Supernatural Creatures in Philippine Folklore (Series II)

Many Filipino customs are influenced by their beliefs in various supernatural creatures. Say avoiding too much noise when near old trees so as not to disturb these unearthly beings, or beeping the vehicle when crossing bridges at nights as a permission from them. It may seem peculiar but these habits and more have become part of the way of life for many Filipinos, even for those living in the urban areas.

The Philippine folklore contains vast tales of horror and supernatural beings. I have previously featured five of these creatures which Filipinos are most afraid of [see Supernatural Creatures in Philippine Folklore (Series I)]. They have been prominently portrayed in movies, prints, and entertainment medias. Here is another set of supernatural creatures very common to many Filipinos.

Kapre

Kapre is the Filipino equivalent of bigfoot from the West. It is a tree demon with more human characteristics. It is described as a dirty, dark giant (around 7 to 9 ft tall) who hides and lives within and atop large trees, particularly old trees such as balete (or banyan), acacia, or mango trees. This creature loves to smoke huge rolls of cigars or tobaccos. Unlike other supernatural beings, the kapre does not harm human; instead, it is a “friendly” creature who loves to fool around. It may make contact with people to offer friendship, or if it is attracted to a woman. It also play pranks to people and scares away little children playing at night. It is said that if you are stuck in a place and keep going around in circles, a kapre must have been playing with you. To escape the spell, you must wear your shirt inside-out. (image source)

Kapres are large hairy male creatures. The term is taken from the Arabic “kaffir”, meaning a non-believer in Islam. It was first used by early Arabs to refer to the tall non-Muslim Dravidians who were dark-skinned. It was later brought to the Philippines by the Spanish who had contacts with the Moors. The kapre is also known locally as agta.

Engkanto

Engkantos, or engkantadas (when referring to female creatures), are nature fairies and spirits. They are said to be angels who revolted with Lucifer against the Lord. When the angels of God drove them out of heaven, some fell on earth. Those who fell in the forest or thick woods and lived in trees are the engkantos. Hence they will possess some extraordinary powers but are limited. They are fair skinned, blond, with blue or green eyes, and far shorter or much taller than the average human. They are mostly beautiful, with so much grace and charm that they attract many people. The dwelling place of the engkanto may look like a large rock or trees but to their human friends, their house can appear as beautiful palaces. They also like to live in large trees like the balete where they can also put their belongings. (image source)

Engkantos are angered if harmed. They play pranks on full moons. In an engkanto hates you, you will become sick until he pities you. They like silent type of people who dress decently and who never swear.

Here are some superstitions practiced by many Filipinos with regards to engkantos:

  • After the Angelus or when the evening has set, parents do not allow children to play outside the house since they may bump into engkantos or dil-ingon-nato (beings unlike us) which are already running around.
  • Excuse yourself from engkantos when taking a bath in the river for they may inflict sickness on you.
  • Say “tabi-tabi po” to make them know you presence, or else, something bad may happen.
  • A lovely boy or girl should not stay long outside the house to avoid being taken by engkantos.
  • Gathering orchids in the wild without permission will make you shed bitter tears for an enchantress might transform herself to a flower and will punish you for your wrong doing.
  • Howling of dogs or cackling of hen means presence of engkantos.
  • Don't laugh or point to a balete tree for there live fairies and enchantress.
  • If you cut a balete tree, for if you do, you will be given death as a punishment for you have destroyed the place where the fairies and the enchantresses dwell.
  • If a person was taken by an engkanto, beat drums near balete tress to recover lost persons.

Sigbin

Sigbin, sigben, or zegben is said to be another form of aswang. It has the appearance of a kangaroo, Tasmanian devil or a hornless goat but with spotty fur. It has very large ears which it can clap and a long, flexible tail that can be used as whip. It also has a wide mouth with large fangs. It walks backwards with its head lowered between its hind legs. This creature has the ability to become invisible, but its presence is still detectable by the nauseating odor it emits. (image source)

It is believed that the sigbin goes out at night to suck the blood of victims from their shadows. During Holy Week, the sigbin looks for children that it can kill for their heart which it uses as amulets. It is said that there are families known as Sigbinan or “owner of sigbin” who keep the creature in jars made of clay. As a return, the owner shall possess great fortune and have the power to control the sigbin.

In other parts of the country, the sigbin is known as Amamayong. Other countries have urban legends of similar creatures known as chupacabra.

Multo

Multo is the Tagalog word for ghost. It comes from the Spanish word muerto, meaning “dead”. Multo are spirits of the deceased that remain in the living world to handle unfinished business, seek revenge, or search for a means to communicate with their loved ones. A multo may also be seeking a replacement so that it can live again. (image source)

Multo are not necessarily considered ‘bad’ spirits. In fact, most Multo are harmless; their interaction is limited to turning lights on and off or causing strange noises in the house. However, some Multo are malignant spirits that can cause harm. There are also Multo that haunt certain places, such as old buildings or churches. Common themes in ghost legends include the White Lady, the headless priest and the phantom hitchhiker.

Nuno sa Punso

A nuno or nuno sa punso is a dwarf-like creature or goblin in Philippine folklore which lives in an anthill or termite mound. The term “nuno sa punso” means ancestor or grandparent of the anthill. It is described as a small old man with a long beard. It is ill-tempered and easily gets angered. If someone disturbs, especially kicks, his mound, the nuno would put curse on that person. In effect, the offender would have swollen foot or pain on any part of his body, experience vomiting blood, urinate black liquid, inflict illness, and have excessive hair growth on the back. (image source)

An albularyo, or a Philippine practitioner of traditional medicine, can tell if a particular illness is caused by a nuno’s curse through a ceremony known as tawas. The albularyo melts a piece of candle and using a spoon, it is poured into water. An image eventually forms, presumably resembling a nuno, which will be then interpreted by the albularyo. In order to be cured, the victim’s family may give offerings to the nuno, such as fruits, drinks, food, and material objects, or the victim itself ask for the nuno’s forgiveness. (image source)

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