Tag Archives: tabi tabi po

Tree People of the Philippines – Dwende

Text and Context

DA (informant) – We have the dwende in the Philippines (I think a lot of cultures have them, even Guam). They’re kinda like dwarves and they live in anthills, tree stumps, stuff like that, which is why growing up we were taught to ask for permission before entering the woods.
My mom told me my brother got really sick to the point that they had to go to the hospital, but they couldn’t tell what was up. Apparently he peed on a tree stump and it pissed off the dwende living under it and it cursed him. He was fine in the end though. (laughs)
Interviewer – How were you supposed to ask permission to enter? And what might happen if you didn’t? Similar to what your brother experienced?
DA – You would say, “Tabi tabi po” which basically means “excuse me.” And yeah, it’s so you don’t get cursed in case you happen to disturb their home by stepping on them or something.
Interviewer – Is there anything you can do to lift the curses of the dwende?
DA – Yeah! Witch doctors (in the Philippines: albularyo, in Guam: suruhanu). First they see what’s causing whatever you’re feeling. Usually with melted candle wax and a bowl of water: they let it drip and the hardened wax would form into who caused it. And they tell you what to do based on that. But I don’t really know much about this part.
DA – I remember whenever I got sick as a kid, my mom and my grandma would bring me to an albularyo. She would do this ritual with candles over my head, but I don’t remember much.


The informant was telling me about where they had grown up, including the Philippines and Guam, spurred on by an art project that drew upon magical creatures.
The dwende are little tree spirits who, if you disrespect, will cause harm to you, but if you are polite to them, they will leave you alone. I have heard similar stories of the tomten from my own Swedish heritage, who could cause trouble if the inhabitants of the house did not leave them offerings or respect the coexisting tompte.
Belief in the dwende demands respect and politeness for nature, as a dwende could be under any tree one passes. Dwende curses could be lifted by healers who had mastered traditional remedies and were also deeply woven into the traditional Filipino culture. There is a particular saying that can grant you access to these spaces without harm, which lets the dwende you mean no harm to them.