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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wick

The Legend of the Notorious Aswang

Bago city was one of the earliest established settlements in the Philippines, lying at the heart of the western Negros Province. Its inhabitants are no strangers to the wanton destruction of rapacious invaders, having risen up and fought against both the Spanish and Japanese occupations. And one balmy evening in March of 2013, they would once again find themselves taking up arms against an uninvited and aggressive attacker.

The night sky hung heavy and oppressive, making it feel as if the height of the dry season had come early, forcing the residents of Bogo to throw their windows wide open in the vain hope of gaining some small relief from the oppressive heat which was suffocating the city. In the bedroom of his tiny apartment, Andre Pineda lay dejectedly on his bed, trying to think up some inventive means of overcoming the closeness that was smothering him and find a way to get off to sleep.

His thoughts were disturbed temporarily by a sudden and loud clattering noise that had come from the kitchen. He suddenly dismissed the sound believing something must have been blown over by a gust of air coming through the window he had left open. But then there was a further commotion. Overwhelmed by a combination of his existing frustration at being kept awake and the growing hostility towards whatever was causing the disturbance, Andre rose and walked with purpose towards the sound.

As he marched into the kitchen, in the dim light coming from the streetlamps outside, he could just about make out the shape of an upper-body hauling itself into the darkened room through the open window. Andre cried out in anger, reaching across for a knife on the work surface and lunging at the figure. With frightening speed, the intruder heaved itself fully into the room, immediately dodging backwards away from the oncoming knife-blade. There was a sharp hissing sound and Andre felt a sudden slicing pain to his outstretched right forearm, forcing him to drop the weapon.

As his eyes tried to focus and adjust to the room's shadowy confines, he thought he saw the light glistening off sharp claws and a nightmarish mouth full of sharpened teeth. But it was the creature's eyes that would forever haunt him. Unblinking and solace blood red orbs that filled him with fear and revulsion. As he bent down to retrieve the knife, blood now pouring down his forearm from an open wound, the monster exited the room with incredible agility. By the time Andre had made it across to the window, he could see it on the roof of the apartment block on the other side of the street, scrambling across the tiles until it was out of sight.

The knife still gripped firmly in his hand, Andre hurried to his apartment and down into the streets below. He had heard tales of the creature he had just encountered his entire life, not once placing any faith or belief in them. But now, it seems stories had been true, all of them, and he had to warn his friends and neighbors. The streets of Bago City had become the hunting ground of the marauding Aswang.

Aswang grabbing a foot of a young girl

On the same evening that Andre Pineda was attacked inside his apartment, another family in Bargo City also experienced a similarly supernatural encounter. A young girl who had been fast asleep in bed found herself suddenly awake. In the dim light in front of her, she could see the silhouette of a dark figure. It was only then that she realized she was in fact moving, being dragged towards her own bedroom window by a bony hand, grasping her ankle. When her panicked screams brought her father running into the room, the spindly extremity quickly withdrew, its owner clattering away out of the window and into the darkness.

The next morning, the girl awoke with a sharp pain in the lower abdomen that was so severe she struggled to eat or drink and was soon experiencing difficulty in breathing properly. The family immediately sought out the nearest albularyo, a Filipino witch doctor who confirmed their worst suspicions. The creature that had tried to abduct their daughter was indeed an Aswang and its touch had caused irreparable damage to her soul.

Stories relating to the two attacks spread like wildfire throughout the community and the following evening, bands of local residents took to the streets armed with whatever weapons they could find. There were several reports that evening and the following nights of a shadowy figure being sighted running across the rooftops in order to escape from the vigilante groups, until peace was finally restored to the city.

Aswangs' atrocities

This bizarre set of circumstances are amazingly not isolated in their nature. In October of 2014, the town of Tanauan was similarly plagued with reports of multiple Aswangs stalking the streets at night, to the extent that the military were called in to protect the terrified population. And in Columbio in April of 2015, it was reported that a pair of aswangs had been injured and driven off by a vigilante patrol, in retaliation to a series of attacks on local children.

The word 'Aswang' is generally associated with the vampiric shape-shifting Entity, but it also serves as an umbrella definition for a whole host of other Filipino monsters. Some of these creatures are zombie like ghouls, that taunt the outskirts of rural villages, feasting on the flesh of the recently deceased. Others are witches or malevolent female spirits, who seek out babies and pregnant women using long pointed tongues to penetrate the skin in order to suck out blood and viscera.

