Tag Archives: filipino folklore

Filipino Funeral Etiquette

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 24
Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: Another story is something that happened to my dad when he was at a funeral. I guess the folklore part is that, uh, when you’re at a funeral, you shouldn’t be, ah, like, overly, I guess, happy-looking? Because it’s disrespectful to the dead, um, and, well, the way it goes is if you do that, then the dead person at the funeral will haunt you.

Um, so when my dad was at this funeral, I think it was a funeral– I don’t know if he knew the person, but he was with, ah, his own family members, and they were goofing around, i think they were like gambling in the back, while the funeral was going on. So, ah, that was happening, and then, all of a sudden, the, ah, corpse stood up– or not stood up, sat up in the coffin, and then it stared at my dad and his group, and I can’t remember if he said it screamed or not, but essentially it, after staring at them, it fell back down.

Collector: Do you know why it happened??

Informant: Well, because, ah, they were gambling at this person’s funeral! Because it was possessed by the ghost of the dead person, presumably. 

The worst part of it was that, uh, yeah, basically like a bit of a curse placed on them,, ah, I can’t remember what my dad said for the other people who were there, but he said for like a month, whenever he would, ah, close his eyes and try to sleep, he would get like flashes of the face of the dead person, just like staring at them. 

Context: My informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino American young man. His father is an immigrant from the Philippines, and has extended family still living there.

Analysis: I wish I had had the chance to interview my informant’s father about this experience, as he apparently had personally witnessed it. It is interesting that when I asked my informant why this happened, he answered as if it was obvious– because his father had disrespected the deceased. This piece of folklore seems to act as a warning to never disrespect the dead at their own funeral.

Filipino Leprechauns

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 24
Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: Ok so , in the Philippines, ah, the way leprechauns show up, is ah, they’re these, like, really dark-skinned, short people, that–that have really bright, like, teeth, right? So when you see them at night, and when they smile, its kind of like the cheshire cat? Yeah, so, umm, basically, whenever you see one you don’t want to mess with them because, if you, uh, hurt them in any way, they’ll most likely attack you in the middle of the night.

Collector: Will they kill you? Will they eat you?

Informant: They won’t eat you, but if like, you could die from it, so for example, the story that happened to my dad’s relative, he saw a leprechaun, and then he smacked it with a shovel. And then, ah, the very next day, my relative’s back just started hurting out of nowhere, and it basically bedrid him, and then, yeah, he died later. 

Context: My informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino American young man. His father is an immigrant from the Philippines, and has extended family still living there.

Analysis: At first, when my informant named the entity as a “leprechaun,” I was momentarily confused, and could think only of a stereotypical Irish leprechaun, complete with a red beard and green suit. The image I was thinking of is entirely different from what my informant told me, namely the dark skin and bright teeth. My informant recalled that these entities were found largely in more rural areas of the Philippines, and so it was often smaller towns or villages that experienced leprechauns. Though it is unclear what would have happened if the relative had not hit it with a shovel, what is clear is that because of that, the relative was bedridden, and died shortly afterwards. While searching the USC Online Archive, I found another post regarding Filipino dwarves– could this be another version of the leprechaun?

Filipino Dwarves post: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=36181

Tao Po– Filipino Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 23
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Piece:

Informant: I heard another one, I don’t know if this, like, is a Tagalog thing, but like, um, if you have someone come into your house, and you say, oh, um, you knock on the door and you say, like, tao po, like, oh, I’m a person. So, like, like–

Informant’s mother: Tao Po, Tao Po

Informant: Yeah, cuz it’s like, the whole thing is like, you’re not supposed to let spirits in, so it’s like, “Hey, I’m a person, let me in!” 

Informant’s mother: Yeah, that’s right, so y’know, normally you just knock or doorbell, right, so when you’re entering a house, you will knock and you will say tao po.

Collector: To make sure you’re not letting in a spirit? 

Informant’s mother: Yeah, yeah.

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino-American young woman. Though she does not herself speak Tagalog, she can understand much of it. Her mother, a Filipino immigrant who has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, also joined the conversation. 

Analysis: This belief assumes that there are other entities wandering about knocking on doors, which makes it necessary to declare your personhood at the front door. Once I did some online research, I found that this is now used as a general greeting, and seems to have left behind its supernatural origin. I believe it speaks volumes about the number of superstitious folk beliefs that still permeate everyday living, despite the Philippines now being primarily Catholic or Muslim. When I asked other Filipino friends about this, many reported back that it was mostly a Tagalog thing, and that Ilocano people generally did not say it.

