Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore – review

Author: Maximo D. Ramos

First published: 1990

I have wanted to get some of Ramos’ work on the aswang for a long time. This is the first volume I have managed to get (the volumes appear from time to time, the price never usually at a level that would facilitate purchase).

After an introduction that explains, briefly, the five primary genus of aswang in Philippine folklore: Ghoul, Vampire, Viscera Sucker, Weredog and Witch, the book has collated testimonies gathered in the field of stories and experiences of aswang from the five types (and unclassifiable ones). Each transcript is in Tagalog (I assume) and English, unless the story was collected in English and then it is in that language only. The book usefully tells us where the story originated from and who the story was collected from, but not when, unfortunately.

What is clear is that, if we thought there was myth bleed/drift in the stories and folklore of the Slavs they have nothing on the myth drift in the Philippines. The stories in one section would often seem better or equally as well placed in another section at times. There were clear Spanish influences from the colonisation, including the addition of Christian iconography into the apotropaic measures, and also some things that made one wonder whether Western films have begun to creep into the Philippine myths. In an interesting twist on cushining a cross (i.e. putting two sticks together à la Peter Cushing) we get four friends lying on the floor in a cross shape to ward of an aswang.

As an example of myth drift, we get the tale of a viscera sucker who lies below the house of a pregnant woman in labour (viscera suckers also seem to go for foetuses and new-borns) but the feeding pattern mentioned is not only eating the baby but sipping “the blood that flows out of the mother.” This could also be deemed as vampiric activity. We get the term wakwacked – meaning having the blood sucked out (also in relation to a viscera sucker's attack).

Aswang traits can be inherited and are actually passed on in some cases. We hear of a male aswang who lay dead but still breathing as he had no one to pass his aswang nature to.

However it is fascinating to read the tales from the source, from a people many of whom believe sincerely in aswang. However, because these are collated stories, without commentary, this book is not for all. However for the budding vampirologist, student of Philippine Folklore and anthropologist/sociologists this could prove invaluable. 7 out of 10 reflects the fact that it is somewhat over-specialised.

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