The traditional Aswang is apparently able to pass itself off as a normal and fully functional human being during the daytime. It is capable of holding down a job and interacting with other family members. But during the hours of darkness, the Aswang morphs into a nightmarish creature desperate to satisfy a primal craving for human blood. It will identify properties that contain vulnerable residents, imitating the cries of animals or the voices of people the victim knows, to lure them away from the safety of their homes.

Shape shifting aswangs

In addition to being able to change its body from that of a normal human into its true terrifying self, the Aswang is also said to have the ability to transform itself into a bird or domesticated animal in order to get close to its intended target, launching an attack when the victim least expect it. Its appetite eventually sated, the monster then returns home before the break of dawn, changing once again to its deceptive human form.

Legend has it that a person is able to turn themselves in to an Aswang by fastening or securing a fertilized chicken's egg to their stomach before they go to sleep. During the course of the night, the chick travels from the shell of the egg into the belly of the recipient who then wakes with a hunger that can only be satisfied by human flesh. The Aswang is capable of conferring this curse onto another person if it so desires, opening its mouth and allowing the chick to enter the mouth of its victim.

Animal shaped entities

In May of 2015, there were reports in the media of multiple Aswang attacks having occurred in the province of North Catabato. A young married couple asleep in bed were awoken by the unwelcome sound of somebody moving around the ground floor of their home address. Arming himself with a short sword which he kept concealed at the side of his bed for just such an eventuality, the husband immediately arose and ran downstairs to confront the intruder.

Upon turning on the main lights, the homeowner found an enormous black dog in the living room, which stared back at him through evil and wicked red eyes. As he slashed and hacked away with the sword, the dog easily avoided his attacks before sinking its teeth into his forearm and suddenly vanishing before his very eyes.

Three days later, a neighboring house was attacked by what the occupants described as a big cat. The creature was apparently able to morph into a humanoid form and escape through a nearby window, but not before it's wounded four members of the family that lived there. Aswangs are believed to be sentient, retaining the memories of their actions after they have reverted back to their human form. Any wound or injury sustained during their nighttime activities though will take time to fully heal, meaning the creature is vulnerable to identification during that brief period.

There was much commotion in Lucena City in September of 2014, when several children who had been walking home at night were attacked by a gigantic bird-like creature. During one of these incidents, a local resident was able to injure the entities foot, and when an elderly woman suspected of being the Aswang was located, it was found she was now missing several toes on her right foot. When the woman was detained, she at first claimed to be a victim of an Aswang attack herself, but the local authorities arrested her and took her to the nearest police station to be questioned. At this point, she allegedly not only confessed the attacks, but warned the officers that if they did not free her, she would harm their own children when she escaped.

She was released shortly after this disappearing off into the jungle, never to be seen again. The physical appearance and alleged abilities of the Awang are virtually identical to descriptions found in European vampire mythology, which originated in the continent's southeastern regions. There are also similar creatures to be found in African history, such as the Impudulu, a bloodsucker that adopts the shape of a bird and persistently targets young women. With so many different cultures possessing stories of malevolent beasts with such similar powers and motivations, there is a strong argument for some form of factual basis lying at the heart of these accounts.

In an age of constantly evolving surveillance and communications technology, few supernatural entities have managed to endure for as long as the aswang, which continues to make appearances in both media bulletins and police incident reports. Whilst other legends have now forever been consigned to the pages of history, this particular creature continues to leave a tragic and very bloody footprint on the Filipino landscape.

On the morning of the 2nd of June 2015, the parents of a ten year old girl living in the central province of Davao Del Norte found her lying on the floor of her bedroom, having died as a result of vicious injuries that have been inflicted to her throat. The wounds appeared to have been caused by an unknown animal and yet the room was located on the top floor of their building with no external access points other than an open window.

During the same month and located on the far side of the country, Cotaboto city was the site of a wave of aswang sightings. The social media was flooded with blurry photographs and accounts of bird like monsters haunting the city streets, one of the city's priests took confession from a local fisherman whose face was covered in fresh and bloodied lacerations. When the minister asked how the hapless victim had sustained these injuries, he replied that he had awoken in the night to find a creature sitting on his chest, which had slashed his face with its claws before flying out of the window. Despite the Philippines being one of the most God-fearing Christian societies, in modern times the legend of the aswang remains firmly entrenched with the fear and suspicion it produces often leading to fatal consequences.

