Text and images by Ronald de Jong
When traveling through the Philippines, living and interacting with the locals, one will undoubtedly experience the
beliefs, unwritten rules, virtues, values and myths of the country, which are influenced by indigenous, Western and Asian
folklore. In remote, rural places in Mindanao, people still believe in the existence of supernatural beings, not just in local
legends and folk stories, but in actual life as well. The philosophy that good and evil spirits inhabit the environment, such
as the spirits of the rivers, seas, skies and mountains is a constituent of every day.
Mount Apo, on the borders of Davao, North Cotabato and Bukidnon, is the highest peak in the Philippines,
its slopes offers tropical forest, crystal clear flowing rivers, streams, waterfalls, exotic flora and fauna and is one of
the most famous Philippine mountaineering destinations. The breathtaking nature of the Grand Father of all Philippine Mountains
does not only bring live but take lives as well. Unfortunately Mount Apo claimed the life of several mountaineers in the past and a number of climbers
also died of drowning in Lake Venado, lying at the foothills of the mountain. In April 2008, after climbing Mount
Apo, a seasoned mountaineer went for a swim in the freezing and beguiling lake, which many regard as enchanted. Some minutes
later he perished in the lake's severe cold water, days after this horrifying event, his body could be retrieved. Hypothermia
probably caused the death of the climber, but the occurrence itself is still shrouded in mystery. Urban legends arose from the Venado drowning
incident, Mount Apo is considered sacred and home to various spirits that govern nature.
A local chieftain reckons that all mountain climbers
must first undergo the traditional "pamaas", an indigenous ritual, performed by
the tribal elders to appease the mountain God Apo Sandawa, before they start climbing. The tribe leader of Sitio Sayaban was convinced that
the many spirits living on the mountain were disturbed from their peace and demanded a sacrifice to remind the local population
and visitors that they do exist.
In the last decades many people were traversing the rugged mountains of Mindanao for various reasons, some of them mountaineers,
hunters, treasure hunters and gold diggers, others looking for some kind of shelter or a place to hide. A few of them did
not return alive or remain missing till this day. Their deaths and disappearance could be physical, accidental or caused by
natural disasters, nevertheless, on this tropical island there is much more that meets the skeptic’s eye. Innumerable
good and bad giants, spirits and fairies are settled in the higher regions of Mindanao. The locals living in the many barangays
in the lush mountains of Surigao, in the northern part of the island, believe that the towering ranges are inhabited by many
spirits and mysterious entities. One of these mythical monsters is a Centaur like creature, a demon horse named tikbalang. A tall, bony humanoid creature with very long limbs, lurking in the mountains and forests, known for
scaring travelers and causing them to lose their way in the fast wilderness of the area. It usually appears on the night of
full moon looking for a female prey that will bear its offspring. A
traveller who is lost and imagines that a Tikbalang is leading him astray may deceive the being by wearing his clothes inside
out. Another trick is to avoid making too much noise, so the Tikbalang will not be disturbed or offended or one can just simply
ask permission to pass by.
Mindanao is filled with strange phenomena’s, some are amazing and many are scary. Stories
of magic and psychic powers are woven into the Mindanao culture. Sightings of monsters, nature spirits and local vampires
even reach the local and national news. The myth of the inherently evil aswang,
a ghoul characterized as a kind of vampire that hunts for young children, unborn
fetuses or dying persons, is well known throughout the country
September 2004, a 16-year-old boy in Tantangan, South Cotabato witnessed that his 14 year old brother was attacked
by an aswang, which was disguised as a big black dog with red eyes. The two boys were sleeping in a small shack, guarding
their farm ducks; all of a sudden they heard a squeaking sound outside the makeshift hut. The teenager said that a big black
canine, about three feet-high, was about to bite the neck of his younger brother when the creature set its glowering eyes
on him. The youngster grabbed his father’s rifle and shot the beast, which fled in the darkest part of the rice field.
The younger brother was accidentally hit in his right leg and brought to the local hospital. The description given by the
bloke fits the physical appearance of a human flesh eating aswang, a supernatural being who has the ability to transform itself
into different forms while devouring a prey.
July, 2008, in a vacant lot in Kidapawan city, in the province of Cotabato, three goats were found dead, all of
them without inner organs. Residents believed that some kind of folkloric critter was the attacker. A purok official did not
believe a stray dog could have killed the animals. It was something that is bigger than a dog or a wolf, something that has
supernatural powers; the official pointed an aswang as the culprit. Each goat had
at least four puncture wounds on its neck. Two months earlier, a
flock of sheep was also attacked by a mysterious murderer, their bowels were likewise feasted on by the aswang. The local believe describes the vampire as a human being by day and a blood sucking
animal by night and blamed for many unexplained deaths, lost children and other unfortunate incidents. The fearsome creature
can change into a black cat, a black pig or a black dog. In avoiding its hunters; it usually attacks on or before midnight.
