It is no surprise that with more than 7,000 islands, scores of languages and dozens of unique cultures, the Philippines has more than its share of folklore and legends.
In particular, the tales of the islands abound with countless descriptions of mythical creatures, from one-eyed giants to mischievous dwarfs, and everything in between.
Even to this this day, particularly in remote communities, belief in these creatures remains widespread. And who knows? Perhaps out in those deep, dark jungles and endless oceans, there lurks some undetected oddities awaiting discovery…
Here is just a sample of the strange and unusual mythical creatures of the Philippines:
Perhaps the best-known of the country’s mythical creatures, aswang are shapeshifting vampires. They resemble humans by day and transform into various horrible guises by night.
While anyone can fall victim to these flesh eating ghouls, pregnant women about to give birth are their favoured prey.
Among the forms adopted by aswangs are huge, black, long-tongued birds called tiktik, or animals including bats, dogs, cats or pigs.
When targeting pregnant women it is said the aswang takes its tiktik form to land on its victim’s roof, and stretches its long tongue into the house and the woman’s womb, allowing it to feast on the foetus. If they can’t find such a victim, it is said that they have a particular fondness for human liver.
Countermeasures include placing brooms upside down, putting “badiawan twigs” over windows or keeping a blessed, or magical, dagger in the house.
Although the aswang myth is known across the country, it is particularly associated with the Visayas.
This is a monster that steals and eats human bodies that it locates using its acute sense of smell. It is said to have claws and teeth sharp enough to rip the clothing off the dead.
Since it eats nothing but corpses, it has foul breath. After its disgusting feasts, it leaves the trunk of a banana tree in empty coffins to trick mourners into thinking the body is still inside.
This is a swamp monster, with a devilishly cunning way to ensnare its victims.
First, it sucks out vast amounts of water from ponds, until fish become visible on the surface. It then waits until somebody chances by and spots an easy fishing opportunity.
Then, as they draw close, it showers then with the pond water like a fire hydrant until they drown. Once dead, the victim is swallowed whole.
Despite their fearsome abilities, these monsters are terrified of crabs. Perhaps they fear that a well-timed nip of a claw could cause them to explode?
These creatures are most associated with Ilocos Norte province.
The Bungisngis is a forest-dwelling one-eyed giant, which is said to be constantly laughing.
Although immensely strong, they are said to be easy to trick and somewhat cowardly.
Humanoid in shape, it has large teeth which are always showing, and an upper lip that can cover its face when pulled back. It has two tusks on either side of its mouth with its single eye in the middle of its forehead. As if to compensate for its monocular vision, it is said to have acute hearing.
Most strongly associated with Bataan, a similar creature is known as ‘mahentoy’ in the northern part of the Davao region.
These are lesser gods of natural features, particularly trees. They could be thought of as the Philippine equivalent to the European fairy or Arabian djinn (genie).
Their name comes from the Sanskrit word ‘devada’, meaning gods. They are also known as engkantada (from the Spanish ‘encantada’ meaning enchantress, charmed) or engkanto from similar roots.
Diwata are described as fair-skinned, of ‘pleasing appearance’ and sometimes blonde-haired.
Said to be guardians of large trees such as acacia and balete, they can be vengeful if humans harm their abodes. However, treated well, they can also dispense blessings.
Diwatas are also associated with bodies of water, forests in general and mountains.
The term is traditionally used in the Visayas, Palawan and Mindanao regions, while the term anito is used in Luzon. Both terms are used interchangeably in Bicol, Marinduque, Romblon and Mindoro.
Duwende, from the Spanish ‘duende’ meaning goblin or elf, are little creatures who can also dish out blessings or curses.
In pre-colonial times they were known as ‘mangalo’ and were said to cause the death of children by eating their bowels.
In modern-day beliefs, duwende are said to live in dark corners of houses, trees, rocks, caves, termite mounds and other quiet out-of-the-way places.
They can be good or mischievous, depending on how they are treated. It is said to be good practise to mutter “tabi-tabi po” as a respectful apology for disturbing them when walking past a likely abode. Food can also be left out to encourage their good favours.
Another tree-dwelling entity, these hairy, black, muscular giants are said to love cigars and stink to high heaven.
In many ways a Philippine Bigfoot, the kapre is often used as a warning to children not to play outside after dark.
