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The Tragic History of the White Lady in Filipino Folklore

Author:

Ian is a proud full-blooded Filipino. He's also a visual artist who loves to incorporate Pinoy myth and folklore in his work.

White Lady of Balete Drive by Ronnie del Carmen.

White Lady of Balete Drive by Ronnie del Carmen.

What Is a White Lady?

A White Lady (or Woman in White) is a female ghost that is typically dressed in white and is associated with countless versions of local legends of tragedy.

The belief in this ghostly figure is not exclusive to the Philippines, with worldwide counterparts such as the famous La Llorona (the Weeping Woman) of Mexico, Sayona of Venezuela, Dama Branca of Brazil, the Maidens of Uley from Russia, Witte Wieven of the Netherlands, Dames Blanches in France, the Poinciana Woman of Australia, Nu Gui (the Avenging Ghost) of China, Yukki-onna (Snow Maiden) of Japan, and the Gwisin of Korea. There's also the Pontianak and the Langsuyar from among the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, and many more.

In the Philippines, it is indigenously known as Kaperosa—a faceless phantom of a woman (usually in white), which is one of the more popular creatures in Filipino folklore today. The English name for this ghost is commonly used instead of the local one because its popularity reached its peak during the American Occupation in the Philippines after the Second World War, which is why we rarely see her depicted in traditional Filipiniana dress.

Although the Woman in White is an international phenomenon with varying titles, tales, and descriptions, common to many of these legends is an accidental death, murder, or suicide, and the theme of loss, betrayal, and unrequited love.

She shows herself to ask for help and sometimes for revenge to complete any unfinished business. She's cursed to become a restless soul and roam this earth until she can achieve justice for her death. Other White Ladies are said to be searching for their lost children or deceased husbands and lovers.

The stories of who she is and how she came to be—vary slightly, as do the accounts of her sightings. From as simple as vapory mists shaped like translucent human figures, to the more solid and life-like forms.

Dressed in a long white gown, she mostly haunts rural areas, creepy dark streets, deserted old houses (also castles in foreign versions), school buildings, and other establishments.

The legend says that White Ladies are the ghosts of someone whose been killed in the place where she appears and a favorite ghost story topic especially during Halloween or All Souls Day season. But some say a White Lady haunting in your own home (whether that's rented or inherited) is believed to be the ghost of the previous occupant who cannot let go of the property.

According to the Nuttall Encyclopædia, these spirits were regarded as the ghosts of deceased ancestors. In a popular medieval legend, a White Lady is fabled to appear by day as well as by night as an omen of death, and appear within photos just before or after someone dies.

The Lady of Loakan

Baguio City is known as "the Summer Capital of the Philippines" due to its cold climate all year round but it's also home to many urban legends and ghostly sightings. One of which is the more popular White Lady characters in the country.

There once stood an allegedly enchanted acacia (while others say pine) tree about two meters in diameter, smacked right in the middle of Loakan road—a 6.2-kilometer major highway surrounded by thick fogs and dense vegetation on both sides, which connects the Military Circle to the Airport area, and Kennon Road.

The tree occupied a large portion of the proposed road when the plans were first laid out back in the 1950s and explains why that particular section in front of Hotel Veneràcion seems to be a lane wider than the rest. But all efforts to bulldoze it only resulted in tragic accidents, serious illnesses, and even death to those who were involved.

The people believe it is protected by a spirit of a woman—usually seen in white clothing, who walks along the Loakan road at night. The rumor was, a female nurse was raped and murdered by a cabbie, and then gorily hung on the large tree decades ago.

In 2001, the tree just mysterious died, after occupying that spot for what appears to be hundreds of years.

Local elders claim that the mysterious woman was actually a strange beautiful girl of Ibaloi descent, with unusually bright blue eyes. For this reason, she was perceived negatively by the rest of her people. (The Ibaloi is an indigenous tribe inhabiting the Benguet mountain province, where Baguio City is located.) They say she was raped by unnamed assailants along the stretch of what is now Loakan, and afterward put to shame and coerced by her own family members into committing suicide by hanging herself, sometime in the late 1890s.

