“In Ilokos, we don’t have the aswang,” my dad said, as we sat back after dinner, “but we have the kapre. He’s a giant black ogre, ten feet tall, with big fiery eyes.”
I had been asking Mom and Dad about aswangs, and whether or not they knew any stories about them, or any other beasties. It took some prodding — I doubt either of them had thought about these things in ages — but the memories were begininng to trickle forward from the backs of their brains.
Philippine Acacia Tree
“The kapre live in the acacia trees, smoking big pipes. They wait for you to wander by, and then they jump down to snatch you up. So my cousins always warned me: never stand under an acacia tree, or the kapre will get you.”
Mom jumped in. “My ninang [godmother] said that too! She said the taong lipod [“shadow people”] lived in the acacia. Whenever you passed the tree, you were supposed to greet it respectfully — you say, ‘excuse me, ‘po’ — so the taong lipod don’t get angry.”
“They’re probably the same as the kapre,” Dad said. Mom shook her head.
“No, they’re not ogres. They’re invisible. And they play tricks on you, that’s why you have to be nice to them. My ninang said that you shouldn’t stand under the acacia, because the taong lipod might turn you into an ibanan [“different one”]. And they didn’t just live in the acacia, they also lived in other trees, the ones with the vines around them… .
She paused, trying to explain. Dad helped her out.
“Yes, that’s right. The trees that have the parasitic vines living on them, wrapped around the trunk and branches.”
“Like the pine tree that used to be across the street from us?” my husband asked me.
The pine had been a scraggly, unbalanced tree, home to a gossipy murder of crows and a particularly manic family of squirrels, as well as some parasite vine. It lived in the shadow of a fat, comfortable eucalyptus, and as a result, had grown too long for its girth and leaned out too far, trying to reach the sun.
“Good thing Taz had it cut down,” I said. “Mom, what’s an ibanan?”
“Oh, like my lola’s [grandmother’s] maid — have I told you this story? No?”
“A long time ago, when your lola was just a little girl, her mother had a maid who could see people no one else could see. This maid was always talking to herself in empty rooms, and laughing for no reason. Everyone said that she was ibanan.”
“Of course, she was probably schizophrenic, but people didn’t know about those things back then. My lola said that the maid always had to leave the Mass on Sundays before the final blessing, otherwise her boyfriend — who no one else could see — would get angry at her.”
Invisible boyfriend, I thought. Wow. I wondered whatever happened to that maid.
“I’m surprised her boyfriend let her go to church at all,” Dad said, voicing my own thoughts. Mom shrugged.
“Oh, who knows how these things work,” she said, and stood up to clear the dinner plates.