Halloween Week

Halloween Week 2015: Filipino Monsters

Welcome to Halloween Week 2015! Over the course of the week, you will hear from guest authors, bloggers, and your very own Book Smugglers about all things Halloween–including reviews of horror novels and films, essays on the genre, and any number of spooky topics in between.


Continuing with this year’s Halloween Week, we have guest author Isabel Yap on Filipino Horror and Filipino monsters.


Four Filipino Monsters

Horror stories are part of the Filipino cultural bloodstream. You can’t be Filipino or live in the Philippines and not hear of any ghost stories; urban legends run amok, and ghost hunting is a pretty common past time among village friends, cousins at sleepovers, or intrepid students on retreat. (Don’t get me started on the fourth-grade variations of Bloody Mary appearing in one’s mirror. Or the handwritten notes from the devil. Yeah, those.)

Every region, village, house, and even room has its own spooky inhabitants. (Like elevator ghosts! They’re the worst.) In this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite Filipino monsters and what makes them special, as well as a few recommendations for where to find more Filipino horror.

1. Tiyanak

I’m surprised tiyanak haven’t appeared more often in the media, because they’re horrifying. Tiyanaks are known for having sweet baby bodies and convincing baby cries – which you, being a kind soul, will immediately be drawn towards. Feeling heroic, you will lift up the wailing baby bundle. And then you will be the one screaming, because the tiyanak will have its demonic, decidedly non-baby fangs tightly fastened onto your arm.

2. Manananggal

The manananggal is a perennial favorite, mostly because it makes for such a good story (and is quite visually striking!). Manananggal are best known for detaching from their lower halves and flapping away on a quest to eat fetuses and organs. Defeating one is pretty straightforward: if you shake salt or stick garlic on their lower halves, they won’t be able to reattach, and will perish when the sun rises. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell a manananggal from a human, since by day, they appear perfectly normal. You’d have to look at them from between your legs, to see if their appearance changes; or else look into their eyes: if your reflection is upside-down, you’re in trouble.

3. Mumu

The Filipino stand-in word for ghost, mumu is often brandished at naughty children, especially by yayas and manangs. When I took a quick survey of visual mumu associations, I got answers ranging from ‘ephemeral whitish thing’ to ‘dead woman’ to ‘a hairy troll’ to ‘a giant moon with limbs.’ Mumu’s menace comes from applied threat: all you need to know is that it is BAD and it is COMING, ex:

“Huwag kang ganyan, darating ang mumu!” (“Don’t be like that, or else the mumu will come!”)

“May mumu diyan!” (“A mumu is there!”) – most effective with a finger pointed at a dark corner.

4. The White Lady

This one personally terrifies me the most, because she seems most likely to be hanging silently in a corner when you least expect her. (Or walking down the pitch-black empty street. Or grabbing your ankle from under your sheets. Or wavering just beyond your shower curtain.) She is always nameless, and white comes either from associations with a white dress or chalk-white skin (you know, that Asian horror-flick staple). Beyond that, the white lady can be as bloody/bloodless and nightmare-inducing as you wish. My tiny village had two – one by the giant black tree, so you had to make the sign of the cross every time you passed it; and one in the abandoned shack in the village corner.

If you’re looking to read more Filipino horror, the following recommendations may help:

Lauriat: An Anthology of Filipino-Chinese Fiction – while not a horror anthology per se, a good number of stories in this collection – written by, and about, the Filipino-Chinese community and experience – skew heavily towards horror.

Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults – the stories and monsters explored in this anthology for younger readers span a wide range. It is admittedly tough to find a copy of this book, but you may get lucky on Amazon or in the odd Filipino specialty bookshop.

Trese – a comic book series about Alexandra Trese, a detective who specializes in crimes with supernatural elements. The art is cool, Trese is a great protagonist, and I appreciate how the noir sensibility is weaved in with Manila and various Filipino myths.

Tabi Po – centering on the aswang myth, Tabi Po is a comic about a young man (?) named Elias who awakens with a taste for flesh and blood. The theme of hunger, and the fine line between humans and monsters, is gracefully handled through the bloody, visually compelling art.

Of course, the best way to learn of more Pinoy ghost stories would be to find a Filipino and ask. If they haven’t had a ghostly encounter themselves, they’ll definitely still be able to tell one – whether it’s from their Lola or manong or the kids in school holding flashlights under their faces, it’ll be burned into their brains, lurking just beneath their tongues. What’s important to remember is that for many Pinoys, these aren’t just stories – and they have the sightings and experiences to prove it. While my third eye isn’t open, I’d still put my hand up if you asked me whether or not I believe in ghosts. And since I can see the pale girl with bleeding lips just behind your shoulder, you probably should put your hand up as well.


Isabel-1Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California, Tokyo (for 96 days!), and London. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Tor.com, Shimmer, Interfictions Online, and Nightmare. She is @visyap on Twitter and her website is isalikeswords.wordpress.com.

Coming from Book Smugglers Publishing in 2016: Isabel Yap’s Hurricane Heels series
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  • Sam
    October 28, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    This is an amazing list! Thank you for providing it and the further reading. Adding some of them to my library list right now.
    Isabel your ending paragraph was brilliant.

  • Charles
    October 28, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Publisher of the eBooks of Trese and Tabi Po here, just wanted to mention the English eBooks of these are available from leading eBook retailers (Amazon, BN, iTunes, Kobo, etc.). 🙂

  • lainey
    October 29, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    I’m Pinoy and even after growing up in the provinces, hearing all these stories in the dark, they still scare the shit out of me. I’m glad it’s all written down to scare other people too!

  • Link, link is a verb, linkpost is a doing word | Geata Póeg na Déanainn
    November 6, 2015 at 11:38 am

    […] Isabel Yap on Filipino monsters. […]

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