Friday, October 24, 2008

Kapre: the Philippine Bigfoot

North America has the Bigfoot or the Sasquatch. The Himalayas have the Yeti. The Russians have the Almas and the Aussies have the Yowie. Here in the Philippines, we have the Kapre, our own version of the hairy, oversized not-quite-human-not-quite-ape being that's been the object of countless expeditions and hoaxes to date.

The UP Cultural Dictionary and Wikipedia says that "Kapre" is derived from the Arabic word "Kaffir" meaning "non-believer of Islam." The term was allegedly used by the Moors to describe the dark-skinned non-Muslim Dravidians. See, the moorish dynasties of the middle ages used to rule large swaths of land from South Asia to Northern Africa and as far north as the Iberian Peninsula.

So how did the term get here, half a world away?

Fact is, Spain, which ruled our country for 333 years was itself under muslim rule for 781 years. The syncretism of languages and cultures was thus inevitable. As for the pejorative use of the term Kapre/Cafre/Kaffir, it is alleged that we owe this to the Spanish penchant for demonizing people they deem undesirable. It all boils down to outdated color/race politics that serves to affirm the concept that dark people are sinister and should thus be shunned. It was said that the term was used to prevent Filipinos from associating with African slaves and other dark skinned people, indigenous or otherwise. Sounds familiar? This was the same technique they used to anathemize the dark-skinned Atis as well as local shamans or babaylans of Panay or any other people who cling to their culture in defiance of the Iberian rulers.

The Kapre is usually portrayed perched on a huge tree, mostly old, gnarly Banyan (locally known as Balete) trees with a huge, lit cigar in hand. The Kapre is the most un-cryptid-like among the previous examples I've mentioned. Unlike the yeti et. al., There has been no photographic evidence of the creature or even footprints and hair samples to work with. Testimonials from rural folk abound but no "smoking gun" has been found as of yet. Personally, I believe the kapre, if it does exist, is not really a cryptid animal. From the way the subject is approached here, people seem to agree that a kapre seems more of an elemental (nature spirit) than an unknown animal. Thus, the concept of Kapre is more in the realm of the supernatural than cryptozoology.

Although considered relatively harmless, Kapres can inflict harm and sickness if it wants to. There has been stories going around about Kapres leading people astray, driving them away forn their home or taking fancy on women and abducting them. Curiously, it has been noted that most alleged Kapre sighting involved trees: huge, old trees, not-so-old trees or any tree that's about to be cut (who would want a tree stump for a home?).

Not all kapres puff cigars, however. On the summit of Dolores, Quezon's Mount Cristobal a.k.a. "Devil 's Mountain" stories abound about a huge anthropoid "guardian" of the forest called Tumao. Tumao was described by locals as a huge, dark, hairy man with piercing eyes. He was rumored to dwell near the camping spot at the summit of the mountain which had a huge, age-old tree nearby. A friend of mine who recently visited the mountain agreed that Tumao's tree was huge but the hairy man wasn't there when they paid a courtesy call.

Personally, I believe that the legend of Tumao and the demonizing of Cristobal might have some historical links. What's ironic is, the demonizing tag could have been used against the people who only wanted freedom to practice their own brand of Catholic faith which was frowned upon by the peninsular-centric government of the time (even full-blooded Spaniards born in the Philippines were discriminated against at the time). In the mid 19th century, Mt.Cristobal and the nearby Banahaw Volcano became the refuge of thousands of Filipinos who were condemned and persecuted as "heretics" by the Spanish government. The group was led by Apolinario Dela Cruz a.k.a. "Hermano Pule" who wanted to be a priest and was refused by the Religious Orders in Manila for being an "indio" or a native. Hermano Pule set up his own religious group called the Cofradia de San Jose but the crackdown was swift and brutal. After initial victories, Hermano Pule's people were overwhelmed and slaughtered en masse although a few thousand managed to escape. The religious rebels who escaped and hid in the mountains were called all sorts of names like "remontados" or "ladrones" (mountain people, bandits). In a way, demonizing the mountain and the people who dwell there was sanctioned by the colonial government and they were partly successful in making the perception stick (in Mount Cristobal at least).

