In the Philippine Islands today, the term Aswang (or Asuwang) aswang is a generic term that applied to a variety of mythical or paranormal creatures such as witches (mangkukulam), vampires, ghouls, manananggals and shapeshifters.
The myth of the aswang is popular in the Western Visayan regions such as Capiz, Iloilo and Antique. Other entities were also said to roam on forests in provinces.
The original definition is an eater of the dead, also called the bal-bal (maninilong in Catanauan, Quezon), which replaces the cadaver with banana trunks after consumption.
Aswang stories and definitions vary greatly from region to region and person to person, and no particular set of characteristics can be ascribed to the term.
Most commonly, they are female and 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.
The trademark or major feature of Aswangs which distinguish them from other Filipino mythological creatures is their propensity to replace stolen cadavers with the trunk of a banana tree carved in the cadaver's likeness.
They are known to sneak into houses where funeral wakes are being held, and stealing the dead bodies. They also prey on children, pregnant women, and ill people.
Their favourite body parts are the liver and heart, and they are known to be viscera suckers.
A being of enormous power, an Aswang can transform itself into any shape: animal as for a dog, a bat and/or a snake and even inanimate objects.
By some accounts, Aswangs are said to be able to enter the body of a person and through this person they inflict harm on those the they dislike.
Once an aswang has overpowered a victim, it will take a bundle of sticks, talahib grass, and rice or banana stalks, and transform these into a replica of its victim.
This replica is sent home while the Aswang takes the real person away to be killed and eaten. The replica person, upon reaching its home, will become sick and die.
One type of aswang is a woman who changes into the form of a large bird at night. In this form, she has a very long, hollow tongue with a sharp point at the end. She lands on the thatched roof of her victims. The tongue reaches down through a crack in the roof. The tip of this tongue inserts into the neck of a sleeping person and draws up the blood. The favorite victims are young children and pregnant women. When this type of aswang returns to her own home before dawn, she changes back into human form. But her breasts and belly are swollen with blood. She then breast feeds the blood to her own children.
Sometimes this type of aswang is called the tik-tik or wak-wak. But in some Phillippine lore the name tik-tik is given to a small owl-like bird which accompanies this type of aswang at night. The smaller bird makes the sound "tik-tik" which forewarns the potential victims. of the nearby presence of the aswang. This type of aswang is described in The Vampire Book by J. Gordon Melton (1994, 1999) and in The Vampire Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson (1983).
Another type of aswang is the mannananggal, a man or woman who separates at the waist at night. The top half then grows wings and flies off to seek victims. This type of aswang is also sometimes said to have a long tongue. It has a reputation for snatching unborn babies from the wombs of pregnant women. He or she can be destroyed by casting salt onto the lower part of his body after he becomes detached. The upper half can then no longer re-connect with the lower half. This type of aswang is mentioned in the article Phillipine (Visayan) Superstitions by Fletcher Gardner published in The Journal of American Folk-Lore, 19 (1906) and the book Supernatural Tales from Around the World edited by Terri Hardin (Barnes & Noble, 1995.)
A third type of aswang is a man or women who can change into all sorts of animal forms, including that of a bird, a dog, or a pig. Again,it is frequently said that the favorite victims are young children and pregnant women. This type seems to correspond the more specific meaning of the name aswang. Most often such an aswang is a man but there are also female aswangs of this type.
A fourth type of aswang, the mandurugo occurs in a Tagalog folk tale summarized by J. Gordon Melton in The Vampire Book. According to this tale, at one time a certain girl was the most beautiful women on her island. She was also a mandurugo.
Another familiar is thesigbin or Zegben. Some say that this is another form that the aswang transforms into and yet some say it is the companion of the tik-tik. It appears to be similar to the chupacabra and Tasmanian devil in appearance with the exception of spotty fur. It supposedly has a wide mouth with large fangs.
Incidents and tabloids
Aswang stories are one of the favourites in unreliable sensationalist tabloids, especially when there are grave robberies, child kidnappings, people with eccentric or peculiar habits and other incidents that can somehow be attributed to them. There are also quite a number of superstitious people, in the provinces mentioned who believe in their existence.
This is the horrifying but sad tale of Tiniente Gimo and his family.
Tiniente (Filipinized Spanish for Lieutenant) Gimo was a person of some note in his town of Dueñas in Iloilo, a region in the Visayas. He and his family were considered 'lahi ng aswang' (a clan of aswangs) and he wasn't one to hide the fact. Although he didn't flaunt it, he wasn't shy about it either. He knew the power he held over people and their fear was enough to make him claim the power that his bloodline gave to him.
One of the teniente's daughters studied in a university in the city. During a break, this daughter invited two of her classmates to come to her hometown for a visit. The young ladies agreed, excited at the prospect of going to a town they had never visited before.
They were greeted with enthusiasm by the teniente's family and as was customary in the Philippines, a small party was prepared. The lady visitors were fed and entertained. As the night grew deeper, one of the young ladies asked (let's call her Juana) what the sleeping arrangements would be. Gimo's daughter said that the visitors would be sharing a room with her.
And so off to bed they went. Because they were in a small town, no big beds were available so they all agreed to sleep on mats on the floor. Juana slept in the middle, tucked in between Gimo's daughter and their friend.
The two girls soon drifted off to sleep but Juana found that tired as she was, she just couldn't bring herself to sleep. Filipinos refer to this feeling as 'namamahay', which is when your body and mind are still in the process of adjusting to a new environment and thus cannot perform a certain routine. This was what prevented Juana from sleeping. It was also what kept her alive.