Filipino Utensil Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 57
Occupation: Healthcare Receptionist
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Piece:

Informant: So what I remember is, like, y’know, like that one, if you drop a utensil, either like, a fork– if you drop a fork on the floor, then they were saying that you’re gonna have a visitor, it’s gonna be a male. And if it’s, ah, a spoon, then it’s gonna be female.

Collector: Do you know why, like, the fork and the spoon have genders?

Informant: Yeah, it’s kinda like, the fork kinda like, represents the male, y’know, and then– if it’s like the little spoon, then the young, young, yeah, young girl. And then if it’s the little fork, it’s like young boy. Y’know, something like that, so it doesn’t have an age or anything.

Collector: Right, right, where did you pick this up, just like–?

Informant: Yeah, I heard it from the people, y’know, like, my relatives, and folks in the Philippines, y’know–

Collector: Where in the Philippines are you from?

Informant: Um, I’m from Cavite City. Yeah, it’s like an hour away from Manila.

Context: The informant is the mother of a close friend of mine, and is an immigrant from the Philippines. She has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, while still maintaining close connections with her home country. After the interview, the informant then recalled a past incident in which she had dropped a fork minutes before her daughter’s boyfriend came for a surprise visit. 

Analysis: This particular omen, as she mentioned, she had picked up from not only her relatives, but the general folk as well, suggesting that it is a household belief. While transcribing the interview, I searched the internet for more information of who participates in this belief. One thing I noticed is that when I searched up the phrase “dropping spoon company,” the only sites I found that mentioned it were at least ten years old, the latest being posted in 2010. However, when I searched up “dropping spoon Philippines,” there were far more results, most of them posted much more recently. Nearly all of them involved lists of Filipino superstitions, which were then posted on Filipino websites. One could reasonably assume that many of these lists were written by younger people, and from there, infer that this belief is still very much alive. 

Overall, this omen, though a minor thing, seems now to be a point of pride for many Filipino people. This pride could be an enactment of “cultural intimacy,” which Michael Herzfeld describes as “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered as a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with the assurance of common sociality”. Though perhaps not too embarrassing, this belief is certainly not a proven fact by any means, and so could be seen as superstitious or outdated. Despite this, many Filipino people seem to regard it as an identity marker, given its inclusion in many lists entitled “You know you’re Filipino when..” 

Herzfeld, M. (2005). Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. New York: Routledge.


Filipino Folklore: The Maligno

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 29
Occupation:
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 5/1/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

The informant is a Filipino American woman in her late twenties. I asked her if she knew any stories or folklore from either friends or possibly any folklore from her family and her culture. She mentioned her mother knew many stories about spirits and creatures in the Philippines. The main piece is told in her own words:

The Main Piece:

So, my cousin’s friend decided to set up an apartment for drafting for their upcoming architecture firm. Her friend apparently had a sixth sense, looked out the window, saw a tree in the neighbor’s yard, and suddenly left and didn’t want to return. Apparently, she said there was a tree full of Maligno. My mom said it was a bad area.

Background:

The informant knows this piece from her family and folklore from her own culture. She is Filipino and her mother shared these stories with her and her siblings. She states, “My mom told us about this story while we were in the Philippines. We were visiting some of the old houses where my mom and relatives grew up, which were supposedly haunted. One of the houses had some crazy scratches on the wood floors and little footprint markings. The she started talking about folklore and how they could have been made.” She says it’s interesting because the stories explain what happens when certain areas create bad feelings or if someone has a certain ailment, certain creatures in the Philippines are responsible for them.

Notes:

Namaligno is a term used by Filipinos for someone being affected by something magical or supernatural. Maligno are spirits that haunt places or people. They can also disguise themselves as regular people. If the Maligno takes a liking to a certain individual, it can cause harm to them. For example, in the Philippines, when someone comes down with a sickness or ailment, it is because the Maligno is attached to that individual. Filipinos believe that certain diseases can be caused by the intervention of a magical or supernatural entity. This is usually due to a disease, sickness or ailment that cannot be explained or has no apparent cause. An example of this is Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome, a common occurrence in the Philippines. Due to the lack of explanation as to how people die from this, Filipinos will connect the cause to Malignos. It is an interesting concept because we, as humans, always need and explanation for things. The unknown is an unsatisfactory answer for why certain things happen, so to cope with the unexplained, we search for reasons why. This would explain how in many different cultures, there are creatures or spirits that are to blame for unexplained phenomena.

