

Submit or Die

Putting the sacks down, they soon discovered that all the fruits and meat they were carrying had surprisingly turned into large rocks. The young men remembered Maria Sinukuan's warning and became terribly frightened. Leaving their sacks behind, they ran as fast as their feet could carry them.

But before they reached the base of the mountain, Maria appeared in front of them, an angry expression on her once calm and radiant face. As punishment for their ungratefulness and theft, she turned them all into pigs.

However, this was not the only time that people tried to steal from her. The other people in the village were also getting restless. Time after time they would go into the mountain and repeat the same mistakes. According to legends, most of the time they were never seen again.

Disgusted and fed up at last with the humans who did not respond her generosity with respect, she stopped leaving food at their doorsteps. She cursed the land and made the fruit trees and animals in the mountain disappear. The mountain went barren and the surrounding villages and their people became poor and helpless.

By this time, the villagers all agreed to wave the flags of surrender and asked for Maria's forgiveness by leaving offerings at the foot of the mountain. But all that effort were in vain because Maria did not allow herself to be seen by anyone else ever again, no matter how hard they cried out her name.

Mingan covering the Lake by Elito Circa

Mingan covering the Lake by Elito Circa

The Giant Suitor

In one of her many lore, she had a giant demon suitor who desired her land from the nearby province of Nueva Ecija to the northeast. She gave him a test to prove his worth—to build a stone bridge overnight without any support.

When the demon almost accomplished the task, Sinukuan sabotaged the test by commanding the rooster to crow earlier before dawn. Thinking that he failed, the demon gave up.

This tale could be a collective memory from the many interprovincial wars and tribal invasions within Central Luzon that happened a long time ago.

She Was A Man Once

To the modern Pampangueños (the people from Pampanga province), Sinukuan is nothing more than the magical woman of the Arayat mountain. But is she really?

According to the old Kapampangan mythology and the research known to have been gathered by the students of the American anthropologist Henry Otley Beyer, Mount Arayat is the legendary home of Aring Sinukuan (also known as Aung Sinukwan/Suku), the sun god of war and death. He taught the early inhabitants the industry of metallurgy, wood cutting, rice culture and even of waging war.

Modern Filipinos call the sun "haring araw" (sun king, but not the French monarch) because we viewed the sun as masculine. This deity's name literally means the king that others have surrendered to, describing his might and prowess.

maria-sinukuan-the-fairy-godmother-who-turned-men-into-swine-mountain-goddesses-of-the-philippines-part-2

Aring Sinukuan is sometimes compared to Apolaki of the Tagalogs or Adlaw of the Visayans. He is the representation of the sun, and is portrayed as the ruler of Arayat along with Mingan, a name that in most traditions is that of Sinukuan's wife, but occasionally occurs also as the name of one of his daughters.

He also had a winged assistant named Galurâ, a giant eagle deity believed to be the bringer of storms, derived from the same bird creature in Hindu and Buddhist mythology called Garuda.

In varying versions, he was the father of three deities (sometimes male or female) ; Munag Sumala (the golden serpent who represents dawn), Lakandanup (god of gluttony and represents the sun at noon time) and Gatpanapun(the noble who only knew pleasure whose name means 'afternoon').

He was the rival enemy of the moon goddess Apung Namalyari (Apo na Malyari/ Mallari) of the neighboring Mount Pinatubo, ruler of the eight rivers in Zambales located 16 miles away south. He engaged on an epic battle with his rival, who “hurled stones” at Sinukuan. Perhaps this is actually a recollection of Mt. Pinatubo’s pre-Hispanic eruption over 600 years ago.

Similar sounding to the Tagalog myth of Apolake (the sun god) waging war on Mayari (goddess of the moon) about who would rule the heavens after the death of their father, the creator god Bathala—further symbolizing the eternal conflict between night and day.

In one story, Sinukuan was gravely wounded by a giant that resides in Mt. Pinatubo. But in other legends this giant is from a different mountain in Zambales who challenged and defeated the king of Arayat. The latter was killed and his son Sinukuan soon took his place, and later married the daughter of the lord of Zambales.

The Gender Switch

When the Spanish arrived, they rebranded Sinukuan as a woman, thinking that the people would not revere the deity if he was a female. Additionally, Sinukuan's wife, Mingan, was rebranded as male and depicted as a demon giant.

Despite this, the natives continued to revere Sinukuan. Furious, the Spanish added "Maria" to Sinukuan's name to somewhat turn her Catholic in a bid to further subjugate the natives and convert them to Roman Catholicism.


