Local creatures that mainstream media never told you about
Give the manananggals and tikbalangs a break
Oct 19, 2017
Before Shake, Rattle & Roll and La Luna Sangre, before Jessica Soho and Noli de Castro’s Halloween specials, before Buzzfeed listicles and the carefully crafted creature profiles on The Aswang Project website, stories of the odd and the terrible creatures of midnight were passed on through word of mouth. Their tales weren’t exclusively told during Halloween, either. Before mainstream media adopted the kapre, the tikbalang, and the manananggal for their annual Halloween scare fix, stories about them have been told by parents to simultaneously incite fear and wonder in their kids: passed on by fathers to their sons, carried on like heirloom pieces, a sliver of the mystical to spice up otherwise ordinary lives.
For example, in my home province of Batangas, would watch the storytelling of these myths in person. My father and his childhood friends would sit on makeshift benches, armed with plastic drinking glasses and several bottles of Ginebra, and retell tall tales of their grandfather’s father seeing a man transform into a wolf while perched on a tree during a late night game of hide and seek. They’d share stories heard from the friend of a neighbor of a family friend about that old house along that street where skeletons would dance at midnight.
These are the kinds of setups that brought to life the much more colorful, feral, terrifying, and morbidly imaginative creatures of Filipino mythology that mainstream media has neglected. Here are a handful of the ones that have somehow slipped through the popular culture’s radar.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a Filipino counterpart to vampires, and it’s not the popular manananggal or the widely misinterpreted aswang.
Before Dracula and Lestat, the Isneg people of the Apayao province were already telling tales of the Danag folk. The Danag were believed to be almost-gods who once lived in harmony with humans. They helped the Isneg plant their crops, until an accident happened one day. A local cut their finger on a sharp object and one of the Danag politely offered to suck on the wound to ease the pain. But the Danag found the taste of the blood so sweet that he drained the local dry. After the incident, the Danag folk stopped planting crops with humans and began hunting them instead.
The name Dalakitnon means “those who live in the Balete tree” in Waray. It’s believed that these enchanted folk look like beautiful men and women with their great height, fair skin, and brown fine hair, but minus the philtrum. They seduce people into their home with treasures, delicious food, and all the finest things in life.
In some versions of the folktale, those who ask to leave are offered a meal of black rice that will trap them in the Dalakitnon’s abode forever. In other versions, they will entertain and play house with their visitors until they get bored of them, then cast them out with no means of returning home or being found ever again. Victims end up going mad trying to return to their paradise.
The Bungisngis is essentially the Filipino Cyclops counterpart. A giant known for its appetite for human esh, its name derives from the Tagalog word ngisi which means “to show the teeth” or “to grin.” The story of the Bungisngis originates from Batangas. According to the tale, a monkey, a carabao, and a dog once went to hunt for food. When the carabao stopped to rest and cook his catch, the Bungisngis saw the smoke from the carabao’s fire pit and attacked the animal to get to the food. The giant was so strong, he picked up the carabao and threw it into the ground, where it sunk knee-deep.
Aside from its singular eye, the Bungisngis is said to have an upper lip so wide that it hangs over two fangs as big as an elephant’s tusk. They say it could even cover the monster’s entire face when stretched.
The Mantiw of Iloilo, Panay isn’t as malicious as the rest of the creatures in this roster. They’re 30- foot forest spirits described as having fair skin, broad shoulders, and hooked noses. They’re also known for their uncanny likeness to the coconut tree and their habit of whistling while walking through the forest.
Most of the time, an encounter with this forest spirit is harmless. If you try to whistle or sing along with it though, it will get offended, pick you up from the ground, and leave you atop a coconut tree with no means of descent.
The Thalon is best described as a backwards humanoid dog that originated from Zamboanga del Sur. Its body is distorted-looking—like a man on all fours, except its stomach is facing up, its backside in the front, and its four feet facing backwards. There are two variations to this creature, depending on its sex.
A male Thalon, called the Mhenamad Thalon, creeps up on foreigners and non-locals only to scare them, without doing any further harm. As it is a cowardly creature, one only has to shout or taunt the Mhenamad Thalon into a fight to scare it off.
Its female counterpart, however, isn’t as harmless. The Thamad Thalon actually hunts to eat. When it’s on your trail, you will hear a woman’s screech as if from afar, as a warning. By the time you hear it, you can only try to outrun the she-beast in the hopes of surviving.
This story was originally published in Northern Living, October 2017.
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