Like the number of gods in the Philippines pantheon, the amount of creatures that fill Filipino folklore is numerous. From the myths retold by the separate townsfolk of different dialects, you will find that the creatures serve similar roles as its Western counterparts. There are many, many creatures that I would love to discuss, but the most important ones belong to one specific group, a group that encompasses monsters very similar to our western, Transylvanian friends.
The Aswang are, by far, the most prolific monsters in Filipino folklore. In fact, the term “aswang” itself refers to various types of creatures that belong to this group. According to Spanish colonizers in the 16th century, the Aswang are the most feared monsters amongst the mythological creatures of the Philippines.
What They Look Like
“Aswang” normally apply to a number of creatures, namely female shapeshifters of some kind or other. The Aswang usually gets interchanged with manananggals, tik-tiks, and wak-waks, but I will get to them in a bit. Originally, Aswang are female ghouls, mostly described as vampire-like creatures that can change shape at will. It is difficult to accurately describe what an Aswang looks like, because the description varies from region to region. A few similarities do state that these shapeshifters normally live as regular female townspeople, though shy, quiet, and mysterious. At night, Aswang take the forms of pigs, birds, or dogs and feast upon human body parts (namely the liver and heart). The Aswang is said to have bloodshot eyes, an indication of their staying up all night in search of victims.
Protection Against Them
Detecting and warding off Aswang can be done in a number of ways. People use a special bottle of oil extract (from boiled and decanted coconut meat, mixed with plant stems) to determine if an Aswang is nearby; the oil will boil or froth if the monster is nearby, and it will continue to do so until the Aswang leaves. Among things that can ward off Aswang are silver, salt, ginger, and coins. The silver is believed to have originated from western mythology, which makes sense considering the Aswang are closely linked to lycanthropes—werewolves. Salt is used to burn their skin, as it is believed to be a purifying agent in witchcraft. Ginger prevents the Aswang from arriving (much like garlic is generally believed to ward off vampires), and the coins prevent the Aswang from lifting snatching you up into the air.
Now here’s a few descriptions of other “aswang.” Now, keep in mind, that when I say “aswang,” it usually means the group of them, and not just the monster I’ve discussed above.
Amalanhig (Visayan) – These creatures
are a mixture of zombies and vampires. The Amalanhig is an aswang that rises
from the dead, and feeds upon humans by biting their necks. Their canine fangs
are most prominent, and one can usually escape them by running in a zigzag
direction or by climbing up a tree. Due to the stiffness of the Amalanhig’s body,
the monster can only walk in a straight direction, and cannot climb trees.
Bodies of water are also good hiding spots, since the Amalanhig is frightened
Ekek/Ek Ek and the Wakwak/Wak Wak (Visayan) – These are bird-like humans, much like the Manananggal, except they cannot sever their torsos from their body. These shapeshifting aswang monsters turn into large birds or bats and prowls at night. The Ekek is named appropriately, because in its attacking its victim, this monster produces an “ek-ek-ek” sound. In a similar manner, the Wakwak is named for the sound it emits when it flies.
Sigbin (Visayan) – The Sigbin (or Sigben) are said to suck the blood out of its victims from the shadows. The Sigbin are usually invisible to its victims, but the humans can usually tell a Sigbin’s presence from its nauseating stench. This creature resembles that of a hornless goat, and is connected to the Aswang as a type of familiar, not so much a similar creature.
The Other Monsters
Okay, now that I’ve discussed most of the Aswang, I’d also like to give a brief mention to the other monsters that are said to roam the Philippine islands. Keep in mind, I’ve split them up into their Western equivalents, so they’re organized.
Merfolk and Water Spirits
Sirena – This refers to the female mermaid, and an engkanto, meaning a “spirit/elf,” usually found within nature. Like its namesake (most definitely stemming from the Greek mythology), the Sirena is a half-human, half-fish creature that possesses a beautiful voice, attracting men into a watery grave. Sound familiar? I wouldn’t put it past you.
Siyokoy – The Siyokoy are the male equivalents of merfolk, and are described to be more animalistic than the Sirena. In fact, the Siyokoy is even described to be a monstrous creature with long, green tentacles and fish-like bodies.
Kataw – This is the name of the higher-ranked mermen, said to be the reigning rulers of the oceans. Unlike the Siyokoy, the Kataw resembles a human almost in full form, with feet instead of tails; the only difference is that the Kataw have gills on their bodies and fins on their arms. These creatures are also said to possess the ability to manipulate water.
Birds of a Feather
Tigmamanukan – This one happens to be a bird of omen, and like the cat for luck, the direction in which this bird flies usually indicates the prospect of a journey. If the bird flew from right to left, then it brings success; on the other hand, if the bird went from left to right, then those that are traveling were doomed.
Minokawa – The Minokawa is a large bird, said to be so enormous that it blocked out the light from the moon. This bird is also said to feed on the moon when there are no other sources of food around, and is a relative to the sky serpent, Bakunawa.
The Little Folk
Nuno sa Punso – These are male goblins, said to live in either an anthill or a termite mound. The Nuno is said to look like a small old man, with a long beard. While the Duwende tend to be more playful, mischievous creatures, the Nuno is temperamental and inflicts a whole slew of terrible vengeance on those who cross it.
Tiyanak – This is not so much a dwarf or a goblin. In fact, a Tiyanak is similar to that of a changeling, or a demon spirit in the form of a child. Usually, Aswang use them as substitutes for the children they snatched away as victims.
Anggitay – The Anggitay is the female counterpart of the Tikbalang. They are, however, more similar to centaurs, with their heads being that of a female human, and the body of a horse from the waist down. Sometimes they are also described to have one horn, like that of a unicorn, and are attracted to gemstones. Legends say that the Anggitay appears on the event that rain falls even with a clear sky.
Sarangay – This is perhaps a creature resembling the minotaur. The Sarangay is a half-human, half-bull, with a jewel attached to its ears. Those who attempt to steal this jewel from the Sarangay is killed in cold blood.
Again, there are plentiful creatures that I haven’t mentioned. I’ve added all of the above and then-some into the Encyclopedia, titled “Monsters and Creatures.”
Cruz, Neal. “As I See It: Philippine mythological monsters”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 2008.
Miller, Andrei. “Magical Creatures and Non-Human Beings.” http://www.mysiquijor.com/MagicCreatures.html. 2007.
Scott, William Henry. Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994.