FFE Magazine

Ibong Adarna and Don Juan

If you like stories about faraway kingdoms, talking animals, handsome princes, beautiful sorceresses, and treacherous older brothers, the story of the Ibong Adarna (the Adarna Bird) is definitely the tale for you!

The Philippines was colonized by Spain centuries ago, and Spain has influenced Filipino culture profoundly. Spanish tales of valour and chivalry had captured the Filipino imagination and inspired Filipinos to create tales of valour of their own.

These tales are usually told in the form of the korido and the awit – romances traditionally written with rhyme and meter, and sung to the accompaniment of a guitar. One of the best-known koridos in Filipino literature is, “Ibong Adarna: Corrido at Buhay na Pinagdaanan nang Tatlong Principeng Anac nang Haring Fernando at nang Reina Valeriana sa Cahariang Berbania.” (Translation: The Adarna Bird: Corrido and Life Lived by the Three Princes, Children of King Fernando and Queen Valeriana in the Kingdom of Berbania) written by Jose de la Cruz. He is also known as “Huseng Sisiw,” or Jose the chick (meaning “baby bird,” of course, not attractive woman!).

The korido’s full title might say that the story is about three princes, but the real star of this story is Don Juan, youngest prince of the fictional Kingdom of Berbania.

Unlike the Don Juan of Spanish myth, this hero is definitely more than just a ladies’ man – although naturally, he eventually gets the girl. He’s the Filipino metrical romance version of the Marvel superhero and Avenger, Thor: a favoured son constantly tormented by a jealous brother (or, in Juan’s case, two jealous brothers), who is sent off to distant realms at their father’s behest.

Check out his profile and see if this young hero captures your imagination too:

Don Juan de Berbania

Who is he? He’s the youngest Prince of Berbania and the most favoured son of Dona Valeriana and Don Fernando, monarchs of Berbania. At the end of the story, he returns to his lady-love’s realm to rule there as emperor.

Qualities:

  • Eloquent

  • Respectful

  • Pious

  • Gallant

  • Forgiving

  • Kind-hearted

  • A bit flighty when it comes to women

    • He fell in love with Princess Leonora on sight, but he forgot about her to search for the beautiful princesses of Reino de los Cristal. He instantly fell in love with Maria Blanca, the eldest of the three princesses, and he risked both her life and his to bear her away from her powerful father’s magical kingdom. When he returned to Berbania however, he completely forgot about Maria Blanca and fell in love with Leonora again. It was only after Maria Blanca invited herself to Juan and Leonora’s wedding that Don Juan remembered that he loved Maria Blanca.

Enemies:

  • His jealous brothers, Don Pedro and Don Diego, who repeatedly conspired to abandon and humiliate him

  • A wicked giant and a seven-headed serpent lurking in the bottom of a magical well

  • King Salermo, Sorcerer-king of Reino de los Cristal (the Crystal Realm) and father of Dona Maria Blanca

Friends:

  • Several wise old men who advised him and aided him in his journeys; one of them turned out to be Jesus in disguise!

  • The Bird, Adarna

  • The sister-princesses trapped in the bottom of an enchanted well, Princess Juana and Princess Leonora

  • Princess Leonora’s wolf, who rescued Don Juan and healed his injuries with water from the river of Jordan

  • The king of the eagles

  • The firstborn princess of Reino De los Cristal; the powerful white sorceress, Dona Maria Blanca. She used her magic to help him pass the impossible tests King Salermo had set up to keep Don Juan from marrying his daughter

Great Feats:

  • He journeyed for four months to reach mount Tabor and the tree of Piedras Platas, the night-time roost of the Adarna Bird, so that he could find a cure for his ailing father’s mysterious sickness

  • He rescued his brothers, who had been turned to stone by the Adarna

  • He captured the fabled Adarna

  • He rescued two princesses from imprisonment in the bottom of a well

    • Princess Juana

      • Trapped by an evil giant

        • Married Don Diego

    • Princess Leonora

      • Trapped by a seven-headed snake

        • Married Don Pedro

  • He repeatedly forgave his brothers for betraying him

  • On foot, he searched for Reino De los Cristal for three years

  • He befriended the king of the eagles and flew to Reino De los Cristal on the eagle’s back

  • He charmed Dona Maria Blanca with sweet words and humility – After stealing all of her clothes!

  • He escaped King Salermo’s kingdom with Dona Maria

Because the story is known as “Ibong Adarna” anyway, here’s a quick bonus about that eponymous bird:

About the Ibong Adarna

  • She is actually an enchantress in bird form.

  • Every night, she roosts in the tree of Piedras Platas on Mount Tabor, and sings seven songs.

    • Her songs have soothing and healing powers, and they can either heal people, or put them to sleep.

    • Her droppings can turn people to stone.

  • When Don Pedro and Don Diego turned on their younger brother, beat him, and left him to return to their ailing father with the bird, the Adarna refused to sing.

  • She only willingly sang to cure Don Fernando when Don Juan finally returned.

  • After escaping the gilded cage that Don Fernando had built for her, the Adarna frequently appears to Don Juan to give him advice. She is the one who tells him about the daughters of King Salermo, urging him to journey to his kingdom to win their hand.

What’s interesting about Don Juan is that towards the end of his story, it’s the damsel (Maria Blanca, white sorceress extraordinaire) who does most of the rescuing and decision-making. That doesn’t make Don Juan any less of a hero though; that just makes him a man who’s secure enough in his masculinity to be OK with the woman taking the lead!

If you’ d like to learn more about him, check out this informal English summary of this classic piece of Filipino folk lit:

Ibong Adarna Story- English version

As with all songs and poems with rhyme and meter, this korido is best read aloud.

If you can read Tagalog and can make your way around some very old-fashioned spelling conventions, here’s the original version, immortalized by Project Gutenberg, in all its glory:

Gutenberg Project: Ibong Adarna

If your Tagalog is a little shaky, check out this komiks version of the first part of the story, adapted by M. Franco and illustrated by Dionisio J. Roque:

Comics – Ibong_Adarna

Ibong Adarna is taught as required reading in Filipino high schools and some universities, and it’s been adapted for stage, screen, and celluloid many times. This 1941 film is from the Philippines’ golden age of cinema, and it doesn’ t have subtitles, but it’s an interesting interpretation of this age-old korido:

Ibong Adarna – Korido/Video

As mentioned earlier Jose de la Cruz a.k.a. Huseng Sisiw is the writer of this Korido however, there are some who believe that Ibong Adarna was written by Francisco Baltazar (a.k.a. Francisco Balagtas), the author of another classic of Filipino folk literature, Florante at Laura. This is not true. Balagtas is said to have studied under Huseng Sisiw, and he is known to have written many other works, but Adarna is not one of them.

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