Encounters With Aswangs, Witches, Goblins, and Ghosts in the Philippines
What Is an Aswang?
An Aswang (or Asuwang) is a mythical creature in Philippine folklore. The aswang is an inherently evil vampire-like creature and is the subject of a wide variety of myths and stories, the details of which vary greatly. Spanish colonizers noted that the Aswang was the most feared among the mythical creatures of the Philippines, even in the 16th century.
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", "wak-wak", and "soc-soc". Aswangs are often described as a combination of vampire and witch and are almost always female. They are sometimes used as a generic term applied to all types of witches, manananggals, shapeshifters, lycanthropes, and monsters.
The aswang are the most feared of the supernatural creatures on the Philippines. They can enter the body of a person, and through this person they inflict harm on those the they dislike. Most common are the female variety who appear as an ugly old woman with long, unkempt hair, blood-shot eyes, long nails, and a long, black tongue. She has holes in her armpits which contain oil. This gives her power of flight.
A being of enormous power, she can transform herself into any shape, even inanimate objects. She preys on children, pregnant women, and ill people. Once she has overpowered a victim, she will take a bundle of sticks, talahib grass, and banana stalks, and transform these into a replica of her victim. This replica is sent home while she takes the real person back with her. Upon reaching its home, the replica will become sick and die. The victim will then be killed and eaten. She is said to be particularly fond of the liver.
There are a wide variety of stories about the Aswang circulating between rural Filipinos, making it impossible to settle upon any fixed definition of their appearance or activities. Aswangs are particularly feared for their fondness for eating unborn fetuses and small children. Their favorite body parts are the liver and heart.
Aswang in Capiz and Lubag
Explanation for Aswang in Philippine Folklore
I was born in Panay Island. As a child, I have heard of many stories about aswang and witches. There is one town near by hometown (Barotac Viejo, Iloilo) supposed to be the haven for witches. In the province of Capiz in the island of Panay, many studies have been conducted to understand the reason for the persistent perpetuation of the aswang folklore in that part of the Philippines. One possible explanation is the occurrence of a neurological disorder endemic to the island. It is known locally as Lubag which meant twisted. Scientifically it is a neurological disorder known as Dystonia Parkinsonism or Dystonia De Panay.
Dystonia de Panay
Dystonia de Panay ( torsion dystonia-Parkinsonism) is a rare musco-skeletal disease found only in Panay. A scientific research found an unusually high percentage of dystonia in several areas of Capiz. The study's molecular genetic analysis indicated that the mutation responsible for the x-linked dystonia-parkinsonism found mostly in males was introduced into the Ilonggo ethnic group of Panay more than 2,000 years ago. But before it could be sufficiently examined to find a cure, the disease mysteriously disappear in the early 1950s.
The disease called "Lubag" in the vernacular afflicts a person with uncontrollable intermittent body spasm of twisting movements, muscular contortions, and shuffling gaits. To the simple superstitious and uneducated in the hinterlands, it was a scary sight that provokes terror and fear. The afflicted person was ostracized and made the scapegoat for any misfortune or accident that befell the community.
I was privileged as a child to observe a neighbor afflicted by the disease. At that time I thought he was an aswang and was so scared, I never venture to be near his home even in broad daylight. It was only during my college years that I realized our neighbor was afflicted by Lubag.
Panay Island, Western Visayas, Philippines
Witches, Ghosts, and Nonos
Witches, nonos, and ghosts are part of life in the Philippines not only during Halloween but also the whole year round.
During my childhood years in the late 1940s, I have heard from my parents and relatives about aswangs (flying witches) visiting homes in the middle of the night. These witches were looking for pregnant women, so they could suck the fetus from their stomach, or for beautiful babies, so they could eat their liver.
The aswang takes the form of an animal perhaps a black flying cat during the night. But during the day, they lived a normal life and looked like an average person or perhaps even a beautiful young lady. One way of discouraging the aswangs to your homes is to put garlic in all the windows as well as amulets.
Kapri and Nonos
I have heard also of other superstitions and folklores mentioning the giant people called Kapri. There are two kinds, the white (the good one) and the black (the evil one). Opposite to this is the small people, the elves or Nono as known in Marinduque. The Nonos lived on big trees in the jungles or even in your backyard. They may be harmless if you left them alone. But if you disturbed their territory, be prepared for bad luck, calamities or sickness.
One of the most popular beliefs and folklore in Marinduque are the existence of Nonos . Three years ago the 12-year old son of our caretaker disappeared for about 4 hours. When he returned he told us that a group of elves had captured him. He said they were friendly and told him that we should not cut the big balete tree in our backyard.
With regards to the Nonos, even though I really do not believe in their existence, I still say "Tabi Po Nono" ("Excuse me, Nono") when passing under the trees and bridges in my property at night and after sunset. Even my 4-year-old granddaughter from Sacramento has learned of this phrase. We told her of the "Tabi Po Nono" phrase seven years ago, during our golden wedding anniversary celebration. The funny part is, when they were in Boracay (an island resort) a week later for a vacation, she said the same phrase while passing a bridge at the Boracay Regency Hotel, where her mother and grandmother were staying. Hurrah to the memory of a 4-year old.
There are also stories about ghosts (white lady apparition) and witches. In Iloilo, my town of birth, there are several towns where there are a lot of witches according to the residents of the neighboring towns. However, there are no proofs or documentation if this is true.
In my resort property here in Amoingon, Boac, Marinduque some of our neighbors claimed that once in a while in a moonless night they have seen an apparition of a white lady. The white lady is supposed to protect the property from robbers and intruders. She is supposed to be the ghost of my mother-in-law who loved the beach resort and its gardens. The neighbors are scared of this apparition. So far, I have not seen this lady in the flowing white dress.
Have You Encountered Any of These Creatures?
Have you any personal encounters with Aswang, witches, or Nonos?
Aswang Movies and Documentaries
There are several movies and documentaries about the aswang folklore and phenomena in the Philippines. My favorite movie was the first aswang movie made in 2008 starring Lovi Poe and Paulo Avelino. My favorite documentary is the Aswang Phenomena made by Jordan Clark in 2011.
Movie Trailer for Aswang Movie
Questions & Answers
How is one supposed to know if a person is an aswang?
There is no scientific signs or behavior that an aswang possess during normal hours according to legends. They turned into aswang at night according to stories I heard from my grand parents.