 

 

For another version/story of Maligno, check out: http://phspirits.com/maligno/

Philippino Folklore: Pagtatawas, Mantanda sa Punso and Engkantos

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 29
Occupation:
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 5/1/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

The informant is a Filipino American woman in her late twenties. I asked her if she knew any stories or folklore from either friends or possibly any folklore from her family and her culture. She mentioned her mother knew many stories about spirits and creatures in the Philippines. The main piece is told in her own words:

Main Piece:

My mom said there was a point in her life when she always used to be sick with a fever, after she was newly married. Her aunt said she should go back to her hometown to have a Pagtatawas done. Which is a divination ritual in Filipino Psychology. You would allow heated alum or melted candle wax to drip into a bowl of water to make shapes. Those shapes are interpreted and used to diagnose the affliction or disorder. They thought she stepped on a Matanda sa Punso (they’re like little dwarves or gnomes) or something and was sort of being cursed by one. They called someone who performed these kinds of rituals to figure out what was causing her to get sick, and they started describing a place where my mom started getting sick, but not why. Later, she was at her aunt’s place, who sees a lot of these different creatures. She called my mom over and said she’s being followed by an Engkanto and it followed her there. My mom was told if she wanted it to go away to ask it to leave and stop scaring her. Apparently the Engkanto talked to her aunt and described the place where it started following my mom and it was the place the other person described before. It said it was entertained with my mom. Supposedly they’re male versions of what are fairies in the Philippines and are meant to be malevolent and attractive. Apparently, her aunt would sometimes appear to be randomly talking to seemingly no one. That same day my mom says her aunt was talking to someone and was surprised by what she was being told. She said something to the effect of, “Wow! Is that really true???” She said someone was pregnant, and my mom thought she was talking about her. But she was talking to another aunt who was had already gone through menopause. It turns out, that aunt really was pregnant. She had just thought she was putting on weight.

Background:

While visiting with some relatives in the Philippines, the informant was in the kitchen at the dinner table with her mother and cousins and the conversation about someone her cousin knew, experiencing fevers. The informant’s mother, then shared her story about having experienced fevers as well.

Notes:

According to A Handbook on Filipino Folklore by Mellie Leandicho Lopez, Matanda sa Punso are earth spirits. Parents use them as a way to quiet their crying or whining child claiming that the spirits will be angry because they won’t be able to sleep due to the crying. This is similar to other cultures having some form of spirit that will come for the child if they don’t stop crying or misbehaving. It is interesting how in many cultures, parents will use these spirits to instill fear in their children to get them to behave. Engkantos are much like the Matanda sa Punso in that they are environmental spirits however, they take on a human form. They cause ailments in humans like depression or confusion. They are said to be rather attractive but usually have a flaw, for example, a handsome man but with pointy ears or unusual legs.

Filipino Ensisit,

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino
Age: 26
Occupation:
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 5/1/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

The informant is a 26-year-old male of Filipino descent. He will be referred to as DY. DY and his family lived in Hawaii for a time, and he currently resides in California. His piece of folklore comes from a story shared by a family member and is described in the main piece in his own words:

Main piece:

Ensisit are these little dwarf people in the Philippines that live under the ground and in the forests. They would travel around on banana leaves. I remember being told as a kid that they would hide in the trees and were typically seen as healers and they were very select at choosing who would share in this gift with them. My mom told me how my grandma would leave in the middle the night to be with them and people would typically go to her for help whenever they were sick, because they know that she was given the gift. Although the Ensisit do heal, they are very territorial and if you do anything to damage their little houses, you would fall ill. My cousin went to the Philippines when we were younger and was playing outside when she got sick out of nowhere and my family believed it was because she stepped on one of their houses so my family went through this whole ordeal where they placed offerings out as a sign of forgiveness in hopes that they would take back whatever they gave my cousin and it ended up working.

Background:

The folklore was told to him when he was younger by a cousin who experienced the event firsthand. DY finds the story very interesting but doesn’t know whether he believes in them or not since he was not there to experience it himself.