In May 2015, a man living in Tanauan heard scratching and clattering noises up on his roof and fired a handgun into the ceiling at what he believed to be an Aswang. Tragically, this resulted in the death of his 16 year old daughter who had been trying to sneak back into the premises, having crept out to a party earlier that evening. The previous year in Bacolod City, two elderly residents were stoned to death and beheaded in separate incidents by angry mobs, when complaints were made to the police by their neighbors that they were secretly Aswangs.

History of Philippines

The entire history of the Aswang is saturated with tragedy and bloodshed, nowhere less than in the turbulent period during which it was created. Modern scholars believe that whatever the historic basis behind the stories, the reason the creature appears to have such an endless array of supernatural abilities is that it was a calculated bastardization of existing Filipino tribal stories circulated by the invading conquistadors during the 1680s.

The Spanish forces had a huge geographical area to occupy with poor existing transport links. One of the methods they deployed in an attempt to keep order was to scare the indigenous inhabitants into remaining in their villages at night with embellished stories of the demons that haunted the jungles around them. The very deliberate addition of the concept of a shape-shifting ability immediately sowed seeds of suspicion in the minds of the population, causing them to turn on one another in times of fear and frustration.

The scholars also believe that the reason the Aswang is so often depicted as female, again, lies at the door of the Christian Invaders. With their husbands and brothers imprisoned, the core of Filipino resistance came from female agitators, which the Spanish counted with accusations of sorcery and witchcraft. The same tactic was also used against their holy men and tribal doctors, as the Christian invaders sought to push people away from their traditional support networks and into the cities towards more Christian medical practitioners.

One of the most astounding and disturbing stories to be found in the history of the Philippines is that the CIA sought to replicate the success that the Spanish had historically enjoyed in using the Aswang threat. In order to assist the government and suppressing rebel groups that had formed in the aftermath of World War 2, there are accusations at American agents secretly murdered civilians and horrifically mutilated the bodies, scaring enemy fighters into hiding deeper in the jungle and away from populated areas.

A further possible origin for the legend is to be found in the central Panay region, where the majority of Aswang sightings have been recorded. Some residents of this area suffer from a generic disorder known as X-linked Dystonia- Parkinsonism, or XDP for short. This is a form of Parkinson's disease, which activates predominantly in a patient's late 30s and is caused by a chromosomal imbalance.

The symptoms consists of a loss of motor functions with the sufferer racked by repeated tremors and contractions that cause their body to twist and contort into unnatural and painful positions. Whilst they are fully aware of these movements, they can neither control or explain them to those around them, which has often led to unfounded allegations that they are either aswangs or the victims of demonic possession.

Other commentators point to the wide variety of animal life residing within the 7641 different islands that make up the country as a significant contributing factor to the persistent reports of Aswang sightings. There are a number of rarely seen species such as the giant flying fox, which resembles neither a bat nor a bird and has been historically mistaken for an unknown monster. Rural villages and settlements also attract wild varieties of both cats and dogs, which have been known to attack humans when cornered or sufficiently desperate for food.

Other Filipino monsters

The Aswang is only one of the panoply of horrifying monsters that feature in Filipino folklore. These also include the Tiyanak, which pretends to be an innocent and abandoned baby before devouring unsuspecting victims who come to its aid. There is also the Tikbalang, an equine demon who dwells within the forest regions, leading travelers of the established paths, and then crushing them beneath its hooves. Whatever degree of truth there may be behind the origins of these creatures, they remain very much alive in the thoughts and consciousness of the people of the Philippines, continuing to cause deaths as indirectly as their own alleged attacks. They have survived numerous societal and ideological invasions of their Island homelands and continue to endure, even in a society that delights in disproving and debunking the traditional folklore of its past.

The arguments for the existence of the Aswang often seem as compelling as those against it. Regardless, there is little doubt that there is something quite evil and manipulative continuing to exist at the fringes of Filipino Society, quietly and consistently claiming numerous lives as it goes about its deadly affairs. Maybe one day, we will finally find out the truth behind the legend. But until then, the best we can do is ensure our bedroom windows are firmly closed and secured before we go to sleep at night.


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