If the stories are to be believed, it's quite possible that she suffered from a known product of a mutation that limits the production of melanin in the iris called Waardenburg syndrome, which sometimes causes hearing problems. A little girl from Sarangani province who had the same condition made headlines in 2019.

Encounters of the Lady of Loakan are mostly experienced by motorists traveling the lonely road or by cadets and military officers from the nearby Philippine Military Academy. They say that she's a vanishing phantom hitchhiker, appearing and disappearing instantly near one of the two cemeteries passed along Loakan road.

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The White Lady of Balete Drive

Sightings of ghostly women in white are common around the Philippines, but none so more prominent than the White Lady of Balete Drive in Quezon City.

The street is an old carriageway, utilized during the late Spanish era towards the end of the 19th century. It is now an undivided two-lane avenue part of New Manila, that used to be poorly lit at night and named after several balete trees that previously lined the roadside, where many magnificent houses of wealthy families reside.

Balete, also known as banyan, is a tree that's deeply rooted in Philippine Animism and believed to be inhabited by mystical beings and other supernatural creatures due to its massive trunks, twisted branches, and innumerable dangling roots. This belief goes back to our ancient Hindu past, in which banyan trees are considered sacred and heavenly, capable of emitting large amounts of spiritual energy.

Many people believed in this urban legend, including a Captain of the QCPD, who was suspended for cowardice for refusing to patrol the area. Accidents there are usually attributed to the mysterious woman in white, claiming that she crosses that street out of nowhere and vanishes.

The most utilized backstory of the white phantom is that she is the ghost of a long-haired woman who, according to legend, died in a car accident while driving along Balete Drive years before. But in other tales, she was a victim of hit-and-run, and that the driver who caused her accidental death was never caught.

In other variations, she was a resident of the area, who was allegedly abused and mistreated by her own family or husband. Her untimely death happened after she got run over by a passing vehicle when she tried to run away; or that she was discovered by her captors, dragged back home, and later killed. She now haunts the street demanding help and justice from passing motorists.

Most stories about her were told by taxi drivers on a graveyard shift. The usual story goes that a stunning young woman flags them, asking for a ride. Looking back from the rear-view mirror several minutes later, the driver then sees the woman's face changed into bloodstained and covered in bruises with red eyes, causing them to flee in terror or an eventual madness from the horrifying experience.

In other instances, it is said that solitary travelers on that street briefly see the face of a white-clad woman sitting in the backseat of their cars before she quickly disappears. She is said to be more hostile to taxi drivers because, in one version of her legend, she was raped by one. But in other versions, it was two Japanese soldiers during World War II.

One night in 1949, we decided to joy-ride around Manila. There were seven teenagers on that ride. Leni Garchitorena (from the Assumption College) who lives nearby would attend the jam sessions driving a Fiat. While cruising España Extension Blvd. at 50 mph, she hit a pile of gravel and sand that caused Leni to be thrown out of the vehicle around 6 meters away, bleeding with a battery near her head and died the following day.

— Deogracias Tancinco Ortega, Calbayog City Fiscal (Prosecutor) in 1967-1986

But many sources have said that a journalist actually manufactured this legend, as a combination of several stories to come up with a sensationalized and unique scoop during an uneventful day.

Deogracias Ortega confirms that in 1952, there was a magazine follow-up story on the accident he was involved in three years prior, inaccurately mentioning the presence of a student from the University of the Philippines as the victim. He added that while he was out, a reporter came to their home and asked for a photo. His brother innocently gave his high school graduation picture and published it along with the Balete Drive ghost sightings. As a result, the family of the deceased was dismayed and called him a publicity seeker.

Yet according to retired Brig. Gen. Florencio Magsino, the White Lady of Balete Drive was not really a ghost, but a certain socialite named Adela Planas—Miss Visayas in 1939 and sister to two female politicians in Quezon City and Manila back then. As stated by his informer—who was a close friend of Adela; she used to walk along Balete Drive during the evenings when she was young, dressed in a long white gown with her hair flowing freely, while savoring the cool breeze in the dark.

