A long time ago there lived in the interior part of Bohol a wise and wealthy ruler whose name was Sagubayan. His followers numbered almost two thousand and he ruled his people with a firm but affectionate heart.
Sagubayan was indeed very rich. He owned several hundred hectares of level land. Rice and corn abundantly grew on his land watered by meandering streams whose source constantly flowed from distant springs. His herd of cattle and goats grazed on the plain where the grass was always green and fragrant.
Sagubayan was indeed wise. He would gather his people and lovingly talk to them saying, “Rise before the sun, and work with all your heart. Your bins will always be filled and your children will never know hunger.”
The wise ruler rose before the sun, too. He would visit the cottages of his people to give them encouragement in their work. In most of their meetings, he would remind his people, “Observe the ants. They are numerous and yet how peacefully they work.”
Time and again he would admonish his people, “Do not be extravagant. Always be frugal with everything while the fruitful years are with us. When we are in want our great Bathala will not come bringing in our needs.”
The people willingly followed Sagubayan’s advice. With light hearts they labored in their fields. The women left at home were busy, too. Their cottages were always kept clean and they prepared their meals with loving care.
The looms that had been handed down to them by their grandmothers hummed all day long. They were all very busy and they never found time to quarrel among themselves. Sagubayan and his wife, the beauteous Batu-ani, saw how happy and contented their followers were. This made them happy, too.
The good couple had been childless for years and their joy knew no bounds when one day a plump and bedimpled baby was born to them. The child was baptized two months after she was born. The baptismal party lasted for five days.
The baby was christened Karimel in honor of her two grandmothers Karimlan and Melo-dima. Karimel grew under the watchful care of Batu-ani.
The days slipped by unnoticed. The child grew healthy and strong. And she grew fairer each passing day. Sagubayan stayed at home more often this time. Karimel’s endless prattle and sweet laughter brought them boundless joy and contentment.
Karimel always accompanied her father wherever he went. Sometimes she would sit astride her father’s shoulders while he went visiting the cottages of his followers. Karimel would endlessly ask about the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees they found on their way.
“Look, Tatang,” she asked one day while they were in the meadow, “why do their leaves slowly close when I gently touch them?” And before Sagubayan could speak to explain, she had already romped away to play with the cobwebs where the dewdrops hung like glistening pearls in the sun. The dewy cobwebs had always been an endless fascination to her.
When Karimel was five years old she was allowed to play outdoors with the older children of her age. Daily she hopped and skipped and tumbled in the meadow where the grass was soft and fragrant.
Their favorite nook was a shady spot where the ferns and the white camia luxuriantly grew. Nearby was the cool flowing stream where they bathed daily. Karimel and her playmates found endless joy chasing each other, their nude bodies exposed to the sun.
“We shall make mud cakes!” Karimel told her friends one day. The children gladly helped her as she mixed the dry earth with water from the stream. Late in the afternoon Karimel came home bringing several dozen dried mud cakes.
“Look at my mud cakes. Aren’t they beautiful?” she joyfully and proudly showed them to her parents. Sagubayan and Batu-ani nodded with great delight. “I’ll arrange them in the yard and each one must be covered with a coconut shell for it might rain tonight and my pretty mud cakes will all be destroyed,” said Karimel.
“It’s now time to rest, dear child,” called Batu-ani. “You can play again tomorrow.” Karimel looked with satisfaction at her mounds now all safely covered with coconut shells. “Tomorrow I’ll make more mud cakes,” Karimel thought as she took one lingering look at her work.
The night was comfortably pleasant. The sky was clear and the moon shone bright. Sagubayan and Batu-ani stayed for a while on the lawn. “I’m surprised that Karimel covered her mud cakes with coconut shells. There is no sign of rain,” said Sagubayan to his wife. “Tell the helpers not to touch them for tomorrow Karimel will play with them again,” Batu-ani told her husband.
