The "Aswang" in Philippine Folk Literature (Demonizing Females)

The aswang is important to us Filipinos because this specific mythical creature is very “Filipino” and unique to our nation. Also, in order to understand the good, we have to understand what is evil. The aswang is the representation of evil in the Philippine society. It is the demon, the fallen angel, the monster. The aswang is important to the Philippine society as it contributed to the enrichment of Philippine folk literature, but it has instilled more fear in the Filipino psyche more than excitement. It had become a means of social control – something to prevent children from going outside during the night, from sleeping late at night, and most importantly, to demonize powerful and rebellious women especially during the patriarchal colonial rule of the Spaniards in the Philippines.

Historically speaking, the aswangs were said to be originating in Philippine provinces, specifically in the Panay Island, and more specifically in the province of Capiz, because women of Capiz during the 15th century led upheavals and uprisings against the Spanish colonizers. But the Spaniards had the upperhand because they had already converted the nation to Christianity so they demonized these women from Capiz as aswangs. This propaganda was very successful – these women from Capiz lost supporters because the Filipinos have a strong belief in aswangs.  The babaylans in the Panay Island were also demonized by the friars as witches, demons, or aswangs, because they feared the power that the pre-colonial Filipinas had. The aswangs in Philippine folk literature are predominantly portrayed as women – and this is no surprise since the Christian society in the Philippines during the Spanish era detested women who had qualities other than what they portray to be the “ideal” Filipina during that time (which is basically like Virgin Mary). It was one way of stripping power away from the “empowered” pre-colonial Filipinas.

In the Chinese concept of yin and yang, women and evil were both attributed to the “yin” aspect of the universe. Evil had always been associated with the women; one example of that is the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve, wherein Eve was basically cursed forever in her womanhood because she ate an apple, when in fact, Adam did the same mistake. Another example is a tale in Greek mythology about Pandora ’s Box, wherein Pandora (a female) was portrayed as the cause of all evils in the world. Monotheistic religions had always been misogynistic and patriarchal. It is also interesting that there is a folk belief that when a person is bitten or becomes infected with the saliva of the aswang, or if the aswang’s saliva would be spat into the mouth or ear of a person, he/she would die or become an aswang too. The visual imagery presented was very sexual – which may be alluded to the fact that the Church fears or detests women’s sexuality. The manananggal, another Philippine mythical creature closely related to aswang, is also depicted as a woman who becomes separated from the lower half of her body and flies through the night to inflict terror upon humans. In my interpretation of this, a woman becomes monstrous or evil the moment she rebels from her traditional roles as a woman. And yet, despite her rebellion, the lower half of her body, which contains her reproductive organ, remains on the ground – which can be interpreted that in a patriarchal society, no matter how much a woman rebels or empowers herself, she will always be seen as a babymaker, a bearer of a man’s heir, a caretaker, and a nanny.

At first glance, the concept of “aswang” in the Philippine society may be seen as important especially in the field of literature, but it is just something used for evil like social control, and restricting women’s power in the society. It is used by the Catholic Spaniards for propaganda, and as an attempt to control female sexuality. Basically, everything that is “unchristian” to them translates to evil, including the power given to women during the pre-colonial times. Even the concept of using a crucifix against the aswang shows the Filipinos that the most powerful thing is, or being associated with, the Roman Catholic Church. This essay is not anti-Christianity, but merely showing how Christianity was used for gaining power and stripping power from others, as we learn in history. And I personally believe that the concept of aswang has contributed a lot to women’s powerlessness in the Philippine society. 


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