Nevertheless, the White Lady has become so popular and iconic that a local government official from the district where Balete Drive is part, proposed in 2005 to utilize the urban legend and make the street officially declared as "haunted" and be used for Halloween parties, ghost-hunting activities, and other spooky events to boost tourism in the area. But the idea was scrapped off and failed to come to fruition.

Adela Planas-Paterno, the alleged White Lady of Balete Drive.

Adela Planas-Paterno, the alleged White Lady of Balete Drive.

Modern Sightings

In 2018, an alleged White Lady was captured on a cellphone video by Patricia Camille Alvarez, during their journey home from a festival in Lucena City, while traveling in the Old Zigzag Road in Atimonan, Quezon (known locally as Bitukang Manok, meaning "chicken intestines").

It was almost midnight when they noticed a girl with shoulder-length hair, sitting on the back of the multicab (a small light pickup truck) they were following. Their driver immediately got scared and decided to slow down and let the truck move along.

It is indeed very unlikely that a person would choose to sit at the back of the truck while traveling that risky highway, more so at night when the lanes are unlit.

The residents of the area shared that ghost sightings on that route are actually old news, as they were aware of the existence of supernatural beings there since many deaths have occurred in what is considered to be one of the Philippines ' most dangerous highways.

White Lady of Zigzag Road

White Lady of Zigzag Road

Another creepy White Lady was spotted in a very blurry CCTV footage, riding in the back of the motorcycle of one Argee Abarte, before he got into a fatal accident in 2019. The rider struck into an electrical post and died in San Rafael Bulacan.

But the local authorities found out that the victim was actually drunk while driving in the accident-prone area. The alleged apparition of the woman in white is explained as a simple trick of the light, and nothing more.

Yet several people still believe the specter caused his death. What do you think?

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Pre-Colonial Origins

In the ancient Visayan myths called the Hinilawod Epics (generally translates to "Tales From the Mouth of the Halawod River") from the early inhabitants of a place called Sulod in central Panay island, Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata ("beguiling demoness, bedazzling goddess") is one of the three most beautiful goddesses.

Along with her sisters Burigadang Pada Sinaklang Bulawan (the irresistible yet frightening goddess of material wealth and punisher of the greedy, whose name literally means "coveted precious gold") and Lubay Lubyok Mahanginun si Mahuyokhuyokan (the tender goddess of the night breeze, whose long name translates to "graceful movement of the arrogant breeze"), Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata was born from a night flower and came to the world already in adult form.

She has a twin brother named Sarawali who is a deity of desire, but mainly responsible for adultery, polygamy, and incest—and the lover of their other sister, Lubay Lubyok.

Because of her ageless beauty, she was capable of stirring lustful emotions from men and considered to be the goddess of lust and seduction due to the heroes of Hinilawod being charmed by her beauty and shape-shifting skills.

In some of her stories, Nagmalitong Yawa is a binukot, that is, according to Hiligaynon practice, a noblewoman who is kept away from sunlight and the outside world. During her time as a binukot, Nagmalitung Yawa studied witchcraft and was revered and feared, both as a protector goddess and demoness.

She was married to the lord of darkness named Saragnayan. However, after seeing her image in a crystal ball, the warrior demigod Labaw Donggon wanted her, even though he already had two wives by then. A battle ensued between the two men that resulted in Labaw Donggon‘s defeat and imprisonment. He was later saved by his two firstborn sons, and they killed Saragnayan.

Upon his rescue, Labaw Donggon had lost his mind because the grief-stricken goddess had put a curse on him. According to the legend, it took very long before his first two wives were able to break him free from the curse.

Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata then exiled herself in the forest to live in peace, occasionally helping lost travelers in the guise of different animals.

When the lust-driven hero, Humadapnon, was captured by the sorceress Ginmayunan and her army of beautiful female warriors, his men sought the help of Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata, for only a powerful goddess could rival another.