Although not dangerous as such, they like to trick people by making them get lost and disoriented in forests. The antidote to this behaviour is to turn one’s shirt inside-out.
Also known as marindaga, marinaga or maginaga, the naga is a type of fresh water mermaid. They have a lower half resembling an eel or snake. The upper body is of a beautiful curvaceous woman with long flowing hair.
Said to be vicious towards adults but gentle to children, they are the protectors of springs, wells and rivers.
While they are said to bring the gentle rain needed to grow crops, they are also blamed for disasters such as floods and drought.
In some traditions they are believed to be the guardians of treasure.
The manananggal is a type of aswang that can fly after separating itself from the lower half of its body.
Just like the tiktik, these mythical creatures eat babies and foetuses from wombs by stretching down their long tongues from the roofs of houses.
To kill a manananggal, one should locate the lower torso that it leaves behind during its nightly hunts. Salt, ash and garlic should then be placed on the exposed flesh. This prevents it from rejoining its two halves and leaving it vulnerable to sunlight, which is fatal.
These are the ghosts of people who died during the Second World War. Due to a scarcity of coffins at the time, families would often wrap their dead in reed mats. It was also common to bury the dead in secrecy, outside of consecrated cemeteries. This was due to the threat of grave robbery at a time when many desperate people were starving.
This left the souls of the departed trapped in some sort of limbo state.
They are said to appear on solitary paths to block lone travellers. To be rid of these spectres, one needs to stab at the reed mat and unravel it.
These headless monsters are said to inhabit the Ilocos region, where they haunt dark abandoned places.
A shapeshifter, the pugot can also move at great speed, feeding on snakes and insects that it finds among the trees. It eats by shoving handfuls of food into its neck stump.
Although terrifying, the pugot is relatively harmless. However, these mythical creatures have an overwhelming fondness for women’s underwear, which they like to steal from clothes lines.
This is one entity that could have basis in scientific fact, being a terrestrial version of the oceanic weather phenomenon known as Saint Elmo’s Fire.
These mysterious balls of light, most often reported in the Sierra Madre Mountains, are a Philippine equivalent of the European Will o’ the Wisp.
This is the Philippine version of the minotaur, a huge half-man, half-bull hybrid. It is said to have a precious jewel attached to its ear. Woe betide anyone attempting to steal this – the last thing they are likely to see is the smoke rising from the enraged sarangay’s nostrils!
In Maranao mythology, the sarimanok is a magical bird that brings good fortune to anybody able to catch it.
As a symbol, it has deep significance throughout the Moro regions of the Philippines.
This is perhaps the Philippine equivalent to the Mexican chupacabra, a nocturnal carnivore resembling a hornless goat or kangaroo. It is said to walk backwards with its head between its hind legs, and to have the ability to become invisible.
To this day, they are frequently blamed for the loss of poultry and livestock.
This is the Philippine version of the mermaid or siren, mythological creatures common to folklore across the world.
Like the magindara, they are said to lure fishermen to their deaths — unless they fall in love with them first.
In local legend, they were said to have guarded the waters of Pangasinan from the tattooed raiders of the Visayas.
These are the male counterparts to the sirena. Their lower halves can either be fishtails or scaled legs with webbed feet. In some traditions, they are described as having long, green tentacles.
While not said to deliberately lure victims to their deaths, they will drown any mortals who trespass into their territory.
This is the Philippine version of the centaur, a half-man, half-horse creature.
It has a horse’s head, the body of a human but with the hooves of a horse.
These mythical creatures are said to molest or even rape women, particularly those who lose their way in mountainous or forest areas.
They also have the ability to drive people insane. As a countermeasure, as with the kapre, victims should turn their shirts inside-out.
These are babies who died before being baptised and so become trapped in a state of limbo.
This condition turns them into evil spirits who return into the mortal realm in the form of goblins to eat living victims.
Most Tiyanaks are said to live in forests. When they spot a human, they transform into what looks like a normal baby. However, when their victim comes close, they reveal their true form and eat them.
The tiyanak can also be the offspring of a woman and a demon or an aborted foetus bent on revenge against its mother.
Like the manananggal and tiktik these are bird-like mythical creatures who prey upon humans.
Its name comes from the sound of its flapping wings while in flight.
When the sound is loud, it means it is far away, but if it becomes quieter, and then silent, it could be close at hand and ready to attack.
These mythical creatures are said to maim their victims before feasting on their hearts.
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