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 @ 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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