The Vijadesans revere and fear certain animals, some of them naturally-occurring denizens of sea or jungle, some of them touched by the supernatural. Some of these are to be avoided, some sought out (at your own peril), and some are belived to give signs from the gods.
- Gamecocks: gamecocks are the children of Galura, and the symbol of manly courage; killing a gamecock for food is bad luck, and slighting or injuring another man’s gamecock is considered a mortal insult.
- White Animal: any specimen of animal born white, where the species is not naturally white, is considered blessed by the spirits or may even be a spirit or Diwata in disguise. This is specially true of white deer and boar. It is considered bad luck to harm a white wild animal, and good luck to keep a white domestic animal, e.g. a white buffalo, a white rooster, etc. etc. On the other hand, the gods favor white animals as sacrifices.
- Hornbills: considered a symbol of matrimonial fidelity, the presence of a hornbill couple near a house is thought to signify a blessed union, while the killing of a hornbill will likely result in a spouse’s infidelity or a seduction attempt on her/him by a stranger. Hornbills are also considered protectors of the community, so it is very bad luck to kill one.
- Limokon doves: these blue doves are considered messengers from Aman Bathala, giving omens by their calls and flight. If on setting forth to a voyage or war you hear the limokon call on your right, or see one fly from your right to your left, fate will be in your favor; but should the reverse happen, your luck will be bad.
- Eagles: all eagles, but most specially the great sea eagles and giant forest eagles are sacred to Aman Bathala, as they are his watchers over the earth. Killing an eagle or bringing harm to an eagle’s nest will bring serious misfortune.
- Black moths: Anitos, especially those of the newly dead, sometimes take the form of a black moth that flutters around as if lost. Harming it offends the ancestor spirits, who see the act as a sign of disrespect. If a black moth lands on a person, that person is believed to be doomed to die within the year.
- Crocodile: the Vijadesans have a love-hate relationship with the savage saltwater crocodile. It is said that crocodiles are reincarnations of the vengeful dead, so any adult victim of a crocodile is held to have been justly killed.
Because killing a crocodile is sure to anger the spirits of the dead, crocodile hunts are bookended by ceremonies and sacrifices to appease the spirits.
Some families and tribes simply hold crocodiles sacred and venerate them, even making them offerings. Strangely enough, these locales rarely ever suffer crocodile attacks.
- Cockatoo: the cockatoo is revered for its supposedly human-like or even ultra-human wisdom, as evinced by its ability to pick up human speech and its intelligence. Cockatoos are also seen as harbingers of good luck and may warn against ill luck or evil spirits. Because of these beliefs, the cockatoo is often used as a symbol of protection against evil spirits, thus the frequent use of stylized cockatoo heads on weapon hilts.
- Snakes: snakes too are often believed to be, or become possessed by, the anitos. Once again, the Vijadesans have an ambivalent relationship with snakes – part fear, part respect and religious reverence. As stated above, any white animal is considered to be sacred to the gods or diwatas, so an albino snake will often be kept and fed as the sacred ‘luck’ of a household or village.
- Sharks: certain sharks are believed to be evil sea spirits in disguise. Vijadesans tell tales, in hushed tones, of demonic sharks that haunted a particular fishing village or locale for years, sinking any small boats that ventured onto the water and devouring all their occupants.
Only when regular human sacrifices were offered did the demon sharks allow the villagers to fish in peace. Of course if any heroes are available and willing, some villagers will be willing to sponsor them in a hunt for the demon shark. But some villagers, those too afraid, or perhaps those who have benefited from the demon shark’s reign of terror, may try to sabotage their plans …
- Sea Turtle: sea turtles are sacred to Apu Laut, god of the sea. However, Apu Laut also understands the needs of his favored people, and allows the taking of turtles and their eggs for food – within limits.
A turtle laying eggs is sacrosanct and must not be killed. Likewise, when harvesting a turtle’s nest you may only take half the eggs, and must carefully re-bury the remainder with a prayer to Apu Laut.
And lastly, harming turtles locked in a mating embrace is sure to trigger the wrath of the Old God of the Sea. Bad enough that you must kill his children, it’s unspeakably wrong in his eyes that you must take them in the act of procreation. (Of course, meat taken from turtles killed while mating has powerful magical properties in promoting fertility.)
So What Does It Mean for Us Players?
How might players interact with these sacred animals? What situations might drive them into interesting conflicts or interactions? Off the top of my head, here are some ideas:
- Roleplaying Rewards
Many of these sacred animals may be encountered in the wild at any time. They serve as another hook for you to engage with the wonderful and mystically exotic world of Hari Ragat. Everyone knows the spirits, specially the diwatas, reward courtesy with courtesy, kindness with gifts, and insult with terrible sorcerous vengeance.
- Mistaken Identity
A PC or NPC out on a hunt attacks and kills or injures what he thinks is legitimate game, but turns out to be a similar-sized sacred beast/bird.
In the depths of the jungle, it often happens that you’ll only have a glimpse of your prey through the shadowy undergrowth, and must shoot or cast at once lest you lose it.
Or it may be that you were following a herd of otherwise normal game, but one of them is enchanted or a diwata in disguise. Alas, you just had to aim at the wrong one!
- Ancestral Guardian
A PC has an ancestral guardian spirit that has taken the form of an animal, often a snake. It watches over him/her and may come to warn of danger or give aid when most needed. The animal is not at the command of the player, but appears when the situation is truly dire or to serve as a plot hook. (A similar idea runs through the GMA TV series Amaya).
Another, similar possibility is for a PC to come across an injured or endangered sacred animal, and risk his/her life to save it. In gratitude it pledges to guard the character for the rest of its (practically immortal) life.
- Forbidden Prize
Yes, it’s supposed to be bad luck to kill a white deer or a white snake or that wild buffalo that has an obvious glowing moon brand on its forehead – but there’s also much to be won from killing or capturing it. For one, it will definitely give the slayer/captor Baraka (spiritual power).
Certain parts may have magically curative powers, and in fact may be the only cures for a magical curse. Will you dare the gods’ wrath for your own purposes?
For example, the fertility-enhancing property of turtle meat taken from mating turtles. Your Rajah’s senior wife has been childless for years. The forbidden meat is the only remedy. If she fails to produce an heir, the scheming junior wife’s child will take the throne – and he’s as poisonous as a cobra. Will you take the necessary measures to correct this imbalance, and explain to Apu Laut later?
You’re stuck on a tiny island and the only food source available right now is something you shouldn’t kill. Will you starve, or take the prey and face the consequences later?
- It’s a Military Target
You have found that the luck of an enemy resides in a sacred animal secretly kept in or near their village, and tightly guarded. The creature’s magic must be powerful, for in your last few encounters with this enemy you and your allies were badly worsted.
Now that you know the truth, you have the opportunity to strike at the base of your enemy’s power …
This post was expanded from an earlier post on religion in Hari Ragat for the RPG Blog Carnival feature: Animals.