This goes to show that branding people who go against the status quo was a state policy during the Spanish era. Anyone who doesn't conform will be treated as an enemy or worse, avoided and ignored. It is fairly safe to assume thus that the collective memory of these people and events has evolved over time to account for some of the Philippines' local legends and myths as we know them.

Still, first-hand stories about these supernatural beings persist. Some of these stories can be explained in purely rational terms but some simply can be quite convincing to some extent. Since these things are "supernatural," their existence can run the whole gamut of possibilities from pure "mystical imaginings" to actual experiences that cannot be quantified or described by any existing scientific process. When something is branded outright as "Supernatural," the cryptozoological buck stops there and science (or pseudoscience if you may) can't go any further.

I'll relate some of those stories on a later post:)

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Thoughts on Myth and Reality

Pronunciation:
\ˈmith\
Function:
noun
Etymology:
Greek mythos
Date:
1830
1 a: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon b: parable , allegory
2 a
: a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone ; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society myth of individualism — Orde Coombs> b: an unfounded or false notion
3
: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence

4: the whole body of myths

Judging from M-W's definition above, our menagerie of beings, from the aswang to the nuno sa punso and everything else in between would definitely fall under the category of things with "imaginary or unverifiable existence."

I don't have any problem with that. Social norms agree that the belief of the majority should preside over the unfounded assertions of the few. In this day and age, very few people actually believe in the existence of the aswang, the mangkukulam, etc., and even fewer people claim to possess evidence pointing to the truth of these beings' existence, even in som
e of the Philippine 's remotest provinces. As the masses become more and more educated, people began to question old beliefs, superstitions and folk lore. A lot go by the dictum that "seeing is believing."

Careful, rational observation and studies have unclouded a lot of myths in the past few hundred years. Take the disease Malaria for example. In the olden times, people thought that Mal Aria, which literally means "bad air" in latin, was caused by the foul smell comin
g from stagnant bodies of water like moats or swamps. The debilitating chills and fever caused by Mal Aria afflicted mainly those people who live near such bodies of water leading to the classic cause=effect assumption that the foul smelling air itself causes the disease. It took the invention of the microscope for us to determine that microbes carried by mosquitoes breeding in stagnant pools were the real culprit. However the name "Mal Aria" has stuck, rendered a misnomer by the advances in medical science.

Creating assumptions from observable natural phenomena is a natural cognitive function. Much like a mental version of Pavlov's conditional reflex theory which essentially states that the presence of two variables preceding a corresponding effect can cause a subject to respond the same way in case one of the two variables (the dependent one) is removed. In short, we reduce everything to two things: cause and effect. Thus, the repeated presence of a presumed cause before a presumed effect will bolster out belief that the presumed cause is also the logical cause.

This is why preconceived notions play a vital role in the shaping or propagation of a myth. Take for example the Philippine Flying Foxes or Giant Fruitbats, some of which reach 5 foot wingspans. In a place were both the Bat (a reality) and the Manananggal (A myth) exists, it's fairly easy to mistake the reality for the myth. Factor in the element of dusk or darkness (where it's easy to mistake a large bat for anything sinister) and you have the perfect recipe for a folk horror story.

But would you do if you find someone who has supposedly seen a manananggal, and that person is say, reputable, has good knowledge of the fauna in his area, has good eyesight, and seeks no publicity whatsoever? Chances are you won't believe him but you will investigate further. Have you covered all the possibilities? Have you checked if he was inebriated at that time? Does schizophrenia run in his family? Is the area at the foot of an elevated hang-glider spot? Did someone lose a big umbrella that e
vening? Once you've satisfied all these questions, and more and yet the story stands on its own you have an Anomaly. Something that happened without dispute but can't be explained in orthodox scientific terms.

