The Aswang Vampire Demon from the Phillipines (Philippine Ghoul)
The myth of the Aswang is well known throughout the Philippines, except in the Ilocos region, which is the only region that does not have an equivalent myth. It is especially popular in the Western Visayan regions such as Capiz, Iloilo and Antique. Other regional names for the Aswang include “tik-tik” and “wak-wak.” It’s interesting to note, however, that the tik-tik and wak-wak might be entirely separate entities, and not necessarily aswangs. The aswang is probably the Philippines’ most pervasive supernatural creature. In terms of popularity, it is the Philippine equivalent of the Western Werewolf/Vampire.
Spanish colonizers noted that the Aswang was the most feared among the mythical creatures of the Philippines, even in the 16th century.
The modern Philippines is a country composed of numerous peoples whose belief systems survive, some in a rather secularized form, in spite of several centuries of Islamic and Christian missions and the development of a host of modern indigenous religions. The tribes of the Philippine Islands had an elaborate mythology, which included demonic beings, dragons, were-animals, giants, ghouls, and vampires. The Capiz section of the island of Panay was especially associated with the vampire, where many were believed to reside.
But unlike the vampire that rises from the grave at night to drink the blood of the living, the Aswang in popular folklore is also a flesh eater of both the living and the dead.
Land of the Aswang
It is difficult to encapsulate in one sentence what an aswang is but a lot of people across different ethnicities agree on a lot of things about it : (1) that its diet consists mainly of human liver and blood, (2) that it has an unholy preference for unborn children. (3) that it is also known to prey upon children and sick people.
Over the years, the term ‘aswang’ has been used as a catch-all category applied to just about any supernatural creature in Philippine folklore, including witches, lycanthropes and other beastly things. So, on a broader sense, the term Aswang can be used to denote the entire menagerie of evil beings in Philippine folklore. On a stricter sense however, the Aswang (or Asuwang) is said to be an inherently evil vampire-like creature that can take the shape of a human being and can change shape at will without severing any part of its body. Thus, the half-bodied flier called the Manananggal is strictly different from the Aswang. A subspecies perhaps?
The aswang can probably be best described as a flesh-eating ghoul. The original definition is an eater of the dead, also called the bal-bal (maninilong in Catanauan, Quezon). The trademark or major feature of Aswangs which distinguish them from other Filipino mythological creatures is their propensity to replace stolen cadavers with the trunk of a banana tree carved in the cadaver’s likeness.
Aswang stories and definitions vary greatly from region to region and person to person, and no particular set of characteristics can be ascribed to the term. However, the term is mostly used interchangeably with manananggal and are said to be female in gender.
Appearance and characteristics
Supposedly, an aswang can look like ordinary human being, often appearing as a beautiful woman or an old man. As previously mentioned, the Aswang is linked to shapeshifting so it may also transform into an “ugly” beast, taking the form of animals like pigs, dogs, or other monsters like the sigbin or balbal. Hunting its prey, it will disguise itself as an animal until it finds an opportunity to attack and kill its victim.
The lore suggests that an aswang lives as an ordinary person by day and prefers to take occupations related to meat, such as butchery. They live in secluded areas of barrios far from the townsfolk, usually isolating themselves from the public, appearing to be quiet and shy. An aswang can be distinguished from a human by its bloodshot eyes. Elderly rural folks say that in order to detect an aswang one must look at it from an inverted position.
It is believed that when an Aswang approaches or is within the vicinity of your home, the oil boils and continue to froth with bubbles until the Aswang departs.
Aswang in Philippine folklore is the most feared creature
The people in Capiz lace their homes with garlic bulbs, holy water, and many other objects to repel the Mananggal creature. Pregnancy brings a feeling of dread for the people of Capiz since the long-tongued Aswang feeds on the unborn infant. Some say that Pregnant women grow their hair long to fool the creature into believing that the pregnant woman is the Blessed Mother of Jesus and that they have to wear red as to remain undetected. There are many other myths surrounding the Aswang such as they are believed to be virgins, so when a woman acts a little eccentric, they may be an aswang. It was also told that if your reflection on a person’s eyes is the slightest bit crooked, this person may dabble in the black arts.
Some stories about the aswang describe winged monster-witches perched on top of a roof under which a woman with child may reside. When it chances upon its mark, it will extend an uncommonly long proboscis into the female’s belly and suck the unborn baby from the mother’s womb.
Types of Aswangs
There are different types of “Aswangs” and most of them are said to frequent the areas of Capiz, Iloilo and Antique, even the Palawan Islands.
Mostly, the Aswang is considered a horrific creature resembling a haglike woman with talon-like fingernails and a long, threadlike tongue that lolls from its mouth.
This type of aswang feeds on the blood of the living or from fresh corpses. She has the ability to smell death within a mile. An aswang feeds by extending her long, sharp tongue, piercing the jugular vein of a dead or sleeping victim. Once she has gorged herself, her swollen body appears as if she were late in a pregnancy.
Since Aswang is a generic term it is usually interchanged with other monsters or ghouls such as the following:
The main “Aswang” sometimes known as a Mansusopsop - is a ghoul that preys on pregnant women. Like the tik-tik, it hovers over the rooftop and seek any opening for its long, thread-like tongue to pass through until it reaches the stomach of its victim. It then sucks out all the blood, including the fetus, until the victim is lifeless.
