Informant: In the philippines, we believe in these creatures called dwendes, and they’re basically creatures- they could be in the form of- i don’t know, goblins, dwarves, little people, and you can’t see them, but there’s been talk of people being able to see them. They hide, in places like molehills or dark places in your house, trees, under rocks, and so the saying goes that they exist in our country, and they primarily like kids and enjoy playing with them. There are stories that say when we see kids laughing or moving their hands, that’s the Dwendes playing with them. But, there’s also fear of them because they can also be associated with misfortunes, so to speak. For example, there’s an association that you might step on them, and so when you’re walking around in places that are super dark, or perhaps tall grass or rocks, then you actually say “tabe tabe po”, which in our language means, “excuse me, sorry, can you move to the side? I’m walking in this space and I don’t want to get in your way.” So basically, giving them notice because you could step on them, and if you step on them, you could actually have misfortune. So sometimes, people will say stories where they got sick because they were walking at night, and you’re walking at an unfamiliar place, and you can get sick because you step on them.

Informant: Not all of them are good- they say some of them are good dwendes and some of them are bad.  You can get sick off them, and they have to call one of those- I call them witchcraft but that’s not what they call them- they call them healers, and these people think these people are healers, and they have to do a ceremony on you to get rid of them- because people think that there are evil spirits on you.

Informant: One time, one of the visits I made, I went with my cousins somewhere dark, and I thought what they were doing (saying “tabe tabe bo”) was ridiculous, and literally the next day I got super sick. And, my family was like, “Oh my god, you stepped on one!” And so they called the healer and had to do something on my stomach- I felt like I had a stomach flu because, you know, I had unfiltered water, which in a third world country you would obviously get sick from, but they were like “You stepped on a Dwende, and we need to call someone”. And I think a lot of it- people believe in it because they live in a very rural countryside, a lot of these myths are real, and a lot of them don’t have a higher education- so they’re not really educated to understand how things work- how they get ill, and what they associate with that.


The informant is Filipino, but she comes from Vancouver, Canada. She has been in the US for over 20 years.


Dwendes (seemingly more commonly spelled as “duendes”) are something I assumed would be an originally Filipino tradition that changed and transfigured during the Spanish conquest. However, I was surprised to learn that the name originated in Spanish folklore, making them something which was transferred during the process of transculturation.

The way the informant describes the healer that they had to work with makes me think about the divide between US culture and Filipino culture in regards to folk practices, such as medicine. As we are a forward thinking society, we tend to place far more reliance on the medical system and institutional medical practices, we tend to forego older folk methods and ideas about the causes for these infections. So, there’s likely some culture shock in places where they are unable to rely on the same medical practices the United States can. Thus, there is also culture shock when these practices and superstitions actually come into play.

While it’s unlikely that the informant actually stepped on a Dwende, the legend could be a way of telling people to be careful in dangerous or hard to navigate places, which would inevitably help some people if there happens to be some unclean water or resource that brings about sickness if you try to navigate such terrain. In regards to the nature of the expression “tabe tabe bo”, it could also be a way of encouraging courtesy, as it associates the phrase with safety and good health.