Nagmalitung Yawa agreed to help but she worried that to be saved by a woman would hurt Humadapnon’s fragile masculinity. So she turned herself into a man and called herself Datu Sunmasakay.

Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata by Renz Y. Botero, Natu Xantino and Ram Botero

Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata by Renz Y. Botero, Natu Xantino and Ram Botero

It wasn’t long before she fell in love again, this time with Humadapnon.

But when the man's brother Dumalapdap fell in love with the sun goddess Huyung Adlaw, he asked Humadapnon to help him talk to the parents of the maiden who resided in the Upperworld. So he had to leave his new wife for a time and accompanied his brother on a seven-year journey to the skies.

When Humadapnon finally returned, he found Nagmalitong Yawa engaged to be married to an island fortress ruler named Buyung Sumagulung.

Caught in another love triangle, this too ended in violence when Humadapnon stabbed his wife in a fit of jealousy. But only to feel remorse after he learned that she only agreed to marry the lord because her mother, Matan-ayon, convinced her that Humadapnon is not coming back.

She was then brought back to life when Humadapnon’s sister gave her the gift of immortality. Feeling ashamed and traumatized, she hid in the Underworld and sought the protection of her uncle Panlinugun, who is lord of the earthquakes.

Humadapnon sought after his wife in the Underworld and had to kill an eight-headed serpent in his pursuit of Nagmalitong Yawa. He also dueled with a mysterious young man who spirited his wife away.

The duel only ended when Alunsina—Humadapnon's mother, intervened and revealed that the young man is also her son, named Amarotha. Alunsina then used her golden sword to divide Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata into two, so that her two sons won’t fight over her anymore.

Another interesting angle about Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata is that she was said to be the origin of the first tales of bewitchment in the ancient Visayas.

There are stories of men who get lost in the forests after being seduced by a mysterious, naked, pale lady during nights of a full moon. Wives would worry and would continually warn their spouses about going on hunting expeditions alone, especially in the evening.

It was believed by the old Visayan folks that this was Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata's revenge on humanity for the death of her first husband, Saragnayan.

Adventurous men were usually given anting-anting (amulets) by their loved ones for protection, or risk becoming victims of the seductive goddess' wrath. This belief was so strong in the provincial Visayas, which later evolved into the Kaperosa or the White Lady legends in modern times.

Relevance in Pop Culture

In the horror genre, the White Lady and other similar spirits have long become a staple—earning its own trope called The Female Ghost.

We see that in movies like The Woman in Black (2012), Mama (2013), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), or in the character of Bathsheba in The Conjuring. In CW's Supernatural, the two protagonists also dealt with a Woman in White in its pilot episode.

The Asian version of this cliché is called the Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl, usually appearing with a fairly consistent look: white dress, pale skin, long black hair covering her face, mostly barefoot, and a touch of murderous death about her.

"Little Asian ghost girls" famously popped up in the Japanese movies Ju On: The Grudge (2002) and its subsequent Hollywood remake in 2004, as well as the character of Sadako from The Ring in 1998 (renamed Samara Morgan in the American version in 2002), which was inspired by true events about the life of a 14th-century servant named Okiku; who was either tortured and killed by her samurai master, or that she committed suicide by jumping into a well after being accused of stealing.

There's also the Thai film called Shutter in 2004, and the American retelling of the same name in 2008. Even Asia's Got Talent had a bizarre magician contestant named The Sacred Riana who dressed up as a ghost girl.

the-tragic-history-of-the-white-lady-in-filipino-folklore

In the Philippines, she's making countless appearances in local movies and TV shows, killing characters off one by one until she’s left with the protagonists to make some sort of bargain.

She appeared in the Filipino cult classic Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara (Kill Barbara in Terror) as the main antagonist who haunts everyone she deemed who has wronged her, with adaptations from the 1974 original, and the subsequent remake in 1995, followed by a mini-series in 2008.

There's also Hiwaga sa Balete Drive (Mystery on Balete Drive), a 1988 anthology horror film directed by Peque Gallaga and Lorenzo Reyes. The film is based on the haunting legends on the spooky street.

