The Philippines is a Southeast Asian archipelago that sits in the western Pacific Ocean, surrounded by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Filipinos have seen their share of occupation, from Spanish conquistadors and the Japanese, to the U.S. military.
Today, bustling high-tech cities are filled with traffic and congestion, but a trip to rural farmland areas (referred to by locals as provinces, the equivalent of the American south or countryside) illuminates the preserved local culture. Today, the Philippines remains a spiritual country, with ghosts and folklore firmly embedded in its history and passed down largely through oral tradition.
For a Filipino child, it’s not uncommon to hear about these various urban legends and ghostly tales from an older sibling or a wise elder, especially while visiting relatives in the provinces. Here are a few such ghostly legends from the Philippines.
These giant tree demons tower at 7 to 9 feet tall, are muscular and dark-skinned, and smoke cigars. They wear the traditional Filipino loincloth and a belt to keep it hidden from human sight. They dwell in large mango and banyan trees, playing pranks on passersby, confusing and disorienting travelers in the wood. Others report hearing bellowing laughter and seeing smoke and large fiery eyes from the tops of trees. Those confused in their own home blame it on the kapre.
The three who knock are a Filipino variation of the Three Fates. This trio of hooded figures is a bad omen. They will knock three times on your front door in the middle of the night to signal the death of a family member. One kumakatok is a young and beautiful female, the other two are elderly men. If you open the door after they’ve knocked, they simply disappear out of sight.
This folktale about mischievous elves has Latin American and Iberian roots. These small, sprite-like creatures have a more playful temperament than their nuno counterpart. They live in people’s houses and will present the homeowner with good or bad luck, depending on how they’re treated. Dwendes are said to exist in the countryside, living underground in mounds or up in the trees. They emerge at noon and in the evening hours. Parents tell their children to stay indoors at these times. It’s common practice to also seek permission to pass and quietly mutter “Tabi tabi po” when outdoors.
This diminutive goblin lives on top of anthill mounds. He’s depicted as an old man with a long beard who’s easily angered by anyone who disturbs him or trespasses. Children are encouraged to be quiet near the nuno and to warn the nuno as they pass by, saying “tabi tabi po” (“please let me pass by, sir”). Naughty children who kick and destroy anthills, or worse, urinate on them, can be spit upon and cursed by a nuno and experience stomach aches, black urine, swollen feet, or any number of ailments.
Aswangs and Manananggal
There’s much superstition surrounding these evil witch-vampire hybrids that prowl through the dark, hunting humans. Aswangs are said to be in human form during the day, and can shape shift into animals (dogs, pigs, cats, bats) depending on the province or region’s lore. They may enter your home and drink human blood, steal corpses, and are especially attracted to human fetuses and pose a danger to pregnant women. The demon will sniff out the scent of the pregnant woman, which is said to resemble a ripe jackfruit. Once she arrives at the home, the demon sticks her long tongue down through the roof, into the unsuspecting mother’s womb and feasts on the fetus.
A manananggal is an otherworldly creature that's similiar to an aswang. They can sever her torso from the top half of her body. She must hide the lower half of her body while she flies at night to feed. She can also seduce men and eat their internal organs, including the heart. To kill the manananggal, one must find her torso and place salt, ash, or garlic on it to prevent it from rejoining the upper half. If her body is still severed at first light, the demon will be destroyed. Other measures taken by pregnant women include leaving small containers of salt, ash, and raw rice or the scent of burning rubber to deter the demon from visiting their home.
This folktale about mischievous dwarves has Latin American and Iberian roots. These elvin creatures have a more playful temperament than their nuno counterpart. They live in people’s houses and will present the homeowner with good or bad luck, depending on their coloring and how they’re treated. Duwende puti (white) are kinder than the duwende itim (black). They may hide your things and play pranks. Other dwende live in trees or in the countryside, coming out at noon and in the evening hours. Parents tell their children to stay indoors at these times. It’s common practice to also seek permission to pass and quietly mutter “Tabi tabi po” when outdoors.
This ghostly tale is popular around the world, including the Philippines. The urban legend has found its way into popular culture, with several horror films made about the topic. Many provinces boast their own tales and spooky sightings. The white lady normally appears to drivers on a dark, desolate road. They see her reflection in the rearview mirror and then she vanishes.
The most popular White Lady story from the Philippines is the White Lady of Balete Drive. The story goes that many years ago, a young woman died in a car accident while driving down Balete Drive, a windy banyan tree-lined road. Her killer never came forward and she wanders the road in a state of unrest. Drivers who are alone in their car report seeing a woman hitch hiker. Those who stop and offer a ride are in for a shock. When they look back the spectral woman is bloodied and covered with bruises. Other times, the driver turns around only to see the spectral woman disappear before their eyes.
Featured photo of a manananggal: Wikimedia Commons