Kapre is a Philippine mythical creature that could be characterized as a tree demon. It is described as being a tall (7 to 9 ft), dark, muscular creature. Kapres are normally described as having a strong smell that would attract human attention. The term kapre comes from the Arabic "kafir", meaning a non-believer in Islam. The early Arabs and the Moors used it to refer to the non-Muslim Dravidians who were dark-skinned and went to war against. The term was later brought to the Philippines by the Spanish who had previous contact with the Moors. Some historians speculate that the legend was propagated by the Spanish to prevent Filipinos from assisting any escaped African slaves they sometimes imported from Latin-America. The Kapre itself holds a large Cigar, an item which originated from the ancient Mayans of Latin-America. The similar dark skin color of escaped African slaves from Latin America to Dravidians from South India have caused the former to be equated with the latter.
Natural habitat and attire
Kapres are said to dwell in big trees like acacias, mangoes, bamboo and banyan (known in the Philippines as balete). It is also mostly seen sitting under those trees. The Kapre is said to wear the indigenous Northern Philippine loincloth known as bahag, and according to some, often wears a belt which gives the kapre the ability to be invisible to humans. In some versions, the kapre is supposed to hold a magical white stone, a little smaller in size than a quail egg. Should any person happen to obtain this stone, the kapre could grant wishes.
Kapres are not necessarily considered to be evil, unlike the Aswang. Kapres may make contact with people to offer friendship, or if it is attracted to a woman. If a Kapre befriends any human, especially because of love, the Kapre will consistently follow its "love interest" throughout life. Also, if one is a friend of the Kapre then that person will have the ability to see it and if they were to sit on it then any other person would be able to see the huge entity.
Kapres are also said to play pranks on people, frequently making travelers become disoriented and lose their way in the mountains or in the woods. They are also believed to have the ability to confuse people even in their own familiar surroundings; for instance, someone who forgets that they are in their own garden or home is said to have been tricked by a Kapre. Reports of experiencing Kapre enchantment include that of witnessing rustling tree branches, even if the wind is not strong. Some more examples would be hearing loud laughter coming from an unseen being, witnessing lots of smoke from the top of a tree, seeing big fiery eyes during night time from a tree, as well as actually seeing a Kapre walking in forested areas. It is also believed that abundant fireflies in woody areas are the embers from the Kapre's lit Cigars or Tobacco pipe.
In the 2015 documentary series, The Creatures of Philippine Mythology, the origin, history and evolution of the Kapre is examined. It starts in the pre-Spanish Philippines where animist beliefs created a huge black spirit that watched people from the trees, follows the etymology of the term "kapre", and discovers why the creature is always smoking cigars.
- Mayan word “Sikar” may have inspired the modern word “Cigar”
- Clark, Jordan "KAPRE: The Tree Dweller" Episode 02, Creatures Of Philippine Mythology (2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUrxlu1J0N8