Philippine Folktales and Legends: Catalina of Dumaguete

Painting: close up of girl wearing a hat

The City of the Gentle People 

Dumaguete is the capital town of the province of Negros Oriental in the Philippines. Like most great cities, Dumaguete has a long history and there are many myths and legends from its early days that have helped to create its culture and character. Dumaguete is also known as the City of the Gentle People, although it is uncertain why, but the people who live there are renowned for their friendliness making it a popular tourist destination. The name “Dumaguete” is thought to come from the Visayan word “daggit” meaning “to snatch,” possibly because it often fell victim to pirates and raiders who robbed, kidnapped, and enslaved the Gentle People. Presented here is a folktale from the early days of Dumaguete, which tells the story of a strange girl with a faraway look in her eyes named Catalina who was greatly loved by her people. 

Shot of a city by the sea, with a towering mountain in the background
© Jan Hazevoet , CC BY 3.0 Source

The Legend of Catalina of Dumaguete

It is said that even the wild people who once roamed the remote mountains spoke of Catalina with love. Around the coastal towns and villages of the island, when the wind whips the waters of the Tañon Strait into a frenzy and storms rampage in from the sea, the old men and women would gather their grandchildren around the glow of burning coconut lamp. As the wind howled and shook the walls and the roof they would tell the story of Catalina of Dumaguete. 

They would tell how many, many years ago, there was an old man named Banog who made his living by making daily rounds of the town selling the sweet water from the coconut tree. This was before the custom of making it into strong liquor became widespread. Although Banog was poor, he was very much respected and considered a good man despite his poverty. Banog had a daughter named Catalina, and everyone did all they could to support them because the Gentle People always supported one another the best they could. 

At the age of sixteen, Catalina was a very pretty and hardworking girl. She always wore a long white dress, which she kept spotlessly clean and in good repair. Everyone agreed she was very good of character, with a lovely nature, and everyone liked her. But in some ways she was a very strange girl. She very rarely spoke, and was often found standing staring out over the sea while shading her eyes with one hand. At other times she would suddenly stand tall while clasping her hands together and gaze into the sky, as though she could see something that no one else could. Because of these strange characteristics, the people believed she had some mysterious power of sight. 

The Pirate Attack

There came a day when a fleet of ships carrying fierce pirate warriors appeared off the coast of Dumaguete. They came ashore and attacked the islanders, killing the men and enslaving the women. They even killed poor, harmless, Banog. They robbed and pillaged, and rounded up all the women and placed them on to a ship to be sold as slaves. One of the prisoners was Catalina, and she sat silently in the bow of the ship staring fixedly at the sky. Although her companions talked to her trying to comfort her, she gave them no reply. Then a very wonderful thing happened. Suddenly, Catalina stood upright and leaped from the bow into the water. But instead of sinking, she landed lightly on the sea’s surface and walked over the waves back to her island home. Her captors were astounded, but made no attempt to stop or interfere with her because they feared her, so she reached shore safely.

There were still many survivors on the island who had escaped and hid in the forests, and when they saw Catalina return they all came out to meet her. Although they greeted her warmly, she said nothing and gazed beyond them at the great Thunder Mountain of Dalugdug. Then, she walked straight towards it with her eyes still fixed upon it. She walked through the burnt town of Dumaguete, ignoring the horrors that lay all around her, and strode steadfastly onwards.

Vegetation with a rocky mountain in the background covered in clouds
© Princeofmagatas CC BY-SA 4.0 Source

The Sigbin of the Thunder Mountain

The Thunder Mountain of Dalugdug was the home of a terrible beast called a Sigbin. Some say it was like a monstrous crow but under its neck two long legs protruded, similar to those found on grasshoppers, which gave it the ability to leap great distances without the need to use its wings. There are many conflicting descriptions, possibly because few people survive an encounter with one. Others say the Sigbin is a nocturnal creature that can suck the blood from the shadows of its chosen victim, and it has a terrible smell that is often the first sign of it being nearby. At every opportunity it would attack and kill humans and sometimes it ventured out in search of prey. People feared to go near the Thunder Mountain. 

When the people saw Catalina begin to take the road up to the mountain, they grew afraid and cried warnings to her. She took no notice, but continued to stride along the mountain path with her eyes firmly fixed on the mountain top. She walked higher and higher until all they could see was the white of her dress floating up the mountain. 

Suddenly, Catalina stopped and raised her hands. A terrifying sound was heard, and the Sigbin came rushing down the mountainside taking great leaps and screaming. It leaped over the heads of the people and jumped across the sea to the island of Cebu, where it hid itself in the mountains. 

Seeing the panicked departure of the Sigbin, the people ran up the Thunder Mountain looking for Catalina. To their sorrow they found no sign of her, although they searched and searched. Dismayed, the people returned to their ruined town intent on rebuilding it and making it a fair and happy place to live again.

The Pirates Return

They rebuilt Dumaguete, and several years later a fleet of pirate ships again appeared off the coast. This time the men were determined to fight and armed themselves with what poor weapons they could find. They gathered on the beaches to meet the invaders, and told the women to take the children and the animals into the forest and hide. 

Although they were not warriors, the Gentle People remembered their loved ones who had been killed or enslaved and remembered their homes that had been destroyed and they fought fiercely. This time they managed to drive the enemies back to the sea. But more pirate boats arrived with reinforcements and landed further along the shore, and they came around behind the defenders. The islanders eventually became outnumbered and exhausted and were facing defeat.  

The Return of Catalina

Then something else wonderful happened. A cloud floated across the sky to form a bridge from the Thunder Mountain to Dumaguete, and down the bridge strode Catalina carrying in her hands a beehive. She stood before the astounded pirates holding the beehive high above her head, and then spoke magical words and placed it on the ground in front of them. She uttered a single word of command, and from the beehive instead of bees thousands of fierce little men swarmed out wielding deadly spears. Instantly, they attacked the pirates and killed all of them. Then, Catalina picked up the hive and returned over the cloud bridge to the Thunder Mountain without saying another word. 

The people came out of hiding and asked the little men many questions. They gave no answers, and ran back through the forest to the Thunder Mountain where they are said to live to this day wild and free. Also, the Sigbin has never returned and is still said to haunt the mountains of the island of Cebu. 

Remembering Catalina

All this happened a long, long time ago. For many years thereafter, during anxious and frightening times, the old men and women of Dumaguete would gather their grandchildren around them. They would tell the story of Catalina, the strange girl with the faraway look in her eyes, who chased out the Sigbin and came down from the Thunder Mountain and saved their ancestors from the pirates. So this is why all the Gentle People love and remember Catalina, who is still said to reside on the Thunder Mountain of Dalugdug. 

Zteve enjoys researching deep into the folklore, myths and legends that run through society and are part of our everyday lives. He always finds it a source of fascination discovering and learning how our ancestors perceived the times they lived in and how they have influenced us today. Zteve believes that people have far more in common with each other than is often shown on the surface and this can often be seen in the folktales from other parts of the world. Zteve has two websites dedicated to myths, legends and folklore from around the world. These are Under the influence! and Folkrealm Studies. He has also contributed to Enchanted Conversation Magazine and his latest Kindle ebook, The Feather of the Firebird is now available. My Amazon Author Page can found here for the UK and for the USA, here.

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