A supernatural horror drama titled White Lady was released in 2006, directed by Jeff Tan, and starred local actress Angelica Panganiban. Set on campus, it tells the story of a college girl who uncovers secrets about the history of her school to discover why the spirit is so tortured.

In the more recent Netflix animated series titled Trese—which is an adaptation of a popular Filipino graphic novel by Budgette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo; the White Lady of Balete Drive showed herself as a murdered spirit used for a sacrifice ritual in the very first episode.

In any case, ghosts are unusual among movie monsters in that they're more often female than male. Perhaps because their origins lie in the Gothic romantic tradition, which so often features haunted houses, madwomen in the attic, and sinister nocturnal goings-on.

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Color-Coding

The White Lady has many sisters haunting worldwide, each wearing different shades and tints. In the Philippines, it even extends to other Filipino mythical creatures like the elemental dwarves we call Duende.

But why do ghostly women usually have distinct color associations?

When thought of logically, ghosts cannot really wear physical clothes of a specific color because they are in fact spirits.

Most of the time, we already have a mental image in our heads before going to allegedly "haunted" locations with expectations to see a ghost, therefore outwardly projecting that in our line of vision and associate it with weird things we experience along the way.

As explained by physics, since spirits are generally accepted to be semi-transparent (or rather translucent) energies, they can refract ambient light to create other colors.

But in the realm of parapsychology, ghosts and other spirits manifest in different ways and can be perceived by the living depending on their different levels of spiritual and psychic abilities.

Mental energies created from intense emotions called "imprints", sometimes remain or get absorbed into natural objects such as rocks, wood, or water. This is common in residual hauntings, that is, the non-conscious playback of certain events in an area.

They can be seen wearing spiritual replicas of their favorite clothes when they were alive because of the strong sentimental value attached to them, or showing those what they were wearing at the moment of death.

Light versus Dark

Lighter-colored spirits seem to have meaning and purpose, usually coming back to guide, protect or console. They are usually those who return with a specific purpose or to convey messages.

While the dark or shadowy ones tend to have a lower type of vibrational energy, but it doesn't always mean they are evil. They might just be mournful, fearful, lost, or confused. Or probably trapped, making them frustrated and irritable, and having limited awareness.

Why do ghosts usually appear in white?

The easiest answer is because dark colors cannot be seen clearly in the dark and ghosts usually appear at nighttime.

But historically, this is attributed to the Death Shroud that was used to wrap dead bodies before burials and/or cremations back in the day.

Today, however, it is the white cloth that covers the corpses in morgues and explains the popular depiction of the "Bedsheet Ghost" with two eye holes in cartoons and animated shows for children.

Color Symbolism

White Lady

Female ghosts wearing white are particularly symbolic of women whose deaths and hauntings relate to their status as married, or almost married (by wearing bridal gowns). But other times, white is also associated with purity and innocence, signifying the girl's maidenhood and virginity.

The color white often seems like a blank slate, symbolizing a new beginning or a fresh start (i.e. the afterlife). On the negative side, white can also be described as stark and cold, which how ghosts are usually described.

In many Eastern cultures, white is symbolically linked to death and is often used in funerals and mourning rituals. Relatives and family members of the deceased would traditionally choose to wear white when burying a loved one, and it's also the usual color worn by the dead for their funeral—to symbolize peaceful passing.

Woman in Black

Black only became associated with death after the Bubonic Plague (also known as the Black Death), which decimated large populations of the world in the mid-1300s. Europe suffered the most, with casualties reaching approximately thirty percent. For this reason, the Woman in Black could be seen as a supernatural portent of doom.

The Woman in Black may dress in black, but her fashion sense can only be described as depressing. It is a signification that she is in mourning over a loss, or that she's grieving her tragic state. She could be the ghost of a former nun, a widow, or that of a spinster who lived a life of seclusion.

