Filipino folklore frightens with everyday monsters

Highlighting Filipino folklore monsters in celebration of Filipino American History Month and the Halloween season

by KT Devera , Staff Writer

In Western culture, people are familiar with monsters such as zombies, vampires and werewolves. However, many may not be familiar with monsters such as the “aswang,” the “manananggal” or the “tiyanak.” In the Philippines, folktales are integrated into everyday lives and horror stories are no exception. 

Justine Nicole Escolano, a first year pre-business accounting major, grew up with stories of these mythical creatures from her province of Laguna. To her, the myth of the “kapre” sticks out to Escolano the most. She described this creature as having a dark complexion, red eyes and pointed ears. For the most part, they spend their time looming above humans in trees as they smoke cigars. 

“Let’s say you climb a tree where a kapre is living and disturb them, they’re then going to punish you with sickness,” Escolano said. “If anything happens to you by the kapre or any other monster, you go and visit what we call, “albularyo” or witch doctor to get help.”

Escolano herself believes in a monster similar to La Llorona called “the white lady” (a woman in a white dress with a bruised and bloody face that appears when a place is loud) and the “diwata” (one who protects the mountains and curses anyone who disturbs it).

Second year kinesiology pre-physical therapy major Alyssa Taylor is one of two people who lead the Culture and Passion program within AB Samahan, a Filipinx organization here at San Diego State University. 

“Filipino folktale was not a big part of my life growing up, but they’re honestly scarier,” said Taylor. “Imagine walking around in everyday life and just being like, ‘oh my God, I can’t climb up this tree!’”

From Taylor’s perspective, Filipino horror stories or general folktales are used to explain everyday occurrences or as cautionary tales to structure society.

“It also almost seems like they make these monsters to deter kids from doing bad things,” Taylor said. “Like I wouldn’t want my kid doing that just for safety reasons. It’s for parents trying to protect their child in a way.”

What separates Filipino monsters from Western monsters is that they question the line between what is natural and supernatural. They could be anyone, they could be everywhere, and that is what truly makes them scary.