Gender Bending is pretty common in pre-colonial Philippine mythology because the ancient Filipinos did not have a rigid structure on sexuality and saw gender roles as non-binary. Men and women can take homosexual lovers as long as they can still fulfill their duties to procreate which was considered vital for the community as a whole. That only became an issue when the colonizers arrived and imposed their strict moral and societal codes on us.

This gender shift from male to female could also be attributed on how the locals viewed the mountain; more as a phallic symbol of war in the past and now transformed into a vital feminine source for their nourishment and survival much like a mother to her children. .

Not only do these deities live on the two sacred mountains, but they are expressly said in multiple accounts to live within the mountains, i.e., in the Underworld. The golden palace of Sinukuan within Arayat, for example, is featured in many of the legends of this region. Sinukuan's palace, according to the accounts, could generally only be accessed by mortals through magical intervention.

— Paul Manansala, Myths and Legends of Pinatubo and Arayat

Home Sweet Home

The waterfalls at Ayala in Magalang, Pampanga is said to be his bathing quarters and it is often visited by tourists and natives alike. It was considered a place of healing where the sick could come and bathe to free themselves of illnesses.

Sinukuan is said to live at the White Rock, a lava dome possibly formed by the last eruption, where its glimmering properties were most likely to have inspired the legend. In other accounts he was supposedly imprisoned in a cave sealed with a white rock where many legends say the magical entrance to Sinukuan's subterranean palace is located.

the god of war's castle

the god of war's castle

Sinukuan is believed to be able to transform and do as he pleases at will, and comes down only during a time of grace, disguising himself as a mortal man along with his children.

The day he comes back is believed to either be when he responds to the attack of Namalyari on Mount Pinatubo's 1991 eruption or when the time to call his followers and servants - the Colorums (the name coming from a local corruption of Latin et saecula saeculorum "world without end."), a messianic group who waited for Sinukuan to come out of his cave and relocate them to a new paradise on earth.

The legends and folktales of Sinukuan also explain how things came to be what they are today. And to the minds of the ancient people, it made total sense.

actress Mickey Ferriols as Sinyang/Sinukuan in Dyosa(goddess) TV show, and the Mariang Sinukuan movie, 1955

actress Mickey Ferriols as Sinyang/Sinukuan in Dyosa(goddess) TV show, and the Mariang Sinukuan movie, 1955

One Last thing

Here's a short story by Karl Gaverza of aswangproject.com


“AAAAAAIIIEEEEE!!”

My sister screams as the thunder roared through the house. I don’t know why she keeps doing that, it’s not like it won’t happen again. Our lives have always been like this, Lola says we are cursed and things have to be this way to atone for what happened.

“AAAAAAIIIEEEEE!!”

She doesn’t let up, but the thunder is getting louder. I look outside the window and the downpour is getting steadily worse, a few more hours and we may have to move to the second floor. I go and check on the food, making sure we have enough to last through the storm.

I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t raining. We moved to Cebu when I was born because of what happened with my mom, but it was raining even there. I always wondered why typhoons would follow our family around, but you get used to the constant rain. Eventually, the sound becomes soothing.

“I’m sorry.”

My mother passes by with candles. The power’s out and she always has to keep a steady supply. She looks at me with tears in her eyes and repeats her words.

I tell her she has nothing to be sorry about, that we’re a family and we can go through this together, but my words fall on deaf ears. She runs out the door and into the storm.

“I’M SORRY! ISN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU?! LEAVE ME AND MY FAMILY ALONE!””

I go after her and drag her back to the house. When I look at her face I can’t tell the difference between the tears and the raindrops.

“SHE’LL NEVER LEAVE US ALONE!”

Her sobs get stronger and I hug her tight. She retells the story of her girlhood. How she went up Mt. Sinukuan and took something that belonged to Her, Mariang Sinukuan. Mom was pregnant with my sister then and she moved as far away as possible to protect her family. But the storms came. The storms always came.
Mom calmed down after an hour and she held my hand.

“Do you know what I stole?”

I never learned the whole story of what happened. Mom would never speak of it, not even when dad died. I didn’t know what wounds this would bring up but curiosity took the better of me. I wanted to know what was so important that I had to live my life under a constant stream of wind and rain. I looked at mom and asked her what was taken.

“A mango.”

Woman with a basket of mangoes by Fernando Amorsolo

Woman with a basket of mangoes by Fernando Amorsolo

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