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The Aswang Vampire Legend in Philippine Folklore



Aswang in Philippine folklore is the most feared creature

Among the dreaded mythical creatures in the Philippines, the Aswang is the most feared. It is a ghoulish creature that feed off humans. But unlike the vampire that rises from the grave at night to drink the blood of the living, the Aswang in popular folklore is also a flesh eater of both the living and the dead.

Beach paradise in Capiz

Beach paradise in Capiz

Filipino folklore of the Aswang abound in the Visayan region of the Philippines. Dating as far back as the 16th century when Spain colonized the islands.

The western provinces of Capiz, Iloilo and Antique have long been known as an area of the Aswang's supernatural activities.

First time travelers to Capiz, who are aware of the local folklore can not be faulted for being apprehensive.

Even in modern times, mutilated corpses abandon on the wayside (extra judicial killings) or murdered victims with badly mangled bodies (scavenged by wild animals) are sometimes exploited by the local tabloids with sensationalism, attributing the deed as the handiwork of an Aswang in order to increase their newspaper's circulation.

The sudden disappearance of a former resident who may have decided to migrate to the big cities can spread gossips that the Aswang have claim another victim. Dead animals and rotting carcass of livestock left by cattle rustlers also help spread the Aswang legend.

Parents who use the threat of the Aswang coming to snatch misbehaving children contribute to the psychological conditioning of their young minds.

During the counter insurgency campaign of the early 50's, CIA agents assisting the Philippine government would drain the blood and put puncture marks on the neck of a dead rebel. The body would be dumped on known trails use by the communist cadres. The psy-war played on the superstitious belief of the uneducated rank and file insurgents. It was an effective ploy.

Street vendor selling Anting-anting (amulets and charm)

Street vendor selling Anting-anting (amulets and charm)

Anting-anting (amulets)

The superstitious in remote areas and far flung villages adorn their homes with objects they believe will repel the Aswang. Wreaths of Garlic bulbs can be seen hanging on windows and the sign of the cross is painted on front doors. Holy water blessed in church are keep near bedsides for protection.

Albularyos (herbal medicine practitioners) who sometimes perform exorcism would extract the oil from nuts of a particular coconut tree. Mixed with certain herbs, it is bottled and Latin prayers are said over it.

It is believed that when an Aswang approaches or is within the vicinity of your home, the oil boils and continue to froth with bubbles until the Aswang departs.

Other anting-anting (amulet) like images,icons and statues of saints decorate the walls of houses. A buntot pagi (tail of a stingray) is considered an effective repellant.The purifying powers attributed to salt crystals is said to cause the skin of an Aswang to burn. Even sterling silver swords, probably adopted from western mythology of the power of silver weapons, is use to safeguard against the evil intention of the Aswang.

Aswang are shape shifters

Aswang are shape shifters

Aswang as a shape shifter

In long past times, rumors of Aswang activities would find people in remote barrios of the hinterland forming posse to patrol their neighborhood at night. Armed with gulok or bolos (machete) and sharpened bamboo poles, a stranger who happened to pass by would have the unpleasant experience of being suspected as an Aswang.

A person with a conspicuous behavior, or a misshapen body that is afflicted by body contortion and twitching might also be accused of being an Aswang. This is because of the belief that they have the ability to change their appearances. Aswangs are shape-shifters.

suspected "Mankukulam"

suspected "Mankukulam"

paraphernalia for a "Kulam" (Hex)

paraphernalia for a "Kulam" (Hex)

Aswang as a Barangan (Witch)

The Aswang both male and female in Philippine folklore live like ordinary people among the populace Often they are reticent and shy, Quietly going above their business.

Aswangs favor places where they are in physical proximity with blood and cadavers.They work as butchers in meat shops and slaughterhouses, or aides often found loitering in hospital morgues, embalmers of funeral homes and gravediggers in cemeteries.

One way in which they can be recognized is by looking at their eyes. your reflection would appear inverted. During their nightly activities, they walk with their feet facing backwards.

Pork blood stew "Dinuguan"~ translate as " Of blood". A Filipino dish that taste better than it looks. Similar to European-style blood sausages or the British black pudding

Pork blood stew "Dinuguan"~ translate as " Of blood". A Filipino dish that taste better than it looks. Similar to European-style blood sausages or the British black pudding

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They may even be the cook in the small neighborhood eatery that prepares special dishes like the dinuguan (fresh pork blood and offal ). They are known to favor the human heart and liver.

One is warn to look carefully at the color and texture of the meat dishes.They may be the leftovers from the Aswang's victim.

Like the blood of a vampire that turns a human into the living dead, An ordinary person can also be infected by an Aswang creature.


Aswang as a false beast

The term "Aswang" originated from the tagalog word "asuasuan" which translate as having the "likeness of a dog".

In the original Philippine folklore, the Aswang like it's European counterpart the lycanthrope (werewolf) is a human being who turns into a weredog on a full moon.