Having something anomalous is an invitation to come up with all sorts of crazy ideas and that's the fun part. what if these things really do exist? What if being a manananggal or an aswang is simply a malady unknown to science? What if Science is totally wrong and we really have a thriving menagerie of elementals or demons or monsters in our backyard? What if our age-old folk tales and belief in the occult and the paranormal is merely a form of mass hysteria, subconscious social control or plain uneducated misinterpretation? What is both science and superstition is wrong and there's a third, independently verifiable point of view on the matter? What then?

One thing is certain. Some myths or mythical creatures, however fantastical they sound, could have been derived from some sort of precursor reality which has been morphed, modified and distorted by society over time to fit the prevailing socio-eco-poli-cultural context. The concept of the "Aswang" can be explained in anthropological terms as a form of social control and a collective memory of the Spaniards' indictment of things indigenious or "pagan" in their attemps to spread Christianity in these islands since the 16th century.

Our fear of the unknown and the sick could also be partly responsible for the "aswang" concept. Take the case of the disease known as TDP or Torsion Dystonia of Panay. Victime of this neuro-muscular disease, to the uninitiated, would look like someone trying to morph or expel their inner demons. There is nothing demonic about this disease which is endemic to the island of Panay but somehow, the grotesque symptoms of the disease which includes involuntary muscular contractions and profuse saliva production
perfectly fits the concept of the anthropid "aswang" our parents or grannies or yaya from the provinces have been talking about every Good Friday or Halloween season.

This theory, however, does not explain the origins of the other "forms" of the Aswang which is known to take the shape of a huge pig, bird, cat or dog. Most people who reported aswang encounters reported seeing them in this configuration, like in the case of the boy who survived an alleged Aswang attack in 2004.

People can make all sorts of claims but they won't be able to establish the veracity of their sighting unless they have a photo or DNA-rich hair strand to back their claims. Conversely, people can't just debunk these stories outright without offering evidence that will eliminate the possibility of a hoax or mistake beyond reasonable doubt.

Just as
relying too much on science is an invitation to be arrogant, relying too much on superstition and myth makes a society utterly backward and ignorant. A learned man trained in the ways of science sometimes finds it easy to be smug and dismiss the mythical and the supernatural as a fabrication, misidentification or plain lunacy. I personally believe we must temper our reasoning with a sense of wonder and an open mind to ask "What if...?" in the face of strange questions that science cannot readily answer. As Jordan Clark* (director of the documovie Aswang: A journey into Myth) puts it, "I can't say that the person who claims to see an aswang is mistaken since I was not there." I'd say that's admirable for an outsider looking in to find the truth behind the lingering myth.

*Jordan Clark is currently in Panay Island filming his full length documentary about the "Aswang" phenomenon in the Philippines

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tikbalang?

One of the most popular and enduring mythical creatures in Filipino lore. The tikbalang is said to be a half human, half horse creature in the mold of the Greek Pan, that is, having an upper body of a human and lower limbs of a horse (check out my original drawing above ^). There are two known versions of the creature's appearance: the more popular and oft portrayed version has the tikbalang with the head of a horse while the lesser known version has it sporting a human visage. Both versions however agree that the tikbalang has unusually long, powerful legs that resemble the rear quarter of a horse, hooves and all.

Legend has it that whoever can ride the tikbalang and pluck the golden hair from its nape can tame the beast and make it a willing slave. In its element however, the tikbalang, powerful as it is ,does not hurt or kill people. At worst, it leads people astray and plays mischievous tricks on their senses.

As far as I know, the word tikbalang is universally understood throughout the Philippines although there might be other regional variations of its name that I don't know of. As for the etymology of the word, I'm not that sure, really. In tagalog, a balang is a locust. Of course, we all know that locusts have relatively long hind legs so I'm wondering if this has got something to do with the portrayal of the tikbalang as hunched over with legs folded, knees taller than its shoulders. It would sure look like an oversized locust somehow.

