Filipinos’ mythological monsters for Halloween | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

Filipinos’ mythological monsters for Halloween

/ 12:43 AM October 29, 2012

According to tradition, it is on Halloween that the souls of the dead, along with all sorts of monsters, ghouls and spirits, return to earth to haunt the living. This gave rise to the Halloween trick-or-treat parties during which children in scary costumes would go from house to house to beg for treats from the homeowners or else they would play tricks on them. Most of the costumes would be adopted from Western mythological monsters—witches, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, mummy, vampire, etc.—because they are the costumes imported and sold in local stores.

But we have our own mythological monsters, a few of which, admittedly, were adopted from their Western counterparts. Here they are:

Manananggal—Probably adopted from the Western vampire, the manananggal has bat wings and vampire fangs and flies at night to look for victims. It is an ordinary person by day, but at night its torso separates from the lower part of the body and flies away in search of victims. It has to return before daylight to reattach itself to its lower body, or else it would never be able to make itself whole again.

According to folklore, the way to combat it is to look for the lower part of the body, from the waist down, and pour a mixture of salt and vinegar on it. That way the manananggal would never become whole again.


The manananggal is nothing but a myth. But believe it or not, in this modern age, many Filipinos still believe they exist, and whole communities are sometimes terrorized by rumors that a manananggal is flying about.

Tikbalang—Half man, half horse, probably adopted from the Western unicorn, the tikbalang is a harmless monster except that it scares its victims. It can run very fast and no human, even on horseback, can catch it.

Kapre—Also harmless beyond scaring its victims, the kapre is a giant, similar to the Western ogre, that sits atop a tree and smokes a big cigar. The glow of its cigar can be seen from afar. The only thing one can do is to stay away from the tree, go around it and leave it behind.

The elders use them to scare children against being naughty, warning them that the kapre would eat them if they misbehave.


Mangkukulam—Unlike the Western witches that wear black peaked hats and cloaks, have long, crooked noses and ride flying broomsticks, the Filipino witch, or mangkukulam, looks like any ordinary person. But he/she can cast a spell and make anybody sick. Indeed, when one is afflicted with any sickness that the local herbolario cannot explain, the usual diagnosis is “nakulam,” the victims is bewitched.

The cure is often worse than the disease. The victim would be beaten up or inflicted with other forms of punishment. It is the witch that is being punished, they say, and the victim himself does not feel anything, which of course is not true. When the mangkukulam can no longer bear the pain, according to belief, it will leave its victim.


The Filipino mangkukulam can be a witch-for-hire. A person can hire a witch to cast a spell on his/her enemy, or make a woman or man fall in love with him/her. The mangkukulam brews potions out of roots, leaves and herbs gathered in the forest. The potions can make anybody sick or fall in love with anybody. These he/she sells to customers who believe in them.

On the island of Siquijor, near Dumaguete City in the Visayas, the people there hold a “Mangkukulam Festival” on Good Friday, during which the alleged witches and warlocks of the province get together, gather leaves, roots and herbs from the forest and then, out of their collection, brew potions, which they sell to those gullible enough to buy them.

Aswang—Probably the Filipino version of the Western werewolf, the aswang is a man who takes the form of a big dog or pig at night. They supposedly smell out pregnant women and eat their unborn babies. That is why in rural areas, men guard houses where there are pregnant women against the aswang, which is supposed to sniff for victims under houses. So woe it is to any unlucky dog or pig who wanders under a house inside which there is a pregnant woman.

The weapon against the aswang is the buntot-page, the dried and barbed tail of the sting ray. When whipped with it, the aswang turns back into its human form.

Duwende—A dwarf, the enchanted small creature that we cannot see unless it chooses to show itself. There are two kinds of dwarf, the white and the good (as those in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”), and the black evil ones. The latter can play tricks on humans, but white dwarfs can make humans very rich by showing them hoards of gold.

Believe it or not, in this age, there are many supposedly educated Filipinos who still believe in the duwende, and among them are former presidential press secretaries.

Nuno sa punso—Literally, the “old man of the mound.” This is the small creature that in Western mythology sits on or under a toadstool, but in Philippine mythology, it sits on top of termite mounds. It is invisible and cantankerous, like any old person, and when you so much as touch its mound, the nuno would make you sick.

The way to avoid its anger, according to folklore, is to say out loud, while walking through the woods, “Excuse me, old man, I cannot see you, I am just passing through.”

Tiyanak—Still another malevolent dwarf. It takes the form of a baby and lures its victim deeper into the forest by crying like a baby. Following the cries, the victim goes deeper into the forest until he is hopelessly lost and cannot find his way out.

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The way to break the spell, according to folklore, is to wear your clothes inside out.

TAGS: Halloween, mythology, Philippines

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