Since Halloween is just around the corner, all things related to the occasion have been sprouting up.
Despite its eerie origins, Halloween has become one of the most happy, child-friendly “holidays,” anticipated by kids who put on their best costumes and dream of the candies they will collect.
Originally Halloween, or “All Hallow’s Eve,” was a night people feared as it was supposedly the time of year when the doors between the human and spirit worlds were opened and spirits could roam freely.
People started wearing fearsome masks to scare the spirits away, and also began leaving treats at their doorstops for these hungry spirits.
Fast forward to several centuries later, today, and we have the modern-day Halloween—that yearly event in which our children look forward to being ghouls and witches, as opposed to worrying about them being in the shadows.
But in the Philippines, we don’t actually need to wait for Halloween to spook out each other. There is no shortage of supernatural creatures in our local folklore.
1) Multo (ghost). Perhaps the most popular on our list, the multo is said to be the restless spirit of a dead person. These ghosts are said to be victims of injustice or those who want to deal with unfinished business. They can be harmless—simply appearing as they go in search of peace. On the other hand they could cause accidents and bad luck on those they wish to trouble.
Since it is a common belief among Filipinos that a spirit moves on to the afterlife, it’s not hard to understand why the belief in ghosts is popular. Even children, who have yet to start speaking coherently, know how to voice their fear of the “mumu.”
2) Aswang (monster). This generic, all-in-one-word refers to just about any harmful supernatural creature. There is no specific image of the aswang other than it looks horrifying, large and strong enough to be responsible for the tragedy befalls a community.
3) White Lady. The White Lady is perhaps the only spirit with a permanent address. Legend has it that many years ago, a beautiful young lady was walking home on the now infamous street when she was run over and left for dead. Some say she is still trying to make her way home, while others claim she is looking for her killer.
Since the story came out, countless motorists are said to have encountered a very pale young woman who hitches a ride with unsuspecting drivers, gets into the back seat, only to disappear when the drivers check the rearview mirror.
4) Mangkukulam (sorcerer). The mangkukulam is our version of the wicked witch or wizard. A mangkukulam is supposedly an ordinary person with an extraordinary gift to create potions (such as the much searched for gayuma, a potent love brew) and curses or kulam.
An unexplained ailment, pain or unsightly physical symptom is attributed to a kulam—the victim made to undergo cleansing procedures to rid himself of the curse.
The belief in kulam is entrenched in Filipino culture maybe because access to modern and efficient medicine can be limited, especially in far-flung provinces.
5) Kapre. There doesn’t seem to be an English translation for the infamous cigar-loving, tree-top dwelling giant creature. The kapre is said to have supernatural strength to go with his immense size. As the guardian of trees and forests, the kapre is neither evil nor good. It simply reacts accordingly to what is being done to its dwelling.
Many years ago, a friend of ours was in a nearby province in the South, checking on the construction of a house in the mountains. As he was leaving the site, he wondered why his pickup truck would not move forward even if he was stepping on the gas.
Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of something on his side mirror and there stood an enormous creature, holding on to his vehicle. Despite his fear, he called out and asked to be released, saying he would not cause damage to the trees in the area. This must have satisfied the kapre; he let go of the truck and our friend lived to tell this tale. And, yes, the creature, indeed, had a cigar in his mouth.
6) Tikbalang. The tikbalang appears to be the local counterpart of the mythological centaur. Its upper body is that of a horse, its lower body that of a man. The tikbalang is often portrayed as the evil companion of the mangkukulam.
As such, this is a creature bent on spreading darkness and misfortune, much like a horseman of the apocalypse. Strangely enough, there is a saying that a statue of the tikbalang in one’s home is good luck as it protects the home from intruders.
7) Duwende. Whether or not you believe in the duwende, you probably know (or even use) the famous line, “Tabi tabi po (Please step aside)!” This phrase is said when crossing through forests or for the men doing their business in the bushes, to avoid accidentally stepping on or upsetting a duwende.
The local duwende is probably the cousin of many other famous pint-sized creatures such as the dwarf, elf and leprechaun.
A Duwendeng Puti (White Dwarf) is supposedly good and brings fortune wherever he goes, while a Duwendeng Itim is one that is feared as it causes mysterious illnesses and deaths and may even “possess” the people living in the area.
Black Dwarves are said to be drawn to beautiful women and cute babies, both of which they spirit away to their kingdom.
My husband has his own story to tell. Back when he was studying at University of the Philippines Los Baños, he lived in a rented house with two other students, a caretaker and the caretaker’s 3-year-old daughter.
One night, the little girl opened the door to her room and refused to go in while fearfully pointing to a corner and repeatedly saying, “Tao, tao.”
Miguel and his housemates gathered sticks and weapons to confront what they thought was a robber, but upon entering, found nothing.
When they confronted the child, she described that she saw as a small dark man, crouched in the corner.
8. Engkanto (elemental). The engkanto are creatures and spirits that live in forests and in our environment. Some say they are similar to fairies and beautiful nymphs, while others claim they are physically similar to dwarves. Still, others liken them to bursts of flame like St. Elmo’s Fire.
Some engkanto are portrayed as benevolent, peaceful creatures, while others are known to drive people crazy by causing them hallucinations, which may lead to their deaths.
Still others are naughty spirits who like to play tricks on people who may stumble into their kingdoms.
9) Tiyanak (demon child). The tiyanak is said to be the spawn of an evil supernatural creature who manages to impregnate a human woman. As expected, the product is one that is feared due to its appearance and evil character.
10) Manananggal. The manananggal is perhaps one of the biggest stars of Philippine folklore. Once upon a time, she was just another ordinary woman who was either bullied or suffered a grave injustice. Whichever it might be, in the process, she lost her child.
From this anger and resentment, the manananggal was born.
By day, she is the mysterious woman (beautiful and young, or old and angry) who has just moved into town.
But by night, her winged upper half can be seen flying through the skies, in search of pregnant women, whose babies she plans to have for supper.
While garlic is meant to ward off the monster, there is only one way to stop her and that is by putting salt on her lower body while the upper side is away hunting.
There seems to be no Western counterpart to the manananggal, but the tale of the flying angry half-woman, feared by pregnant women, is eerily similar to a creature supposedly found in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia as well.