Philippine folklore is interesting and inviting, especially when it involves man-eating creatures that roam underneath islands, such as the giant goldfish said to swim under the Cagayan de Oro river.

Photo from Higalaay Festival’s Official Facebook Page

Proof Carved On A Stone Tablet

Once upon a time, in the quaint town of Cagayan de Oro, a priest vanished into thin air, rumored to have been eaten by a monstrous goldfish lurking in the depths of the Cagayan de Oro River.

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But wait, there’s more—legend has it that a mysterious stone tablet, showing a striking resemblance to the biblical tale of Jonah and the whale, was discovered within the very walls of the St. Augustine Cathedral Church. Some whisper that the figure carved upon the tablet isn’t about the prophet at all, but rather the ill-fated priest himself, immortalized in stone for all eternity.

Photo from Trip Advisor

However, if you plan to visit the cathedral to see the tablet itself, you may find that a bit of a challenge, since it was moved away from the public eyes. Why? No-one knows!

Celebrating History, Unity, and the Giant Golden Fish

Photo from Cagayan de Oro City’s Official Website

Annually during the month of August, Cagayan de Oro holds the Higalaay Festival, where the spirit of unity and history is celebrated. But, other than that, the streets also come alive with the majestic presence of the mythical large fish paraded on floats adorned in gold. Locals call it “Kugtong” and it is believed to be the creature that ate the priest.

A kugtong is a large grouper fish that can grow up to 300kg and can measure up to 10ft! That’s way larger than an average Filipino or man!

Photo from Canva

But the legend of the kugtong is more than just a story—it’s a cherished part of Cagayan de Oro’s rich history and culture. Believed to be the guardian of the river’s treasures, the kugtong is said to sleep beneath the waters, its presence felt in the occasional tremors and quakes that ripple through the island. Yet, far from instilling fear, the myth of the kugtong is embraced with joy by the locals, adding a touch of magic to the festival’s festivities.

As part of the celebration, locals come together to dance in the streets and participate in the Kugtong Boat Racing competition—a contest that showcases the island’s seafaring traditions and honors the legendary creature that calls the Cagayan de Oro River its home.

Photo from the Higalaay Festival’s Official Facebook Page

Aside from Cagayan, there are also other places in the Philippines where townsfolk believe that large sea creatures dwell underneath, such as in Liloan Cebu where a similar story can be heard about a man-eating kugtong.

Got any interesting myths and legends of your town? Then share it to us and let’s go on a journey of discovering stories of old!

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