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  • Ariel Favis

Philippine Beasts: When Culture and Post-Colonial Identity Intertwine

How many childhood tales can you recall from memory? I remember parts from a myriad of stories, but few word-for-word. In Filipino myths, the stories are abundant and kept alive through oral history and superstition. My father immigrated from Batangas, Philippines to Chicago, Illinois with only a 15 lb. bag of luggage and a handful of these stories to share.

Being a second-generation immigrant, I am constantly reaching for bits and pieces of my culture to reconnect with – one being the creature, Mananangaal, a blood-sucking evil spirit with vicious wings and fangs. My father always told me to keep watch for the Mananangaal out the window, whose torso would detach from its legs and swallow my sisters and me whole. While he spared the gory details, keeping jars of salt and raw rice outside of your home was a known method of keeping the creature away and vulnerable to sunlight. There are a few other spiritual practices and figures concerning supernatural protection, such as the Diwatas – dryads who were called upon to assist in health and a plentiful harvest. Originating from Hinduism’s Devatas, these supernatural protectors were found in the forests and lakes of more rural areas of the Philippines. Keeping ties with the Diwatas often led many Filipinos to deeply commune with spirits, in both worship and as precaution for misfortune. Amongst the Diwatas you can find the Kapre, a tree demon characterized by its gorilla-humanoid form and odorous tobacco pipe. Victims of its control are said to go around in circles in the forest until they’re lost. The physical, natural elements of earth play a big role in pre-colonial Filipino myths, as the rural environment was built within them.

Pre-colonial Philippines was lush with indigenous tradition. Despite the fact that most Filipinos adopted Catholicism as a main religion brought in by the Spaniards, Filipino traditions maintained a connection to the spiritual realm, luckily thriving despite the post-colonial environment. When talking about Spaniard-Philippine assimilation, we often think of the transformation in food, language, and clothes. Spaniard influence spread into tons of tiny corners of Filipino culture, including its myths. Take the Tikbalang, a creature whose half-horse form wasn’t written into the Filipino narrative until Spanish conquistadors trampled into Philippine land with their hooves. Before horses were brought into the picture, the Tikbalang were recorded only as elemental guardians of the forest – something transcendent. Often, they were said to have access to portals around the spiritual realm.

Even more so fulfilling is the access we have to the fables and their ancestral roots, which blend into a magical melting pot that makes Filipino fairy tales compelling to hear.


Art by Sofia Arbaiza Martinez


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