That night, Batu-ani noticed that Karimel was restless. She felt her child’s forehead. Karimel was burning with fever. Hastily she placed on Karimel’s forehead a piece of cloth wet with strong vinegar. “It’s because she worked hard this afternoon,” Batu-ani tearfully whispered to her husband.
“One, two, three, four, five,” said Karimel as she restlessly tossed in her bed. “My mud cakes, aren’t they all beautiful?” Then she would remain silent for some time. There were no physicians yet at that time and so the herb woman was called. She felt Karimel’s pulse and she sadly shook her head.
Sagubayan was fidgety and walked to and fro, wringing his hands every now and then. Batu-ani silently wept as she watched their precious child gasping for breath. Everyone in the house earnestly prayed to great Bathala for help. Before daybreak Karimel’s heart ceased to beat. Batu-ani was filled with grief. She embraced Karimel’s lifeless form and wept.
Sagubayan cried, “Oh my daughter, you have given us light and joy only for a brief moment and now must you be gone forever?” He wailed and would not be comforted. The following day, after a simple ceremony Karimel was laid to rest.
Don’t destroy her mud cakes, “Sagubayan commanded his servants, “for who knows Karimel might come back anytime to play with them.” For nine consecutive days and nights Sagubayan and Batu-ani fasted. They fervently prayed for a miracle.
Bathala looked upon the grieving couple with great compassion. His heart was deeply touched. On the tenth night Sagubayan told his servants, “Let us retire early for tomorrow there is much work to do.” The servants did as they were told. They were happy to hear that at last they were to go to bed early. For they, too, had stayed awake with their masters during the fasting.
Night came. The countless stars that came shyly peeping at twilight were now shedding forth their brilliance. The evening wind came softly blowing over the vast plain where the ripening palay stood. It blew over the meadow where the grass was soft and green and fragrant. It mournfully blew over the meandering stream where Karimel and her playmates used to romp and play.
Before midnight, an eerie silence fell over Sagubayan’s domain. Then all of a sudden the sound of a thousand unseen drums was heard. The little mud cakes that were covered with coconut shells came alive. Like soldiers well-trained for battle the coconut shells marched to the rhythm of the unseen drums. One by one they marched in all directions, scattering all over the vast level land.
The beating of the unseen drums went on for a long time, and then suddenly stopped. Again a profound silence fell over the place where now stood the coconut shells with the mud cakes underneath. Strains of heavenly music filled the air as if coming from a giant organ hidden somewhere among the feathery clouds.
The coconut shells gradually grew in size and height. The organ continued playing until all the coconuts shells had attained the size, shape and height that the great Bathala wanted. The sound of the organ grew fainter and then all of a sudden lightning flashed followed by defeaning thunder. In the wink of an eye the little mud cakes of Karimel that had turned into hills were covered with verdant grass and trees with luxuriant foliage.
The thunder awakened the couple and all their followers. They rubbed their eyes for they hardly believe what they saw. On the vast level land stood the extraordinary cone-shaped hills, standing stately and grand like sentinels guarding Sagubayan and his people. “Sagubayan,” Batu-ani jubilantly called her husband. Karimel’s little mud cakes are gone.”
“A miracle has happened! A miracle has happened! “Sagubayan cried with indescribable joy. “The great Bathala be praised!” “Let there be thanksgiving and rejoicing,” said the beauteous Batu-ani, “for the great Bathala has given us a miracle in loving memory of our beloved Karimel.”
The shrill and persistent chirping of the crickets was drowned by the rooster’s loud crowing to herald the dawn. The east had turned rosy red and the countless twinkling stars had disappeared one by one. A gentle breeze blew carrying with it the sweet scent of ripening palay.
Hand in hand Sagubayan and Batu-ani walked down to the rice fields, then to the cool rippling stream where Karimel used to romp and play. There daybreak found them gazing with awe at the lovely handiwork of the great Bathala, the amazing and marvelous Chocolate Hills of the Island Paradise of Bohol!
By: Frances "Mimi" Hormachuelos-Bacareza