Author Archives: Melissa Leu

Superstition – Philippines

“There are these forest gnomes that live in the forest in the Philippines. And um… You can tell where they live if there’s a hill of dirt that’s a bit higher than everything else. And when you go by them you’re supposed to be really, really respectful and say ‘Excuse me. I’m just walking by. I don’t mean any harm,’ even if you’re not doing anything, or no one said anything, or you’re not sure. You’re just supposed to do it. One of the stories I saw on the Philippines news channel, they showed this kid and he had these huge swollen lips. You could hardly see his eyes. He was speaking to reporters and he said that he was walking by the hills and his friend told him that you’re supposed to say sorry and he said, ‘No, I’m not. I don’t care. I don’t believe in that stuff.’ Then the next day he woke up with a tumor on his face. Not so much as a tumor, but as his lips were super swollen. It looked like someone blasted air into his lips. Like super Botox.”
Bernadette learned of the forest gnomes when she was around 10 in San Francisco, California. She remembers specifically that her mother told her after watching the story of the young boy on the Philippines news channel. She was confused as to what was happening in the newscast and so her mother explained to her about the Filipino superstition. Bernadette was also traveling to the Philippines that summer, and believes that her mother was trying to warn her of the dangers beforehand.

Since both she and her mother are very superstitious people, Bernadette says that they would tell other people about the forest gnomes who are going to the Philippines for the first time, especially those traveling to rural areas where forests are very prevalent. It is not meant to invoke fear, but as a word of warning to those new to Filipino culture.

This superstition is widely believed by both Filipino adults and children. All age groups tend to follow it as well as contribute to its spread. According to Bernadette, most people who live in the rural areas know about the forest gnomes, but probably less people hear of them in the major cities because they are more removed from the situation.
Bernadette also said that the superstition has a lot to do with the respect imbued in Filipino culture. She says that Filipinos tend to have a high respect for the higher powers of the universe, which might have spawned the superstition. The mounds of dirt are just physical manifestations of the unknown.

I think that this superstition probably has a lot to do with the location of the Philippines. Since a lot of the terrain in the Philippines is forest, there should be no wonder why some folklore has been generated concerned with this topic. The fact that the superstition has even penetrated mainstream news in the Philippines demonstrates how superstition plays into their everyday lives. Filipinos find evidence to support their superstitions, no matter how irrational they may sound. Although I personally do not believe in the superstition and believe there is probably a scientific explanation to the tumor on the young boy’s lips, I think that I would probably follow the superstition anyways if I were in the Philippines just because I would rather be on the safe side than face the consequences.

Folk Belief – Philippines

“Manananggal means “self-remover in Tagalog. So Manananggal is a monster that our parents would always threaten us with. ummm. Well, they would threaten us with it when it would have to do with like being curious at night or wandering around in the dark and they would talk about how the Manananggal would come and suck our blood. About the only way to keep her away would be to throw garlic or salt at her. Our grandma in the Philippines would actually keep garlic and salt at the door, so that made it more real. They’re supposed to be very beautiful women in the daytime that lure men into their caves, so that at night they can turn into the Manananggal and suck their blood. They don’t survive in their monster form during the daytime, and then at night they look for prey by removing their head. Their head comes out of their body cavity and swallows their internal organs, which are preserved by vinegar, which by the way in the Philippines if a beautiful woman smells very strongly of vinegar, you should probably stay away from her. My parents also told me that the Manananggal also eats dogs and pigs, so if you don’t take care of them, then the Manananggal will eat them. They have wings, so they can fly down and swoop you away. A major superstition surrounding the Manananggal is that you can’t talk about them. Especially in the Philippines, the Manananggal is thought of as a stigma. People are instilled with the fear as a child that just saying the word ‘Manananggal’ will call the monster to the person. Sometimes they also call it the Aswang, but Aswang is like the club of monsters. Within the Aswang there are the Manananggal and forest gnomes and other monsters.”
Bernadette told me that she has heard this story ever since she was very young while growing up in a Filipino household in San Francisco, California. She claims that as she grew older and began to ask her parents more questions, the story became more elaborate. For example, instead of being limited to devouring people, the Manananggal also ate beloved pets.