I know a couple of people who had tikbalang stories. One of them is my father. When he was a teener living in Antique he mentioned one particular night when two of his brothers were quarreling and socking each other outside their hut after a late evening drizzle. You can hear shouts and a dull thud here and there. After sometime, their mother broke up the fight and asked them to sleep away their tempers and change their clothes for the night. The two grudgingly obliged. A few hours later, there were dull thuds all over again, this time however, the sound shifted from one side of the house to the other. Father said the last time he checked, both his elder brothers were fast asleep, tired from their fisticuffs earlier. Who or what could be making the sound outside? He tried to sneak out of the back door to check but his mother, who was still awake and sitting near the window, stopped him and told him nonchalantly that he should stay inside as "there's a tikbalang outside". He obeyed and made sure that everyone was inside at the time. My father was the 7th of nine siblings by the way, and everyone except for himself and my grandma was fast asleep already.

Still the dull thud-thud-thud continued, one at a time on each side of the house. He describe the sound as akin to the sound of the heavy pestle used for separating the rice chaff from the grain. He was forbidden even to sneak a peak at the window so he can only imagine what it looked like. Apart from the dull thuds, there was no other sound to hear except the stridulation of crickets and cicadas. He fell asleep to the sound of the "tikbalang" jumping like crazy outside.

The next morning he woke up to find that their neighbors and relatives were all milling around a strange sight: huge hoof impressions, each the size of ripe coconut littered each side of the house. the impressions came in pairs and overlapped each other. Each mark was several inches deep and filled with rainwater from last night's drizzle. No one owned a horse in the barrio and not even a thoroughbred bronco can make impressions that big. It's clearly not a buffalo's since the hoof is not cloven in the middle. Whatever made those impressions would be immensely bigger and heftier than a carabao or a horse judging from the depth and size of the impressions. The fact that the impressions came in pairs suggest a bipedal creature left those marks. Granting that this thing had legs proportionate to a horse and the torso of a human relative to its legs, it could've easily scraped the ceiling at around 10-15 feet tall.

Unfortunately, no one had a camera at the time. Which was understandable considering that the area was so poor at the time some students had to walk unshod to and from school just to make their precious "bakya" last longer. Umbrellas were expensive and were almost unknown so if it rained, people used banana leaves instead. The blessings of Tesla's electricity still hasn't reached those parts yet (this was in the early 60's).

What was the tikbalang's business jumping over the roof at those late hours? What it did was similar to the Filipino chidren's game called "Luksong Tinik" lit. "Jumping Thorns" but its motives were never known. Tikbalangs have been known to be playful and mischievous so it's anybody's guess.

I only wish I was there. I could've punched a small hole on the wall and taken a peek, but after a night of rains (cloudy sky, no moon, no electricity) I don't think I can make out much, if anything at all.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Classes stopped as ‘possessed' students alarm Mindoro school

By Madonna Virola
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 18:42:00 08/20/2008

CALAPAN CITY, Philippines—Classes in a public high school here have been disrupted since August 8 after about 25 students were “possessed” by evil spirits, a school official said Wednesday.

The allegedly haunted students of Pedro Panaligan Memorial National High School experienced "seizures", shortness of breath and were shouting in pain, which generated hysteria in the campus, said school principal Henry Tungol.

Located in the village of Communal, about 50 meters away from the highway, the school has a population of 692 students and has graduates who became scholars and honor students in college, according to school officials.

In past years, there were one or two cases of "seizure" reported but in the last week of July, as many as 25 students were reported having "seizures," Tungol said.

From August 8 until August 19, classes were disrupted because of the disturbances, and other students were joining in the hysteria, he added.

School officials even invited local healers, who "offered" two black pigs to drive away the bad spirits, to no avail.

Affected students have pointed to evil spirits angered by the cutting of a 30- to 40-year-old tree at the backyard of the campus building.

"But that was three or four years ago," said Tungol, now on his sixth year as school head.

A Mass was also conducted in the campus by Fr. Ed Fabella, president of the Divine Word College of Calapan, upon request of some students.

