Monday, December 15, 2008


FEAR THIS FISH! Drowning deaths of people were often attributed to the sirens of the deep, who seduce swimmers to their watery doom. Mermaids also inspired this photo studio to offer fantasy pictures such as this, through the clever use of painted scenography. 1920s.

The most effective way to silence crying, bickering and unruly Kapampangan children was for parents to warn them of creatures coming to take them away if they don’t hush up. “Eka mainge…migising ya ing kapri! Kunan naka!” (Don’t be noisy, you’ll rouse the ‘kapre’ and he’ll spirit you away!) was the usual warning needed for kids to behave and toe the line.

The Kapampangan underworld is replete with mythical denizens conjured hundreds of years ago by our anito-worshipping ancestors. Pagans believed in the concept of enchantment and magic—"manuple", was a term given to those who bewitched people. A more specific term is ‘uclub’—a witch or a sorcerer. A variant is an ‘ustuang’, an enchanter who works his magic at night. Someone under a witch’s spell is ‘megaue’, while a baby can also be a victim of ‘asug’, stricken with colic caused by someone taking fancy on a child.

“Eme atuan”, is also a warning given to kibitzers who stare at people without reason, lest they are afflicted by the evil eye. “Meyatu” is a term for anito possession, so a person taken over by a spirit is often zombie-like and lifeless. It is best to let him be, or else, his condition may worsen.

A person who believed in such diabolical elements is a “magmantala” and from his superstitious beliefs came such creatures of the night like imps (duendi), fairies (diuata), goblins (patianak), elementals (laman labuad) and a cigar-smoking giant sprite who resides in mango trees called ‘kapre’ (derived from the Arabic word ‘kaffir’, a non-believer of Islam, to which the dark-skinned Dravidians belong).

A "kularyut", on the other hand, is an ancient dwarf that haunts forested places; one such kularyut was supposed to inhabit the bamboo groves on both sides of Sapang Balen in Mabalacat. Sightings of this wrinkled, long-haired dwarf have been reported since the 1960s. It was last seen reportedly by a group of squatters who fled the place in fear. Good-humored town people observed that it took a kularyut, and not an act of law, to finally eject the illegal squatters.

Old folks also believed in people endowed with supernatural powers like the "mangkukulam" (a spellbinder), "manananggal" ( a winged creature characterized by a long tongue and detachable torso) and a "mambabarang" ( a person who wields power over insects). To ward off the threats of these beings, one can forestall the impending evil they are about to cast. “Sungal” is foreshadowing evil, hence, a form of counterforce. By firmly addressing witches with the words –“Sungal da ca!”, the spell is rendered useless.

Instrumental to our persistent belief in supernatural creatures is our over-imaginative entertainment media, which, over the years, has created more fantasy creatures both good and evil--from Dyesebel, the mermaid with a human heart, the human arachnid Gagambino to snakeman Zuma--these beings continue to reinforce our belief in the existence of higher powers, the better to scare us, delight us and indulge our innate curiosity for the odd, the strange and the frighteningly bizarre.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes". The author wishes to thank Singsing Magazine for most of the information needed for this article)

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