She now feels like her parents used it as a ploy to scare her into following their orders. They would only need to use the name of the Manananggal to evoke fear. Bernadette reports that her parents often said, “Hala! The Manananggal is going to get you!” In Tagalog, “hala” means to watch out or be careful, which demonstrates how the Manananggal is linked with danger.

While the story was often used to caution young children against reckless behavior, Bernadette said it was most often brought up right before she would travel to the Philippines. In the Philippines, adults would tell her to be careful because the Manananggal might come and sweep her up. Apparently, the Manananggal only exists there. However, the story still carries some weight in America, though not as much. Bernadette says the Manananggal story is taken less seriously, probably because the U.S. is so far removed from the Philippines. She says that the creature probably just never made it overseas. It is something more to laugh about with friends and used as a bonding mechanism in America. Since most Filipino-Americans are familiar with the story and the scare tactics their parents used on them, they are able to bond over similar childhood experiences.
This story is often told to scare children into obedience. Parents legitimize the story of the Manananggal by providing “friend of a friend” stories that back up their claims. Bernadette says the Manananggal is similar to Bigfoot in America, where people hear of other people having firsthand experiences with it, but are not really sure if the monster really exists. It even gets on the news in the Philippines. All of this serves as evidence to support a story that promote fear in Filipino children. To this day, Bernadette believes in the Manananggal; if not out of fear, then for safety. She said that she has heard many more stories that have supported the idea of the Manananggal then not.

Bernadette also catalogues this story for use with her younger relatives, mainly her cousins. Also told usually right before leaving for the Philippines, she says she tells them to warn them as well as to scare them. “I would usually say something like ‘if anything happens, then it is probably because you angered the Manananggal.’” Of course, part of what makes scaring children appealing is that it is also fun to see their reactions.

I agree with Bernadette that this story is probably told with the primary motive of scaring young children. However, I am a little bit more skeptical of the actual existence of the monster than she is, probably because I myself have not encountered any realistic stories that lend credence to the story. Especially since Bernadette told me that Filipino culture is very superstitious, I am less likely to be scared.

I can understand how this story could possibly come about. Bernadette told me that in the Philippines, many children tend to run amok in the streets. She thinks that the Manananggal was probably created so that children don’t wander around at night because there could be other more tangible dangers. Simultaneously, I also think that it has lost its power in America because the rules here are more rigid about children. Not to say that children are safer in America, but there have been more regulations that have been in place since Filipinos have arrived. The origins of Manananggal can probably be traced from long ago, when laws and restrictions were not as prevalent.

The Manananggal or various forms of it are also mentioned in Hannah Brown’s “The Superstitious Life of the Filipino.” She collected folklore from school children in the Philippines in 1928, which resulted in two stories similar to the Manananggal. The first collection says, “A dead person left alone before burial will be eaten by the “Asuang,” a mystical monster.” It mentions the Asuang as a monster that eats dead people, slightly different then the Manananggal, but still fairly similar in dieting patterns. The second collection talks about the Breehas, a closer relative to the Manananggal sharing slightly more characteristics. “‘The Breehas’ are beautiful vampires who live in Visayan Islands. A man married one but he didn’t know it. However, he noticed that his wife always went out of doors at the stroke of midnight. So he went out and watched her. He saw his wife kill a person by sucking that person’s blood. After this, the upper part of her body flew into the sky. When she returned, she couldn’t find the lower half. Her husband had destroyed it by placing vinegar, ashes, and ginger on it. The wife died.” The key difference in this story is that the monster is destroyed at the end. This record demonstrates that this piece of folklore has been around for generations and that folklore does go through various stages of variation and multiplicity.

Annotation: Brown, Hannah P. “The Superstitious Life of the Filipino.” Western Folklore 16 (1957): 29-36. JSTOR.

Community Folklore – San Francisco

“There’s this guy that’s known for standing behind large objects, like poles or like trashcans and even trees. Around Pier 39, which is umm.. a really big tourist attraction. He’s usually holding like really big branches with leaves on them and he’s usually trying to hide himself behind it. The humor is that you can definitely see him behind the branches. When people pass by him, he tries to scare them and 90% of the time it works. Usually, he draws crowds from across the street to watch him, so people are usually watching him, but at the same time ‘not watching him’ scare unsuspecting bystanders. People tip him on occasion, and it’s said that he makes over $40,000 a year throughout the year and the government doesn’t take any of his money. There have been documentaries made out of him. Definitely, because he makes a living off of scaring stupid people. He usually just does this at during the day when the tourists are around. He doesn’t really do it at night. I hear about reports of people hitting him, just from being really scared. I heard he was offered a TV show, but he turned it down. He’s a really big deal in San Francisco.”

