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

Ian is a full-blooded Filipino visual artist who incorporates Pinoy myth and folklore in his work.

Sinukuan by Jap MKL

Sinukuan by Jap MKL

Maria Sinukuan is the enchanted lady residing in the Arayat mountains of Pampanga province in Luzon. Her appearance is simple and immaculate, an epitome of Filipina beauty.

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.

But far more beautiful is her 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.

Despite being a benevolent goddess, she does not yield when people become greedy and disrespectful.

The name 'Sinukuan' comes from the Tagalog root word sucu or suko which means "surrender" or "the end". Thus, sinukuan simply means 'the one whom others have surrendered to'. Frightening, right?


Mount Arayat is an extinct stratovolcano located in a flat agricultural region with no recorded eruption—its 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. It is a popular tourist destination, with the former Clark Air Base ten miles to the west.

According to folklore, the mountain was said to be several mountains merging at the center, and have been located in the swamp to its south as part of the Zambales Mountain range originally.

It relocated because of a rival deity in Mt. Pinatubo. So now it stands alone in the plain fields with no one to bother.

Tough Love

Once upon a time—probably before the Philippines was colonized, Mount Arayat abounded with unusually ample forests. Aside from the trees that bore exceptionally large fruits and lush 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 meat and harvested produce 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.

To show their gratitude, 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.

Sadly, the villagers no longer cared about the sanctity of her domain and decided to take action.

Mariang Sinukuan by Ryan Agsawa

Mariang Sinukuan by Ryan Agsawa

Compelled by greed and a thirst for curiosity, a group of young men went up Mt. Arayat one day to seek 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.

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They were amazed at what they saw that day.

Everywhere they looked, various fruits bigger than their fists dangled from their trees almost touching the ground, and different animals and livestock roamed around the fields. So they gathered them to bring back home, 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 take as much as they needed but not 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

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'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. Time after time, other people from the village would go into the mountain and repeat the same mistakes.

Mostly, these ungrateful persons were never seen again.

Disgusted and fed up at last with the humans who did not respond to 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 efforts 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 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 by building 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 which then transformed into myth.

Philippine sun god by unknown artist.

Philippine sun god by unknown artist.

She Was A Man Once

To the modern Pampangueños (natives 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 gathered by the students of the American anthropologist Henry Otley Beyer, Mount Arayat is the home of the legendary Aring Sinukuan (also known as Aung Sinukwan/Suku)—the sun god of war and death.

He taught the early inhabitants the industry of metallurgy, and of waging war. As well as woodcutting/gathering, and rice cultivation which are reasons for the unusual bounty of the forests in Arayat as well as the profusion of animals on the mountain.

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

Scholars found that he was also known by several names, such as Aldo (Sun) and
Apolaqui (Lord Male/Grandfather) which is why Aring Sinukuan is sometimes compared to sun gods in other pantheons; 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 was the first-born of Calupit and Cargon Cargon (also known as Matungcu) who
were believed to be descendants of the first man and woman.

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

The myth also states that he had handsome features, but other versions narrate how this transformed when he married a mortal woman.

He also had power over nature by controlling the winds and raise deadly storms through the help of his 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.

Sinukuan was a shape-shifter, who once morphed into a mosquito so he could spy on people. It was in this manner that he learned that his daughter was consorting with a mortal man, whom he then transformed into a pig.

Most of all, Sinukuan had immense strength, able to lift mountains and hurl objects at great distances.

In one story, Sinukuan was gravely wounded by a giant that resides in Mt. Pinatubo. But in others, this giant is from a different mountain in Zambales who challenged and defeated the king of Arayat (Matungcu).

The latter was killed and his son Sinukuan soon took his place and later married the daughter of the lord of Zambales.

In the original mythology, 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 in 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 to the Tagalog myth of how Apolake (the sun god) waged war on Mayari (goddess of the moon) about who would rule the heavens after the death of their father, the creator god Bathala—additionally symbolizing the eternal conflict between night and day.


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 a common theme 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 to how the locals viewed the mountain; more as a phallic symbol of war in the past, now transformed into a vital feminine source for their nourishment and survival.

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 are said to be his bathing quarters, often visited by tourists and natives alike. It is 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.


Sinukuan is believed to come down only during a time of grace, disguising himself as a mortal man.

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 the 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. To the minds of the ancient people, it made total sense.

Actress Mickey Ferriols as Sinyang or Sinukuan in Dyosa (goddess) TV show, and the 1955 movie titled Mariang Sinukuan.

Actress Mickey Ferriols as Sinyang or Sinukuan in Dyosa (goddess) TV show, and the 1955 movie titled Mariang Sinukuan.

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