Once in a while people are haunted by evil spirits that can not be seen, felt or heard, the real identity of a
person is pushed aside by a wrathful apparition who takes control of their body and mind. Those affected are usually unaware
of the true nature of their experience and can not remember what happened after the spirit has left the body. In the Philippines alone, in 2008,
more than 300 cases of possession have been recorded and were proven to be demonic in nature.
Just short after reciting a prayer during a flag-raising ceremony in February 2009, about sixty students of the
Lun Padido National High School in Malapatan town in Sarangani province were believed to be bedeviled by an evil spirit, or
diwata, that guarded the trees in the compound. A diwata or lambana can bring fortune to those who look after its domain
and will harm those who destroy it. After praying, the mostly female, students collapsed instantly. The principal of the school announced
that the students went berserk; exclaiming hardly understandable words and about a dozen pupils were acting unnatural. Priests, teachers, pastors and parents prayed together for the recovery of the scholars. It is speculated that
the students became haunted by vicious phantoms that were seemingly
angered after cutting of bamboo and tamarind trees inside the school compound.
The aswang is the most feared unearthly creature in the Philippines, she has white cloudy eyes and white or black
hair, her skin is colored like milk, dressed in a white gown she appears to passing mortals alongside a road or in their cars.
She suddenly disappears when the one experiencing this ghost ask somebody else to take a look at her. The White Lady is a female phantom that appears in many rural areas in Mindanao.
At least 20 people were injured in October 2010, when on a rainy Wednesday morning a passenger bus, running at
no more than 40 kilometers per hour, slid on a wet asphalt road and turned upside down. A local Maguindanao village chief
said a “White Lady” was responsible for the accident that happened
in Barangay Pagagawan. His story was confirmed by the passengers of the bus, as well as residents. It is told that travelers
should pay their respects and acknowledge the spirits by blowing their vehicles horn, apparently the bus driver did not. According
to legends, originating from the ancestors of the village chief, the area where the accident happened is inhabited by spirits
and the site is haunted. Locals told that the white lady or ang babaeng nakaputi
usually is seen, only by men, at the side or in the middle of the road, just a foot above the ground, dressed in a long, white
night dress and with long black hair. This spirit is causing many car accidents, particularly at nighttime. Sometimes the
elusive White Lady will show up in a moving car or take the seat beside the driver, leading him to a dead end, a broken bridge
or a cliff. A bend in the road near barangay Matulas in Koronadal city, South Cotabato is believed to be the home of another
White Lady. Over the last years numerous weird and tragic accidents have occurred on the same spot, some of them could be
blamed on speeding or drunk driving, but the cause of many fatal accidents could not be explained and continue to stay a mystery.
Local motorists, who encountered the wandering female appearance,
are saying they tried to swerve to avoid hitting the White Lady, bolstering
the theory that this wayward spirit is causing the accidents. At present many drivers are still blowing their vehicle’s
horns repeatedly when nearing the Matulas bend, in the hope of a safe passage.
city, the exact date or year is yet unknown, late at night a woman hailed a taxi to get home. The Maligaya taxi, one of the
major taxi operators in the city, stopped in front of her and the lady took a seat in the back of the vehicle. Suddenly she
felt an unexplainable chill on her spine and the shivers got all over her. Because it was cold that night, the feeling was
brushed off as insignificant and was not given any further thoughts. Along the way the woman tried to start a conversation
with the driver but he remained silent until the destination was reached. The driver turned his head when she wanted to pay
for the ride and asked for the fare, in sheer horror she saw that small streams of blood were flowing from his deformed head,
completely terrified she jumped out of the car. After grabbing herself together she turned around and saw that the taxi was
gone. Later the woman learned of an urban legend about a Maligaya taxi, holding the number 416, that was involved in a gruesome
accident that ended the cab as a total wreck. The driver got killed in the mishap, but it is presumed that his restless ghost
was caught between two worlds and is still driving the car in and around Davao. The proprietor of the Maligaya Company absolutely denied
the story, claiming the taxi with the number 416 never existed.
Mindanao is amongst the most beautiful and mysterious travel destinations of the Philippines, but when moving
around this fascinating island, keep in mind you will respect nature, be aware of aswangs
and white ladies, do not forget to generously tip your taxi driver and understand that there are many more evil and blood
thirsty creatures that could be roaming this Southern part of the country in search for a prey. It will be up to you to find
out what fact is and what fiction is; anyhow, at the end of your trip you will surely discover that Mindanao is really more than the usual.