Filipino folklore was never introduced to me as a child. My heart was never filled with fear and wonder by fantastical tales from the Philippines before bedtime. I knew that bruha meant witch—that was about the extent of my knowledge of the lore.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I researched Filipino legends for a project in Grade 12 and found out that there’s an entity that detaches its upper torso from the rest of its body and flies around after the sun sets, favouring pregnant women as its prey.
In Grade 12, I thought the aswang, a shapeshifting, vampire-like creature, was the manananggal; the names are used interchangeably in online sources, and only recently did I find the name of the detachable monster that has since fascinated me. I researched a bunch of other myths and legends for my Grade 12 project, but to this day I can only remember the manananggal. It was such a strange creature, with an oddly specific taste for the fertile.
Allow me to take you to a barangay in the Philippines, surrounded by dense, rich forest. Its inhabitants are asleep or are resisting the urge to close their eyes; although the sun has just set and the night brings new pleasantries, the roosters will wake you up at 4:00 a.m., regardless of how late you stay up. Within the swaying emerald mass the manananggal detaches its upper torso and leaves its bottom half concealed by the wild and the moon. Its bottom half remains standing, the only static object in the forest, waiting patiently to be whole. The wings of the manananggal unfurl and it eyes the barangay, its entrails exposed to the elements, dangling above the homes of its potential victims.
Peering into a home, it sees a pregnant woman who is fast asleep, hand clutching her stomach, and another under her pillow. Its tube-like tongue slithers up to her and sucks out her unborn child, leaving her barren. Satisfied for the night, the manananggal assumes flight, and becomes whole in the forest.
Again, I never grew up with Filipino folklore. So, when I described and commented on the “aswang” to my mom, there was a brief silence between us.
She then replied with, “How did you know that?”