Here in Sweden, our mythological creatures seem to mainly exist in a distant time and place. It’s hard to imagine them living amongst us in the modern world. The Philippines however has a unique coexistence of modern life, devout christianity and a belief in the supernatural that is kept alive by the art of storytelling.
In the provinces the oral tradition is kept alive by older members of the community enthralling youngsters at night with stories of their meetings with supernatural creatures during their lives.
The name given to the flesh eating mythological creatures of the Philippines is Aswang. They are humans who at night change their form into an animal, usually a dog or bird. Aswang may steal corpses from funeral homes and replace the body with the trunks of banana trees.
Although there are many kinds of aswang, they share some common attributes. By day the aswang live and work among the general population. They may seem drowsy (from spending the night searching for food)., if you look into the aswangs eyes, the reflection appears upside down. They also tend to work in jobs that involve the preparation of meat.
The aswang may emit a slow ticking sound before it attacks. So sinister is the aswang that the sound seems close when the aswang is far away and grows fainter the closer it comes to its victim. In some provinces, because of this sound it is known as Tik-Tik. Female aswang are called Manananggal.
As the Philippines consists of 17 regions spread over 7,107 islands, many variations of aswang legends are found. The Philippines were colonised by the spanish in the 1500s and were converted to catholicism. After colonisation the spanish conducted a census and discovered that 80% of the population feared aswang more than the devil himself.
The aswang story may have originated in Capiz in the Western Visayas region. There is a high incidence of a form of Parkinsons disease here and it is thought people seeing these tremors in victims before doctors had diagnosed this illness, made them think they were somehow possessed.
During the second world war, the American army drained the blood from war dead and spread rumours amongst the local population that it was the result of aswang attacks to try and scare Japanese soldiers out of the jungle.
Aswang sightings are still common in the news in the Philippines. Mass media also creates many films and TV shows on the subject which are hugely popular.
Attributes from modern vampire stories from europe have been adapted into the aswang legend too. Garlic is often used to keep aswang away for example. Pregnant women are especially prone to aswang attacks. Expectant mothers smear an ointment on their belly made from local herbs as one variation of aswang has a long beak which it uses to kill and eat the baby inside the mothers womb. This may have been a way to explain miscarriages in the past in much the same way here a woman might have been frightened by näcken during pregnancy.
The best way to repel an aswang, if you have the nerve, is to face it directly and confidently and scream the worst swear words you can think of at it and tell the aswang that you know who he or she is when they are human and that you will get them in their human form in daylight.
In order for the aswang to fly in the night to its prey, it will apply a special oil to its mid section which enables it to split into two pieces leaving the legs and bottom half of the torso standing on the ground. To kill an aswang you must sprinkle salt or garlic on the remaining stump. This will kill the winged top half of the creature no matter how far away it is.
This year, my filipina girlfriend Ina told me of a conversation she had with her friend Irma. Irma still lives in their province where they grew up and Ina lives in Manila. They were discussing on the phone their upcoming high school reunion when Irma said “Ina come here soon! There is an aswang on the roof, I need you to shout and swear at it as you are confident and have a loud voice and I’m too shy”. She was convinced the aswang was after her young baby as he hadn’t been baptised yet. When Ina arrived in her province she saw there was garlic around the doors and windows of Irmas house and her son was baptised soon after.
Here are photos taken recently in the Philippines which are widely thought to be of aswang in flight showing the winged torso.
‘Don’t worry, I’m not after your blood’: Pub landlord accused of being a vampire after family in the Philippines spread rumours he is one of the undead