 

Notes:

This piece of folklore makes me think about the creation of these creatures to explain the unexplainable. DY’s cousin got sick while playing outside. The sickness seemed to have come out of nowhere which the family could not explain. Their conclusion was that the child must have upset the Ensisit which in turn caused the sickness. The family then left offerings for the creatures to ask for forgiveness and remove the sickness, which worked. This then perpetuates the belief in the creatures when in fact, their child could have gotten over the sickness naturally. I was unable to find stories about creatures called Ensisit, however, creatures similar to this are called Duwende. They are described as little gnome creatures that live in the trees and sometimes in the walls of houses and can be very mischievous. In the Philippines, families will often leave offerings outside their home, so they won’t be angry with them. It’s interesting that these creatures are called different things as I have another informant who calls them Matanda sa punso. These are also like the gnomes, usually male, and live on ant hills.

Long Noodles, Long Life

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Notre Dame, Indiana
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/16/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context/Background: The informant is a first-gen Filipino-American whose family has engaged in a wide range of customs throughout her life. One specifically pertains to food and one’s lifespan which she learned from her family.

“Yeah, so a Filipino… maybe Asian… tradition is to eat long noodles on your birthday for long life. So Even if you go out to dinner for your birthday, you HAVE to eat long noodles in order to have a long and fulfilling life.” (Informant)

 Analysis/Interpretation: When I first heard of this tradition I thought it seemed like a nice practice where one could find a clear state of mind when consuming their bowl representing a long life on a birthday. I looked into this more after speaking directly to the informant and found a large presence of this tradition in Chinese culture where participants eat yi mein, known as “longevity noodles.” I found it interesting that these noodles were being compared to cakes in some aspects because these noodles are such an integral aspect of birthdays in Chinese culture. Seeing how these specific aspects of birthdays in varying cultures are so integrated, caused me to wonder how other cultures perceive American birthday traditions such as cake and blowing out candles.

 

For further information on other forms of food for with significance, refer to

China Highlights. (1998-2019). The Symbolism of Chinese Foods. Retrieved from https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/chinese-food-symbolism.htm

 

Asuang

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Northridge, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 17, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you believe in ghosts?

CS: Aha! Bitch. Ha! I believe in ghosts hella! Do you? Look at that scratch. Look at that scratch. Look at those DOTS! (Shows me several marks on her arm) Where did these come from?

ZM: Your nails. (She has long nails)

CS: What nails make four dots that look like that?

ZM: That is weird. I don’t know. You should look at astrology, like…

CS: I’m haunted. Um, there’s like a Filipino ghost that I’m like lowkey scared of.

ZM: What do you mean?

CS: His name is Asuang. It’s fucking scary. So, um, what I was told was that, he eats children that stay up late, but it’s like a real thing.

ZM: Asuang? Does it mean anything or is that just a name?

CS: No, it’s just like they named it that. And, (lowers voice) Asian people really like, like scary movies and I’m just really fucked up about this. But, um, so, it’s like a, like a shapeshifting monster that like if you’re out past your bedtime, like if you disobey your parents, they’ll like leave you out in the cold and he’ll… He like has… Like what I was told, is that he has like a giant tongue and that he’ll like creep up on you. You’re not supposed to… He’ll like knock on your door, you’re not supposed to answer it. If you answer it, he’ll like… sort of like an anaconda, just like… get you. What is…? Not anaconda.

ZM: Oh, it’s like… um constrictor. Boa constrictor.

CS: Yeah! Like a boa constrictor with his tongue. And he like appears as like different things cause he’s a shapeshifter. So if you do anything bad, or like you disobey anybody, or like you’re just like sinning, he’ll like, he’ll befriend you in normal life. And then he’ll HAUNT you AT NIGHT. Cause he’s a SHAPESHIFTER! And it’s literally, so scary. Ugh! It’s so scary. (Pulls up a picture) LOOK! LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH!

ZM: Ohhh no.

CS: LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH! They love children, Hoe. They love children.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: No, yeah, so my ass stayed in the house. Past ten o’clock? I didn’t leave. I didn’t even go downstairs. I stayed in my room. I was literally. fucking. petrified. And like, my dad would like joke around with me, like he would literally like, we’d be upstairs in our room in the Philippines, cause like they (Asuang) don’t come to America. They’re only in the Philippines.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: Yeah. Like, it’s only there. They only haunt the Philippines. So when I was… I used to go a lot. Umm, my dad would play. He would be like… I would be upstairs in my room. Cause I have a room there. Cause I was there a lot. And I’d be in my room, chillin, in bed, 9:45, I’m out, like I’m not going downstairs. I’m not going in the dark. You got me fucked up if you think I’m gonna go downstairs and fuck with that demon. And my dad went, “Go get me ice cream, from the kitchen.” I’d say, “No. No no no. You can go get yourself ice cream.” And then he’d leave, close the door, and he’ll leave and start banging on it. Or he’d like make really loud footsteps, or he’d go like this (rapidly scratches table) He would really fuck with me. He really like… He didn’t like me. (laughs) He tried to kill me. Like I swear to god. I was like shivering.