Over the years the legend morph. The Aswang could now change into any shape. But usually it transmogrify into a huge black boar or wild dog with bloodshot eyes. Becoming a sigbin (zegben), similar to the Chupacabra.

It is a night stalker and the rustling movements behind bamboo groves or fields of tall sugar canes are indication that an Aswang is on the prowl. People avoid these areas at night

The "mananangal"

The "mananangal"

Aswang as a Mananangal (viscera sucker)

They are bold creatures that invade the community and homes of people.

The Aswang, usually a female will leave her lower body well hidden in dense growth of bushes or behind tree trunks and transform into a bat like creature popularly known as a Mananangal. The "wuk-wuk-wuk" cry of a night bird signals her approach. Village dogs become very agitated and it would set in motion their simultaneous howling.

The Aswang will wait patiently until the family is sound asleep. Preferring the liver and heart of small children, it would sneak inside and snatch the babies or the youngest child.

Pregnant women are not spared. A similar bat like Aswang in Philippine folklore called the kik-kik or tik-tik is very active during a full moon. Attaching itself unto the ceiling of it's victim's bedroom, it would stealthily lower a thin elongated proboscis that serves as a mouth. Worming it's way inside the woman's body it would suck out the blood of the fetus while making a "kik-kik-kik" sound.

Corpse eater

Corpse eater

Aswang as a Corpse eater (Ghoul)

If an Aswang fails to find a human victim, it will make do with a live animal or failing that it will scavenge for cadavers. They devour the corpse of humans or else hasten the dead of an ill person in order to eat their bodies.

They have been blame for stolen corpses sold by unscrupulous funeral morticians to medical schools for dissecting in anatomy classes. Grave robbers steal newly interred coffins (to be resold as brand new) and leave the corpse inside the tomb which are above ground and constructed with ordinary hollow blocks. In their haste to avoid the law, they neglect to reseal the tomb. it becomes an open invitation for hungry wild dogs. (these crimes and malpractice do happen and have been chronicled in newspapers)

An explanation for the Aswang in Philippine folklore

There have been many studies conducted to try to understand the reason for the persistent perpetuation of the aswang folklore in that part of the Philippines. Specifically in the province of Capiz on the island of Panay. Much have been written about the socio-psychological and anthropological phenomenon.

Dystonia de Panay ( torsion dystonia-Parkinsonism) is a rare musco-skeletal disease found only in Panay. A scientific research found an unusually high percentage of dystonia in several areas of Capiz.The study's molecular genetic analysis indicated that the mutation responsible for the x-linked dystonia-parkinsonism found mostly in males was introduced into the Ilonggo ethnic group of Panay more than 2,000 years ago. But before it could be sufficiently examined to find a cure, the disease mysteriously disappear in the early 1950s.

The disease called "Lubag" in the vernacular afflicts a person with uncontrollable intermittent body spasm of twisting movements, muscular contortions and shuffling gaits.To the simple superstitious and uneducated in the hinterlands, it was a scary sight that provoke terror and fear.The afflicted person was ostracized and made the scapegoat for any misfortune or accident that befell the community.

The Aswang of Philippine folklore is very much etch on the Filipino's psyche.

The Kapre


Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on December 25, 2013:

I didn't know that there are different types of aswangs. I thought all those categories are different monsters. Thank you for this very comprehensive and informative article about the aswang.

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on April 26, 2013:

Elias Zanetti ~ Like fairy tales they offer children a way of coping with the adult world around them. A kind of psychological security blanket and a means of explaining to a child's mind why adults behave the way they do. Modern science may offer logical explanations to these superstitions, or we simply outgrew our childish beliefs about these myths and legends. Yet we still instinctively become wary when we find ourselves in dark and unfamiliar places.

Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on April 25, 2013:

Modern science have offered logical explanations about the roots of such tales and myths around the world yet popular culture is still largely saturated with such archetypal images such as vampires, werewolves, zombies and so on. It is also really striking the resemblance of folklore and mythology in so many civilizations and the common roots they seem to share.

Very interesting hub. Voted up.

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on March 15, 2013:

Shanders ~ There are many interesting Filipino folklores. Scary stories or warnings about "Aswangs" were employed by parents at misbehaving children. (similar to your bogeyman) I'm sure your husband has his share of stories to narrate. Thanks for stopping by.:)

Shannon Anders from Port Huron, Michigan on March 14, 2013:

Very interesting and informative. My husband's family is from the Phillippines and I have heard a lot of folklore, but never this one! Thanks for sharing!

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on January 22, 2012:

charlyn ~ Hi! The manananggal folklore is like making the sign of the cross when one is confronted by danger. It is very real to the believers.

charlyn on January 14, 2012:

hai everyone is that true manananggal?

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on November 08, 2011:

leroy64 ~ Like Santa Claus and the Easter bunny,perhaps they exist? :)

Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on November 08, 2011:

I wonder why there are so many similar legends around the world. Vampires, werewolves, and dragons seem to be everywhere.