The Bushman is a street entertainer in San Francisco, who hides behind a fake self-made bush and scares innocent people passing by his domain. He is considered by San Francisco residents as a sort side attraction, and can almost be considered part of the city. Bernadette said that he was supposedly homeless before, but now makes his career off of scaring the tourists in San Francisco.

She remembers that her first encounter with the Bushman was when she was around 14. Bernadette was going into the city with her family, when her brother-in-law pointed the Bushman out. She was at Pier 39, near a restaurant looking out towards the pier, when he saw the Bushman lunge into action. Because she saw him prey on other people, she was careful to not be a victim herself. Later on, Bernadette said that she would hear more stories about the Bushman from the television and when she went with other people to the area.

Bernadette said that she would tell other people about the Bushman mainly if they were visiting San Francisco. However, she said that she probably would not tell them before letting them experience the scare firsthand. She would find an excuse to take them there and walk by where he waits. After the scare, she said it would be appropriate to provide a background story. The Bushman would also come up in conversations about San Francisco and the unique tourist attractions.

Although hiding behind a bush might have started out as a get-rich-quick scheme, Bernadette says that the Bushman has turned into more of a landmark, a self-made tourist attraction. “If anybody tried to take him down, I think it would be an insult to San Franciscans.” She said. He has become an attraction and a part of the community. Bernadette said that the people who complain about him take the whole joke too seriously. He is just out to get a couple of laughs.

If I was ever “bushed,” I do not think that I would be angry. Yet, I do see the problem some people would have with what can be loosely associated with harassment. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bushman, legally known as David Johnson, had been charged with a few misdemeanors for scaring people, which were later dropped to allow his scare tactics to  continue to plague Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I do, however, think that his idea is less than original, considering all the other look-alikes, fake statues, and people dressed up in random costumes displaying their “talents” at tourist attractions. Though I do think the fact that he draws crowds to watch him in action says something about the voyeurism prevalent in American culture. With shows like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Candid Camera,” it is no surprise why a Bushman, who simply sits in wait of his next victim, is able to capture so much media attention that there have even been documentaries made about him. Although the Bushman may just see his “jobs” as a harmless prank, his success is one of the many forms of perversity in American culture. He is a legendary figure that has spawned many stories as well as factual accounts of his eccentric activities.

Annotation: Mattier, Phillip, and Andrew Ross. “Bushman of Fisherman’s Wharf Gets the Last

Ugga-Bugga.” San Francisco Chronicle 7 Apr. 2004. 16 Feb. 2008 <>.

Proverb – India

“Mokkai Vangani Mrani Vanguna”

If it does not bend as a sapling, will it when it is a tree?

Anisha said that she learned this proverb as a child growing up in an Indian household in Cerritos, California. She told me that she learned it from her father. She said that since he went to an English medium school that he would must have learned it when he went to elementary school in India. The source of the proverb probably lies somewhere in Southern India, where Anisha’s family is originally from.

Anisha explained that the proverb basically means that children who are naughty and unable to follow the general rules of conduct will only steadily get worse as they grow older and continue to misbehave. The sapling represents the malleable child, while the tree represents the hardened adult. She said the proverb is pretty straightforward and means pretty much what it states. “If you don’t change bad habits early on, they become worse and harder to kick.” The proverb acts as a sort of encouragement for children to change their maladaptive ways

She said that her parents use this proverb most when she is in trouble, particularly when it has something to do with bad habits. When her parents are especially angry or disappointed in her actions, they point to this proverb to try and correct her. Her brother and sister are also told this proverb constantly in the same context and for the same reasons. Anisha said that this proverb would generally be used most in this context to warn children to correct their behaviors or face severe punishment.

