Beyond the Aswang Complexity

(Aswang. The general term for manananggal, balbal, tiktik, wakwak and etc. the most fearsome mythological creature of Philippine culture. In lieu of upcoming Halloween, let me share information about this formidable creature.)

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(Aswang uses its long tubular straw like tongue to feed from fetuses, liver, heart and entrails of its victim.)

The sound of the tolling bell is heard signifying the 6 o clock habit. Children playing native games in the street rushed to return into their homes. They were quick to clean themselves and wash every single dirt in their innocent faces. They fear that they will be abducted by the encantos and aswang that roam the earth after dark.

The solemn hush of Angelus can be heard around. Altars in every home were brightly illuminated by candles or oil lamps. Seen in the windows, mothers and elder girls of the family stand swiftly after the prayer. Still-smoking rice and freshly cooked viands were prepared in the table. It’s dark outside. Nocturnal insects were humming, singing in chorale accompanied by the cacophoning clank of spoons, ceramic or metal plates and pots. It is a usual evening in the country side. People sleep early and turn the lights off. Although every house were blessed with fluorescent lamps or yellow bulbs, not all enjoyed the luxury of owning a tv set. The night was filled with bustling stars. The trees in far view looks like dark monster sleeping peacefully. When the evening breeze blows, the leaves gently sway. The non stop concert of insects were getting louder, this time no accompaniment of clashing sound of metals and ceramics.

Children were lulled to sleep. If they don’t want to, creepy stories of hideous creature will be told to them. This is a common scene in this town. In this sleepy town I was raised and born. Where people are gentle, friendly and warm.

Being raised in the countryside had developed my mind into the face poverty, simplicity, contentment and supernaturals. It is common to see and hear people concluding that encantos or mangkukulam (witch) inflict sickness in their unknown disease. Consulting the albularyo (herb doctor) to formulate antidotes to counter attack the power of the supernaturals. Sacrificing chickens or pigs in big trees or mounds where the ethereal beings were believed to reside. The supernaturals and beings of darkness cast fear that people are so careful not to provoke or harm them. In my childhood days, I feared the darkness because of the stories of demons and ogres living in trees. Smoking large cigars and leading travellers astray. I feared the viscera-sucking creatures with bat wings flying in the black sky looking for victims. Fairies disguising as human, abducting beautiful boys or girls and turning them as slave. Witches that conjure unbearable pain to those they’ve angered with.

There are many creatures that bought chills into my spine. Up to this day, I am still fascinated in these Philippine creatures of night. Whether they are real or not, it still interest me to talk or share what I know about them. I guess the most famous of all these Philippine creatures is the aswang. Aswang is a general term for all the monster in Philippine folklore. Aswang is dubbed to be the werewolf of the Philippine archipelago. During the day, aswang looks like ordinary people you see, but when darkness falls they turn into hideous beast. Aswang are shape-shifters, they turn into huge black dogs, cats or whatever animal they want to. They fed on blood of fetus, dead people and terminally ill. Entrails are also their favorite food. Whenever they smell death, aswang will swarm the area of the sick. If the woman is pregnant she should put extra care for her baby. The scent of ill and fetus is pleasing for the aswang. For the aswang, fetus and sick smell like ripe jackfruit and roasted young rice.

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(Aswang preys on pregnant, sick and babies.)

It is said that being an aswang can be pass through generation to generation. You can be aswang by 1) drinking in the glass with aswang’s saliva 2) eating aswang’s flesh mixed on the dish you’re eating 3) accepting the black chick (mutya) of the aswang allowing yourself to be like one of them and 4) your an offspring of aswang.

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(Aswang may look like a werewolf, but it can shift into different animals)

 A common misconception about aswangs is they cannot enter the church or receive Holy Communion. They can actually, they are not afraid of rosary and crucifix. They said that aswang when in human form cannot look directly into the eye. They’re afraid to make an eye to eye contact. Your reflection is upside down in aswang’s eyes.   image

(Aswang as shape shifter. They can turn into any animals that they want; to escape or to hide from their unsuspecting victim)

Just like in Western countries were vampires can be repelled by garlic, aswang too are vulnerable in this plant bulb. Somehow garlic is fatal to them. Stingray’s tail and palm leaves used in Palm Sunday are said to repel aswang. Varieties of amulets are also use to ward-off and detect aswang.

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(Blessed palms on Palm Sunday are said to ward-off Aswang)

A small bottle of coconut oil with different roots and twigs of plant blessed by a witch doctor is said to detect an aswang. If the aswang is nearby, the coconut oil will boil and produce bubbles. This will make the aswang uneasy for it has sense danger. The actual bubbling of coconut oil was documented by Jay Taruc in his Panay de Motor expedition.

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(Manananggal is a kind of aswang and a viscera sucker. It can detach itself from it lower body and can have a bat-like wings.)

Since Philippines is an archipelagic country and having a multitude of landscape producing varieties of culture, different description of aswang materialized. A kind of aswang well known in some Philippine Island called balbal feeds on dead people. The balbal steal corpse and replace it with banana trunk creating an illusion that the banana trunk is the corpse. In Bicol region, they classified aswang into two types. Aswang na lakay (walking aswang) at aswang na asbo (flying aswang). Visayas is said to be infested by Aswang especially in Panay Island. The story of Tiniente Gimo of Duenas Iloilo is so well-known that every inhabitant of Panay have different version of the story. In popular culture, countless movies were filmed featuring aswang. It is indeed a favorite theme for horror movies. Roxas City in Capiz is annually celebrating Aswang Festival. Since the Panay Island, having a reputation to be a haven of aswang the local government decided to use the aswang prominence to promote tourism. Such an irony isn’t? During Halloween, aswang costumes are seen everywhere.

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 (In Grimm episode 14. Aswang was introduced as a creature who brings terror to Portland)

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 (Aswang in the city. Roxas City in Capiz annually celebrates Aswang Festival attracting thousands of tourists)

Numerous sightings of aswang were recorded and even cause mass panic. Just like the alleged sighting of Aswang in Pozurubio, Pangasinan many people claimed to see the monster but no one can show proof. Aswang was also said the culprit of unexplainable slaughter of animals in Bulacan and Sorsogon during full moon. Entrails were removed and nowhere to be found.   image

(An alleged Aswang sighting in Pozurrobio, Pangasinan picture proved to be hoax.)

Indirectly, the aswang complexity exists in our daily lives. We use aswang to discipline our small kids. In the countryside, customary singing loudly and burning twigs or rubber overnight to drive away aswang where the wake or funeral is taking place. Different amulets are use to ward off or combat magical powers conjured by aswangs. But why does the Philippines, heavily Christianized, a strong believer of the existence of Aswang?

The Catholic Church had classified the Aswang existence as Oriental View of Philosophy. The belief on this creature could be traced back in Pre-Hispanic time and extensively used by friars to keep Filipinos away from their pagan customs. Babaylans, who enjoy veneration and priviledge in pre-hispanic era were hastly accused of being monsters from hell.

Many claimed to have seen aswang but its futile to look for proof. None had ever documented or filmed a real aswang; only by word of the mouth that has been passed down from generation to generation had been the basis of aswang existence. My officemate, a Panay native said in one of our chitchat that her uncle had married an aswang. She said that aswang don’t have control over their cravings (human blood, entrails and fetuses). It is like a sickness, a formidable disease that every aswang suffer. Aswang don’t want to do what their nature dictates them to do. Many says that the aswang is real, some says it is only a piece of Filipino imagination. But who knows what’s the truth, right?

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