Since the Philippines is a culture in which East meets West, the Filipino people have a distinct Asian background, with a strong Western tradition. We love to apply the concept of duality between black (representing evil) and white (symbolizing good) because of our monotheistic religious influences. But even I can't just ignore the racist undertones in such beliefs.

As evident in our folklore particularly, ghostly women in black are believed to be malevolent and sinister, even demonic.

According to the official website of the Malacañang Palace, the office of the President employees in Mabini Hall—an administrative building belonging to the Malacañang compound—have spoken tales of the apparition of a woman in a black dress, looking out the window at the Pasig River.

Lady in Red

According to the Wikipedia definition, she is more specifically attributed to either a jilted lover or mistress, a sex worker killed in a fit of passion, or a woman of vanity, since red is associated with fiery energy and commands attention.

Such a figure is thereby seen as a victim of objectification and sexual violence, dressed in blood-red—the favorite hue of the temptress. In addition, they are said to be not particularly violent ghosts and typically friendly in disposition, even though red is also the color of anger.

The myths seem to suggest they have little right to seek vengeance, given their history as troublemakers in life. Usual stories about Scarlet Ladies are attached to historic hotels, theatres, or other public places, with higher frequent reports of the prostitution trade.

But in the Philippines, this bloody color is mostly associated with brutality and cruelty, therefore our own Red Ladies are believed to be much more vengeful and dangerous, who are known to attack those that encounter them.

A good example of this connection is the Don Ramon Illusorio mansion, famously dubbed as Bahay na Pula (Tagalog for "Red House" due to its red exteriors). It is a former hacienda in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, believed by locals to be "haunted" because the site is mostly remembered for its usage as a Japanese garrison in World War II (which I'm going to discuss more later).

In general, Ladies in Red are different than the rest because they are mostly depicted wearing shoes, specifically red stilettos. Her specter usually appears holding a knife, symbolic of her having committed suicide after being savagely violated by a jealous lover or a legal wife.

There's even one allegedly haunting the women's restrooms of the University of Santo Tomas—the oldest school campus in the Philippines established way back in 1611. Students say she pounds on the doors of bathroom stalls, with the sounds of her disembodied shoes click-clocking on the deserted floors and hallways.

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But there are other variants of the female ghost that are not usually experienced in the Philippines.

Brown Lady

The most notorious Brown Lady is the one haunting Raynham Hall in the UK, who was allegedly the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole, the sister of the first prime minister of Great Britain. She was the second wife of Viscount Charles Townsend, an English statesman known for his violent temper who imprisoned her in the house. Later, she died from smallpox in 1726, but other sources claim that it was really under mysterious circumstances.

The color brown is associated with the ground, a sense of strength, and reliability. But it also represents stagnation and ignorance.

The Brown Lady's earthly color could be symbolic of her being trapped, trodden over, or disregarded in life as well as in death, both in the literal and figurative sense.

Grey Lady

In the fictional world of Harry Potter, the Grey Lady is the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw, the jealous daughter of Rowena, one of the founders of Hogwarts. But the character was based in folklores from many countries such as the United Kingdom, Malta, New Zealand, and the United States.

The Grey Lady is wearing what is considered a dull color, neutral and emotionless; also formal and conservative. She might be the less impressive version of the Woman in White.

What I found most common among Grey Lady's backstories is that she died abruptly, or unable to accomplish her goals in life, leading her to feel like a failure.

For instance, the one haunting Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire, England, is thought to be the ghost of Elizabeth Hesketh—a young woman who got seriously ill and died while her husband is away at war. While the Grey Lady of Dudley Castle is believed to be the ghost of Dorothy Beaumont, who died shortly after giving birth to a stillborn daughter.

Blue Lady

Blue is the color of nobility, associated with calmness and serenity, or sometimes freedom like the wide-open sky and sea. But it is also the color of sadness and depression, often used as a metaphor in the idiomatic phrase "feeling blue"—coined from a custom among many old deepwater sailing ships that would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along her entire hull when they lost the captain or any of the officers during its voyage.

