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By: Sassa Ramos
I come from a province with a strong tradition and belief in the aswang. Situated south of Manila and considered one of the most economically depressed areas in the country, my province’s unique terrain has spawned of rich mosaic of fascinating legends and myths that are continually being reinvented for present times. Then there are the numerous engkantos and malignos who often bring forth many miseries and afflictions to the human population.
And of course, there are the aswangs that inhabit both rural and urbanizing area of my province. According to common stories, the aswang originated from the scores of demons banished by God from heaven for pledging allegiance to Lucifer during the primeval war between good and evil. Falling into then-populated towns and plains, these creatures became what we now know as the aswang. Predominantly nocturnal creatures, aswangs nevertheless look like very ordinary human by day.
They sweep their yards, water the plants, and generally keep busy like your sometimes next-door neighbor. The only difference is that when you talk to an aswang, he/ she will be unable or unwilling to look directly into your own eyes. My grandmother used to say, the reflection you will see of yourself in the aswang ‘eyes is yourself startlingly inverted , with your head pointing down to the ground and your feet up. Aswangs have a reputation of preying on the pregnant , sick, or dying. A friend who grew up near the coast tells me of this particular story. He was on his way home drunk from a drinking binge with his friends from another barangay.
It was almost midnight , and the rotund moon was in full blaze over the swaying fields of silver shoots of rice. Under the huge shadow of a tree at the edge of the clearing that led to the village, a wooden house stood. It was a house built several meters from the ground and underneath, the chickens roosted. That night, when he passed this house, he was startled to see a man crouched quietly under the house, with his neck twisted sharply so that his face was pressed up against the wooden planks that served as flooring. He did not call this man’s attention though before he went on his way, he recognize him from the dull light sleeping from the wooden floor boards.
He was the quiet, reserved middle-aged man who was considered one of the richest in the locality. The next day, the children of the ailing and bedridden Tata Tino were mystified to find many blackish sores on his back, as if some large insects had preyed on him during the night. In one of the first-class municipalities in the province, aswang stories are common and still widely believed.
There is the story for example of the female overseas Filipino worker who is rumored to have inherited the aswang “chick” from her dying European mistress to whom she served as a faithful maid for many years. She was asked to accept the terrible gift in exchange for millions of pesos in inheritance. When she came home, she built a huge house for her parents, started a thriving business, and acquired a reputation as someone who should never be double-crossed if one wanted to live a healthy life. On full moons, she is said to transform into a horrifying creature.
In 2004, sensational news spread throughout the town. The news said that there were sightings of an aswang in the place. This eventually attracted the attention of a respected national television network. According to my aunts who keep a sari-sari store in the barrio, the woman in question was married to a soldier stationed in one of the nearby army detachments. They had three young children, who lived in a small hut with their mother as the father was often on duty in the barracks. One night when the soldier had gone home, he could not find his wife or any of his children in the house. There was however a large pot of broth boiling on the makeshift stove at the back of the house. The aroma was tantalizing, which made him incredibly hungry.
When he went to lift the cover from the pot to stir the contents, what he saw nearly gave him a heart attack: a human femur bone, a small skull as from a child, eye balls, even intentines. He nearby became crazed with grief, believing the bones to be of his three children, who were never seen again. He notified the police who issued an arrest order for the wife.
A few days later, the wife was seen calmly walking the stretch of the national road wearing filthy clothes and continuously muttering under her breath, seemingly oblivious to the harsh heat of the midday sun. Her hair was uncombed and her unwashed body was fetid. When nosy neighbors came out to stare, she stopped and stared malevolently back at them so that the more cowardly scampered back inside their houses. She literally gave them the evil eye. My aunt said that she just continued to walk, barefoot on the hot asphalt road, and her long unkempt hair billowed like black wings behind her.