"Periodical exams were postponed on August 14 to 15 and students don't obey our advice to stay home until things return to normal," said Tungol.

One girl told her guardian that it was boring in the house and she was observed pensive with a blank stare and had seizure attacks in the house, he said.

"I even saw a student with patches of pieces of ... intermediate paper on the head and drops of candle wax on the feet after treatment by the faith healer," said the principal.

Tungol said the cases seemed all the more puzzling for the school community as the priest and local faith healers did not seem able to deal with the "spirits."

Due to the worsening cases of "seizure" the school administration is appealing for help from experts.

Asked if they had plans to seek help from the Department of Health or other medical practitioners regarding the case of the children, Tungol said they have yet to do so.

"We're open to whatever will be effective and will heal the students. We want our classes to return to normal as soon as possible," said Tungol.

He asked the cooperation of parents and guardians to be part of the solution and talk with their children.

He also cautioned the public against sensationalizing the issue.


source: Inquirer.net


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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Philippine UFO: is there such a thing?

Unlike Mexico, Russia or the US, the Philippines doesn't make the headlines for CNN or FOX News when it comes to alleged UFO sightings. I guess geographically, we are just not as significant as the countries I mentioned earlier. Looking at Google Earth, the Philippines looks like a speck compared to the huge chunks of Russian and American territory sprawled across the face of the globe. More land means more cities and bigger populations. Bigger population means an increased probability of spotting an anomalous flying thing when one goes whizzing by.

Globally, UFO is oftentimes connected to conspiracy theories ranging from the usual alien visitation concept to the more complex US Gov't - Nazi scientists collusion or Reptilians-taking-over-the-world theories. In short, high technology and multi-layered historical cover ups dominate the field. Hereabouts, we're more preoccupied I guess with our Malayan heritage of spooks and critters, shamans and witches that adds a subtle mask of fear to our daily material existence. We don't look to the skies in search of alien phenomena. Instead, we lock our doors and keep our pregnant or sick kinsmen and women close by for fear of an Aswang or Tiktik visitation.

The Philippines is where the concept of Aswang flies the friendly (night) skies.

James Randi, the world-famous illusionist and debunker who, at one time, clashed with our very own Jimmy Licauco, (Mr. Inner Mind himself) lived by the rule of Occam's Razor which postulated that the simplest explanation for everything is usually the closest to the truth. This rule proved effective in exposing and debunking several acts of magic that made us hold our breath but I digress. All I want to say is, it would be very interesting to see Mr. Randi himself offering simple explanations for our menagerie of monsters which has had such a pervasive effect on the Filipino psyche.

So we're all monsters and no UFOs right?

Wrong.

I stumbled upon this video of an alleged UFO, shot in Las Pinas, south of Manila. Tony Israel, the person who shot the video gives a short statement prior to footage of the strange phenomena being shown. Have a look-see and judge for yourself.

Have a look-see and judge for yourself.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Manananggal or Wakwak

The subject of countless movies here in the Philippines, the Manananggal is another type of evil creature in the same league as the Aswang. Legend says the Manananggal is a pretty woman by day that transforms into a vicious, half bodied, viscera-eating monster by nightfall. It is said that the Manananggal will sneak out of her house near midnight to hide in the bushes, or maybe a grove of banana trees. There she rubs her body with a certain type of oil and minutes later, she will sprout bat-like wings and her body gets cut at the waist. The body from the navel down will stay rooted on the spot while the top half will fly around looking for something to eat. With its acute sense of smell, it can smell a sick person or a pregnant woman even miles away.

In some areas in the Philippines particulary the Visayas, the locals call it the Wakwak. The Wakwak is so named for the sound its wing makes while hovering or flying. In the movies it is normally portrayed as flying in an upright position. My father who grew up in Antique, in the island of Panay, says this is not so. He has a relative who saw a Wakwak flying over a bamboo grove. Dad's kin says with all lucidity and sobriety that the thing flew upside down. I just can't imagine the aerodynamics involved with a position like that but it does make sense if you think of a bird out to hunt in the night. It woud be easier to see the big picture if your head hangs below like the gunsights of a bomber plane.

