Name a word with 4 A’s, 3 N’s and 2 G’s. If you are a Scrabble or crossword player, you may know the word is “manananggal.” But do you know what it is? People in the Philippines do – the police in Talisay City in the province of Cebu are looking for one after residents reported seeing one on a rooftop. You would report it too if you know that a manananggal is a flying creature in Philippine folklore that is able to separate into two parts – with the lower part perched where it landed while the upper part, with wings and fangs like a vampire, flies to attack its victim. Could this be our next big horror movie star?
“When he returned, he looked up at it. He was scared, screamed, cried because he said he could see, it had claws, it had wings." (Google translation)
On February 6, a day that began like any other day, Alma Guillemer never expected she would be calling the police to report a two-part monster on the roof tormenting her granddaughter and her friend who were just trying to get a better Wifi connection. Yet that is exactly what she told a GMA Regional TV Balitang Bisdak reporter happened in her neighborhood in Talisay City, a large city on an island in the central part of the Philippines. In the video (watch it here), she explains (Google translation) that they saw a creature on the roof of the home of Albert Samson, Jr. Mr. Samson was also interviewed, and he said:
"Maybe it's just a cat on the roof. But later he noticed that there were many people in front of their house because the children allegedly saw something that was going to kill them."
Because the two girls were so frightened by whatever it was they saw, and because of the panic that resulted in the neighborhood about a manananggal (illustrations of a can be seen here and here), the local Talisay City police were called in to investigate. While they conducted their search, Police Lieutenant Colonel Randy Caballes, chief of the Talisay City Police Station, asked the public to cooperate and remain calm. It was too late for that – the story was quickly picked up by the media (watch a report here) and reports began pouring from other cities of strange creatures – some with the body of a human and the head of a pig. What kind of monstrous shape-shifting creature is this manananggal to be terrifying so many people to the consternation of local police and authorities?
"The seventh was called magtatangal, and his purpose was to show himself at night to many persons, without his head or entrails. In such wise the devil walked about and carried, or pretended to carry, his head to different places; and, in the morning, returned it to his body—remaining, as before, alive.”
That description comes from "Relacion de las Costumbres de Los Tagalos” (Customs of the Tagalogs) written in 1589 by Fr. Juan de Plasencia, a Spanish Franciscan missionary who was there to try and convert the indigenous people of the islands to Christianity.
“Magtatangal. A witch. They say that it flies and eats human flesh, but when it flies, it only has half its body, and that is why it is called tangal because it is tangible and can disengage and he dislodges half of his body, and he carries the other means at home.”
That description came from “Vocabulario de Lengua Tagala” (Vocabulary of Tagala Language) written in 1703 by Fray Domingo de los Santos (Friar Dominic of the Saints), another missionary. Are the invaders from Europe any worse than the local monsters? The tales of the manananggal seem pretty unusual and frightening – kind of a primitive creature who doesn’t shapeshift as much as shape-separate … break apart and attack from two directions. As with many mythical creatures, the manananggal is described as a hideous female capable of separating (the meaning of tanggal) from its torso and sprouting huge bat-like wings to fly to prey on sleeping, pregnant women – another common monster trait. Folk tales have the manananggal using its long tongue to suck the hearts of fetuses or the blood of the pregnant woman. Males are not safe either – it is said to attack men who leave their brides at the altar … another common revenge of monsters. According to the legends, to kill a manananggal requires finding the lower half while the upper part is flying around and wreaking havoc. Putting salt, garlic or ash on the bottom kills that part, which eventually kills the upper half when it returns and can’t find its bottom. (An appropriate tune to celebrate the death of a manananggal might be “I Ain’t Got Nobody”). The creature has many of the same traits as vampires – blood sucking, fear of garlic – and appears in different forms in the folklore of other cultures, but the body-separating characteristic seems to be unique to the manananggal.
“Your police force is doing its best efforts to shed light on this event. Like you, we are also hoping to find the answers to our questions.”
That brings us back to the terrified residents of Sitio Mangga, Barangay Dumlog in Talisay City. Police Lieutenant Colonel Caballes tried to assure them that his force is doing everything it can to find out what frightened the girls without saying it was a manananggal. Meanwhile, the Sun Star reported that Mayor Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas ordered the City Social Welfare and Development provide a “stress debriefing” for the two girls, while also providing additional debriefing, counseling and relief packs to the almost 100 families who were affected by a fire that struck Barangay San Roque that same night. Could the panic from the fire have been related to the report of the manananggal? The mayor told his constituents of Talisay City to “keep praying and be vigilant not only against evil creatures but also criminal elements.”
Ancient customs and folk tales combined with fear of the unknown, the unexplained, the uncontrollable and the old yet still among us fears of older women and pregnant women allow mythological creature like the manananggal to maintain a hold on the modern-day public. As many great leaders have said, what we should really be afraid of is fear itself. Good luck getting rid of that with salt and garlic.