Ghosts in Filipino culture

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There are many references to Ghosts in Filipino culture, ranging from ancient legendary creatures such as the Manananggal and Tiyanak to more modern urban legends and horror movies. The beliefs, legends and stories are as diverse as the people of the Philippines.

Traditional ghost beliefs[edit]

The Filipino term for a ghost is multo, which is derived from the Spanish word muerto, meaning dead. The multo is the soul of a dead person that has returned to the mortal world. It may want to finish an incomplete task or promise, or take revenge, it may return because of in improper burial or an unusually violent death or suicide. The ghost may be seeking a replacement so that it can live again.[1]

An illustrated depiction of Manananggal

The Manananggal is a vampire who can separate her upper torso from her lower body in order to fly in the night with huge bat-like wings to prey on unsuspecting, pregnant women in their homes, using an elongated proboscis-like tongue to reach their unborn fetus.[2] The Manananggal has some similarities to the Penanggalan of Malay legend, a floating female head with trailing entrails.[3] Beliefs in the origin of manananggals vary. One story says that heredity or contamination by physical or supernatural means can turn someone into a manananggal. For example, contaminating someone's meal with an old manananggal's saliva or human flesh can pass it on.[4]

In some ways the manananggal resembles the tik-tik, a type of aswang that takes the form of a black bird which makes a "tik-tik-tik" sound. It has a long proboscis that reaches through the roof and sucks the fetus inside the womb of pregnant women.[5] The tik-tik may be related to the Indonesian Kuntilanak, a vampire bird that makes a "ke-ke-ke" sound as it flies.[6]

The tiyanak is a malevolent creature that may be found in remote grassy fields. It appears as a helpless infant. When someone takes pity and picks it up, it turns into a demon, scratching and biting or devouring its victim. In the south, the tiyanak is known as a patianak or muntianak, and is thought to be the ghost child of a woman who died in the forest during childbirth. In Malaysia and Indonesia it is the pontianak, or the mother who died in childbirth, who appears as a normal person, then turns into a fiend when the passerby approaches.[1]

Urban legends[edit]

Common themes[edit]

Common themes in ghost legends include the White Lady, the headless priest and the phantom hitchhiker. The white lady appears in lonely places, dressed in white, with no visible face or with a disfigured face. Apparently she has died a violent death and is still haunting the vicinity, but with no ill intent. The headless priest prowls at night in a graveyard or ruined place, either carrying his severed head or searching for his head.[7] One of the hitchhiker stories tells of three boys who pick up a girl near a cemetery and take her to a party. On the way back, the girl complains of the cold and borrows a jacket. The girl disappears near the cemetery, and the boys find the jacket neatly folded on the headstone of her grave. In another story, the hitchhiker asks to be taken to a given address. When they arrive, the hitchhiker has disappeared, but it turns out that she used to live at that address and this is the anniversary of her death.[8]

Balete Drive[edit]

Balete Drive is a street located in New Manila, Quezon City known for apparitions of a white lady and haunted houses which were built during the Spanish Era (1800s). New Manila has an abundance of balete trees, which, according to legend, is a favorite spot of wandering spirits and other paranormal beings. Witnesses of the White Lady advise motorists to avoid the street at night, especially if they are alone. If it is necessary to travel the route, they advise that the backseat of the car is fully occupied and that no one should look back or look in any mirrors. The apparition wears a long night gown, has long black hair but has no face or one covered with blood.[9]

San Juan, La Union[edit]

The town of San Juan, La Union has a number of ghost legends, including a headless nun and a smiling white lady at the old tower. The nun was killed and beheaded by the Japanese, and her convent burned down. If someone passes the ruins of the covenant on a full moon at midnight, an eerie bell tolls, signalling the approach of the nun from behind. The white lady is said to appear at midnight in the ruins of an old watch tower that dates to pre-Hispanic times, and is particularly likely to be seen by handsome young men.[10]

In the arts[edit]

Ghost movies have a long history in the Philippines, starting with silent classics like the 1931 Ang Multo sa Libingan (Ghost in the Cemetery) directed by José Nepomuceno and starring José Padilla, Jr.[11] Often, but not always, they are low budget with unrealistic special effects, but some have gone on to become worldwide cult classics.[12] Hiwaga sa Balete Drive (Mystery on Balete Drive) is a 1988 Filipino movie starring Zsa Zsa Padilla as the White Lady. In the story, she died in the Spanish Era but her spirit keeps on searching for her undying love. The movie is frequently shown in Halloween specials on the Filipino TV.[13]

More recently, White Lady (2006) starring Pauleen Luna describes the haunting of an Arts Academy.[14] T2 (Tenement 2) is a suspense-horror Star Cinema film starring Diamond Star Maricel Soriano. Members of the cast include Derek Ramsay, Eric Fructuoso, and Mika dela Cruz. The movie was directed by the award-winning horror film director Chito Rono. T2 refers to Tenement 2, one of the buildings in FTI located in Taguig City where some of the scenes were shot. In the movie, Maricel Soriano plays a Save an Orphan Foundation volunteer who brings an orphan home only to discover that the girl comes from a family of “engkantos.”[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Paman, Alex G (Nov 2009). "Beneath the Pale Moonlight: The Filipino Supernatural in the Asian/Pacific Context". Filipinas. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  2. ^ Paraiso, Salvador; Jose Juan Paraiso (2003). The Balete Book: A Collection of Demons, Monsters and Dwarfs from the Philippine Lower Mythology. Philippines: Giraffe Books. ISBN 971-8832-79-3.
  3. ^ "What is Pontianak from the mythical point of view?". Singapore Paranormal Investigators. Archived from the original on 2010-02-19. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  4. ^ Ramos, Maximo D. (1971). Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. University of the Philippines Press.
  5. ^ "FILIPINO MYTH "The Aswang"". My Mix Ideas. Feb 21, 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-04-15. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  6. ^ Unni Wikan (1990). Managing turbulent hearts: a Balinese formula for living. University of Chicago Press. p. 298. ISBN 0226896781.
  7. ^ "Haunted Places in Philippines". The Shadowlands. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  8. ^ Herminia Quimpo Meñez (1980). Folklore communication among Filipinos in California. Ayer Publishing. p. 168ff. ISBN 0405133200.
  9. ^ "Myths Surrounding Balete Drive". Philippines Insider. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  10. ^ "Ghost Myths of San Juan, La Union". Philippines Insider. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  11. ^ Tofighian, Nadi (2006-01-01). "The role of Jose Nepomuceno in the Philippine society: What language did his silent films speak?". Stockholm University Library. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  12. ^ Yvette Tan (January 6, 2009). "Islands of Blood: Horror in Philippine Cinema". Fear Zone. Archived from the original on August 24, 2009. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  13. ^ Hiwaga sa Balete Drive on IMDb
  14. ^ White Lady on IMDb
  15. ^ "Maricel Soriano takes pride in 'T2'". 08 ABS-CBN Interactive. November 7, 2008. Retrieved 2010-04-12.