Night had come across the rain forest. It had rained during the day, and the scent of dew on moist orchids and crisp green foliage hung thick in the air, while an endless orchestra of crickets played alongside the wind rustling through the trees and a nearby ravine’s gurgling waters.
Tikbalang stirred in the dark, deep in the forest, far from where the village man slept with his family in fragile nipa huts. Tikbalang, part-man, more horse, creature of an aborted fetus sprung from the earth to guard earth’s elements. His name was Lupa, guardian of the earth.
Lupa turned his equine head to observe his surroundings, dark stallion eyes scouting the sleeping forest, flared nostrils breathing in the humidity and sweetly damp earth. Through matted mane were tall, barbed spines like small ivory tusks lining down the back of his powerful neck. His chest was dark-skinned and ribbed, glistening in the moist air, and he stood upright with muscled, thick haunches and large hooves. Two elongated arms that just barely touched the floor, a mix of horse and human, worked like pendulums beside his body as he navigated through the sprawling forest.
Dim memories passed through his mind of the traveler he had encountered earlier: a young Filipino farmer with a brimmed straw hat and a basket filled with papaya and mango. Upon the farmer’s approach, Lupa had hidden himself in the forest’s lengthening shadows against a cluster of thick Indian Banyan trees. If the farmer had worn his clothes inside-out, perhaps Lupa would have let him alone. If he had asked permission from the forest guardians to pass, perhaps he would have let him alone. But he did neither, so Lupa chased the farmer but the farmer fell and he trod on him til the earth mixed with papaya and mango blood. He had only wanted to lead him astray…but his death was already a memory, rapidly disappearing with the ever growing and dying forest around.
Lupa arrived at a clearing where the half-crescent moon danced above with spiraling galaxies and wind-beaten clouds. Three tikbalangs were already there: Tikbalang Hangin, Tikbalang Apoy and Tikbalang Tubig. In the center of the clearing was a three-month old miscarried human fetus, half-decayed and its gender unidentifiable. Tikbalang Tubig had collected the child’s body when she got news of its death. Somewhere far away, a woman still grieved its death.
For the rest of the night, they stared at the fetus, praying for its return from limbo, and just before sunrise, they buried the body in the ground. If their prayers went answered, the fetus will return from death in the form of a Tikbalang.
With sunrise approaching, the tikbalangs left the clearing. Lupa was accompanied by Tubig and together they trekked further into the forests where the multicolored birds still danced in thick canopies by the hundreds and the monkeys lived with no fear of being hunted by man. They reached the top of a mountain which had a sheer waterfall drop down into an emerald green lagoon. The sun was already high up, and the clouds were a mix of grey and white across the blue faraway skies.
Then the rains began to fall, piercing through the sunlit skies like drops of gold-illuminated gems, and they were married.
Lupa: Means “Earth” in Filipino
*According to Filipino Folklore, it is said that a tikbalang is getting married when it both rains and shines