It’s funny and curious how, in modern times, Filipinos still believe in local monsters known as the aswáng (or asuáng in old orthography). Despite being Christianized for hundreds of years, this vestige from our pre-Filipino past still remain.
In Philippine folklore, the aswáng is a mythical vampire-like creature which is much terrifying compared to its European counterpart. If European vampires suck only blood, the aswáng devours human flesh.
The aswáng is known by many names and/or regional variations: tik-tik, wak-wak, mánanangal, etc. The most popular of them all is the mánanangal (erroneously spelled with a double “g”). It lives among townsfolk by day as a normal human being. But at night, her transformation begins: the cuspids of her teeth become fangs, and the upper half of her body grows bat-like wings and separates from the lower half of her body which enables her to fly and hunt for unknowing victims who are either in deep slumber or are dead drunk in lonely streets. The mánanangal –and the aswáng as a whole– has been the subject of many a popular horror flick in local cinema. Peque Gallaga’s epic three-episode film, Shake, Rattle & Roll (1984) popularized this monster into the mainstream in the said movie’s third episode, Manananggal. The film created a cult following and even spawned several installments (traditionally shown during the Metro Manila Film Festival; the most recent was Shake, Rattle & Roll XI just last December). Irma Alegre effectively played the role of this mythical creature and gave nightmares to an entire generation of kids during that decade.
Stories of mánanangal usually pervade in the countryside. It prowls on top of flimsy roofs, looking for sleeping victims for easy prey. An incident early this morning suddenly reminded me of this fictitious being.
At past 2:00 AM, as I was doing my nightshift, my wife texted me that she heard “strange noises” on top of our roof, as if somebody –or something– was stealthily scratching the surface of our galvanized iron roof. I immediately dismissed the idea of robbers because it’s virtually stupid of them to do that: there is no possible way for them to enter our place via our roof. Besides, we live in a gated apartment complex, and our unit is on the second floor. The only way that robbers could come in is that they would have to forcibly break through our door. My suspicion is that perhaps those strange noises my wife heard were made by a nimble cat. Then suddenly, memories from stories I heard from childhood reminded me of the mánanangal.
When I got home this morning, my wife told me and our maids the whole story about what had happened (and with matching reenactment — she is that “expressive” to details, LOL!!!). She suspected that somebody was spying on us. Instead of chastising her about the absurdity of a robber on top of our roof, I suggested that perhaps it was an aswáng. Despite being a highly educated damsel, my wife’s provinciana deportment prevailed in her. And more so because my rather serious remark was seconded by our rather ignorant maids from the Visayas, where the belief in the existence of the aswáng and other mythical beings is more popular and even regarded as part of culture and tradition. The province of Cápiz (a place that is regarded by many Manileños with dread because of the belief that a large population of mythical beings live there), for example, even had an Aswáng Festival. It was inaugurated last 2004. But it invited controversy and condemnation from both the Catholic hierarchy and some local officials; the festivities ceased to exist three years later.
And that’s how I terrified my household today, LMAO!!! I wonder why so many Filipinos love to scare themselves, whether it’s Undás season or not. Sharing ghost stories and retelling encounters with the unknown (including the aswáng) are still popular even in this age of information technology and the Internet. Such fantasies still excite the Filipino mind.
But let’s face it: the aswáng and similar creatures are nothing but pure fiction and fantasy. And in reality, it’s the police and the military who are twice as terrifying (and far more dangerous) compared to the mythical aswáng.