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on November 08, 2011:

Nell Rose ~ Hi, the Aswang do have wings and it's possible that they may have traveled to Transylvania and met Dracula.Flying at a low altitude to avoid radar detection unlike the UFO's :)). On a more serious note,Fear and ignorance of the unknown,the inability to explain a natural phenomena may have gave raise to myths and legends.But I want to believe that it is because story telling comes natural to people.Like us,ancient people also enjoyed a good story while sitting around the campfire. Have a beautiful day and thanks.

Nell Rose from England on November 08, 2011:

Hi, isn't it strange that nearly all countries and continents have these sort of beliefs? this sounds like a cross between a vampire and a wherewolf, but with added bits thrown in, it just goes to show that people in the old days travelled around a lot more than we first believed, taking with them their myths and legends, really interesting, thanks!

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on November 02, 2011:

Freya Cesare ~ The folklore of a country contains the richness of it's culture and tradition. It is worth preserving for future generation.( Even the scary parts :)). It serves as an anchorage to the past as a nation embarks on it's future. To deny that tradition means losing part of our cultural heritage.

Freya Cesare from Borneo Island, Indonesia on November 02, 2011:

Our country not really different after all in myth and stuff like this. Even in modern time, many people still believe about this and that and production house make it worst by keep making horor movies which is good for nothing but scaring people more and more.

Great article. I like the fact you presented at the end. Logic explanation is better than let the myth keep haunting people.

Vote up and useful. ^^ Thank you, SilentReed.

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on November 02, 2011:

moiragallaga ~ Of the few tagalog films I watch, Peque Gallaga's Oro,plata,mata and Scorpion nights come to mind. Your father-in-law's fantasy films like Tiyanak, Aswang and the Shake,rattle and roll series cater to the younger generation among whose fans are my nieces and nephews ;) But if memory still serve me,I still remember his film "Ang Leon at any Kuting" starring the late FPJ and former child star Sheryl Cruz. That was probably before your time :)

Moira Garcia Gallaga from Lisbon, Portugal on November 01, 2011:

Silentreed, truly enjoyable hub to read and a good reference for our rich folklore on the subject. My father-in-law, Peque G, he used the folklore of the aswang quite extensively in his horror movies. Voted up!

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on November 01, 2011:

aniperez ~ I think the women who aborted their child blame the Aswang as a way to assuage their conscience and free themselves from the guilt. And can we fault the children who live in shanty towns and in poverty, wondering when and where their next meal will come from? It would be better to be an "Aswang". Not the mythical creature in folklore, but the real "Aswang". The corrupt politicians and government officials who feed and suck the lifeblood of the ordinary citizens. Feel free to link this hub to your blog. Thank you.

anjperez on October 31, 2011:

SilentReed, i like the take on the muscular disease related to this folklore. i never knew that until you posted it in your hub. thanks for sharing. even nowadays, people still believe in "aswang". some women i talked to would blame their unprecedented abortion to being "naaswang". but they live in poverty. it is their way of explaining something bad that happened to them. we have seen those students convlusing in masses. they attribute the episode also to an "aswang". but i would like to circle around to your topic of muscular disease related to this folklore. i wish the news would have reported it rationally. however, my mom has a joke about poverty and "aswang". i posted it in my blog. because of poverty, a hungry kid is not afraid of an "aswang" anymore. because even "aswang" he wants to eat because he is very hungry. quite funny, but a reflection of reality.

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on October 30, 2011:

truebluewriter ~ I see you are also from the Philippines, most of us grew up having nightmares cause by the telling of these ghost and supernatural stories. They were our "Bogeyman" when we were misbehaving.:) Nowadays kids get their thrill from Jason and Freddy :)) Thank you for your comment.

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on October 30, 2011:

Bazmak ~ It is that time of the year for wild creepy stuff :)) Thanks for reading.

SilentReed (author) from Philippines on October 30, 2011:

Rosemay50 ~ In many barrios particularly in far flung and remote areas in the Philippines you sometimes find all the people living there with the same surname. Most can trace their lineage back to a common ancestor. Inter marriage between cousins, uncles, aunts and third degree relatives is not uncommon. But sibling marriages is Taboo.

I think they are aware that inbreeding causes many birth abnormalities. But it does lent credence to the explanation for the "Aswang"s affliction.

Malds Menzon from Manila, Philippines on October 30, 2011:

Ohhhh I grew up with these stories haha. I really believed these were true and most of the people from my province no matter how old they were believed em.

Bazmak from Michigan on October 30, 2011:

Some creepy stuff! Always interesting to hear about mythical creatures far from home. Wow the tik-tik or kik-kik, that is wild!

Rosemary Sadler from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand on October 30, 2011:

An interesting hub. Well set out and presented.

These strange tales are built up over the years.

Often such disease in a localised area are born through inbreeding. Odd that it should suddenly vanish though. But I'm sure there will be an explanation for that too such as new people, new blood moving into the area.

Very interesting to learn of these things. I did enjoy the read

Thank you

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