Variations: Baconaua (Hiligaynon)


The Asian eclipse monster has analogues in China, India, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand, and the South Sea Islands. In the Philippines, where the legend is widespread, it is usually a dragon or serpent or even an enormous bird. Bakunawa, “Eclipse”, is one of the best-known.

The Bakunawa of the Cebuano, or Baconaua as it is known to the Hiligaynon, is a colossal, fishlike dragon as large as the Negros and Cebu islands. It resembles a shark, with gills, a lake-sized mouth, and a striking red tongue. Whiskers one palmo long adorn its mouth. In addition to its powerful ash-gray wings, it has smaller wings along its sides.

Long ago there were seven moons in the sky. Bakunawa gobbled them up one by one until it came to the last and largest moon. It failed to swallow it, and tried to bite it into manageable chunks, sinking its teeth deep into the moon’s surface. To this day the bakunawa’s teeth-marks can still be seen on the moon. Every now and then the bakunawa will take to the sky and attempt to finish the job it started by swallowing the moon, causing an eclipse. To make it release the moon, utensils are clanged loudly together to startle it.

The bakunawa’s den is in the deepest parts of the sea. In January, February, and March its head faces north and its tail south; in April, May, and June its head faces west and its tail east, in July, August, and September its head points south and its tail north; and in October, November, and December its head is east and its tail west. The positions of the bakunawa during those four phases are used to divine the best time to build houses.

A children’s game called Bakunawa for 10 or more players involves one player as Buan, the moon, while another is Bakunawa. The remainder form a circle, holding hands and facing inwards. The moon starts inside the circle and Bakunawa is outside. The goal of the children in the circle is to prevent Bakunawa from entering the circle and capturing the moon – the moon itself cannot leave the circle. Bakunawa can ask individual players “What chain is this?” and they can answer that it is an iron, copper, abaca, or any material they can think of. When Bakunawa captures the moon, the players exchange roles or swap with players in the circle.


Jocano, F. L. (1969) The Traditional World of Malitbog. Bookman Printing House, Quezon City.

de Lisboa, M. (1865) Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol. Establecimento Tipografico del Colegio de Santo Tomas, Manila.

Ramos, M. D. (1971) Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press, Quezon.

Ramos, M. D. (1973) Filipino Cultural Patterns and Values. Island Publishers, Quezon City.

Ramos, M. D. (1990) Tales of Long Ago in the Philippines. Phoenix Publishing House, Quezon City.

Reyes-Tolentino, F. and Ramos, P. (1935) Philippine Folk Dances and Games. Silver, Burdett and Company, New York.


Variations: Āpep, Āapep, Aaapef, Apophis, Rerek; further names from the Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu listed by Budge are Nesht, Tutu, Hau-hra, Hemhemti, Qettu, Qerneru, Iubani, Amam, Hem-taiu, Saatet-ta, Khermuti, Kenememti, Sheta, Serem-taui, Sekhem-hra, Unti, Karau-anememti, Khesef-hra, Seba-ent-seba, Khak-ab, Khan-ru… uaa, Nai, Am, Turrupa, Iubau, Uai, Kharubu the Four Times Wicked, Sau, Beteshu


Apep, Āapep, or Apophis in Greek, is the chief chthonic monster in the Egyptian cosmogony, born during the dark times of the First Intermediate Period and depicted as an enormous serpent with winding coils or alternatively as a giant crocodile, or with a human head and hands as in the Stele of Taqayna. He is described as being a hundred and twenty cubits (55 meters) long, or otherwise thirty cubits (14 meters) long, with the first eight cubits made of flint and with coils like sandbanks, lying on a sandbank 450 cubits (205 meters) long.

Apep is darkness, cloud, wind, rain, mist, and storm. The antithesis of light and life, his primary goal is the destruction of the sun god Ra and his solar barque, causing the elimination of light and day and the victory of chaos and darkness. Assisted by a retinue of lesser demons and serpents – the mesu betshet or “children of rebellion”, the snakes Seba, Af, and Nak, and the crocodile Seshsesh – he hides under the earth and below the horizon, and attempts to swallow Ra’s barque every night. Ra, aided by his cortège of gods, thwarts Apep’s attempts time and time again, allowing the sun to rise once more. Occasionally Apep gains the upper hand, causing storms, earthquakes, and solar eclipses, but those end as Ra is cut free from Apep’s stomach. The serpent’s inevitable fate is to be chopped up into pieces and cast back into the abyss, but he always returns the following night, as full of malice and venom as ever, in an endless cycle of destruction.

In a mythology revolving around the sun, Apep, sworn enemy of Ra, darkness personified, is as evil a creature as could exist in the Egyptian pantheon. Some degree of respect was granted him; the Hyksos pharaoh Apepi (r. 1590 – 1550 BCE) took him as his namesake, in a perverse move likely intended to instill fear in the native Egyptians. As a deity, he was never worshipped, but always avoided, spited and mutilated in effigy during natural disasters.

The apotropaic “Book of Overthrowing Apep” (4th century BCE) provides helpful instructions for the faithful, including exhortations for “Spitting on Apep”, “Trampling on Apep with the Left Foot”, “Taking the Knife to Smite Apep”, “Taking the Lance to Smite Apep”, “Putting Apep on the Fire”, “Fettering Apep”, and other such activities. The Book of the Dead features the soul of the deceased piercing Apep, praying for aid in destroying Apep at the apex of his power. Apep’s gruesome punishment is described at length – he is to be speared, stabbed with knives, each bone of his body separated by red-hot knives, scorched, roasted, and consumed by fire. Each name of Apep had to be cursed separately, and the Papyrus of Nesi-Amsu lists the serpent’s many names.

In time the role of Apep as the enemy of the Sun overlapped with that of the desert god Set, once the primary defender of the solar barque from Apep’s depredations, such that Apepi is described in ca. 1274 BCE as a monolatrous worshipper of Set.


Aldington, R. and Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1972) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Ames, D. trans. (1965) Egyptian Mythology. From Mythologie Generale Larousse. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Budge, E. A. W. (1913) The Papyrus of Ani: a reproduction in facsimile, vol. I. G. P. Putnam, New York.

Budge, E. A. W. (1913) The Papyrus of Ani: a reproduction in facsimile, vol. II. G. P. Putnam, New York.

Budge, E. A. W. (2015) The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. I. Dover Publications Inc., New York.

Budge, E. A. W. (2015) The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. II. Dover Publications Inc., New York.

ElSebaie, S. M. (2000) The destiny of the world: a study on the end of the universe in the light of ancient Egyptian texts. M.A. diss., University of Toronto.

Faulkner, R. O. (1937) The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus: III: D. The Book of Overthrowing Apep. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 23, no. 2, pp. 166-185.

Simpson, W. K., Faulkner, R. O., and Wente, E. F. (2003) The Literature of Ancient Egypt. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Turner, P. (2012) Seth – a misrepresented god in the ancient Egyptian pantheon? PhD diss., University of Manchester.

Wilkinson, R. H. (2003) The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, London.