My wife told me that some time ago a group of kids and some elderly menfolk saw what they think was a manananggal here in our little municipality of Pateros. The thing, they said looked like a big umbrella hanging from one of the electrical posts around 7 in the evening. One of the kids saw it and threw stones at it. One of the elders cautioned the kids to stop throwing lest they broke a neighbor's window. When the man looked up, he was terrified as the "umbrella" unfolded to reveal a face and arms. The thing quickly flew away and the kids (and the men) ran in the opposite direction.

I haven't seen a Manananggal (Heck , I'd give everything to see one) nor did my father but my mother has seen one in her teens, out in the rice fields, back in her hometown of Dulag in Eastern Leyte. I can still remember my mother talking about it matter-of-factly. She said she worked alone on the fields and lost all track of time until it was dusk. She was then preparing to untether the buffalo so they can both go home - which was about a kilometer of thick bushes and rice paddies away. She said she had just lit her bamboo torch when she heard the sound that went "Wak...Wak...Wak...Wak..." She unsheathed her bolo (a long machete-like knife) and looked up and around. My mother is a strong woman even at a young age but what she saw unnerved her. She said she saw what she thought was a large, tawny looking bird with sharp, black talons just a few feet above her head. Its flapping wings disturbed the leaves and brushes for yards around. That would've been scary enough when you are alone and it's nightfall and you still have to walk through unlit parts to get home. What struck her though was the looks of the creature's head. She says the thing had a pretty humanoid and feminine face with yellow curly hair. She described its face as looking "like a doll." Its wings were that of a bird, not a bat. And she says by the dancing light of the torches she can tell the thing is staring at her with cold, grey eyes. Mustering all her courage she tried to shoo it away using the torch and bolo. The Wakwak flew away.

That was the first and the last time she saw a Manananggal/Wakwak but to this day, she insists that a Manananggal is different from a Wakwak.

I wouldn't know. I just hope I can see and photograph one nowadays. That'll give the Enquirer a run for it's money hehe.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Philippines - A Cryptid Farm

The Philippines has a colorful menagerie of cryptids that have endured over the ages. From orb-like beings to humanoid creatures, name it, we have it. Here's a partial list of some of the cryptids and mythological beings that I can recall from the top of my mind:


It is worthy to note that to some extent, some of these cryptids seem to share a common linguistic, if not cultural origin with those of our Southeast Asian neighbors. Although the meaning might be different, there are some near-cognates among the many words used for some of the famous cryptids we have here and elsewhere in Southeast asia. Our very own manananggal has a counterpart called Penanggal or Penanggalan in Malaysia. The root word of both words would be the Filipino "Tanggal" and Malaysian "Tanggal" which means "to detach." Other phonetic parallels would be the Philippine "Tianak/Tiyanak" and the Malay "Pontianak."

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Aswang - a primer

The Aswang is one of the more pervasive folkloric concepts in Philippine culture. In terms of popularity, it is the Philippine equivalent of the Western Werewolf/Vampire. It is difficult to encapsulate in one sentence what an aswang is but a lot of people across different ethnicites agree on a lot of things about it : (1) that its diet consists mainly of human liver and blood, (2) that it has an unholy preference for unborn children. (3) that it is also known to prey upon children and sick people. On a broader sense, the term Aswang can be used to denote the entire menagerie of evil beings in Philippine folklore. On a stricter sense however, the Aswang is a human being that can change shape at will without severing any part of its body. Thus, the half-bodied flier called the Manananggal is strictly different from the Aswang. A subspecies perhaps?

