There was once a kingdom in the south that was ruled by a very powerful but ancient and very ugly Datu Baro-Mai. He remained unmarried until his old age as he did not have time to find a suitable wife. He had sixteen loyal advisers who could help him rule his kingdom. The wisest was Matigam, who was known throughout the kingdom and beyond for his wisdom.
“Datu Baro-Mai,” he said, “the affairs of your kingdom run smoothly and are in the hands of capable men. Maybe it is time you found yourself a wife who will take care of you in your old age and give you a son.”
The datu pondered on this and asked Matigam, “Who do you recommend?”
“I recommend the youngest daughter of the pirate king Datu Tageb from across the gulf. Her name is Madayaw-Bayho, and she is reputed to be very beautiful.”
Datu Baro-Mai sent for Datu Tageb’s youngest daughter. She was more beautiful than she was reputed to be and the datu immediately fell madly in love with her. With her father’s consent, she was married to the Datu Baro-Mai in a grand wedding. Both datu and adviser, however, had not counted on two things. Bai Madayaw-Bayho was spoiled and impetuous and did not love the old and ugly Datu Baro-Mai. Many were the times she ran away and returned to her father’s kingdom.
“Father, please do not send me back! I do not love the Datu Baro-Mai! He is old and hideous!” she wailed.
But even if he was a pirate, Datu Tageb had given his word and had promised his daughter to Datu Baro-Mai. He returned her to her husband every time she ran away.
“I am sorry Datu Baro-Mai for my daughter’s bad behavior. I hope you will forgive her.”
Datu Baro-Mai loved Madayaw-Bayho so much that he forgave her each time she ran away. But when she ran away for the twentieth time, the datu called Matigam and the fifteen other advisers.
“The gods have gifted you with wisdom and you have all served me well. Please make my wife come back to me on her own free will and make her love me so much that she will never leave my side.”
Matigam and the fifteen advisers conferred and knew that what Datu Baro-Mai had asked of them was an impossible task.
“Datu Baro-Mai,” said Matigam sadly, “we have discovered how to make fire and to mix gold with brass for you, but to make Bai Madayaw-Baho fall in love with you only the gods can do.”
Datu Baro-Mai became angry and threatened to feed all sixteen advisers to the red ants whose stings were more painful than that of fire.
“Do not send us to the ants, kind Datu!” cried Matigam. “I know of a hermit who lives in a cave on Mt. Apo who might be able to help you.”
The fifteen other wise men nodded in agreement.
“He is half-god, half-mortal, and has great powers,” continued Matigam.
Datu Baro-Mai took Matigam’s advice and himself climbed Mt. Apo bearing gifts for the hermit. He found the hermit and told him of his problem. The hermit listened to what the datu had to say and then said, “You shall have your wish.”
The datu was elated.
“But,” continued the hermit, “you must work very hard for your heart’s desire.”
“What is it that I have to do?” asked Datu Baro-Mai. “I am a powerful datu and can do anything!”
“You must bring me three things—twelve full ladles of a white carabao’s milk, the egg of the black tabon bird, and nectar from the flower of the tree-of-make-believe.”
“What you ask for is impossible!” exclaimed the datu. “A white carabao is a rarity and difficult to find. No man has ever seen the black tabon’s egg for they lay them in the darkest of nights and then bury them deep in the sand. And the tree-of-make-believe, does not even exist!”
“The tree-of-make-believe exists, only it is invisible,” answered the hermit, “It has borne one single blossom which is now tucked behind a wood nymph’s ear. You must find this wood nymph and steal the flower while she sleeps.”
The datu knew that what he had to do was difficult and could even be the death of him but he loved Madayas-Bayho very much and wanted her to love him back. He returned to his kingdom with a heavy heart, but he was determined to obtain what the hermit had asked for.
He searched the kingdom for a white carabao. After ten days of searching, he found a farmer who happened to own one. The farmer was generously rewarded and the datu had twelve ladles of milk to make the princess kind.
The egg of the black tabon bird was harder to find. For one hundred consecutive days and nights, Datu Barom-Mai searched the islands for the nest of the black tabon bird with no luck. Tired and defeated, he sat on a beach and sighed so loudly and so many times that Pawikan, the king of the sea turtles, heard him and came on shore.
