Reposted from my blog for my Mythology and Folklore class.
Long before Tsunggita met Don Juan, she knew that she was a part of her father’s plan to defeat the king of Laguna and his three haughty sons. How could she not be, with her fantastic ability to shift into any form she chose? One day, her father called her up into his favorite tree for a strategy talk.
“Tsunggita, my dear, the king of Laguna has sent his three sons off to take their fortunes, and one of them is headed our way. I have a plan, but it involves you marrying one of his sons. I fear they will treat you badly, and the need is not yet dire enough that we could not find another plan.”
But Tsunggita, being rather idealistic and having heard many stories from the birds of fabulous princes in far off lands, thought that the ones near by should be even nicer, just as her own kingdom was nicer than the ones in the stories. “Of course I will marry him, and that way if he is nicer than his father there will be no need to defeat Laguna.”
The first step in the plan was for Tsunggita to turn into an old man and entice Don Juan to her father’s palace with promises of good fortune if he offered bread to the monkeys at the gate. This was the first test, to ensure that he would not turn immediately violent at the sight of monkeys. Then her father set up the marriage, and Tsunggita went back with him to join his other brothers, Don Pedro and Don Diego, and their beautiful human wives. Tsunggita was rather disappointed from the beginning, as Don Juan seemed quite ashamed of her and appeared to wish that he had a wife like his brothers’. At first, the king seemed to be taking her appearance in stride, but then the tests began.
Embroider a coat. Embroider a cap. Draw a picture. All things that required one of the humans’ best gifts: an opposable thumb. Not to mention, it would have been useful to have grown up where coats and caps were worn. Tsunggita had already considered shapeshifting into a human to win her husband’s heart, but her stubborness kept her clinging to her monkey identity. Now her life was on the line: if she could not complete these tasks to the king’s satisfaction, she would be put to death.
Help came from an unexpected source. Her husband was immensely eager that she should win, not for the sake of her life, but so that he would be awarded the throne. He brought her all the finest cloths, threads, and paints. He even brought maids to perform the tasks for her, but she turned them away. “I will do it myself,” she said. Show them that a monkey can do anything they can.
Except she could not avoid the need for thumbs that would hold a needle or a brush. So at night she turned her hands into human hands and completed the tasks. She won them all, and her husband was crowned king.
But his joy at attaining the throne did not diminish Don Juan’s hatred of Tsunggita, and during the very ball that celebrated his victory he threw her brutally against the wall. In terror, she turned herself into a beautiful human woman. Don Juan was delighted: at last he had a wife who he could show off as a prize.
Her father heard the story and was absolutely furious. Against the wishes of his advisors, he refused to follow the original plan, to wait for Tsunggita’s son to take the throne and rule as a monkey king. He marched up to the palace in the capital of Laguna and accused Don Juan of using black magic to turn his daughter into a human. Since he came without an army, he was easily captured by Don Juan, who planned to kill him. But the people of Laguna were touched by the story of the father coming to rescue his daughter single-handedly from a cruel husband, so they marched to the palace and demanded his release. Don Juan was as lazy a king as he was fortune-seeker, so to avoid further problems he released the king. Tsunggita turned back into her original form and won over the hearts of her people. After Don Juan’s death, she became queen and joined the human and monkey kingdoms.
Bibliography: Dean S. Fansler’s Filipino Popular Tales, link.
Author’s Note: In the original story, Tsunggita (Chonguita) is not a shapeshifter, and there is no mention of how she became a human. Also, no plan to take over the human kingdom is mentioned, and the story ends after she becomes a human. I wanted her to retain her monkey-ness, as well as to explain why she married Don Juan and how she became a human. I changed her name from Chonguita to Tsunggita to reflect more of the original Tagalog. Tsunggo means monkey, and the -ita suffix is a common borrowing from Spanish.