As a shape shifter it can take any of the following forms:

  • Humanoid - Mostly upright but sometimes crawls on all fours. The body can be covered by black, coarse, quill like hair. Skin color can be black to ashen gray. The body can be oily as well due to the application of an unknown kind of grease or coconut oil concoction usually before stalking their prey. In this configuration, they normally crawl on the floor or the immediate space outside or they lay prone on the roofs or gables, looking for a peephole or "lick hole" where they can drop their highly prehensile tongue/proboscis that reportedly has the looks and consistency of vermicelli and the dexterity of a human hand. This tongue can inflict sickness or death on its victims which are usually sick people, children and pregnant women.
  • Canine - An aswang can appear as a large, menacing dog with coarse, black hair and flaming red eyes. They normally stalk the roadsides but has been reported to roam the cities on occasion. Its huge size and wild hair reminds one of a jackal out for a kill. Normal house dogs normally hide, howl or flee when they see an aswang in this form. Animal senses are way sharper than ours.
  • Porcine - By far the most common aswang configuration in the Philippines (most aswang witnesses reported seeing them in this form), essentially just a scaled up pig with the basic characteristics of the first two forms of aswang. Their arrival is heralded by snorting and gnashing of teeth characteristic of a domestic speed. Only their sheer size gives them away.
  • Avian - Sometimes called Tiktik, this is one of the most sinister looking configurations of the Philippine aswang. Outwardly, it will looke like a large, man-sized vulture or raven. Apart from its great size, a dead give away would be its unusual ability to fly low and slow, without the wings visibly flapping, even when the wind is still. This was the exact observation of a compadre of mine who saw what he thinks was an aswang flying low over a public schoolhouse in Bulacan several years back. He was with his schoolmate at the time.
  • Feline - one of the least common aswang forms. An aswang in cat form can range in size from that of a Siamese Cat to that of a Ocelot or Jaguar. A suspected aswang in this form was reportedly caught many years ago in a town in Antique, according to my father. It was tied up, placed in a sack and beaten up and speared and hauled to the town plaza. When the folk opened the sack to show it to the townspeople, they saw a dead mestiza/creole woman wth long flowing brown hair. Apparently a scion of a wealthy family of European extraction from the next town.
For many years, the province of Capiz, has earned the unflattering reputation of "aswang country." Much of the reason for this will be the ethnolinguistic spats between inhabitants of Capiz and nearby Iloilo province. For the most part, some Filipinos claim that the "real" hub of aswangs is Duenas town in Iloilo which is a geographical neighbor of Capiz. Duenas is reputed to be the home of one "Tinyente Gimo (Lieutenant Gimo)" whose clan was the oldest and biggest clan of aswang in the province and perhaps, the Philippines. None of these stories have been fully substantiated, however.

Fabrication or not, this story serves to illustrate the enduring belief that being an Aswang runs in the family or bloodline. It is also said that an old Aswang cannot die unless his ability is passed on to the next generation. That's because the Aswang's power is a black chick or stone that they puke out just before death. The successor is supposed to swallow this chick/stone to spare his elder from the agony of perpetualy hovering between life and death. A successful turn over of the Aswang "amulet" ensures a speedy peaceful death for the older Aswang.

Most academics and westerners believe that the Aswang can be rationally explained in historical and sociological terms. Some say that in the process of conquering these islands 400 years ago, the Spaniards demonized and anathemized those who refused to abandon their old belief systems in favor of Christianity. These pagans who avoided the conquered coastlines and went up the mountains were easily stereotyped and this became the root cause of the Aswang belief. The funny thing is, the same belief systems seem to be endemic in non-Spanish conquered Southeast Asia where the Aswang goes by a plethora of different names with eerily similar descriptions. Can this be a product of colonialism then? I guess that's what we're here to find out.

In most parts of the Visayan islands, however, they are treated as one of the realities of living in the countryside. Well into the 21st century, people still keep garlic and sharp bronze implements inside their homes to ward off Aswang attacks. Some sleep with knives under their pillows while some keep a Stingray tail whip handy just in case.

I am hoping to complie more material on this topic as we go along.

