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.