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City of the Lost


The mythical city of Biringan is unlike any other, and the only way to find it is to get lost.

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The allure of travel is in discovery; it is the joy of experiencing new things, of slipping between the cracks. At Biringan City, persons lucky enough to visit end up doing exactly that.

Biringan is a city in Samar that’s said to be located between the towns of Gandara, Tarangan, and Pagsanhan. Stories about the mythical city are fairly new; the earliest ones appearing around the 1960s. There are many versions—it is a legend after all—but from all these versions, some core beliefs emerge, almost like fact: that Biringan is invisible, that it is technologically advanced, that it is beautiful.

Biringan is described, usually by fishermen, as a city that rises from the waters up to the clouds—a bustling metropolis comparable to New York or Hong Kong; everything in it (buildings, automobiles, food) jet black, sleek and ultramodern. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Biringan is its modernity, as its inhabitants enjoy technology more advanced than what is available today.

Biringan, in the local Waray language, means “hanapan ng mga nawawala,” or where one finds the lost. Depending on who you listen to, Biringan is either home to enkantos, the enchanted ones; or the souls of the lost and the dead. There is nothing to distinguish Biringan residents from humans, except for the former’s lack of a philtrum, the ridge between the nose and upper lip, which is commonly known among the Bisaya as an indicator that someone is an enkanto.

Tricycle route illustration by Jap Mikel
Illustration by Jap Mikel

The earliest stories about Biringan are different iterations that revolve around the same themes—there is the story about the bus, emptied of passengers, that picked up two women by the side of the road. The women specify a destination away from the main road, offering three times the fare. The driver agrees and takes them there.

After the women alight, the driver tries to return to the highway but realizes that the road has closed in behind him, leaving him in the middle of what seemed like an overgrown field. He had no choice but to spend the night in his vehicle. He wakes the next day and realizes that the bus is perched on top of a mountain ridge at an impossible angle, requiring the use of heavy equipment to get back down.

Then there’s the story of a couple of guys riding tandem on a motorcycle along a dark, lonely road. They expected a smooth, fairly boring trip, except that as they rounded a familiar curve, they were thrust into a wall of sound. Though the highway remained dark and isolated, they were assaulted on all sides by the sound of heavy traffic, the honking of cars, and the yelling of people, as if they had wandered the wrong way into the middle of a busy street. The men were scared but they kept going, hoping to outrun the noise. And they did. Just like that, everything went back to normal, the returning silence a loud boom in their ears, the shock of it all jarring, almost steering them off the road.

From all these versions, some core beliefs emerge. . . that Biringan is invisible, that it is technologically advanced, that it is beautiful.

This isn’t an isolated incident; many motorists have reported the same incident, as if they had momentarily passed through a portal, a psychic tunnel into snarling Biringan traffic, causing chaos before emerging back into our world once again.

There have also been stories about construction materials being sent from Manila to addresses in Biringan, complete with delivery instructions. A truckload of lumber was once instructed to drive to a dirt road far from town and to leave the cargo there. The workmen did as they were told, and by the next day, the lumber was gone.

Even the Japanese have been beguiled by Biringan’s allure. There’s a legend from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s about a Japanese company that expressed interest in doing rural development work in Western Samar. The locals did not know why the foreigners would be interested in their town, as it was fairly undeveloped, but it is said that the Japanese possessed a satellite-generated map that showed a brightly lit spot the size of a city in the middle of a local forested area. Nobody knows what happened after, except that they left empty-handed.

Woman in the trees illustration by Raxenne Maniquiz
Illustration by Raxenne Maniquiz

There’s another one that dates back to the ‘60s, about a shipment of expensive construction equipment imported from the USA that arrived at the nearest major port in Tacloban. The equipment was addressed to a place in Biringan City, which confused port officials because such a place did not exist. The equipment was kept under guard at the port area, but was never claimed.

Biringan is described, usually by fishermen, as a city that rises from the waters up to the clouds.

