Context: X is a 20 year old Filipino American college student who spent the first seven years of childhood living in the Philippines, before moving with his close family to California. The piece was collected over an audio call.
Intv: “Can you think of any, like, ghost stories, or urban legends from the Philippines?”
X: “Probably the most famous one is the aswang, typically depicted as a vampire but can also be a ghoul/were-beast or something of the sort and like to kill and devour humans dead or alive. Can also be a witch but that’s not as common. Their strength is severely reduced during daytime/in sunlight so we tend to fill our wakes/funerals with candles and leave some on the grave after to protect the wake/corpse from being attacked. They are a very varied monster because of how varied the cultures of the 3 main islands and even the tinier islands inside of them are, but the most common one is basically bat-like ghouls/vampires”
Intv: “Where specifically in the Philippines were you told about the aswang?”
X: “So my (dad’s) family that told me most of the folklore lived in the very southern tip of the Province of Pangasinan (used to be in north Zambales before territory changes) in a village/town named Nayom and we primarily saw them as ghoul-bat creatures that range from monstrous looking to almost humanoid not really a definite one shape (not too sure if this is the only thing my family thought but that’s what they told me as a kid). Filipino media typically depict them as ghoul-bat vampires still but some of them could transform to look just like a really pale human.”
Analysis: I find it interesting how all across the Philippines they have many different stories of the aswang, going so far as to have the aswang often being viewed as different things across different cultures. The friend that I interviewed also informed me that he believes that it’s known as a man/bat creature where he’s from because of the golden crowned flying fox bat, which is native to the Philippines and X argues the tale of the aswang comes from before our knowledge of the bat as a species and therefore has been misidentified in the past.
CONTEXT/BACKGROUND: The interlocutor (JP) is the mother of the interviewer (INT). She and her family grew up in Bacolod, Philippines, and lived there up until she moved to Los Angeles in her twenties.
DESCRIPTION: (told in person) (JP): “The manananggal is this mythical creature that separates from their lower body. She usually has fangs and wings, like um… a vampire witch, and she likes to hunt for her victims at night.
Most of her victims are pregnant people since she can such the blood or heart out of the fetuses, or, um…. or even the mother, but she also will attack newlyweds and abandoned grooms. A lot of people who fear the manananggal will put out salt, holy water, or garlic to keep her away from their home. She also doesn’t like the sun, I think.
Some people say that since the manananggal leaves her severed legs just standing in the middle of the forest… if you see the legs, you should sprinkle salt or ashes or even put garlic where the body is supposed to meet. And they say that…if you do that, you will kill her.”
FINAL THOUGHTS/OBSERVATIONS: There’s a lot of similarities between the manananggal and other monsters and legendary figures we’ve studied, such as the Balkan vampire. While there may not be a distinct cultural connection, it’s definitely interesting how different cultures can come up with similar mythical creatures that are meant to scare people. It definitely reflects the cultural fears people have. In this case, based on the fact that the manananggal is represented as a woman with the ability to suck blood or eat fetus hearts, I believe the manananggal could possibly reflect a fear of miscarriages or other issues regarding childbirth, as well as divorce or young relationships being ruined.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.