New Article on the #FolkloreThursday Blog: Bars of Flaming Swords

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I have a new series of three articles going up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! The series is called Stories my Parents Tell Me, and the first piece, “Bars of Flaming Swords,” is up now.

If you’ve been reading Multo for a while, the articles may seem familiar: I’ve based them on several posts from my Stories my Parents Tell Me category. I’m excited to be sharing my parents’ stories with the larger #FolkloreThursday audience.

“Mom, what do you know about the aswang?”

My parents never told me much about Filipino folklore when I was growing up. As professionals with advanced degrees, maybe they felt that old folktales and superstitions weren’t the kind of thing to share with their American-born daughters. Or maybe they just never thought about it. It wasn’t until much later that I got curious. So on a sunny Boxing Day morning a few years ago, I decided to ask.

Read “Bars of Flaming Swords” here.


Image: Mt. Isarog at the ricefields of Kinalansan, San Jose, Camarines Sur, Philippines. Photo by Geopoet. Source: Wikimedia

Filipino Folklore in a ‘Weird Fiction’ Piece

Of the twenty five kills that took place in the port city of Siargao, eleven were young men between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, ten were young girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen, and four were young women between seventeen and twenty years of age. All victims shared one common denominator: they were virgins.

That’s from Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s short story “Of the Liwat’ang Yawa, the Litkok-litok and their Prey,” online at the Weird Fiction Review blog site. It’s a very short story within a story that takes its inspiration from Filipino monster folklore.

I’m not sure, but I believe she made the Liwat’ang Yawa up, though it is similar enough to actual filipino folklore to sound plausible (at least to me). I’d never heard of the Litok-litok, either, but its description fits that of a familiar Filipino mythical creature.

The story’s Liwat’ang Yawa (“yawa” means “demon”, I think) is a human looking monster that feeds on virgins. He is accompanied by a bird called the Litok-litok, which is a classic viscera-sucking style monster that eats unborn babies from out of their mothers’ wombs.

In the Philippines, viscera-suckers are called aswang or manananggal; they are usually in the shape of a woman. A similar monster called a penanggalan exists in Malaysian folklore. In some parts of the Philippines, there is a demon-bird called the tiktik. It’s said to be the companion of the aswang: it guides the demon to its prey. It you hear the tiktik’s call overhead (I assume the sound is, well, “tik-tik”), then the aswang is nearby. Sometimes, the term “tiktik” is used as a synonym for aswang. I have a post about the aswang here, if you are interested.

NewImageThe Plaintive Cuckoo, or Sewah Mati Anak (“mati anak” means “lost a child” in Malaysian).
Walter Skeat, in Malay Magic (1900) said that the mati-anak was supposed to be the child of the penanggalan and the langsuir, a kind of owl demon.
Photo:Wikipedia

Anyway. Loenen-Ruiz’s story is more of a mood piece than a narrative. Given the subject matter, there is inevitably some gore, and I don’t usually go for that. Still, I was especially struck (in a favorable way) with a metaphor that the author uses the hunt scene, of the human heart as fruit. And I’m always interested in seeing Filipino folklore woven into literature.

This is the only story by Loenen-Ruiz that I’ve read, but now I’m curious to find more. In another article she wrote for the Weird Fiction Review blog she mentions her Ifugao background, and her memories of the storytelling traditions that she remembers from her childhood. I’d like to see how (and if) she incorporates her folkloric memories into her fiction. Not just the monsters and demons, either, but the myths and legends as well, like Bugan and Wigan (the Ifugao “Adam and Eve”).

Check it out.


This post is part of my Peril of the Short Story, for the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P) VII reading event. It is also part of the The Short Story Initiative ongoing reading project.

Family Folklore Research

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My parents moved a few years ago out to a suburb just outside of Reno. It’s a nice enough place, but since the Asian population here is considerably smaller than it is back in the San Francisco Bay Area, a lot of the foods they like aren’t readily available. So we bring them provisions whenever we come to visit. Our care package this time included frozen steamed saba (a type of banana), longanisa sausages (delicious, but so, so bad for you), sukang paongbong (“thatch-palm”, or nipa vinegar — I mentioned it a few posts ago: it’s the kind the penanggalan need to reattach their heads to their bodies), and sukang iloko (sugar cane vinegar).

For breakfast this morning, we happily chowed down on scrambled eggs, tomato-onion-ginger salad (I forget the name of it; it’s kind of a salsa cruda), rice, and the artery-clogging longanisa. Longanisa is best eaten by dipping it in vinegar, accompanied by a lot of rice. Anyway, I’m chatting with my Mom about how sweet and mild the sukang iloko is, and my Dad chips in with a story of some old auntie of his who supposedly drank the stuff straight, for her health.

“She must have been an aswang!” my Mom joked.

My ears pricked up. A research opportunity!

“What do you mean, Mom?”

She looked slightly confused. “Oh, I don’t know….”

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Sitting in a Vinegar Vat

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I’ve been trying to write an article about the Filipino aswang (specifically the variant that’s called manananggal in Tagalog), and I can’t get started. I think my last post (about too much endless recycling of the same information on the web) gave me writer’s block. So here’s a just a little bit, to get myself started again.

The Malaysian version of the demon that separates head from body is called pananggalan, or penanggal, from the word tanggal: “to detach”. The same root word is the origin of the Tagalog term, manananggal, although most Filipino stories that I’ve read refer to the manananggal simply as an aswang. I suppose that the creature originated in Malaysian folklore, and came over to what is now the Philippines (mostly the island of Luzon, I think) along with one of the waves of Malaysian migration. Once arrived, the stories of the creature fused with some other existing ghouls/vampires/werecreatures (the aswang) that were already in the folklore of the existing Filipinos. That’s just a guess, though.

Unlike the Japanese (or Chinese?) nukekubu, it’s not just the pananggalan’s head that flies off; the intestines and entrails of the creature are still attached. The pananggalan is either a viscera-sucker or a bloodsucker; it especially likes children and fetuses. They seem to be exclusively female, and they disguise themselves as ordinary human women and live in normal society. According to Skeat, in Malay Magic: An Introduction to Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula (1900), the pananggalan keeps a jar of vinegar at its home. When its head detaches from its body, the intestines swell up, so when the head returns home, it must soak its intestines in the vinegar until they shrink enough that they will fit back inside the body, and the pananggalan can reattach itself. Eww.

Okay. That’s all stuff you can find out easily enough on the web. Here’s a little more.

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Research, Re-links, and Japanese Monsters

I killed part of the long, long flight from Paris to Los Angeles at the end of our vacation by reading Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. One of the tales that he relates is entitled “Rokuro-kubi”. It is the story of a fifteenth century samurai turned Buddhist monk who encounters, and defeats, a band of monsters that he calls Rokuro-kubi: creatures that appear human, but their heads detach from their bodies, fly around and eat people.

Yumoto C Nukekubi

Nukekubi. Photo:Wikipedia

My first thought: “I’ve read this — this is a Hellboy story.” My second thought: “I wonder if they are related to aswang.” Aswang are a similar Filipino monster, except the entire upper torso of the aswang flies around, not just the head. They were also featured in a comic, Lynda Barry’s autobiographical (I think) One! Hundred! Demons!.

Oh cool, fodder for the blog! Only not entirely as I expected.

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