What happened to the Aswang?

Philippine Halloween| Growing up, the Halloween season wasn’t about carved pumpkins, dressing up in costumes and getting Halloween candy. In the Philippines, we had our own way of celebrating Halloween. As a country with a strong Catholic background, we celebrated Philippine Halloween by going to the cemeteries during All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s 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 chismis, the kids shared 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 can 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 the modern studio condo units. 

Even the costumes are no longer scary–witches and vampires are now replaced by cute boba milk tea costumes, superheroes, and Jon Snow.

Guilty myself. Halloween from 2014.

I tried to revive the traditions, 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, 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 in the woods at night to pee outside? Or the agta that lives in big trees, smoking cigars, and tries to lure women? Or 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.

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1 thought on “What happened to the Aswang?”

  1. Tempus is fugitting Rachel!! Your post echoes my concerns about modern city living especially condo life and the effect on kids and young people. I would welcome the opportunity to explore the subject with you, and how Caleb might be made physically aware of the natural world and not just see it on TV, an iPad or hear about it at school. Is that possible?
    Kind regards
    Bob

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