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As I See It
Philippine mythological monsters

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:29:00 10/31/2008

Filed Under: Customs & Traditions, Culture (general)

This Saturday is All Saints? Day and tonight is Halloween. On Saturday. Filipinos will troop to the cemeteries to pay respect to their dead relatives buried there and see living relatives they have not seen since last All Saints? Day. But tonight, in the exclusive urban villages, Filipinos will party in scary costumes, forgetting that the occasion is to remember the dead and not an excuse for merrymaking. In the provinces, in the old days, the occasion is marked by what is called ?nangangaluluwa? (literally pretending to be the souls of the dead, going from house to house serenading the living humans). While the attention of the house occupants is centered on the serenaders, some naughty members of the group go to the chicken coop and steal a chicken or two to be cooked later as midnight snack.

The younger ones content themselves with huddling under the moon, if there is one, or under the light of the lamp post and listening to scary stories told by their elders. Philippine folklore is full of mythological monsters that, in the old days, we youngsters believed to be true and really scared us. The most common of these monsters were:

1. ?Manananggal? ? This is a woman with batwings who flies at night looking for prey. The upper part of her torso detaches from the lower part, which is left on the ground while the upper part flies away. She must return to that lower torso before daylight or else she would never be whole again. The way to combat the manananggal is to find that lower torso and put ashes or salt on it. The upper torso will never be able to reattach itself to it again.

Until today, the joke is that manananggal come from Capiz province, and that some Capiz people don?t have to ride airplanes when flying to Manila.

2. ?Capre? ? This is a giant who sits on top of a tree smoking a big cigar to scare people. That?s about all he does: sit there and scare people. He doesn?t eat or kill anybody, but the sight of him there, with that big glowing cigar, is enough to scare any boy to death.

3. ?Tikbalang? ? A monster that is half-horse, half-human, probably adopted from classical mythology. Being half-horse, it runs very fast and no human can catch it. It is also harmless, except that it scares the hell out of young people.

4. ?Aswang? ? This is a human that turns into a big dog or big pig, probably imitated by Filipino folklorists from the werewolf. The aswang goes under a house where there is a pregnant mother and steals the unborn baby. In the old days, the menfolk were on guard against aswang whenever there was a pregnant woman in the neighborhood. They organized night patrols, and woe to the dog or pig that blunders under a house. The weapon against the aswang is the ?buntot-pagi,? the barbed tail of the sting ray, or the spear of a swordfish.

5. ?Duwende? ? A dwarf that can bring either good fortune or bad luck. There are two kinds of duwende, the white one and the black one. The white brings good luck while the black brings bad luck. The duwende are said to have hoards of gold, and finding one of these hoards is like finding the Yamashita treasure.

6. ?Nuno sa punso? ? Also a dwarf (literally ?old man of the mound?), it is invisible and sits on top of mounds of earth such as termite or anthills. When you brush against one of these mounds while the nuno sa punso is sitting there, you will be punished. Either your balls get bigger, or your knees ache, or boils sprout all over your body. In the old days, whenever a child got sick, the poor nuno sa punso got the blame.

To be safe from the nuno, whenever you approach an earth mound, you must say aloud in Tagalog (maybe the old dwarf does not understand English): ?Excuse me grandfather, I am just passing through. I cannot see you.?

7. ?Tiyanak? ? Also a dwarf (but not in Malacańang), it takes the form of a baby and lures humans walking through a forest with its baby cries. The human follows the cries, looking for what he thinks is an abandoned baby and is lured deeper and deeper into the forest until he is lost and cannot find his way out. The antidote is to take off your clothes and put them back on inside out. The spell will be broken and you can find your way out of the forest.

8. ?Multo? ? A ghost, the soul of a person returning from the dead for some unfinished business here on earth. Some provincial folk rely on multo, through mediums, to tell them who murdered a relative or who stole whatever is lost in the house or even who fathered a baby born out of wedlock. Many people claim they saw, or imagine they saw or felt the presence of, a multo. A butterfly that flies in through a window, the smell of candles or flowers, a window or door banging shut at night, or the sound of chains being dragged on the floor are enough signs to make a human swear that a ghost had been visiting.

9. ?Mangkukulam? ? A witch, but one who does not ride a broomstick, does not wear all black and does not sport a black peaked hat. She looks like your neighbor, but she can cast spells on anybody with herbal concoctions or amulets or magic wands. Again in the old days, witches were blamed for any ailment befalling anybody in the family. ?Nakulam,? they would say, and they would summon the village witch doctor to break the spell.

It is easy to spot witches, say the old folk. They have red eyes. And don?t look directly at those eyes or you will catch a spell, they say.

When I was a boy, there was a woman who tended a sari-sari store in our village. She always had red eyes. I was scared stiff whenever I was sent to the store to buy something. I kept my eyes down while she looked for what I wanted to buy, not daring to look at her eyes lest I be bewitched.

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