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The batibat, the numputol, and other Pinoy creatures that go bump in the night

Every village in every town in every province in the Philippines has its share of spooky tales and local lore—and monsters that roam the land. Here are 10 mythological creatures from all across the archipelago, ranging from absolutely terrifying to downright friendly (and slightly creepy).

Minokawa (Bagobo)

A Minokawa tattoo by Dyani Lao.
Everything about this dragon-bird the size of Bohol is huge and sharp and possibly shiny, from its mirror-like eyes, steel beak and talons, and blade-like feathers. It probably doesn't need air to survive, either, as it lives in, of all places, outer space—but hey, how can you possibly catch your favorite food, namely the moon and sun, if you don't live there? And when it finally manages to fit them both in its belly, it will come for the Earth, too.

So praise the high heavens for the Bagobo people, for on nights when the Minokawa has apparently eaten the moon, the Bagobo people come out and start making such a racket with their voices and their gongs that the Minokawa ends up dropping the moon from its humongous mouth.

Rene O. Villanueva retold this tale as an illustrated children's story book.

Balbal (Tigbanua)

The Balbal is a corpse-eating evil witch (alternatively, a vampire) possessed of long, curving nails, an even longer tongue, and foul breath. A type of aswang, the Balbal flies through the air, switches a corpse with the trunk of a banana tree, and licks the corpse clean of its remaining flesh. This is why, in some areas in the south, someone has to stay behind during the wake, so as to guard the body against the Balbal.

It is said you can easily spot the Balbal in a funeral crowd by its compulsive yawning. Other variations state that the Balbal hankers for pregnant women instead; its eyes go red as it perforates the womb. The Balbal may be Tigbanua, but it appears to have several variations across the Visayas region.

Numputol (Ifugao)

The Yeah Yeah Yeah song “Heads Will Roll” has a chorus that goes, “Off with your head! And dance, dance, dance 'til you're dead!” Well, the Numputol does exactly that. Except it doesn't die at all, as self-beheading is one of its special attributes—it even carries its head as it dance-walks. You'd think it would be fun to party with the Numputol, but joining it in its solitary fun will only make it extremely angry, and you don't want that.

When the Numputol—Pugot in other cultures—isn't eating snakes and centipedes, it's breathing fire. It also likes to appear and disappear at will and it can change into a dog, cat, or chicken, so watch out—although, why would you want to pet such an animal in so suspicious a place as a dark forest? Especially if it is standing near favorite Numputol trees like duhat, acacia, and santol?

Buso (Bagobo)

The Buso is like your average neighborhood housewife. At night, it gossips loudly with the other Buso while their children play below a large tree branch in the graveyard. But then imagine the Buso suddenly craving a midnight snack—it hops off the tree, digs up a grave, and slurps up everything off the corpse with the exception of the bones. Oh, by the way, it is a shadow. If you're brave enough, you can see it if you perform an unspecified ritual—if you want to see it.

Tikbalang (Tagalog)

The Tikbalang is a reverse centaur, and not nearly as friendly (but definitely way more muscular). Having a horse's head atop a man's body and horse's hooves, it is usually black in color, although it is said that there are some very rare white ones. Also a shape-shifter, it lives under bridges or in trees, usually bamboo, banana, or balete, and its favorite pasttime is leading travelers astray and in circles and occasionally taking rosaries from Christians.

Said travelers can confuse them by wearing their clothes inside-out or asking in loud but polite voices permission for passage. On a day when the sun is shining but there is a light rain shower, it is said that Tikbalang are getting married.

The Tikbalang is one of the more popular creatures of mythology, having appeared in the TV series “Juan dela Cruz” as portrayed by Vice Ganda, and the UP Playwrights' Theatre Production, “Umaaraw, Umuulan Kinakasal Ang Tikbalang,” based on writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando's children's story, “The Magic Circle.”

Sigbin (Waray)

There are three reasons to stay away from the Sigbin. Number one, it favors uling, squash, and human souls as sucked from shadows and blood. Number two, it's a dog-and-kangaroo hybrid that walks backward—with its head behind its knees—that is totally capable of shape-shifting, possibly related to Mexico's Chupacabra. Number three, if it bites you, you'll turn into a Sigbin, too.

But there are also two reasons you may not be able to stay away from it: one, it is most commonly a very cute dog. And two, if you manage to imprison it in a jar, it will grant you, its master, three wishes.

Batibat (Ilocano)

Whom I think the Batibat looks like: Despair of the Endless, from Neil Gaiman's award-winning Sandman graphic novels.
This fat old woman's other name is Bangungot. A staple in Ilocano folklore, she can kill you by sitting on your chest while you sleep, squeezing out the air. But fear not, this muderous nightmare will only have cause to harm you if you cut down the tree she lives in and make it into a part of your house—she'll move right along in. Only waking up from your bad dream will dislodge her, and this can be done by biting your thumb or wiggling your toes (meaning, getting away from her is well nigh impossible).

You can't sleep near her tree either, as that is sufficient reason for her to attack you. With a description like that, I figure another name for her could also be in, one of the Endless of Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. Either name is much more fitting than her scientific name: Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome.

Palasekan (Ilongot)

I'd describe the Palasekan to you, but it's invisible. It makes itself felt by whistling everything it wants to say to you, and will haunt the perimeter of your house from evening to dawn. Presumably, it spends the rest of the day in its tree home—and like any person with common sense or an extremely territorial mythical creature, it will be vastly offended if you cut down its house.

But why would you want to offend something that has learned your most intimate secrets while guiding your day-to-day living and warning you about impending disasters? And because it knows your secrets, this fact alone makes the Palasekan a shrewd bargainer. But it also appears to have some refined tastes, as it can be placated by a cup of wine on a bench and the gentle strains from a music box.


A Santelmo, or an approximation of it.
Remember the will-o'-the-wisps from the 2012 Pixar movie, “Brave”? A Santelmo is just like that—only, it is a literal, solitary ball of flame, seen mostly at sea. Its English name is St. Elmo's Fire, with St. Elmo deriving from St. Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors. According to legend, though, the Santelmo leads sailors astray, or sets their ships on fire. This whirling fireball is said to be the manifestation of the souls of those who died at sea. Scientists have since proven that the Santelmo is a ball of plasma, forming when there is a significant amount of electrical charge in the air.

A quick search on YouTube will yield videos of possible sightings.

Danag (Cebuano)

The Danag is a form of vampire and aswang, which once helped people during planting seasons and is generally thought of as the first cultivator of the taro plant. But all that changed one day, when a woman accidentally cut her finger and the Danag got a sip of her blood. It liked it so much that it exsanguinated her. From then on, people have seen the vampire as an evil creature.

The Danag has achieved what might be considered international fame, having been mentioned in passing in Stephenie Meyer's “Twilight” saga, particularly during the part when Bella Swan googles the word “vampire” in the first book. BM, GMA News