Sorry if I don't have drawings, much less pictures to accompany this article, I'll make some drawings as one as soon as I get hold of a good graphic tablet. If you guys have any additional information or Aswang pictures feel free to email me @ magnusatthva@gmail.com or post your thoughts below:)

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Growing up in the shadows

Although I was born and raised in Manila, I grew up hearing a lot of creepy stories from people around me, mostly my parents and neighbors who immigrated from the provinces. Superstition was as much a part of Philippine culture as the ubiquitous jeepney and I've had my fair share of superstitious beliefs I acquired during those times. Belief in the supernatural runs in our family just like most other people I know yet I never spoke about it outside the house. Back in those days when the slumping Philippine economy meant 12 hour blackouts were the norm, listening to creepy stories by candle light was one of my more engaging past times, well that is, after the brownouts made a fishkill out of my humble, oxygen deprived aquarium fishes.

It wasn't all new age for me though. I also grew up reading science books and watching David Attenborough's  Life on Earth series since I was 4 or 5 I think. For some weird reason, I did not believe this conflicted with our belief that we had little friends inside the house. Crazy as it sounds, my parents, with the suggestion of a medium-friend named Rose, told us that we have 2 little white dwarves living with us. A boy and a girl. Me and my siblings were told that we should invite those two little people whenever we're eating, and that having them on our side would bring us good luck. Sometimes, we were encouraged to actually leave food on strategic places inside the house to appease the dwarves when someone gets sick. If the dwarves accepted the offer, you'd know it because the food will be gone when you come back to check it. One time though, my mom caught Rose eating the food offerings. That was the last time I saw her.

That was also the last time I whispered an invite to our "dwarves."

In retrospect, the whole affair was a sham but getting to know Rose and other faith healers/medium introduced me to the world of the supernatural -- and Fake Healers. This was the first time I heard about the "Third Eye," the "Laman Lupa(s)" (nature elementals), "Duwende(s)"(dwarves), "Aswang(s) ( Vampires / ghouls / shapeshifters ) and "Kulam" (witchcraft). All throughout the whole experience, I was going to a Catholic School and we went to church every Sunday just like every good Catholic. There never was a conflict between our chosen faith and the strange things we believe in. As for me, I believed some of the stories but I questioned most of them, especially those dwarves because I never saw them or felt their presence unlike what the people around me claim. Sure, I have poor eyesight but that shouldn't stop me from experiencing them if they really exist, thinking in retrospect.

As for the other stories, some of them are first hand accounts from my parents, which I always questioned from a rational perspective. even though all through the years, their stories never changed in the slightest. Most of these stories would range from encounters with strange cryptids like "Kapre"(ogre), "Manananggal" (half-bodied viscera sucker) to strange phenomena like the "Santelmo" (Saint Elmo's Fire), demonic apparitions and spirits and ghosts. Their stories were mostly mentioned in passing but some were only revealed after intense cajoling from me and my two elder sisters. I would never be in a position to judge whether what they experienced was true or not but some of their stories would send a chill up my spine even now that I'm older and a lot more skeptical. If only for purposes of entertainment and cultural insight, I'd preserve these myths and stories in this blog.

And did my parents believe what they saw? They say they did, but they told us to be more afraid of people with guns because they're infinitely a lot more dangerous.

Makes practical sense.

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What is The Moonlit Window?

The Moonlit Window is a quick glimpse at out-of-this-world stuff I've come across during the past 30 years of my life here at the P.I. For the most part, this blog consists of things that defy our picture of a predictable, structured reality: paranormal things, creepy folklore, myths and strange objects, events and phenomena that a lot of people will find hard to accept and believe based on conventional wisdom and scientific reasoning.

The Philippines is a strange melting pot of cultures and beliefs. Superstition is sometimes taken as seriously as religion and almost anyone, from the remotest barrios to the most affluent communities in the cities has a weird or a paranormal tale to tell. I'm a bit of a skeptic but there is a part of me that believes the wind doesn't have to be seen for us to know it's there. In the meantime, here's my share and take on these subjects.

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