Filipino Folklore

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What is Filipino Folklore?

Dr. Damiana Eugenio, a renowned Filipina folklorist, says there is still no universally accepted definition of the word "folklore". But any bit of knowledge handed down from generation to generation, which describes or depicts the beliefs and lifestyle of the ancestors of a chosen ethnic group, is rendered unique to that group, and is respected as folklore.

Folklore is usually transmitted by word of mouth. Oral traditions are very common among the indigenous tribes still existent in the Philippines. What students of folk literature do, basically, is transcribe and interpret what is related to them by the storytellers of a tribe. The preservation of the knowledge of our elders can be carried out in many ways, and they are not inaccessible to anyone who would seek them.

Recently, interest in folklore seems to have diminished. With the swift pace of modern living, looking back at our roots through spyglasses such as the study of folklore seems more and more difficult, if not pointless. The Filipino youth, especially, are more concerned with looking forward as the rest of the world hastens toward a technological future. We do not want to be left behind, after all. But if we were never meant to look back, why does the ancient saying "Ang siyang di lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay di makararating sa paroroonan (Whoever does not look back at a starting point, will not arrive at a destination)" remain in our lips? Why do we remind ourselves of the necessity of stopping to pay respect to our forebears and the advice they could still give?

This website is dedicated to the presentation – or, should I say, representation – of native Filipino folklore. It aims to favor the lore of no particular ethnic group, as everyone is aware of the diversity of tribal affiliations still present in our everyday lives. It means to declare that the tales spun during one tribe’s journey through life and time are no longer for the enjoyment and convenience of the members of that tribe alone, but for the whole world.

It also does not intend to evoke rivalry among ethnic affiliations. Sometimes closely-related versions of a single story exist in the lore of two or more ethnic groups, and a sort of discord is brought about when some groups attempt to "reclaim the rights" to the plot. It is hoped that the topographical areas attributed to particular tales would only serve to be references for study and not argument. At any rate, contributed variations of any tale presented in this site are welcome.

We shall endeavor to keep on adding as many stories to this site as we can. But for the moment let us all look back and see what we have done.

This site divides Philippine folklore into five major parts, namely:
Myths and LegendsFablesTales of the SupernaturalHeroic TalesTales of Laughter

Myths are tales involving the gods of old. They may deal with a conflict among the gods themselves, or ways in which the gods would reveal themselves as unique characters unto the lowly creatures of the Earth, including, of course, man. Legends of creation usually involve spirits or gods, or just an omnipotent God. At any rate, almost every legend involves a miracle or curse invoked in the name of, or by the hand of, a Higher Power.

Generally, fables are short narratives that revolve around particular moral lessons. Animals are the heroes in most fables. They are made to stand for certain traits of the human race, and to teach the ways of the world through vivid characterization and lively interaction.

The supernatural involves the fair folk, dwarves, mermaids, demons, strange beasts – and other phenomena. Tales of divine intervention are included here, as they are also classified as unexplainable.

Heroes adventure and gather the fruits of their labor and Fate. These tales have inspired the Filipinos to aspire for the greatest since the dawn of time.

And, finally, what is a Filipino if he does not know how to laugh? Tales of laughter insist on having a separate category. Moral lessons are sometimes scattered about…though most of the time, stories in this area had been created and are handed down for the sole purpose of having fun.


What are Manananggal? The scariest goriest bad ass vampires you are ever to come across.
By day, they look like beautiful women. In fact, the more adoring males they come across they often turn into their consorts who guard their queen fanatically, especially when her inanimate body is most vulnerable: at night. The word Manananggal roughly means "self-remover" in Tagalog. This is because at night, a Manananggal's head lifts from her body cavity, and she flies about, her internal organs hanging from her floating head. Alternatively, she turns her arms into wings, or spouts wings, and severs at the torso instead.
The smell of vinegar gives them away, the fluid that preserves their ghastly parasitical cohabitation with their daytime body. Manananggal prey on pregnant women, specifically the fetus, almost exclusively. They have a tube which comes out of their mouth to perform the feeding,

You kill a Manananggal by putting salt on its lower body while the head is flying about. But of course, you have to get past the fanatical consorts which guard her vulnerable lower half first. If a Manananggal cannot reunite with its lower half by sunrise, she dies. The salt prevents this. They are part of a larger group of corpse-loving changelings called Aswang, of which they are perhaps the strongest and most powerful.

Maria Makiling

Maria Makiling is a diwata, a filipino fairy. She is a trickster forest spirit. She is alternatively malevolent, especially to hunters, and helpful. She is also sad in a way. Her story is attached to Mt. Makiling on the big island of Luzon.