The party went on outside even as the night deepened but to Juana, instead of fading away, the noise just seemed to get a little bit louder. She heard more people coming, being greeted, there were sounds of suppressed laughter, soft giggles and whispers. "Must be the party for tomorrow," she thought. "They're really throwing a big one."
Since she couldn't sleep anyway, Juana decided to get up and take a peek at the activities through the window. When she lifted the cover, what she saw stirred fear in her heart. On the clearing not far from the house, people were gathered together in a circle – a few women were busy cutting spices and vegetables, some men were talking and drinking while others were sharpening knives. There were children as well. And there, through the shrubs, more people were coming.
In the middle of the circle was a fire and over the fire was a larger-than-usual iron cauldron. If these people were going to cook, they were going to cook something big – bigger than a full-grown chicken or a goat.
Just then, Juana heard Teniente Gimo's voice just on the other side of the wall, talking to another man.
"So which one is it?" the man asked.
"The one in the middle and the other one's on the right," Teniente Gimo said.
"Okay. I'll bring three or four along in case there's a struggle."
"Let's just hit her on the head. Keep her quiet that way."
"And bring the sack to carry her with. We'll take care of the other one."
Juana didn't need to hear any more just to understand what the two men were discussing. The 'one in the middle' they were referring to was her! The fire and the iron cauldron, all those vegetables and spices the women were preparing, the sack… they intended to butcher her and her friend!
Juana's survival instinct kicked in. She debated for a while on whether to wake up her friend or not but the men were coming up the stairs and if her friend woke up suddenly, there's no telling what she would say or do. They could both be in bad trouble if she delayed for another second.
Juana hurried back to the sleeping girls on the floor, pushed Gimo's daughter towards the middle, lay on the girl's right and covered everyone's head with the wide blanket. That way, the heads were hidden underneath. She tried to calm herself to prevent from shaking. Soon the door opened slowly and noiselessly.
Juana didn't know how many men came for Teniente Gimo's daughter that night. All she felt and heard were soft footsteps, a few whispers and a loud thud as they hit the young girl on the head. They were very quiet, as if they were used to doing what they did. They didn't even wake up her friend, who was sleeping so soundly just an arm's length away from Juana. Teniente Gimo's daughter lay moaning next to her.The men quickly wrapped the bleeding girl in the sack and carried her away.
After the men had left the room, Juana got up, tried to wake her friend for the last time, failed and decided to go at it alone. She opened the window across the one facing the clearing where they were presently beating the body inside the sack and carefully but fearfully climbed down.
As soon as her bare feet touched solid ground, Juana began to run. She didn't care where she was passing through – all she knew was that the main road was in that direction. She hadn't gotten far when she heard shouts and screams from the group. They had opened the sack and found out the terrible mistake they made.
Enraged, Teniente Gimo cried for everyone to check the house, find the girl, THE girl they wanted, she who was supposed to be in the middle, she who was supposed to be in the sack, she who was supposed to be the one they should be prepping tonight, she whose throat they should have slit.
Behind her, Juana heard the commotion and simply assumed that people were now climbing the stairs, opening the door to the daughter's room and finding that only one was left behind and the other had run away. It would only be a matter of time before they found out where she was headed. So Juana kept on running over the grass, the rocks, the pebbles that cut her feet, the sharp thorns of the shrubs and the slimy dead things underneath her.
But those who were in pursuit of her were men – grown men, men taller than she, with longer legs, with strength stolen from the other men and women they had slaughtered before her poor friend. As the men with the torches began to gain on her, Juana felt panic rise from her legs to her heart, threatening to turn her legs to stone. She could never outrun these men and if she could hide, where? They probably knew this area very well and could find her easily.
But right in front of her, a tree stood. It was tall enough but not so tall that she couldn't climb it and it looked strong, with a thick truck and even thicker leaves. Juana had no memory of how she managed to climb the tree that night but there she cowered, shaking, mouthing prayers for the Virgin to protect her, to please not let them see her, hear her, smell her.
The voices grew nearer and so did the footfalls. Not only the men came in pursuit. There were a few women as well, some of them holding torches, some gripping a thick tree branch and others, still holding on to the knives they used to cut the onions and the tomatoes. Light from the torches illuminated the branches and the leaves of the tree as the mob passed underneath her. If one of them ever looked up…
But no one did. The crowd of angry men and women who tried to come after her came and went. They couldn't find her. A few hours later, which seemed an eternity to Juana, they came back again, walking this time, tired and hungry, their torches fading but they came a few feet away, no longer passing under Juana's tree.
Although the crowd had gone, Juana stayed hidden in the tree. She waited for the dark sky to turn gray and very carefully, painfully climbed down. No one was in sight and she was too far away to actually hear anything from where Teniente Gimo's hut stood. Besides, it was morning and if they did party on last night, they would be too full and tired to care today. Juana brushed the thought of her other friend, the one she left behind, away and began to run again, towards the main road.
At this point, I no longer remember how Juana got help. Maybe she stopped a passing bus or jeepney or maybe a person with a good soul came across the fearful girl with the wild eyes. But she did get help and she did find her way home, safe and alive. She never went back to the town of Dueñas, not even to see if the tree that saved her life still stood.
As for Teniente Gimo and his clan of aswangs, it is said that the incident devastated him. It was his own beloved daughter after all. They packed up and abandoned their home and moved someplace else. Where he and his family are now is only whispered about and whether they are still hunting and luring human prey, it can only be guessed at.