Her parents only say the actual proverb to her on occasion, but she said that they reiterate the concept of the phrase everyday. Despite actually being in question form, the proverb is always said in a statement form, which makes it more of a rhetorical question. She said that a good example of when they actually use the proverb would be when she talks back to her parents. They would cite this proverb and go on to remind her that she should not turn her argumentative ways into permanent habits. Although Anisha doesn’t like it when her parents use this phrase, she thinks that it makes a lot of sense and agrees in the context in which it is used.

This proverb is also mentioned in Vishwanath Narawane’s Proverbs of India. The book published various Indian texts with both English and Hindi translations. Their English translation says, “If as a sapling, it doesn’t bend, would it bend when it becomes a tree?” Although there is no section describing the meaning behind the proverb, I agree with Anisha in that the message is very clear. The proverb can be easily interpreted as a phrase put in the parent’s arsenal to change the poor behavior of children.

This proverb can also be applied to modern life quite easily. For example, chain smokers usually start when they are in their teens. Once they become addicted, they usually are not able to stop on their own, especially when it has been a few years since they began smoking. Regarded as a bad habit, smoking is more difficult to quit as an adult than as a teenager. In America, the equivalent proverb would be, “It is better to nip it in the bud.” It is better to change early on than to let behaviors be set in stone.

Annotation: Narawane, Vishwanath D. Bh-Arat-Iya Kah-Avata SanGraha =: Proverbs of India. Triveni SanGama, BhaSha: Proverbs, Indic, 1983.

Contemporary Legend – USA

“There is like that one urban legend. A lot of people know this one. Umm… supposedly, if you flash someone with your high beams to put on their headlights at night, it supposedly could be a gang initiation, because gang members are supposed to drive with their lights off. And so they are supposed to run those people that flash them off the road.”

Katherine said that she heard this story during her elementary school years, when she was around 11 or 12. She attended St. Brendan School, located in Los Angeles, where she said her friends probably told her the story while on the school playground. Later, when she was older, Katherine saw the story play out in the movie “Urban Legend.” She said the story was especially popular after this movie. She also received a chain letter through email that spread the story. Katherine said that she does not remember the specific time in which she learned of the legend, but pinpointed it to sometime during the 1990’s. At the time, everyone talked about the irrational fear of getting assaulted by a gang member.

This legend has been spread through a variety of ways. In general, the story is told while in a car and someone sees another car with his or her headlights of, thus spawning the appropriate warning. Katherine said it would also be suitable to tell this story when a group of people are talking about gangs or urban legends.

This legend is not exclusive to any one cultural group. It can be told in basically any context. People of all ages were aware of this story, despite not actually knowing anyone who had that happen to them.

Katherine does not believe in the story and believes it is just an urban legend created to scare innocent people. However, the story still sits in the back her head when she sees a car without headlights on. Although she is doubtful of the truthfulness of the story, she said that she is still often hesitant to flash someone and would rather not take her chances.

I had heard of this legend before as well, and had actually taken this piece of advice to heart. However, upon closer inspection, the story does not seem to hold up as well as I thought it would. In the September 24, 1993 issue of the Los Angeles Times, an article reported faxes being sent all across Southern California making claims about a “Blood initiation weekend,” where prospective gang members in Los Angeles would drive around with their headlights turned off and shoot to death those who high beamed them as a courtesy warning. The article goes on to say that the transmissions were deemed a hoax in which the perpetrator had been detained.

After finding concrete evidence that this ritual simply was not true, I realized that the legend probably stemmed from other areas of the United States and had been changed enough that it could be applied locally. Since gang activity in Los Angeles is quite high, it would be easy to draw on the fear evoked by these groups to make the story believable. Logically, it is against a gang’s best interest to publicize a “blood initiation” because the fear would spark a closer investigation on their activities. But despite the irrationality, I think that this urban legend is particularly far reaching and continuously transmitted (at least 15 years now) because it draws on easily applicable situations. Many residents of Los Angeles can quickly relate to flashing other drivers on the road to turn on their lights, which puts them personally in the victim position.

Annotation: Merl, Jean. “Fax Warnings of Gang Initiation Rite Are a Hoax, Authorities Say :[Home Edition]. ” Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext)  [Los Angeles, Calif.] 24  Sep. 1993,3. Los Angeles Times.