A Sulu Folktale: “Rajah Sulayman and the Birds”

Originally published in “Sulu People and Culture” by John H. Ziegler, in 1934. Republished in “Sulu Studies 2,” by the Notre Dame of Jolo College, 1973.

This folktale was translated from Samal (a language of the southern Sulu archipelago) into English by Ziegler in 1932. It was told to him most likely by Datu Jaafar at Sibutu, and reviewed by Datu Jaafar and other Samal colleagues. It is possible that the tale originally existed in Tausug  (another language of the Sulu archipelago), and was orally translated into Samal by Datu Jaafar, who spoke both languages. 

* * * * * * *

One day Rajah Sulayman took a walk with his followers, the birds. They went to Parang Hunain. When they returned home, the rajah was very tired. Sitting on an armchair, he soon fell asleep. The moment the birds saw their master sleeping, Bugguk (the heron), called his friends together and said, “Friends, let us have a lively conversation among ourselves. Instead of remaining quiet, it is preferable to talk.”

Bakakka (the kingfisher) answered: “Even if we talk, but have no purpose, we ought to remain quiet.”

Bubulantuk (the woodpecker) said, “If we talk about something good, all right; but rather than converse about something bad, we should remain silent.”

Tihilaw (the oriole) gave his idea: “There are two sides to every question—one that leads to goodness, the other to badness.”

The headed discussion of the birds awakened the rajah. He said, “Who is making all that noise here while I am sleeping?”

Sambulaan (the hawk) responded: “Your servant Bugguk said that instead of remaining quiet, it is preferable to talk. Bakakka said that even if we talk, but have no purpose, we ought to remain quiet. Bubulantuk said that if we talk about something good, it is all right; but if we talk about something bad, then we should remain silent. Finally Tihilaw said that there are two sides to every question—one that leads to goodness, the other to badness.”

Rajah Sulayman asked Tihilaw, “What talk leads to goodness and what to badness?”

Tihilaw could not say anything. He and the other birds spread out their wings and surrendered themselves to be slain. However, the rajah pitied them and did not kill any of them.

Unexpectedly Bubulantuk said:

“Oh, my God! Sahi-a-lam, once there was a man, a very bad man while he was alive. When he died, Munkal took him to hell. But there were two paths—one to the right and the other to the left. The man asked Munkal, ‘Where does this road to the right lead?’

Munkal answered, ‘The one to the right leads to heaven; the one to the left to hell.’

Then he asked Munkal, ‘And where will you take me?’

‘I will take you to hell because you have committed many sins when you were on earth,’ Munkal responded.

The man pleaded, ‘You would do better to take me first to heaven so that I shall have something to tell the people in hell.’

His wish was granted. So Munkal took him to heaven. The man visited every corner in heaven. There he saw so many beautiful things he had never seen on earth. Here everybody lived in beautiful palaces. The attendants were beautiful angels. After staying two or three hours in heaven, Munkal said, ‘Come out now. You have seen enough of heaven.’

The man did not wish to leave [heaven] now. He said, ‘No, I will not go out. You are not the owner of heaven; God owns it.’ So he was left in heaven.

Thus, my Lord, is the nature of talk that leads to goodness.”

Bubulantuk continued, “If that man had not reasoned out that way, he would surely have been taken by Munkal to hell.”

And then Tihilaw said:

“One day, my Lord, Darwis took a walk. Along the way he found a human skull. The skull told him to be careful with his tongue; for this tongue, the skull said, would cause him to be beheaded. Darwis was amazed to hear what the skull said. He picked it up and brought it to the sultan.

As soon as he came near the palace, he said to the sultan, ‘My Lord, your servant, Darwis, found a skull that could talk. Here it is.’

The sultan asked, ‘What did the skull say, Darwis?’

‘Darwis, be careful with your tongue,’ Darwis answered, ‘for your tongue shall cause you to be beheaded.’

So after the sultan told Darwis to talk with his skull. And Darwis did. The skull would not say anything. Again and again he (Darwis) tried. But the skull remained silent.

‘Well, Darwis, it is true what the skull told you,’ the Sultan said, ‘it is better to cut your head off.’

So Darwis was beheaded.”

All the other birds began to talk to one another about Darwis. ‘That is the talk, my Lord, that leads to badness.” Tihilaw continued, “If Darwis had not told the sultan about his talking skull, he would still be alive today.”

Rajah Sulayman was much pleased with the sound arguments presented by Bubulantuk and Tihilaw. He rewarded them. To Bugguk he gave the seashore; to Bubulantuk, a red cap; and to Tihilaw, a yellow dress.


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