The famous Blue Lady of Moss Beach Distillery in California is said to be the ghost of a woman named Mary Ellen who had an illicit affair with a speakeasy pianist, and after being caught by her husband—a notorious bootlegger during the Prohibition era; was killed when she got in between them during the struggle.

The blue might be seen as the sadness that she felt for her unattained freedom caused by her untimely death; or that she was in a very difficult or awkward situation when she died—like being in deep water, as one would say.

Green Lady

Green Maidens are common ghosts in Scotland and Wales. They’re usually described as young and thin with long blonde hair, said to emerge at the door, soaked to the bone, and seeking a warm place to dry off. If welcomed in, they stay and protect the home, making them a benevolent and welcomed spirit.

The ghostly women in green are usually associated with a nearby woodland, or bodies of water such as swamps or lakes because they are regarded more as nature spirits or elementals rather than ghosts of dead people.

There's the Glaistig, a type of water spirit in Scottish Highland folklore, appearing as a beautiful woman with goat legs hidden by her long green dress. Renditions of the legend say that she was once a mortal noblewoman with "fairy" blood, cursed with caprine legs, who was murdered in a green dress and then stuffed unceremoniously up the chimney by a bitter servant.

Green is associated with luck, life but also with envy. Also, the color of money, representing wealth. So Green Ladies are sometimes said to guard the place where a buried treasure is hidden.

One allegedly haunts a golf resort in Aberdeenshire, Scotland owned by Donald Trump, where a former castle dating back to the 1700s once stood.

The Gender of Hungry Ghosts

The Freudian theory called 'Return of the Repressed' states that our conscious mind represses unpleasant or painful thoughts and memories, but these are retained by the unconscious. Once retained, these will resurface back into consciousness again, but in a more distorted or symbolic way.

A ghost is supposed to represent something repressed by society. Then it makes sense that they would be more likely to be female since women's rights were suppressed at different levels especially in male-dominated cultures.

Hiding their true feelings and problems, a woman builds up those struggling frustrations kept hidden for too long, thus creating a ghost. A "hungry ghost" is forced to inhabit our material plane until they can have their emotional and spiritual needs met.

Women are also the more likely victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. In most cases, a woman who was powerless while alive—filled with suffering and grief, only gets the power to do anything after death. Dying a horrible, tortured death would likely result in them returning to haunt in search of salvation.

Gender bias would generally lead us to assume that men would try and get revenge while still alive, as apparent from revenge plots in action films. Since men are more likely associated with brute force and strength than women, a male spirit is less scary to us than a flesh-and-blood counterpart.

Female ghosts are also often seen as perverted mother figures who exhibit infanticidal tendencies or homicidal jealousy in place of the expected maternal nurturing qualities. Therefore, it subverts the conventional view of a woman as a passive, obedient creature and supposes that the angry, violent, retributive urges suppressed in life may emerge after death in twisted malevolent form.

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A History of Violence

During the pre-colonial period, ancient Philippine society offered women great opportunities. They held high positions in their communities as priestesses called babaylan and as tribal chieftains.

Man learned early on that he has to respect the female gender, and was labeled negatively by his group if caught doing unthinkable acts on a woman.

When the Spaniards came, Filipino men were treated as peasants and low-lives, while the local women were considered far inferior. They were often violated and sexually abused—sometimes even by parish priests. Women were sold into slavery to opposing forces like the Dutch and Portuguese, as well as to Chinese pirates if captured.

In almost four hundred years of Spanish Colonial Rule, the identity of the Filipino woman of strength and power was soon forgotten and replaced with an idealized image who was someone overly religious, submissive, and obedient. As dictated by the Spaniards, the "Maria Clara" was only to become one of two things: a nun or a wife.

In the course of the Philippine–American War, the women were left home and became vulnerable targets to various abuses for obtaining information by the foreign forces, since their husbands were often away for war.

In the accounts of one American soldier named General Jacob Smith about the Balangiga Massacre in Samar province; a certain Major Waller ordered to burn down everyone and everything. He even specified that all those who were capable of wielding a gun (ages 10 and up) must be killed.

