The Aswang is the Philippines’ most famous legend, and locals still fear it today. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word “Asura”, meaning “demon”.
The term “Aswang” is applied to a variety of creatures in Filipino lore. In terms of its popularity or renown in the Philippines, the Aswang is the equivalent of a vampire or werewolf in Western culture.
Unlike the werewolf, however, the Aswang is believed to eat the flesh of the living and the dead. In fact, it is thought to have a predilection for unborn babies (sucking the baby from its mother’s womb), as well as children and sick people. They are known to steal the bodies of the dead.
Aswangs are believed to have a habit of replacing the cadavers they steal with the trunk of a banana tree carved in the likeness of the corpse.
Stories and definitions of Aswangs differ greatly from region to region, but a few characteristics are agreed upon.
Aswangs can assume the appearance of a normal human, often taking the shape of a beautiful woman or an older man. If hunting its prey, it may transform into an animal until it sees a chance to attack its target.
The best way to identify an Aswang in human form is by its bloodshot eyes, but stories say your reflection will appear upside-down when you look into an Aswang’s eyes.
The tongue is also said to be one of the defining features of the Aswang. It is long and very sharp – sharp enough to pierce human skin.
Unusually, Aswangs are believed to have a companion or familiar. This creature is said to help the Aswang hunt its prey and, like the Aswang, is thought to have shapeshifting abilities.
Aswangs are alleged to live as ordinary people, with lore suggesting that they tend to take jobs involving the preparation or handling of meat.
Although they function as a part of society, it is thought that Aswangs prefer to live in isolation, often in secluded areas far away from the rest of the town dwellers.
Even though they can take the form of a man, Aswangs are generally believed to be female.
Legend tells us there are ways to kill, or at least ward off, an Aswang. Even today, families keep a stingray’s tail in the house to beat an Aswang should one attack. Interestingly, Aswangs are thought not to attack their neighbors or friends.
Wearing garlic will keep Aswangs away while showering their skin with salt will cause their skin to burn. If an Aswang is caught in direct sunlight while in animal form, it is said to burn. There are clear similarities to vampires here.
Other Aswangs are bat-like creatures with enormous wings. They snatch up their victims with their claws and take them home to be dismembered.
Grave robberies, missing children, and disappearing corpses have all fuelled the legend of the Aswang over the last few centuries.
The Aswang is particularly interesting because stories and sightings of the creature have continued right into the 2020s. The Philippines is a nation of islands spread over vast distances, yet the descriptions of the Aswang remain remarkably similar. The legend has the benefit of multiple eyewitnesses to corroborate this creature’s existence.
Some attempts at a mundane or rational explanation have focused on two areas; either the Aswang is a previously undiscovered species of animal, or it could be some kind of an undiagnosed disease.
Sightings and Tales
In 2015 police investigated a chain of alleged attacks by Aswangs. People in North Cotabato and Maguindanao were particularly affected.
Reports told of a large dog and black cat attacking people and biting their faces, only to vanish into thin air after a short, frenzied attack.
Around the same time, residents of Koronadal City in South Cotabato reported sightings of unknown animals roaming the streets.
A resident of Calamba described being threatened by what he believes was an Aswang. He was living in a house with his girlfriend and they were being visited by a creature of some kind. It would prowl the roof and make noises that they thought identified it as an Aswang.
During these visits, their dog would be terrified, whimpering, and crying. The visits stopped after they put garlic and salt on the roof.
A few months later, the couple were sitting outside their house when they saw something flying in the sky about 100 meters away.
The creature was flying very slowly, and they didn’t believe it was a bird, bat, or owl. The mystery creature, which they thought was an Aswang, was the size of a dog and flew in a very unusual way.
Aswang sightings increased during COVID-19 pandemic
Filipino press reported an upsurge in sightings during quarantine at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
These sightings were mostly focused in the provinces of Negros Occidental and Iloilo in the Visayas region of central Philippines. Perhaps, an Aswang had been present in the area?
|Asuwang, tik-tik, bayot, wak-wak, sok-so” and kling-kling
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