ZM: So is it only kids? Like could he (the dad) go down and like totally be fine?

CS: No, yeah. He only, he only eats kids. Once you hit like, teens, you’re good. So I’m not scared anymore. But, they’re real.

ZM: No longer scared of Asuang (laughs)

CS: THEY’RE. REAL. No, cause like the thing is, I used to have nightmares about this. Like, I imagined Asuang as like…giant white tongue, and like sort of like Slender Man, like black everything like super like nondescript figure except very distinct white tongue that would just come and then like wrap around you and take you away and eat you. And like thing about it is like, they eat your heart first. They go for the heart. And then they just leave you to die in the forest.

ZM: Dang. I’m scared of Asuang.

CS: But yeah, that’s the shit that I was scared of. Asuang fucking murdered my whole childhood. No, like I would legit… Like if I was in the Philippines I would have like nightmares because I wasn’t the greatest kid. Like, I’m not kidding you, my grandparents, if we would go shopping and there was glass around. Like if we were in like the food section, I was the only child who was mandated to walk like this (folds both arms behind her back) I wasn’t allowed to touch shit. Like, and I was… Me and my brother were the only ones. We had to…If there was anything breakable, we’d have to walk in the store like this. So, I wasn’t a great kid. So they said, “Asuang’s gonna get you.”

ZM: They told you all the Asuang stories.

CS: They told me all the time! They were…Every night, they were like, “Oh you better behave. Go up, go to bed by your bedtime tonight. Do you want to die?” And, yeah. So, that’s how my childhood was ruined by my grandparents, and my parents, and my older cousins, and everyone who wanted to fuck with me. Cause I believed that shit. And I still believe that shit. But, I’m too old now. They can’t get me. I’m 20. I’m 20 bitch. I’m invincible now. (laughs)

ZM: (laughs) Asuang comes and gets you…

CS: (laughs) Don’t. play. I’m not a kid anymore! The thing is, the younger they are (children) the more they (Asuang) like them. So like, they’re more pure. So like, fetuses… That shit’s good. They like fetuses.

ZM: But they’re innocent tho… So, isn’t that like kinda counterintuitive?

CS: I think, I think it’s also part of the reason like why like miscarriages, like it was… Sort of like…

ZM: Like Asuang came and got their…

CS: Like the parent did something. So like if you’re a parent whose caring for a child and you fuck up… You’re kinda fucked. But, they can’t punish you. So, they punish your kids. Fuck that, right? I’m not having kids. Cause my kids…Aha! Dead. I won’t get through one pregnancy, Hoe. (laughs) But, yeah. So, the younger they are… So I was like five. Prime time Asuang hunting season. I was between the ages of like three and six. They love that age. Soooo…. Clllkk. I was almost dead. I swear to you, I almost died. Fuck, Filipino culture’s kinda wild.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed gold coins laying around on various coffee tables and such. A few days later I asked her about them and this continuation of the conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis: The story of Asuang was pretty terrifying. I can’t imagine being told this as a child. From the use described by CS it was mostly used by parents to keep their children in line. I was fascinated by how even though CS acknowledges that it was a story of manipulation used by parents and that she is now too old to be eaten by Asuang, she is still very afraid of him. Unlike other horror stories that kids usually grow out of later and realize that they’re made up stories, she still firmly believes in Asuang. His mythical characteristics do not shake her belief, it only makes her more afraid of his capabilities.

 

 

 

 

Aswang

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino
Age: 21
Occupation: Civil Engineer
Residence: Hawaii/Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 26, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

The 21-year-old informant was born in the Philippines, but moved to the U.S. at the age of 9. As ghosts and other mythical creatures play a large role in Filipino culture, the informant recounts personal stories and myths that she encountered during her time in the Philippines.

Informant: “I remember hearing about this when I was little… It’s one of the most common Filipino monsters. They’re shape-shifters who are human by day, and then at night, turn into a bat.

Collector: “What’s it called?”

I: “Aswang. A-s-w-a-n-g. Uhm, what I’ve heard about them is they like to go to pregnant womens’ homes, like right on top of where their room is, and just like, eat their child from there.”

C: “Do they turn into a bat when they do it?”

I: “Yeah they turn into a bat. It’s like half-woman, half-bat, and they go after babies.”