Something rustles surreptitiously outside the window. Sounds like dry leaves, or a cat, or maybe even something that hisses.
Immediately I think of my grandmother and what she would say. It could only be three things: a “kapre” (a giant elemental with blackened skin, which incidentally likes to smoke tobacco), a “manananggal” (a young or old woman who by night detaches her upper torso, which grows wings so that it can take flight in search of pregnant women), or a shape-shifting witch that has taken the form of a huge black bird. The scariest thing the “aswang” (“monster” in Filipino, which variably refers to one or all types) is that the nearer it is, the softer the sound it makes.
I think most families in the Philippines have their own share of aswang stories, especially those that frequent their hometowns in the provinces. In my case, whenever my aunts and grandmother begin to talk about eerie experiences (when I was a kid), my cousins and I would instantly congregate, in a tight circle, to scare ourselves late into the night and sometimes until the next few days.
The folklore is rich, fed not only by legends of monsters with endless variations from the rural regions, but also by popular culture. One movie, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”, which first showed while I was still in elementary, has become a film franchise (no different from the Freddy and Jason movies) that has already presented the tenth installment in its series.
Looking for picture references for this post, I stumbled upon equally cute and gory cartoons, illustrations, figurines, and even dolls of the popular “manananggal”. (Second on the list is the “tikbalang” or the half-man, half-horse elemental, which can lead travelers astray on their journeys.)
The “manananggal” (the root word being “tanggal” or “detach”) is a vampire-like creature that appears as a normal woman (in some versions, a man) during the day. It has a long tongue that is said to be able to go through roofs and thatched floors in search for pregnant women. Upon finding them, the manananggal feasts on unborn fetuses.
It is said to be afraid of garlic, like vampires, but salt can also repel it from houses. To defeat it, one need only locate the bottom part of its body while its torso leaves during the night. Salt or sand is enough to prevent it from fully reuniting itself. The rays of the sun can then finish the job.
Going over the images I found, I can’t help but observe how far removed they are from the dark and musty stories my grandmother told us. I guess that’s what you get living in the city your entire life with only Hollywood as your source of horror, and with the stories of our forebears slowly fading from our disturbed, sleepless memories.