Haliya, Masked Bikolano Warrior Goddess of the Moonlight

*originally published on Hella Pinay

Haliya is the masked goddess of the moonlight worshipped in pre-colonial Ibalon (present-day Bikol region) and in some parts of coastal Bisayas. She is known as the sister and protector of Bulan, the primordial god of the moon, and the arch-enemy of the moon-swallowing Bakunawa, a giant sea serpent/dragon deity believed to be the cause of eclipses. As with most other moon deities around the world, Haliya's cult was composed primarily of women in pre-colonial Bikol, and as a warrior goddess of the moon she symbolizes the strength of women. There is a ritual dance named after her ("Haliya" or "Halea") led by a balyana (Bikolano priestess, shaman, medicine woman, diviner, spirit-medium, oracle, wisewoman) that involves circling around a tree to summon Haliya to protect them against Bakunawa. 

Both Haliya and her brother Bulan are considered to be the most beautiful deities in the kamurawayan (heavens/spiritual realm), but she is fierce and strong, the opposite of her brother, and wears a mask to hide her beauty. Bulan is described as an adolescent boy with fair skin who was so fine that he could even tame savage beasts and vicious Magindara (mermaids) with his mere presence. Haliya is said to have come from Bulan's own body, and some stories say that Haliya was not his sister but his daughter. The most known version of the story is that, lonely by himself in the heavens, Bulan created a being in his own image out of starlight to keep him company and to be his confidant and protector, and this was the goddess Haliya. 


Haliya vs Bakunawa  by Godfrey Escota

Haliya vs Bakunawa by Godfrey Escota

Convinced by her servants the Tawong Lipod, or wind people, to go down to Earth to bathe in its waters, Haliya in turn convinced her brother Bulan to join her. When Bulan and Haliya descended, all creatures were in awe of their luminous beauty. They liked to bathe in the Earth's fresh and sea waters and play with the mermaids and Naga (a type of fresh water mermaid, but with eel or water snake tails instead of fish tails). Their beauty also reached the gates of the cold underworld which was the domain of the Bakunawa. Bakunawa was once a beautiful diwata in the sea; some say she was the most powerful naga who dwelled in the deepest parts of the ocean and who saw Haliya and Bulan's light when they were swimming in the waters. The goddess Bakunawa went to swim near Bulan and Haliya and was smitten by Bulan's comeliness and charm, but the deities were so focused on playing with the mermaids that they didn't notice her. Furious at the diss, she vowed to claim Bulan from the sky to get revenge. The next night Bakunawa, transforming herself into a gigantic serpent-like dragon, leapt into the sky to devour the moon. Haliya, sworn to protect her brother, battled Bakunawa. Gugurang (the Supreme Deity) saw their fight and punished Bakunawa to be forever trapped in her dragon form. Haliya became the archenemy of Bakunawa ever since, and she is in constant battle with the giant beast as it pursues its insatiable hunger for the moon.


Haliya  by Mervin Malonzo from the book  Alternative Alamat  by Paolo Chikiamco

Haliya by Mervin Malonzo from the book Alternative Alamat by Paolo Chikiamco

In the Bisayan version of the story, there were originally seven moons in the sky, and Haliya is one of the seven embodiments of the moon along with her siblings who reside above the clouds beyond this world. Her siblings Libulan, Subang, Banolor, Banilig, Bulan, and Mayari were all beautiful, young and fair, and were created to give light and beauty to the night sky. One night Bakunawa saw the moons, and captivated by their beauty, longed to possess them. The Bakunawa rose from his watery domain and flew to devour one of the moons. Unfortunately he soon realized the moon inside him was melting away like candle wax. The next night, Bakunawa rose into the sky and swallowed another moon, but this one too melted away. Night after night for six nights he took another moon from the sky, and each time it melted away inside him. Kan-Laon (the Supreme Deity) saw what had happened was furious. Rather than kill Bakunawa, she punished him to remain a beast for all eternity and commanded him not to devour the last moon, which was Haliya. Haliya forged a mask made of gold to hide her beauty and mourning at the loss of her siblings and swore to be Bakunawa's arch-rival. It's said that Bakunawa obeys Kan-Laon's order most of the time, but every now and then he tries to eat the last moon, and this is what causes eclipses. But the people on Earth raise a loud clamor of clanging and clashing metal, screaming and wailing, all to startle him into spitting the moon out. Others take the gentler approach, playing music to put him into a deep sleep so that the moon will roll out of his mouth.


The Takay flower is a lotus-like flower that blooms plentifully in the freshwater lakes of the Bikol region, and a few different legends about its creation are associated with Haliya and Bulan. One is that the flower's beauty came from the light of the moon deities who descended to bathe and play in the waters, who were said to be so beautiful that wherever they swam the Takay flowers appeared.

Another is that long ago in Bikol there lived a lovely maiden named Takay who was desired by men and gods but loved only one man named Kanaway. Takay was guarded by Onos, the god of storms,who also wanted her. Angry that Takay only loved Kanaway, Onos attacked Kanaway with lightning but he only turned into stone and didn't die. Super pissed, Onos caused a storm on Mount Asog, where Kanaway was, that was so intense the mountain sank and created Lake Buhi. Only afterwards did Onos realize that in the process he had drowned the maiden Takay. That night Haliya and Bulan went to bathe in the fresh waters of the new lake and saw the lovely corpse of the maiden being taken care of by the plants there. Moved by what they had seen, Haliya and Bulan used their powers to turn Takay into lovely flowers that grew on the plants that are now abundant in lakes in the region.

Stephanie Gancayco