Werewolves, persons who turn into wolves are the stuff of legend in Europe and in North America. First used before the 12th century the word werewolf is a combination of the two Old English words “wer”, meaning “man” and “wulf” which means “wolf”. Tales of persons turning into wolves, especially on full moon nights have long persisted in Europe, especially in its Eastern lands and among the Indian tribes of North America where they are mostly referred to as skinwalkers.
The act of changing into a wolf was called lycanthropy in the late 16th century and was linked with witchcraft and devil worship. Those who were found guilty were either hanged, burned alive, or beheaded. In modern psychological terms lycanthropy refers to a mental disorder where a person thinks he is truly becoming a wolf.
In the Philippines, before the Spanish colonization, there was no such thing as lycanthropy or werewolves because there were no wolves in the archipelago. Instead, the natives believed that some individuals shape-shifted into a variety of animals found in their locality such as dogs, cats, and pigs or boars. Referred to as “false beasts” or “werebeasts” by those who study the country’s various folklore, these creatures are identified as belonging to one of five types of the dreaded aswang. Incidentally, the old imagery of the aswang was someone who turned into a black dog at night. The word aswang itself is supposedly based on the term asu-asuan or aso ang wangis which means “dog-like”.
The ancient folks of the province of Aklan in Western Visayas believed these local “werewolves” belonged to the aswang malakat (walking aswang) group. These are aswangs confined to the ground and are unable to fly. Unlike their Western counterparts, the Philippines’ local werewolves are impervious to silver and don’t need the full moon or even the full cover of night in order to change into a canine-like beast. They are kept at bay using the tail of a stingray fashioned into a whip. Others were known to attack people as early as late afternoon before sundown.
In Aklan, the locals once feared the Kiwig (in local dialect means “uneven” or “sloping”), a person who turns into a big, black dog with a hunched and sloping back and a crooked tail. This creature was said to attack people who traveled alone or lingered outside at night. It also prowled under elevated houses, especially when there was a sick or dying person inside in order to lick the victim. They say one way to identify if a person is a kiwig is if he/she has a stooped posture and bloodshot eyes. The posture is linked to the suspect’s habit of hanging out under people’s houses while the bloodshot eyes are attributed to staying up all night.
Another werebeast from Western Visayas is the Sarut which literally means “pest”. Found in the folklore of Iloilo locals, this person who turns into a big, dog-like creature at night not only attacks people but would also cause great losses to those who own chickens, ducks, goats, and pigs by feeding on the animals’ internal organs. Thus, the sarut has been referred to as a pest. In recent years news of a large number of chickens, ducks, and some goats found dead and showed signs of having been devoured with missing innards caught the attention of the Ilonggos.
The Waray Malakat is a rather odd werebeast. Described as a person who changes into a hairy, canine-like creature, it attacks by extending its hard, wire-like hair. It uses its hair to either strangle or suffocate the victim by stuffing his/her eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. The creature would then feed on the unconscious or dead victim.
The Ungo of Cebuano folklore is a person who from time to time (generally at night) is compelled by a supernatural force to change into a hairy monster. When he has completely transformed into this monster, he sets out to hunt for victims in order to satiate his craving for human flesh and blood.
An ambush predator, the Korokoto of Eastern Visayas and Northern Mindanao lurks in the forest, lying in wait behind bushes or trees and pounces on unsuspecting persons. This shape-shifting aswang doesn’t always devour its victim while in dog-like form. Sometimes, after incapacitating its victim, it drags the person to its home. There it reverts to its human form then it slaughters and cooks the victim. A person encountered in the woods or in the forest might be a korokoto if his/her feet doesn’t touch the ground. It also murmurs a sound similar to its name.
Unlike its canine counterparts, the Motog of Bicol and some parts of Visayas is a werebeast of a different nature. A man by day, at night it shape-shifts into a tall, black, and hairy humanoid creature with a boar’s head. Known to be vicious, this beast attacks and pursues its victims relentlessly. It mauls a victim to death with its long, sharp tusks and gorges his innards. It is said all motog are exclusively male.
There are other unnamed werebeasts in the country’s diverse folklore. One involves a big, black pig caught prowling under a sick person’s house. Those who caught it put the animal in a cage only to find a woman in its stead in the morning. In another story, the husband of a pregnant woman gets irked with the incessant scratching on the roof of their house one night. The furious husband bolts out of their house and sees a large black cat crouched on top of their roof. In anger, he hurls a stone at the animal but misses. To his surprise, the cat chases after the rolling stone, grabs it, and throws it back at him.
The werebeasts, although could be killed using conventional weapons, are hard to hit as proven in most accounts. These creatures are mostly swift enough to evade gunshots or blows with bladed weapons or tough enough to survive one. When injured, a werebeast will go home immediately. There it will try its best to lick the wound or apply its saliva on it. It is believed some aswangs could heal their injuries in no time by just licking them or applying them with their saliva.
Like other aswangs, werebeasts hunt in places other than their own village or town in order to avoid the discovery of their true identity. They also rarely attack groups of people. In the olden days, it was believed that women who wear their long hair down were safe from werebeast attacks although it is never explained how this works.
Andres, T.D. Dictionary of Filipino Culture and Values.
Ramos, Maximo D. The Creatures of Midnight.
Ramos, Maximo D. The Aswang Syncrasy in Philipine Folklore.