Magay Ngadanna and the Legend of Manatong Hot Spring

Written by Ric Cuyob on .

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During the olden days in the mountains of Buguias, a hunter, an able-bodied person named Magay Ngadanna, discovered a hot spring with salty taste flowing out of the mountain. He frequented the mountains because of the rich hunts. Besides, he was curious to find out why there is salty-tasting hot water coming out in that area. 

One day, Magay Ngadanna ran and ran around the mountains but did not find anything to hunt so he went back to the hot spring exhausted and told himself, “I will take a short rest before I will continue with my hunting. It is a fine day but no signs of wild animals around.” Due to exhaustion, he did not only take a short rest, but took a long deep sleep. While he was asleep, he had a dream. It was like a movie. He watched the story unfold this way:   

He is sitting beside the hot spring when, from out of nowhere, a couple appears and sits beside him. The man introduces himself, “My name is Atong and this is Manda, my wife.” The wife continues, “We lived on this mountain a long time ago. We raised several animals like fowls, cattle and hogs. We planted many kinds of fruit bearing trees as well as vegetables and various kinds of grains. Unfortunately, we were childless.”

Atong narrates, “There was a community around. We had neighbors. They lived farther down and at the opposite side of the mountain.” Manda interrupts, “But Atong, you were very harsh to them. You had no compassion and pity.” 

“It was not like that. I had to do what I thought was right. I did not want to spoil our neighbors,” retorts Atong. “You see, I even dared to travel to distant land to barter for salt and other provisions. I sacrificed to be away for many days or months and even a whole year just to find and bring home what we needed most.” Manda is listening, so Atong goes on talking, “But, Manda was soft-hearted. She gave the neighbors what they asked for without asking anything in return. I felt annoyed because I discovered it every time I came home. So, I admit I always scolded her.” 

She answers, “I tried to do what I thought was right. The neighbors did not come to beg. They brought with them anything they had, like animals, grains, or things they could exchange but I did not take them because I knew they needed it more than we did. So, I always told my husband ‘what for’?”

As always, Atong loses self-control and stands up yelling, “You see. When there was a pandemic, our neighbors ran out of supplies because they did not know how to keep provisions for the morrow. The pandemic persisted for three long years. We underwent general community quarantine, later to an enforced community quarantine until we came to a total lockdown. Then, when the pandemic was over, a “betel” (pronounce as bɚtil) followed. We had a long dry season, so we could not plant sweet potatoes. All wild animals around went far away. Our domestic animals became thin and very sickly. The neighbors in the village suffered because they did not know how to stock provisions. They lacked foresight.”

Manda, in turn, angrily explains to Atong, “The community suffered but everyone was cooperative. Each family exerted effort to share what they could with the community. While you, you went to the mountain and made tunnels. You built chambers to stock salt and other provisions, but our neighbor disliked you for being heartless. You are that smart and intelligent. How come you are insensitive? You see, all our neighbors left. You claim to be always right, but you lack pity. You are only thinking of yourself. Now, we are alone in the village.”

Magay Ngadanna in his dream senses an argument between the couple so he stands up to pacify them. When Atong calms down and takes his seat on a shiny polished stone at the left side corner, Magay Ngadanna asks what the pandemic is all about since he has not heard of it in his lifetime. While Manda keeps silent and remains seated on another stone at the far right of the hunter, Atong proceeds with the explanation, “It was a virus. It was said to have originated in a faraway land so at first, people thought it was only an epidemic. Unexpectedly, the virus spread rapidly all over the lands. Our village was not spared. The people contracted the virus. This type of virus has combined the different symptoms of previously known viruses. It was hard to say but it could be enough for someone to have one of the symptoms or could have a combination of the following: headache, stomachache, teary eyes, runny nose, coughing, high fever, and muscle pain, loss of taste, loss of smell, excessive fatigue, difficulty of breathing and diarrhea or probably other unknown symptoms. It was so devastating. The preventive measures everyone should practice, based on previous epidemics, were: wearing facemask; constant washing of hands; avoiding touching your nose, mouth and eyes; avoiding crowds or maintaining a distance of one to two meters from the other person that you’ve never been in contact with. To make matters worse, we experienced a series of waves whereby it ensued quarantine after quarantine to lockdown after lockdown. Finally, reserves of the community were drained away.” After listening attentively to the explanation, Magay Ngadanna felt chills to the bone even without any scientific knowledge of the said virus.

Manda pursues the narration: “One night, while we were sleeping in the stillness and coldest of the night, I heard a very soft knock on our door. Atong was in deep sleep so I got up quietly to open the door and was surprised to find a strange old woman, very unfamiliar to me. I never met one like her in the community. She was shivering from the cold. She whispered to me, ‘My lady, I am so weak and very hungry. Will you please let me in and feed me?’  Knowing that Atong was sleeping soundly, I let her in and offered her food.  While she was eating, I built fire and boiled water thinking we could have coffee together. But, alas, when she was finishing her food, Atong woke up and, being surprised to find a stranger in the house, he burst out in anger and ordered the strange old woman to go out. I was begging him to have mercy. However, he would not listen to me. With rage, he pulled the strange old woman and brought her to the door into the obscurity of the night. With compassion and pity, I followed the strange old woman outside, crying loudly, apologizing and begging for forgiveness and understanding. All I wanted was to reach out to her and hug her. Unknowingly, she was the one reaching out to me, hugging me and comforting me, ‘You have nothing to apologize for, my lady, since you are always with me. I should be the one to say sorry that it must happen this way. Lessons learned in the most painful way make their values linger for eternity.’ When she barely finished speaking, a strong earthquake with high intensity shook the land. Then came heavy rain for many days and many nights.” 

Magay Ngadanna, still in his deep sleep, continues to see the unfolding of the story in a sort of video clips. The people are leaving the vicinity and are moving to many mountains and rivers away. In their newly put- up village, they seem to be on the safe side, yet they need to keep struggling to cope up with the day-to-day challenges of life. They are tenacious in supporting each other. It shows optimism that life could go on. In a sort of review, he sees that in those times he had good hunts in that mountain it was because Manda was the only one around. This time, he did not see any animals and nothing to hunt at all because Atong is there. Finally, Magay Ngadanna sees himself as having witnessed an epitome of two opposing principles coexisting in one phenomenon. Atong is a principled man but a self-centered person; Manda is also a principled person but has a heart full of generosity and compassion.

Suddenly, Magay Ngadanna woke up from his dream. He looked around and got the notion that the hot spring’s salty taste was due to the sacks of salt piled by Atong in his tunnel home; he also got the notion that the hot water was due to the boiling water prepared by Manda, which was supposed to be for her and the strange old woman before Atong woke up and drove her away. On the side of the mountain, a cold stream was flowing and Magay Ngadanna believed it to be the tears of Manda while she was being comforted by the strange old woman. From that day on, Magay Ngadanna named the hot spring, “Manatong,” coining the word from the couple’s name, Manda and Atong.

That day, Magay Ngadanna came home without any hunt. What he brought to the community was wisdom and a beautiful story that each one loved recounting to their family from generation to generation until today. “And so,” the folktale teller says, “It shall continue to be.”@RC25/11/2020.


About the Author

Ric Cuyob is half-Benguet and half=Bontok, and belongs to the Kankana-ey ethnolinguistic group of the Cordillera. He lives in Brussels with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Marivonne. 


This folktale is a retelling of the “Legend of Manatong” written by an anonymous author in the 1960s intended for grade V pupils in the schools division of the old Mountain Provinces. Today, the name is Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) composed of the provinces of Abra, Apayao, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mountain Province and Benguet including Baguio City.

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