Aswangs and Other Spooky Myths in the Philippines

 

Scary Monsters, Fake AND Imaginary

 

The Philippines is well-known for it’s aswangs and other spooky critters, and surprisingly you will find that your lady and her Filipino adult relatives may also take aswangs and other mythical creatures seriously.

Australia and other countries have their folk-beliefs and funny little stories too. Elves, goblins, trolls under bridges, leprechauns, fairies, witches that put children in ovens and fly on broomsticks. Goodness me, there are a few when I think of it. Aquatic spookies like Loch Ness Monsters, mermaids and probably a few others. Oh, and there are yetis, abominable snowmen and the big-footed thing. 

And I won’t get started on the Australian indigenous stories, or someone will get offended! I DO gather though that Australian critters like bunyips that hang around waterholes are something that the adults don’t actually believe in! The stories are there to stop kids getting drowned. “Don’t go down there, boy! The bunyip will get you!” Therefore they had a practical purpose. I imagine that most fear-of-unknown stories were to stop kids wandering off into dark woods, or off into the night, or anywhere near water. Stranger-danger and it’s most basic responses. 

 

aswangs, kapre, dwende, wak wak and other Filipino myths

 

Difference between Australia and Philippines

 

Difference between how Australians and Filipinos view myths and scary stories about monsters? I’m not sure if the Irish have genuinely believed in leprechauns in recent history, but I would think that it would be a very unusual Australian who actually believed any of it. A grownup Aussie who was scared of trolls under a bridge? Not too likely!

Philippines? I’ve been a bit shocked over the years when I’ve met otherwise intelligent and mature Filipinos who’ve believed in mythological creatures. Adults who’ve told me they believed there was a Kapre in the tree down the back at work, or thought the half-woman / half-snake in Robinsons in Manila (the one that ate customers in the change rooms) was real. 

I try to be respectful, but I’m a bit blunt about spooky things because I’ve seen terrified children who’ve been told about various monsters by adults who either DO believe in them or just enjoy scaring kids! Yes, there are small-minded individuals who think scaring 6 year olds is hilarious! And having had to sooth and calm screaming kids who are worried that an aswang was going to get in the window while they slept, I fail to see the funny side. And I’d like to warn new parents of Filipino kids in Australian Filipina relationships who care about their emotional health to be aware of horrible stories and their effects on children and to do your best to keep them away from tender ears. 

 

Aswangs and other assorted spooky things

 

There are a whole array of these things, and I will only list some of the more common ones.

 

Aswang

These are the most well-known and feared spooky. And it seems there are several variations, which I won’t bore you with.

They basically get around at night and attack people. Some of them split in half and fly around leaving the waist-down section somewhere. They return to their lower-half later. Some just eat human flesh, whilst others just like certain organs. Pregnant ladies are terrified of the one with the long tongue that will eat the foetus out of their uterus during the night. The exceptionally long tongue will enter via the bellybutton and eat the baby out of the womb!

You can deal with this thing if you follow the wisdom of Bogart the Explorer HERE

 

Ghosts, mumu’s, white ladies etc

Just your standard ghost fear that exists everywhere. Spirits of dead people who are hanging around and are cranky. They steal and/or kill babies and small children etc. Mumu’s seem to be especially dangerous to children, whereas not sure what White Ladies do. I think they’re just a bit creepy. Who wants to bump into a faceless dead lady at night? It seems to be the sworn duty of older siblings to warn the younger ones about Mumu’s. A good habit to break!

 

Kapre

These are hairy men who live in trees and smoke cigars! Seriously! Not sure they actually do anything other than be a bit smelly, not to mention the effects of passive smoking!

 

Duwende or Dwende

Little people with funny hats. Like elves, I suppose. They live in amongst the trees and like sitting on anthills (immune to ant bites?). Not especially scary, but are pervaders of good luck or bad luck if you annoy them (like urinating on ant hills!) Polite to say “Tabi-tabi po!” when you pass some trees, which makes them happy little chappies. I suspect they may be Telly Tubbies, actually! Perhaps the expression should be “Telly Tubbie Po”?