What makes these stories stand out from other tales of inter-dimensional commerce is that the items or services are always expensive or overpaid, paid in advance, and—this is important—the money stays money, unlike in most tales, where they change to leaves or stones. This at least says that they use real tender, unlike other fairies, who rely on glamour. It also begs the question: if Biringanons use real money, does this mean they are humans who happen to live in a parallel dimension, or are they engkantos with mortal bank accounts?

And then of course, there are stories about Biringanons falling in love: when someone from Biringan falls in love with a human, the mortal man or woman usually falls sick with a mysterious illness incurable by modern medicine. Sometimes, they seem to go mad, saying strange things or talking to people that are not there. Sometimes they die, and when they do, it is believed that their souls go to live in Biringan, where they slowly lose their philtra, marking them as true citizens of their new home.

Sometimes, a Biringanon will take a human to Biringan for a visit. If a human finds themselves in Biringan, they must make sure not to eat or drink anything there, because if they do, they will never be able to leave.

Engkanto geometric illustration by Jap Mikel
Illustration by Jap Mikel

Belief in Biringan persists to this day. There have been instances of school children possessed by citizens of Biringan, and Mel and Joey, an old local news magazine show, once interviewed a professor whose play about the city suffered many mishaps during production, and could only be staged after the proper offerings and permissions were made. One of the things that struck him was how they had to stop praying before rehearsals and performances, because the Biringanons didn’t like it when they prayed.

The earliest stories about Biringan are different iterations that revolve around the same themes.

The advent of the Internet has only spurred belief in Biringan, with people who claim to be Biringanons commenting on posts about the city or setting up Facebook pages, complete with pictures of people with missing philtra. Unlike most folk beliefs, the more advanced technology gets, the more the stories of Biringan come to life. It’s only a matter of time before someone produces a satellite map with a brightly lit spot the size of a city where a forest should be.

Erol Ozan wrote that some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost. In Biringan’s case, it seems that getting lost is the only way to find it.

  • Glossary of Enchantment
  • ENKANTO Literally translated to mean “the enchanted,” enkantos are nature spirits, perhaps similar to elves or fairies in Western mythology, though legends characterize them as human-like in appearance. Often described as being beautiful, with blue eyes, blond hair, fair skin, and unusual facial features (such as high noses, the absence of a philtrum). They are said to live in a different dimension, whose portals may be found in boulders, trees, and other natural landmarks. Enkanto are whimsical creatures—sometimes benificent and playful, but may be vindictive when angered. Hikers who are lost in the forest may sometimes blame an enkanto for leading them astray, or even for attempting to kidnap them to live in their dimension. DUWENDE Obviously coming from the Spanish word “duende”—a term that can mean “elf,” “magic,” or “spirit”—the Filipino duwende is portrayed as an elf or elemental, either mischievous or helpful. Filipinos in rural areas might ask permission from the duwende (“tabi-tabi po”) as they pass a tree or rock where the spirits may live. ASWANG Among the most feared of supernatural creatures, aswang are shapeshifters who can appear human by day but transform into their monstrous form at night—usually a black bat, dog, cat, or pig. Some may be able to change form at will, others through the use of magic potions. Aswangs appear at night to prey upon travelers or sleeping people—pregnant women are especially vulnerable. KAPRE Depicted as a hairy giant smoking a cigar, and said to live in the foliage of big trees. Like the enkanto, the kapre is also blamed for leading travelers around in circles. To escape its magic, you must remove your t-shirt, and wear it inside-out. (Interestingly, folklorists speculate that the legend of the kapre may have been encouraged by the Spanish to prevent Filipinos from assisting African slaves who escaped from the galleons.) TIKBALANG A creature that is half-man and half-horse (similar to the centaur, though the tikbalang has the head and feet of a horse and the torso of a man). Another mythological creature said to be fond of leading travelers astray, though with a particular malevolence directed towards women. BUNGISNGIS A playful, gentle, one-eyed giant whose misshapen teeth make it look like it’s always snarling. It is said that the happy creature only wants to play, but ends up scaring away humans because of its fearsome appearance.