Tanghalang Filipino Reviews: Ibalong

Play Review by Jophen Baui

Tanghalang Filipino play "Ibalong" is an adaptation of the Bicolano epic of the same title. The play derives mostly from the middle part of the story and narrates the tale of the Bicolano mythical hero Hadyong, and his lover Oryol. More than a love story, the epic is a tale of a series of heroic exploits by three generation of heroes. The epic exalts the pride of the Bicolanos for their land. The Bicolanos, proud of their cultural heritage annually celebrates IBALONG Festival in February.


A Battle for Dominion

Who rules Ibalong?

A snake slithers on the lush forest grounds of Ibalong. She is hiding from an enemy who is ever ready to pounce on her anytime. But in fact, she isn't the only one in danger; the whole tribe of wild animals fear for their survival. The reason is that the arrogant hunter, Hadyong - prince and heir to the throne overseeing Ibalong, is obsessed with building a great city and sees the wilds as an obstacle to the fulfillment of his dream. He vows to kill all animals that threaten the peace and harmony of the human population.

Hadyong wants to clear the grounds of all fowls and beasts, aswangs, and every crawling and slithering creature. But the animals fight back and make a last stand. Many die in the hands of the fearless hunters led by Hadyong, but those who survive the continuous assault guard their territories to death. Led by Oryol, the scheming snake, they hold their ground against the attacks of the enemy.

Oryol has been raised to lead the tribe of animals, and from her childhood, she has been taught to wield her poisonous tail and strike fear in the hearts of the aggressors. Every green and slimy thing and all the running wild boars and sea monsters look up to her as they have done to her father, the Aswang. She is their leader, her scheming acts represent their collective wisdom.

But in spite of her wiles, Oryol falls in love with Hadyong, and to the rest of the animal tribe, she becomes a traitor. To buy some peace for her people, Oryol marries Hadyong. However, Hadyong does not let up on his objective. Instead of stopping the bloody conflict, Oryol's act merely paves the way for Hadyong's success. Even the goddess of the air favors Hadyong, thus all animals finally yield their territory and a new Ibalong rises.

But Hadyong is not yet satisfied. Having conquered the forests, he now wants to rule the skies. How does he conquer the gods of the air and clouds who seem to strike on a whim with lightning and thunder and  torrents of rain? He teaches his child to reach up to the heavens and fight the heavens with human power. Hadyong believes he can do this, his child can do this because they are conquerors.

Oryol pleads for sobriety. "The earth is not yours Hadyong," she says. "The animals are not your enemies. This land is merely a stewardship. You do not own anything. Your power is from the gods and you must use them to please the gods. You need to be humble and stop thinking you can have dominion over all the territories. You must leave some for the other creatures because the balance of life depends on a balanced sharing of all resources given to man and animals."

But Hadyong is arrogant and stubborn. He fights even the wind and the tides, until they hold his son hostage. When his son is thrown lifeless before him by the powerful gods of the heavens, all of Hadyong's glory and achievement turn meaningless. Everything he has built is destroyed by the powerful whipping of a storm and the thunderous pounding of the earth and skies. Finally, he is defeated and concedes. "Please make my son live!"

The gods of the heavens listen but gives their condition: Hadyong must die. So they spare Hadyong's son. Hadyong's arrogance cannot live on, and his son must never forget about the charge now being passed on to him. They give the son, and the city of Ibalong, a permanent warning to keep them humble. This is the elegant Magayon, daughter of man and beast, an ever present reminder. To this day the whole population of Ibalong is in awe of her eternal fire.


In the play Ibalong, the musical score by Carol Bello give away an ethnic haunting sound of despair. All the actors, wearing their colorful wild costumes, both hunters and hunted, give excellent performances. The choreography, creative fight sequences of man against beast, exude an energy that highlights the strain of environmental degradation.The libretto by  succeeds in creating a story arc that holds everybody's interest from beginning to end. The songs seem to echo the forest harmonies in their chant-like melodies.

Tanghalang Pilipino's play adaptation of Ibalong makes a powerful statement for the preservation of what is left of our natural resources. Only the defiant will miss this message. But remember, there is always the majestic Mayon Volcano to remind everyone that nature has a mind of its own; no amount of defiance can overcome it.