Wak-wak – a bird-like creature that comes out at night looking for its victim. The sound of a wak-wak is usually associated with the presence of an Unglu (vampire). The term wak-wak or wuk-wuk is frequently used for the same creature in the Cebu region. The legends of the wak-wak and kikik are much the same, but the wak-wak is specifically supposed to change into its birdlike form by leaving behind its lower body, much like the Manananggal. The cry of a night bird which makes a “wuk-wuk-wuk” sound is believed to be the call of this monster and is feared by superstitious villagers. As with the call of the kikik, the wak-wak is believed able to make its cry sound distant when the creature is near.
Balbal – or “Bal-Bal”is a kind of witch that preys on pregnant women. When the balbal is hungry, its eyes turn reddish, become sharp, penetrating the woman’s womb. The Bal-Bal is believed to be a creature that consumes the dead and then leaves behind banana trunks in the grave for the exchange
Kubot - a bat-like creature that resembles an umbrella with its huge, wide wings. It catches its victim by its claws and takes it home to be butchered.
Tik-tik – a huge bird that flies at night. The tik-tik looks for a sleeping person. When it finds one, it extend its very long proboscis into the unsuspecting victim and proceeds to suck the blood. Additionally, the Kikik/Tik-Tik makes a ‘kik-kik-kik’ sound. Other stories relate the kikik as an Aswang’s familiar, its sound masking the Aswang’s proximity from would-be victims.
Sigbin- a kangaroo-like creature which has a wide mouth with large fangs. Some say that this is another form of the aswang, while there are other claims which identify it as the companion of the tik-tik. It kills people with its deadly sneeze.
Manananggal - is a female creature that can split its body in half; the upper part can sprout bat-like wings (resembles a banshee) while leaving the bottom torso hidden from sight. The Manananggal is believed to be vulnerable to sunlight, but there are different tales that say that the tongue-lashing kind isn’t.
The aswang is also believed to have a familiar; a deceased aswang who shape-shifts into a bird most of the time but is able to become a dog, a cat, or any animal that go by with little notice. This familiar may also be called a “tiktik” and is another type of aswang that helps the “aswang” along in finding its prey. The sigbin is yet another type of creature that resembles the furry look of the chupacabra. They both can serve as the aswang’s familiar.
The “Aswangs” are said to be ‘cursed’ creatures and carries on the curse of Lilith. Some say their condition is a sickness and is a mutation of dystonia parkinsonism. There are characteristics that make this condition very similar to the signs of an “aswang”. These days, the people of Capiz try to make fun of their town; to try and attract tourists made a festival called “Aswang Festival” that debuted in October 2004; as a sort of a “halloween-like” celebration. This festival has gotten mixed reactions from people in the region, most notably the arch-diocese, as it seems to be a celebration of evil.
How to deal with Aswangs?
Buntot-pagi (Stingray’s Tail) is considered an effective repellant, and some families keep them on-hand to fight Aswangs. It is use like a whip and lashes on Aswangs doing more hurtful damage to them.
Bawang (Garlic) – wearing garlic around your neck would protect you from being attacked because Aswang doesn’t like the smell of garlic. By hanging a whole chain of garlic at the doors and windows it would prevent the Aswang from coming closer.
Asin (Salt) – The purifying powers attributed to salt crystals is said to cause the skin of an Aswang to burn. By spraying salt to his body it acts like an acid on the skin of the creature. In the case of the manananggal where half of its body is left in a remote part of the forrest, it is said that if you found the half of it’s lower body you need to spray salt to it so that the upper half cannot merge with its body.
Araw (Sun) – just like other demonic creature it is said that if the Aswang is caught by a ray of sunlight on beast form it would burn
Did the lore start from an actual creature?
Most academics and westerners believe that the Aswang can be rationally explained in historical and sociological terms. Some say that in the process of conquering these islands 400 years ago, the Spaniards demonized and anathemized those who refused to abandon their old belief systems in favor of Christianity. These pagans who avoided the conquered coastlines and went up the mountains were easily stereotyped and this became the root cause of the Aswang belief. The funny thing is, the same belief systems seem to be endemic in non-Spanish conquered Southeast Asia where the Aswang goes by a plethora of different names with eerily similar descriptions. Can this be a product of colonialism then?
In most parts of the Visayan islands, however, they are treated as one of the realities of living in the countryside. Well into the 21st century, people still keep garlic and sharp bronze implements inside their homes to ward off Aswang attacks. Some sleep with knives under their pillows while some keep a Stingray tail whip handy just in case.
But, any myth is based on truth, and the tales of the Aswang vary from region to region. Grave robberies, missing corpses, disappearing children, feed the tales that channel the belief in the Aswang.
Just like in other parts of Asia, the Philippines could possibly have unknown giant bats living amongst its human population or deep within the jungles of the Philippines.
There is a KNOWN species called the giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus), also known as the golden-capped fruit bat, which is a rare megabat and one of the largest bats in the world. The species is endangered and is currently facing the possibility of extinction because of poaching and forest destruction. It is endemic to forests in the Philippines.
The giant golden-crowned flying fox gets its species name from the golden fur around the head, in sharp contrast to the black body. Like all other fruit bats, they have no tail. They are among the largest bats, with a wingspan of 1.5–1.7 m (4 ft 10 in–5 ft 7 in) and weighing 0.7–1.2 kg (1.5–2.6 lb). The only other bats with comparable measurements are a few species of Pteropus.
The giant golden-crowned flying fox, however does not suck on humans or even attack them. The only vampire bats live in South America and they are tiny and timid. Still, there could be bats in this region which are not recognised by mainstream science that perhaps be the stuff of nightmares.
Sources: themoonlitwindow.blogspot.com/2008/07/aswang-primer.html, manananggals.com/aswang.htm, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_golden-crowned_flying_fox
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