Philippines, Vampires in the

Philippines, Vampires in the

(pop culture)

The modern Philippines is a country composed of numerous peoples whose belief systems survive, some in a rather secularized form, in spite of several centuries of Islamic and Christian missions and the development of a host of modern indigenous religions. The tribes of the Philippine Islands had an elaborate mythology, which included demonic beings, dragons, were-animals, giants, ghouls, and vampires. The Capiz section of the island of Panay was especially associated with the vampire, where many were believed to reside.

Of the vampire-like creatures, the aswang was by far the most well known throughout the Islands. The term aswang was used to describe a set of different creatures that were analogous to vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and witches, and in the folklore literature could be found under any one of those headings.

The flying aswang, or the bloodsucker, usually appeared as a beautiful maiden who engaged in vampiric activities at night, always returning home to resume her normal life before dawn. Some women have an ointment that they rub on their body prior to their nocturnal activities. The ointment was the source of their supernatural abilities. In its vampiric state, the aswang became a large bird that flew through the sky crying out kakak or kikak. It would land on the roof of a prospective victim‘s house and let down a long tongue with a sharp point. The point was used to prick the jugular vein, and the blood was sucked up through the hollow tongue’s tubular structure. Children were told stories of the possibility of being attacked by an aswang. Once filled with blood, the aswang resembled a pregnant woman. Upon returning home she fed her children, who suckled at her breast. The aswang’s supernatural powers ceased either with its washing off the ointment or the coming of dawn.

The aswang was a common bugaboo parents used to keep children in line. A large percentage of Filipinos grew up with at least some belief in its existence. The strength of this belief was documented quite vividly in the 1950s when it was used against a group of insurgents (the Huk or Hukbalahap) during the presidency of Magsaysay, a Philippine leader strongly supported by the American government. American advisors to Magsaysay convinced him to create a psychological warfare unit to counter the efforts of Huk leaders to win people away from their support of the central government. Among the efforts of this unit, noted in General E. G. Lansdale’s account, was an attempt to convince a Huk unit to abandon a position in fear of an aswang’s attack.

The operation began with a rumor planted in a community threatened by Huk attack. People were told that a vampire had moved into the area. The Huk were barricaded at the top of a nearby hill. They soon became aware of the rumor that was spreading through the area. Several days later, the psychological warfare unit was able to capture a Huk soldier and kill him by draining his blood. They made two puncture wounds on his neck and left him on the road near the hill where he would be found. When he was found, the Huk believed their dead comrade to be a victim of the aswang. The next day all of the Huk troops left.

Building on Lansdale’s account, Norine Dresser noted that in the late 1980s she found the story of the aswang and the Huk and other tales of the aswang were still very much alive in the Filipino immigrant community in California. They told her the old stories of the vampire creatures and she discovered that several of her informants still believed in the aswang. They also reflected on the long range effect of the 1950s incident that many local people, not just the Huks, attributed to a vampire. Once the Huks left, people began to wonder who the aswang‘s next victims would be. Some started wearing garlic necklaces. Some left the area and their abandoned land was taken over by the government and used in its land redistribution programs.

Despite the fear caused by the incident, everyone recognized its effectiveness in destroying the Huks’s support among the people.

One tale told by the Isneg people related the origin of the vampire, which they called danag. According to the story, several people were in the fields planting their crops when a woman cut her finger. Another woman sucked the wound and thereby discovered that she liked the taste of blood. She went on sucking until she had taken all of the blood. The story concluded by noting that the blood sucking replaced farming.

The Tagalog people spoke of a vampire called the mandurugo about which they told the story of “The Girl with Many Loves.” The young woman was described as one of the most beautiful to live in the land. She married at the age of sixteen. Her husband, a husky youth, withered away in less than a year. After his death, she married again, with the same result. She married a third time and then a fourth. The fourth husband, having been warned, feigned sleep one night holding a knife in his hand. Soon after midnight he felt a presence over him and then a prick on his neck. He stuck the knife into the creature on top of him. He heard a screech and the flapping of wings. The next day his bride was found dead some distance from the house with a knife wound in her chest.

As the Philippine film industry developed after World War II, the vampire became a subject of its attention. Given the large Roman Catholic influence in the Islands, however, the films tended to relate more to the European vampire than the aswang or associated Philippine vampire characters. Beginning in the 1960s, a number of inexpensive B-movies were made in the Philippines by American companies, including some of the most forgettable in the horror and vampire genres. Due to a variety of copyright, trademark, and trade agreement obstacles, many of the Philippine movies have never been released in the United States.

Sources:

Dresser, Norine. American Vampires: Fans, Victims, Practitioners. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989. 255 pp.
Lansdale, Edward Geary. In the Midst of Wars. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. 386 pp.
Lopez, Mellie Leandicho. A Handbook of Philippine Folklore. Diliman, Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press 2006.
Ramos, Maximo D. Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. Manila: University of the Philippines Press, 1971. 390 pp.
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