The Aswang

“In the Philippines, there are three islands in the Philippines, and one of the islands, Luzon, are big believers in the Aswang. The Aswang is half vampire, half man. Man by morning, vampire by night. At night, he turns into his evil half and hunts for victims, especially children and pregnant women. You can see the Aswang if you see a half-body flying; the other half of the body stays on the ground. When it catches pregnant women, it eats the unborn child inside their stomach. This is based on an old Chinese myth. Because in China before, some emperors used to cut the stomach of pregnant women and eat their children so they can become immortal. The Aswang does this to become immortal and fully human. If you eat Filipino dumplings and ballout, it is similar to eating the unborn fetus of pregnant women. People in my province (Ilocos Norte) believe that the Aswang can be driven off from pregnant women and children by surrounding them with burnt animal horns and bagacay (bamboo). There are also ways to avoid them if you shoot a gun, wear garlic necklaces, or wear the cross (crucifix)…. Its funny because I saw it on the news, and they’re still searching for this Aswang thing. People seem to believe that it still exists.”

My informant comes from an island of the Philippines which believes largely in the Aswang myth. He heard it as a child from his parents who sought to instill fear in their children, so that they would not engage in any misconduct, such as going out at night. I recall hearing of the Aswang as a little girl from the informant during Halloween. The informant was dressed in a half vampire suit to resemble the mythological character. I had asked him to recite the piece again, and he was able to provide me the myth with a twist. That is, he told me about how it relates to a Chinese myth, which I have never heard before but found interesting. Even if he does not believe in this myth himself, he believes it serves some importance to the Filipino culture. He mentioned that there are distinct myths that are prevalent in each island of the Philippines. For instance, in Visayas, natives believe in werewolves. People of Mindanao believe in leprechauns. And people of Luzon believe in the Aswang. In a sense, the Aswang could be used to identify people based on the island they inhabit. The informant stated, “Everyone in Luzon will tell you that they know or even that they saw an Aswang.”

I found this myth and the informant’s explanation of the myth particularly compelling. It identifies with a large group of individuals, and it can help distinguish Filipino islanders based on the types of myths they associate with. Moreover, he gave a possible explanation for how the myth originated, which was thought to be from an older Chinese variant. This remarkably displays the idea that pieces of folklore can be represented in variations. The Aswang myth has become such a large part of identifying the people of Luzon as well as the Filipino culture that it has been instituted in popular culture. Movies both local and foreign have the Aswang in many horror and action films, which include Aswang (1994) , which is a foreign horror movie that features the aswang, and Maximo D. Ramos’ The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore (Phoenix Publications). Alternatively, having the Aswang appear on public media and forums can be used as a way for tourists who visit the islands to identify themselves with the Filipino culture, that is, by knowing their folklore.