Way before this placid little lake became a subject of boundary issues and there was no dissent whether to call it Banao or Danum, long before cows grazed its now dwindling patches of green, and before flocks of tourists did jump shots against a mesmerizing fiery backdrop of the sunset, this place was once a plain plateau, a waterless mesa en route to barter places with our lowland brothers. Now the story of how the lake came about has varied through the years. But I will attempt to retell it the way my grandma awed me with the tale the best way I can.
“A man was on his way to exchange his pig with some lowland products that were scarce in his highland home. Presumably he would have been on his way to Besao where traders would convene. As he was passing through what is now the expanse of water that we know as the lake, he spotted an old lady sitting on the ground.
This lady requested the man to spare some of his time so he could help her get rid of the lice on her head. This generous man obliged without any qualms. He then realized that it was not just lice that was populating the old lady’s head. There were little snakes and worms and all sorts of poisonous insects. He was a bit alarmed but he slowly removed these little critters till her head was free of any parasite. He did so meticulously and without the slightest hint of disgust. When he was done, the old lady gave the man a bundle of pine needles and straw with the advise that he put them in his granary for the night. He was puzzled with this strange suggestion but he never questioned the woman and did as instructed. The next morning, he was greatly bewildered to find his granary overflowing with the finest rice.
Now this man lived in small village and naturally everyone was curious, if not envious of the good fortune that has befallen him. His neighbor immediately set off in the same direction carrying his fattest pig. He saw the old lady in the same place. He scornfully obliged when she made the same request that he remove the lice from her long locks. How he reacted when he saw that the old lady’s head was a jungle of insects and snakes! He spat, cursed and shuddered in disgust. By the time he was done removing the vermin from the lady’s head, he was a picture of revulsion and contempt. Nonetheless, the old lady gave him the same bunch of pine needles and straw. When the man turned towards home though, he stood immobile on his spot then gradually changed into a wooden post. The old lady then magically disappeared.
Not very long after, a man and his son were out gathering wood. When they saw this stout wooden post in the middle of the field, the man slashed it with his bolo and out gushed water that overflowed in all directions. The pair had to run fast towards higher ground to save themselves from the angry waters. Gradually, the water ebbed and calmed to what we see it now. Lake Danum.
They say that bit of the very same post still stands erect somewhere within the lake. Maybe one of these days, I’ll endeavor to find it.
***Danum is the Kankana-ey and Ilocano term for water. Translating the name to a redundant Lake Water.