Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The Philippine pantheon of creatures is expansive, consisting of a mix of beautiful and powerful deities, bloodthirsty creatures, and downright inexplicable oddities. Yet when most people talk about mythological creatures, it’s not uncommon to hear of Greek gods, goddesses, centaurs, and cyclops, mystical creatures like unicorns and dragons, or those from Western horrors like witches, vampires, and zombies.
But earlier this year, Neil Gaiman’s response to a tweet urging him to write about Philippine myths prompted many online to shed light on books and stories on local mythology, especially ones written by local authors. If we’re seeing a revival of interest in our local mythology, perhaps we’ll be seeing a resurgence in modern depictions of these creatures as well.
To better visualize how these can be interpreted today, CNN Philippines Life sought the help of an artist to interpret some creatures from our local mythology.
Haliya is a lunar goddess worshipped mainly by those who lived in pre-colonial Bicol. Haliya’s arch enemy was Bakunawa, a giant serpent who, according to legend, had devoured her brother Bulan, the embodiment of the moon, whom she had sworn to protect. Haliya is said to have forged a mask of gold to hide her beauty.
The Haliya outfit draws inspiration from the Visayan royalty depicted in the Boxer Codex, a Spanish manuscript that serves as a record of the lives of pre-colonial Philippines.
Bakunawa is a sea serpent deity of Bicolano and Visayan origin.
In the Visayan version of the tale of Bakunawa, the beautiful sea goddess transmogrified into a fearsome sea serpent when she was spurned by the seven moons, the siblings of Haliya. Bakunawa would fly into the night sky and swallow the seven moons whole, save for Bulan, who was rescued by the god Sidapa, Mayari who had escaped, and Haliya the masked goddess who would remain to battle with her.
According to folklore, Bakunawa’s devouring of the moon (or moons) explains the occurrence of a lunar eclipse. When this would happen, priestesses would perform a ritual to call out to the monster to release the moon.
Kapres are known to be tall, dark, and sometimes hairy beings that are neither benevolent or malevolent (though some believe that kapres may act out when angered). They are tree-dwelling giants, often believed to be hiding in mango and balete trees, where they smoke and laze about.
According to some legends, kapres possess magical items, such as an enchanted belt or a mysterious stone, that should any person gain possession of this, the kapre would grant them a wish.
The Kapre is wearing clothes inspired from the Northern tribes of Luzon.
Dalikamata was a clairvoyant goddess in the Visayan pantheon. She is said to have thousands of eyes all over her body, each one possessing the ability to see far and wide and see everything that was, is, and will be. In some accounts, Dalikamata is also a goddess who could heal.
Dalikamata’s outfit is derived from the depictions of Visayan royalty in the Boxer Codex.
The manananggal is a vampire-like creature that supposedly wreaks havoc among provincial towns. The manananggal is said to be capable of severing its upper torso from its lower torso, after which the upper torso sprouts leathery wings and flies off into the night to hunt and eat its prey: humans. According to legend, one way to defeat a manananggal is to find its lower half and rub salt or crushed garlic on where it has split itself in half, making union between the two parts impossible, thus killing it
The tikbalang is a being that was said to have long, stretched human limbs and the head of a horse. It reportedly lives in the mountains, where it would lead travelers astray. It is said that when it rains while the sun was shining, a tikbalang was getting married.
Lakapati was a harvest deity from the Tagalog pantheon. Said to be a deity with a merciful heart, they were also a divine being who was a symbol of fertility. Although often depicted as feminine, some accounts say that they are genderless, which represents balance of all things in nature.
Lakapati's gown is inspired from the noble Tagalogs’ attire as depicted in the Boxer Codex.
The berbalang is a creature from said to hail from smaller towns in Mindanao. They are said to be ghoul-like creatures, who lurk in graveyards to feast on the blood of corpses. They are similar in appearance to humans, although they have many characteristics similar to the manananggal, such as bat-like wings.
The berbalang's outfit is inspired from the patterns sewn and crafted by the tribes of Mindanao.
“Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts” by Rupert T. Gould
“El Folk-lore Filipino” by Isabelo de los Reyes y Florentino
“Talindáw: kasaysayan ng panitikan sa Pilipino para sa kolehiyo at unibersidad” by Efren R. Abueg, Simplicio P. Bisa, and Emerlinda G. Cruz
"Tabi-Tabi Po: Situating the Narrative of Supernatural in the Context of the Philippines Community Development" by Paolo Miguel Vicerra and Jem R. Javier