Breaking news! I just learned that my daughter Remy used to kick over anthills on purpose (when she was much younger), and made most of the family angry with her for such audacity. I’m delighted, of course!

 

Mangkukulam

Witches, basically. Nasty-tempered, mean old ladies who cast spells which can be deadly. They may live in the neighbourhood, or off in the hills somewhere. Long grey hair, and fairly untidy and smelly. Get them offside and they will certainly put a curse on you, or you may hire them if you want them to put a curse on someone else. Imagine many an eccentric widow gets gossiped about and has local kids scared of her for this, and if you hear of it I hope you put a stop to it

 

How to deal with Filipino myth fears

 

Should you deal with these beliefs? Or should you leave it alone?

My opinion! Yes, deal with them! Why? Because I don’t think anything that causes fear….especially in children….is a good thing. Kids should feel safe at home, and it’s the duty of decent adults to protect them from being terrified. I had a 9 year old arrive in Australia and found her terrified at night. Needed to sleep in our room until she was over her fears (thanks to a persistent Dad!) Am I being insulting to Filipino culture? I hope you can see that I just hate seeing scared kids!

Question from 9 year old daughter: “Does my room have a window?” YES. “OH NOOOOOO!!!!!”

Poor kid had been terrified all her life by low-life uncles and aunties who thought it was funny to scare a little girl and make every night a fearful ordeal. Those people are lucky I didn’t catch up with them at the time, or they would have wished it was just an aswang! But I digress……

Nothing good ever comes from telling kids stuff like this. If you married a Filipina single mum? And if you brought a child or children from Philippines to Australia on a Child Visa or Partner Visa? You have a duty to make them ALL feel safe (including wives, who may also have fears), so the sooner you help dispel these destructive myths, the better. Let’s see some of the things I used with my daughter and with other kids whom I’ve taken over fatherly duties for over the years. I’ve used a combination of intelligent argument and humour.

 

  1. Where are the photos? This is the age where everyone has a phone with a camera in their hands. How is it that no one snapped an aswang on their neighbours roof?? Why does a google image search show up nothing but artists depictions, movie actors or fairly lousy makeup jobs? 
  2. Where do they buy clothes? Where are the outfits with buttons, velcro, zippers along the middle so they can split apart stylishly and with ease? Or the funny little hats that duwendes wear? 
  3. Shops with aswang food? Dried or frozen organs, or maybe snack packs for the peckish aswang? And has anyone ever seen a 9′ hairy fellow in the cigar shop?
  4. To those who profess Christian faith: How can they possibly believe in God and Jesus Christ the Saviour if they also think some primitive spooky-story character is going to eviscerate them during the night? How can both beliefs coexist, especially when one lot of stories came from an extremely uneducated past?
  5. And assure them you can take care of your family! Promise them that IF such a critter turned up outside her window, they would have DAD to deal with! You would send them packing, with the impression of your boot in their puwets!
  6. There are no Aswang Visas, Duwende Visas, etc to Australia! Tell them to take Jeff Harvie’s word for it! No one has heard of these spookies in Australia. We have enough trouble with drop-bears, hairy-legged spiders and snakes that can bowl over a carthorse, not to mention politicians and the tax-man. The Brisbane Broncos would take out even the scariest of Kapre too if one got in. Visa application forms ask “Are you an Aswang?” and a lengthy list of other scary critters. They might hang around in dark and scary places, but they’re too scared of Reg 4020 and three-year bans to risk making false statements!
  7. And definitely watch out for well-meaning (or NOT well-meaning) parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties and siblings…..and even your own wife! Make it a serious offence in your home for anyone to tell scary stories to kids. Before you know it the fears will go, and sleep at night will be peaceful as it should be!

 

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Jeff Harvie is a Registered Migration Agent from Australia, but resident in Philippines since 2010 with his Filipina wife Mila and large extended family. Experienced with the Philippines culture, cross-cultural relationships and bureaucracy as well as Australian visas and Australian Migration Law, he writes with authority and fortunately with enough informality and humour that the average Aussie gets it!

 

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