Makiling is one of the most famous mountain in the archipelago and with that comes a lot of folklore and legends about the mountain and the goddess that lives in the mountain, Mariang Makiling. In fact people living within the towns under the shadow of the mountains has always describe the silhouette of the mountain peak as that of Makiling lying down.
One of the famous stories is about an enchanted woman who lived in the quiet woods at the foot of Mt. Makiling. The people named her Maria Makiling because of where she lived. She was a young and beautiful woman. The beauty abundance and serenity of this enchanted place complimented her rare qualities. She was kind and compassionate to the town people. She shared the full and rich abundance of her enchanted places; fishes in the lake, food and crops, fruits and trees. All were for free. People could borrow from her whatever they need, whatever they wanted. Her kindness was known far and wide. One afternoon, a hunter came by and wandered into her kingdom. When he saw her beauty, he fell in love with her and she too felt the same way for him. They met and talk everyday and promised to love each other forever. Until one day Maria waited for him but he did not come. Maria discovered that he found a real woman and got married. She was very sad and frustrated. She felt deeply hurt and realized that the town people could not be trusted because she was different from them and they were just using her. Forgiving was really difficult. Her sadness and frustration turned into anger that she refused to give fruits to the trees. Animals and birds were no more. Fish no longer abound the lakes. People seldom saw her. It was only during pale moonlit nights that they sometimes see her.

Another story is about three suitors who intensely battled for the heart of Makiling. One was a Spanish soldier, another, a Spanish-Filipino mestizo and the third, a Filipino farmer named Juan. In the end the Filipino won the heart of Maria Makiling which angered the two other suitor. They have plotted to kill him through a fire that broke down on the garrison, which they blamed against Filipinos including Juan. They shot Juan as punishment and before dying he shouted the name of Maria. Maria went down in the mountain and cursed the two as well as the other men who cannot accept failure in love then she went back in the mountains never to be seen again. The Spanish soldier died during the revolution while the mestizo died of illness. When somebody gets lost in the mountains, people attribute it to the curse on Makiling.
The legends usually revolve around hunters getting lost in the woods and falling in lover with her, and her alternately being helpful at first, and then wrathful when promises to her are broken, or just plain mean to hunters lost in the woods to begin with, perhaps due to prior experiences? There is always a theme of lost or forbidden love as well with Maria.


A tikbalang is sort of a centaur in reverse- like a minotaur. They are sometimes harmless, and sometimes downright malevolent creatures, depending upon the myth, but they are never stupid. They are tricksters, and are very playful and intelligent. They often riddle whomever they meet, and if successfully beaten at their riddling, they will allow their victims to pass, or reward with gold.


Kapre are strange tree demons that smoke huge cigars.
The term kapre was derived from the Spanish "kapfre", in turn from the Moors, from the Arabic Kaffir, an African non-believer. It is suggested that when the conquistadors first came to the Philippines, they heard about the mystical creatures approximating their kafre, and soon the conqueror's lexicon prevailed in any areas.

Be very careful when trees move without wind. This means that a kapre is present at the very top of the tree. The kapre sits quietly smoking a leg-sized cigar that never burns out. It terrifies passerby with its size, glowing eyes and cigar, but it is otherwise harmless. It is said to live in trees, abandoned houses and ruined buildings. They are believed to appear only at night.


Mangkukulam is Filipino black magic. A great practitioner of Mangkukulam is called a Mambabarang. Do not mess with it. I won't even talk that much about it, besides to quote this tale:

A woman friend (let's call her Lita) of ours from Batangas (Philippines) had an ugly fight with an old man regarding a coconut tree. After sometime, Lita finds her tummy getting big. Thinking she was pregnant, she announced it to almost everyone in the barrio. Days passed she became aware that there is something wrong with her preganancy. Her tummy gets bigger way too fast - considering that she had only been "pregnant" for two months. When she went to a doctor, the doctor tells her that there's some kind of a "mass" inside her tummy, and it's definitely not a baby. So she had surgery. When the doctor opened her tummy, nata de coco (a processed coconut) spilled out of her. Almost 2 bags were taken out. "Binarang ka siguro ng matandang nakaaway mo, kilala iyon sa lugar namin bilang mambabarang" (The old man you had a fight with is well known to be a mambabarang and you had become his victim) says one of our ka-barrio.

I once talked to a guy from Siquijor. I told him I wanted to go to that island because of its fascinating connection with the supernatural. And he was like, "Why would you ever want to go there?" It's not a particularly large or impressive island. It's quite tiny and charming, actually, it's just a little out of the way. But for some reason, its infamy in the Visayas as a center of witchcraft and Mangkukulam is well-establish. The guy said he was constantly teased at school in Cebu for being from there. And whatever you do, according to those "in the know," if you go to Siquijor, if you let anyone there touch you, you MUST immediately touch them back! Or you will be doomed to the world of black magic and be at the mercy of Mangkukulam. Here is a good examination of the quaint little island with the strange reputation.


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