Lambanog is the Philippine equivalent of moonshine. At 80 to 95 proof, it is made from the sap of the unopened heart of the coconut and when fermented, turns into a local toddy called tuba.
After fermentation, the “tuba” toddy is skimmed of its upper layer of floating impurities and emptied into a stainless steel drum for distillation….The cooking fire is provided by the burning of coconut husks and leaf ribs, old bamboo and discards of wood scraps, closely monitored and controlled, lest the toddy burns and produces a dark and unpleasant tasting distillate….The distillate drips out and passes through a crude and third-worldly system and into a collecting receptacle. The first ten ounces or so is highly concnetrated methanol-toxic distillate referred to as “bating” …..Some distillers set it aside for sundry uses by local healers, especially for therapeutic massage…”
Drinking lambanog was usually a communal thing, with men sitting around a circle and taking turns drinking shots from a cup placed in the middle of the group. There would usually be singing and playing the guitar, with the music – and stories – getting more interesting as the drinking went on.
Who knows? One of the stories they would have told one another could have included the many legends of the islands…
Legend tells us that a long time ago, there were only the Sky, the Sea, and a kite (a bird similar to an eagle) that flew between them. One day, the Bird grew tired of flying, and decided to make some trouble between the Sky and the Sea.
So he told the Sky that the Sea wanted to drown him with her mighty waves. He told the Sea that the Sky wanted to hit her with rain, thunder and lightning. And so both the Sky and the Sea grew angry with one another and sure enough, the Sea started throwing great waves of water at the Sky.
The Sky retreated higher upwards, but not before throwing rain, thunder and lightning at the sea. It also threw boulders down at the Sea, which created the 7,000 islands of the Philippines – preventing the Sea from throwing its great waves at the sky and instead creating the tides that flow between them.
Guess the kite got himself a place to land after all that flying about…
Now at this same time the Land Breeze and the Sea Breeze were married, and they had a child which they named Bamboo. One day, when Bamboo was floating against the sea, it struck the feet of the Kite. Shocked, hurt, and angered that anything should strike it, the bird furiously pecked at the bamboo until it split in half. Out of one section came a golden-bronze colored man, named Malakas (Strong One) and from the other half came a similarly hued woman, named Maganda (Beautiful One).
The earthquake then called on all the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea to see what should be done with these two, and the animals decided that they should marry each other. Together, Malakas and Maganda had many children, and from them eventually came all the different races of people.
And because I’m originally from the Visayan region of the Philippines (south of Manila), we also have our own legend of the first man and the first woman, Sikalak and Sikabay, which you can read here.