When the Spanish came to the kingdoms of pre-colonial Philippines, they brought their horses, their religion and way of life. The Spanish entered the country in the cluster of islands between the two larger islands of the North and South — the Visayan Islands. It was here that the European influence inflicted the first culture shock before they radiated outwards to the rest of the country in the 1500’s. Perhaps this is why certain monster myths persist more in this region to this day. It is here that stories of horse-headed monsters and flying vampire creatures abound. The nature of these monsters reveal the repressed fears of a people robbed of their past. Carl Jung once said that “… the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious. ” A people project the collective undercurrents of their history through the myths that they perpetuate. Two mythical creatures shed light on the impact of colonization to the Filipino psyche.
The Tikbalang, the Horse-headed Giant
The tikbalangs are creatures normally seen at the entrance of woods. They were said to be around 10 feet tall, with the head of horse and a very hairy man’s body. Old legends warn that tikbalangs raped women who then give birth to tikbalangs. Apart from that, they are said to lead travelers astray, giving them illusory visions of tall golden buildings. When a victim finds himself in the spell of a tikbalang, his only defense is to wear his shirt inside out. Some believe that the tikbalang was a creation of the Spanish in order to discourage night wanderings. The names are not Spanish in origin, unlike the encandados which are reminiscent of European fairy tales. To this day, locals in that region report seeing these creatures at night. The nature of the tikbalang seems to have a symbolic significance. Horses were foreign to Filipinos before the Spanish arrived. In a Filipino’s mind a horse represents a Spaniard. Hairy and tall is also what sets the European man apart from the Filipino man. It seems that the Filipino collective unconscious churned out a creature that symbolically laments the raping of its nation. Since the arrival of the Spaniards, their land became a place to spawn this foreign seed unto its people. The tikbalangs confuse travelers on their way home with illusory promises of wealth and progress, only getting the victim nowhere near home. The only way to find their way back is to wear the self “inside out”. The myth of tikbalangs emerged it seems to call the Filipino psyche into awareness of the dangers of being raped by the influence of tall horse-men.
The Manananggal Vampires
Perhaps more persistent than the tikbalang is the manananggal. This creature was a normal person prior to the passing of a mysterious white rock by the mother, which the next in line is supposed to swallow. Still looking like a normal person by day; at night, the manananggal roams the woods in search of a secluded place to leave the lower part of her body. The upper part detaches from the waste up. The upper torso grows gigantic bat wings. It would then roam the skies in search of houses of pregnant women. The manananggal feeds on fetuses at night while the mother sleeps soundly in bed using its thread-like tongue that can go through a tiny hole in the roof. The tongue finds it way to a pregnant woman’s belly and sucks the blood out of the unborn child. It is believed that to kill a manananggal, you have to find its lower body and put salt on it, preventing the upper half to reattach. When dawn breaks before the manananggal attaches to its lower half, the morning light will burn it to death. This more malevolent creature seems to signify the unrecognized fears of the Filipinos that it has become separated from its roots. The word manananggal literally means, “one who removes.” The demonic quality is swallowed willingly from parents who pass it on by mouth, symbolizing that it is through word of mouth that the cultural vampirism is perpetuated. While the unconscious, represented by lower half of the body, remains rooted in the land; the upper half, the conscious, terrorizes the mind and feeds upon the future generation of Filipinos that will not be born. By purifying the source, the darkness can no longer connect the roots of the land. It is by isolating the part of culture that feeds on the future Filipinos, they can expose the monster for what it is — an infection of the mind that cuts them off from their heritage.
While the legacy of Spain is now an integral part of Filipino life with more than 70% of its inhabitants actively practicing Catholicism, the mutilation of Filipino heritage resounds to this day in the area of the country that felt it the most, the Visayan Islands. Most Filipinos embrace Catholicism completely and continue to make it a part of their culture centuries after the Spanish left the country. But a part of the collective Filipino unconscious is searching for its forgotten identity. There, lurking underneath the fervent praying of the rosary in the daytime and the nightmarish stories of tikbalangs and manananggals at night, is a people that unconsciously mourns the history it has lost.