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There’s an ‘aswang’ terrorizing Mindanao – and yes, please take this seriously

Anthropologists credit the prevalence of the aswang belief to our need to have an explanation for everything, especially for phenomena we hardly understand.  KUBOT / Reality Entertainment                                         

Laugh now, but several attacks have been reported in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

MANILA, Philippines - An aswang has reportedly attacked several towns in Maguindanao and North Cotabato. The aswang was likely a shape shifter, not a half-woman, half-monster manananggal, not a gigantic, tobacco-loving kapre, or a half-horse, half-man tikbalang. In Dennis Arcon’s article on InterAksyon.com, we are told that a couple from Poblacion 8, Sharif Aguak, Maguindanao narrowly escaped an attack by an aswang who took the form of a canine.

Early Friday morning, May 22, husband and wife were asleep when the aswang barged into their home and attacked them. Unceremoniously, the aswang vanished from their sight. The couple sought medical attention the following morning. Their Datu, by the name of Habib Sandalan, sent the news outfit pictures of their wounds from the attack. In recent months, similar stories have been reported in Barangay Tapodok, Aleosan, North Cotabato, in Columbia, Sultan Kudarat, and in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. In the case of Barangay Tapodok, a policeman on duty and chairman Kadafhy Taya provided the information. All these attacks were within a 300-kilometer radius.

Surely, an aswang scare hardly scares anyone who, for most of his or her life, wakes up in the city. It’s the stuff our yayas told us when we were kids to shut us up; stories we have left behind with childhood. It’s the stuff of rubber foam, caramelized sugar, and Regal Films — movies that start off on the right foot, but end up showing so much “gore” and “monstrosity” that they unwittingly become satires of the genre.

STORIES OF MY ‘YAYA’

But I remember the stories my yaya told me when I was 10 years old, vacationing in Agusan del Norte. My yaya, Ate Rose, recounted them in vivid detail. She told me of the time she and other village folk chased down a humongous pig with green eyes. It galloped unevenly, like its legs were independently controlled. You know, like by evil spirits. They followed the pig all over the mountainside, only to find it had transformed into a man after turning at a bend. She told me of the time she was pregnant with her first child, and had heard cawing outside her house. The sound alerted her husband to go outside the house and run after the manananggal with a bolo. But unlike many horror stories, hers did not have lessons in the end. They were everyday occurrences, as true and as commonplace as people being born and people being lowered into their graves.

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Of course, she told me these stories despite the protestations of my parents. They believed child psychologists’ findings that said telling horror stories to children caused them to grow up taking fewer risks and fearful of interaction. I don’t have any empirical data to refute these studies, but I can say that I didn’t grow up more scared of risks and people. Instead, I grew up believing that there are those who believe, and there are those who don’t. And I didn’t think they were stupid or uneducated for believing, nor did I feel the need to impose my Manileño ideas on them.

NEED FOR EXPLANATION

Anthropologists credit the prevalence of the aswang belief to our need to have an explanation for everything, especially for phenomena we hardly understand. Historically, aswangs or other types of mythmaking had been used by the Spaniards to keep the population under control. By the use of the encomienda system — part of it was arranging the town into layers according to the tolling of the church’s bells — the colonizers kept Filipinos under their control. They labeled those who lived too far from the sound of the bells as dissenters, tulisans, who were from society’s lowest castes. And to cement their lowly position in society, stories of aswangs living in the town’s outskirts and the forests were propagated. It effectively created in-groups and out-groups, and kept everyone under control, confined to a limited space that the white colonizers could easily lord over.

More than a hundred years since the Spanish occupation, and we still have aswang stories in our midst. We have incorporated modern elements to the stories, synthesizing them with what we see and sense in our everyday lives. Some have been greatly altered, digitized and mixed with “migrant aswangs” from Twilight and other western tales. Through it all, the existence of the mythology of the aswang is a testament to our life-long quest to understand, one way or another.

It is interesting to note that these reports of aswang attacks in Central Mindanao come out just as the Bangsamoro Basic Law is being discussed in the halls of the Senate. The coincidence places emphasis on the fact that Manileños understand so little of Mindanaoans. And while that’s the case, Malacañang and its attack dogs are only too eager to have the piece of legislation passed. Perhaps the aswangs are reminding us to take a step back, slow down and view the situation with more reflexive lenses, lest we suffer from hauntings far more powerful and treacherous than the supernatural.

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Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.

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