“Why do you sit here sighing so much and so loudly?” Pawikan asked the datu.
“I am a powerful datu and can have everything I want, yet I cannot have what I want most. I need to find the egg of the black tabon bird that will soften the heart of the princess I love so much.”
“Do not despair, datu. I have seen a black tabon bird bury her egg at the tip of this island just three days ago.”
Datu Barom-Mai jumped with joy and thanked the king of the sea turtles as he ran to the spot it had indicated. He dug deep in the sand for the black tabon’s egg and found the black and brown speckled egg that was as big as a coconut.
The real test was yet to come; for to find a wood nymph was next to impossible. The datu traveled to the four corners of his kingdom for four long years and still did not find the wood nymph.
He finally returned to his palace defeated. The Bai Madayas-Bayho would never return to him again. From the palace balcony, he sighed long and loudly. This time, the nymph of the air, Hangin-Bai heard him and asked, “Why do you stand here sighing so loudly?”
“I am a powerful datu and can have everything I want, yet I cannot have what I want most,” he answered. “I cannot find the wood nymph who has the flower of the tree-of-make-believe tucked behind her ear and whose nectar will make my wife believe that I am young and handsome.”
“I will help you find the wood nymph,” offered Hangin-Bai. She is my sister but I hate her because she got the flower first. Hold on to my hair and we will go in search of her.”
For three days and nights, the nymph of the air and the Datu Barom-Mai flew east, west, north, and south in search of the wood nymph. Finally, they found her cavorting in the forests of Sirib.
“Stay hidden behind this rock while I make her fall asleep,” advised Hangin-Bai.
Unseen by her sister, the air nymph fanned the wood nymph to sleep with her long tresses. As soon as she fell into deep sleep, Datu Barom-Mai emerged from behind his hiding place and plucked the flower of the tree-of-make-believe from behind her ear.
At last, the datu had all three things that the hermit had asked for and went to see the hermit on Mt. Apo.
“You have worked so hard for what you wanted that your greatest wish will be now be granted,” said the hermit. “But you must promise to invite me to the grand feast you will prepare upon your wife’s return.”
With this said, the hermit proceeded to mix the magical ingredients together. He took the black tabon’s egg and bore a small hole on its tip. Then he poured the milk from the white carabao into it, followed by the nectar of the flower from the tree-of-make-believe. He stirred the whole mixture with his magic stick and gave the egg to the datu with the following instructions: “Plant this egg in the royal garden. It will grow into a magnificent tree which will bear fruits. Have your wife eat its fruits and she will never run away from you again.”
The datu ran back to his palace did as he was told. The next morning, he woke up to a sweet, heavenly smell. He looked out his window and saw that just as the hermit had said, a tree had grown in his garden. It had fruits as large as coconuts and as smooth as the black tabon’s eggs. Some of its fruits had fallen to the ground and had cracked open revealing a white, creamy pulp. The datu rushed down to his garden and tasted the fruit. Immediately, he felt as if he was eighteen again!
Datu Barom-Mai had his men pick as many fruits as they could and had them loaded on a balanghai. He immediately sailed across the gulf to the island of Datu Tageb to reclaim his bride. Even before the datu’s balangahai had reached shore, Bai Madayaw-Bayho had caught a whiff of the fruit’s sweet, heavenly smell. She rushed to meet her husband’s boat and immediately ate of the magical fruit. After the first bite, she no longer saw her husband as an old and ugly man but as a young and handsome one. The bai had finally fallen in love with the datu!
Datu Barom-Mai sailed back to his kingdom in triumph; his wife returned, madly in love with him. He held a great feast to celebrate this wonderful event but in all the excitement, he forgot one promise which was to invite the hermit to the feast.
But the hermit came, anyway, and cursed the datu. “Ungrateful datu!” he exclaimed. “From this day on, the fruit from this tree will be covered with large, thick thorns and hurt the hands of whoever attempts to open it. I will take away its sweet smell and make it so odorous that no one will want to eat it!”
But those who have dared to eat it say that the durian is the most delicious fruit in the whole world!