Besides the bloodshed, education flourished during the American occupation. But even when the literacy rate increased, gender parity was not successful in the country. Discrimination against women and homosexuals was the global mindset and general attitude of the people at that time.

Even though women were allowed to vote, society still preferred male candidates and discouraged women from running for public office. They did not care nor support the idea of gender equality and women were largely dependent on their husbands, leading parents to believe that sending their daughters to higher levels of education was a waste.

But it was during the Japanese invasion that Filipino women suffered greatly.

Young abducted locals, ranging from six to 20 years old, were threatened and forced to labor as "comfort women" like in many occupied countries such as Korea, China, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Manchukuo, Taiwan, Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea. A smaller number of women were also involved from the Netherlands and Australia.

When they took ownership of the Bahay na Pula, the Japanese military tortured and murdered many suspected resistance fighters. There are stories that they would cut off the genitals of the men, and forcefully stuff them into their mouths. Some even stated that one particular sex slave there was raped more than thirty times a day. They drowned her in a bathtub until dead and then raped her again.

Aside from sexual services, the Japanese did more than rape women but also subjected them to other kinds of violence and trauma, particularly from confinement, starvation, and maltreatment. In some cases, the Japanese went as far as killing women who fought back or escaped.

The Japanese government has long since apologized for past injustices they caused, but the remaining living survivors of these horrific events still want their sufferings to be acknowledged and not be forgotten to this day.

The postcolonial era brought about various pro-women groups, but not all survived throughout the years. Most of them disbanded or died out during the Marcos regime.

Instead of righting the wrongs let loose by the colonizing patriarchs, Filipinos continued to desecrate women by degrading them to mere bodies. While it was not as rampant as in the previous years, violence against women still happens and remains to be one of the most persistent and alarming issues in the Philippines today.

These include physical, sexual, or domestic violence especially during pregnancy, as well as spousal rape. The most common forms are stalking, sexual harassment, human trafficking, forced prostitution, state violence, and female genital mutilation.

According to a survey conducted by the National Statistics Office in 2008; one in every five Filipino women aged 15 to 49 has experienced violence. In the reports of the Philippine National Police, the statistics revealed that there has been a steady increase in 'gendered abuse' cases reported to them from 1997-2013.

Overseas Filipino workers—a lot of them women, working as domestic helpers, are commonly abused and mistreated by their employers abroad. In fact, some even return to their homeland already in bodybags.

Perhaps the reason why the Kaperosa remains a faceless apparition is that she represents every victimized Filipina—some nameless and still unrecognized, whose suffering is ignored and merely glanced over by the rest of society.

References

  • Nagmalitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata, vizayanmyths.blogspot.com
  • The White Lady and Haunted Tree in Loakan Road, wattpad.com
  • White Lady ng Loakan, from an episode of Magandang Gabi Bayan, YouTube.com
  • Baguio's Urban Legends Revisited, 'White Lady' Magparamdam, sunstar.com.ph
  • 'Real White Lady' Unmasked, opinion.inquirer.net
  • From Ghost Story to Urban Legend: Authenticating the 'Lady in White of Balete Drive' by Tomas Gomez III, news.abs-cbn.com
  • These Characters from Filipino Mythology Would Make for Really Original TV Series, esquiremag.ph
  • White Lady, Black Lady, Red Lady and Brown Lady, philurbanlegends.blogspot.com/
  • Something Wraithlike This Way Comes, topic.com
  • Ghouls on Film: Why Women Make the Scariest Ghosts, the guardian.com
  • The White Lady: An International Phenomenon, vocal.media
  • Violence Against Women in the Philippines, wikipedia.org

Art Credits

  • White Lady by crisestepArt on DeviantArt.com
  • Black Lady by Daria Ovchinnikova
  • Red Lady by vampiredragon090 on DeviantArt.com
  • Brown Lady by gothika248 on DeviantArt.com
  • Green Lady by Sun Tzu
  • Blue Lady by tsabo6 on DeviantArt.com

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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