What happened to the 'Aswang?''

Rachel Arandilla
·2 min read

IN THE Philippines, we had our own way of celebrating Halloween. Growing up, this season wasn’t about carved pumpkins, dressing up in costumes and getting Halloween candy. Instead, as a country with a strong Catholic background, we went to Philippine cemeteries during All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to remember our beloved departed, visiting graves and offering prayers.

Later in the day, tito sets up the karaoke machine and the titas catch up on gossip; the kids share horror stories and ghost encounters.

Back when I was a child, I dreaded the days leading to the “undas.” Sure, I loved that we had a long school break. But I didn’t love that the local channels only played horror movies like “Shake, Rattle and Roll” or “Tiyanak” back-to-back. There was no other choice on entertainment offerings.

What happened to the “aswang?” I wonder how horror movies could pivot and stay relevant? I tried to spook myself with Netflix offerings, for old time’s sake—but I couldn’t get scared anymore. Maybe I have grown up. Or maybe, it’s hard to imagine paranormal activity lurking in modern studio condo units.

I tried to teach my six-year-old son about our old, creepy urban legends—but I think it is more aptly called “rural legend” because it only resounds more strongly in the province. In the big metropolis, with the absence of old ancestral homes, creaking boards, cricket symphonies and balete trees, it’s hard to relate.

How do I tell him that the duwende is a small creature that lives in an anthill? And that you have to say “tabi tabi” when you pass through the woods at night to pee outside? Or about the agta that lives in big trees, smokes cigars, and lures women? Or about the aswang who you can hear perching on the roofs, preferring households of pregnant women so she can consume their fetus?

Many people in the big cities are not only unfamiliar and disconnected with our mythical creatures and stories, but they are just as unfamiliar with animals, flora and fauna species, except through YouTube or if their parent is a certified plantita. That said, today’s version of nature is already man-made and manufactured, to get rid of weeds, anthills, mounds and even trees—all traces of where supernatural beings could reside. (Plus, most condos don’t even allow pets in their buildings).

Supernatural beings lurked in the dark, behind the trees or spirits that live in multigenerational ancestral homes. There’s no place for them in modern, concrete high-rise developments with perfectly manicured landscapes.