Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Thursday 5 April 2012


Berbalangs resemble humanoid bats (Richard Svensson)

I have long planned to write a novel, especially one infused with elements of fantasy and featuring traditional but little-known mythological entities, but other projects have so far taken up all of my available time. However, I am currently experimenting during whatever spare time I can find by writing short stories in this specific vein, interspersed with factual commentary. Here is one of my stories.

Today, tales of vampires are largely confined to novels, television series, and films, especially in the Western world. In the Philippines, conversely, the fear of what are widely considered there to be real, and very dangerous, supernatural bloodsuckers, lives on – as do, at least allegedly, these entities themselves. Nor is there just one type of Filipino vampire either. On the contrary, a bewildering, somewhat interchangeable array of forms and sexes have been reported, named, and classified. Among the best-known are the berbalangs of Mapun Island, which resemble monstrous humanoid bats but whose astral essence departs their physical bodies at nights to infiltrate those of sleeping humans, whereupon these fiendish horrors feed upon their victims’ entrails. The predominant category of Filipino vampires, however, comprises the aswangs.

These demonic sanguinivores are very skilful shape-shifters, so it is by no means easy to identify one with certainty. A dog, a cat, a bird, a bat, any fairly large, poorly seen ‘thing with wings’, a wild pig, and, most seductive and dangerous of all, a young, beautiful woman – a single aswang can adopt any or all of these guises to approach its intended target and beguile anyone who may be protecting the latter person. Moreover, they are assisted by a number of other beings, acting as familiars, including certain small birds, and a bizarre large-fanged, spotted, furry beast known as the sigbin, which has been likened by some investigators to the West Indian chupacabra!

The aswang’s favourite targets are unborn children and freshly-buried corpses. Not surprisingly, therefore, the months of pregnancy in a region reputedly blighted by these foul creatures are a time of fear and great danger for women, as is the wake after a funeral, when everyone is on full alert to the possibility that it will be infiltrated by a disguised aswang, intent upon devouring the corpse.

Even today, an unexpected miscarriage or stillborn child is often blamed upon some undetected visitation by an aswang, and it is widely believed that if an aswang succeeds in removing and consuming a corpse, it will replace the cadaver with a detailed facsimile adeptly constructed from banana leaves or other vegetable matter.

Nor are such superstitions and folk-beliefs limited to isolated rural areas. With the sole exception of the Ilocos region in the northwest portion of Luzon (the Philippines’ largest island), the entire Philippine archipelago is still heavily infused and infested with legends, lore, and religious dread of aswangs and their hideous practices. The epicentre of such belief, however, is unquestionably the Visayan region (a group of isles south of Luzon), particularly the western provinces of Capiz (on Panay Island), Iloilo, and Antique. Indeed, Capiz is widely claimed to be the most supernatural locality within the entire Filipino nation, and homes here are routinely adorned even today with garlic bulbs, holy water, and other aswang repellents.

But if any one city can be singled out as the vampire capital of the Philippines, it has to be Antipolo, just 25 km or so east of the country’s capital, Manila, and situated in the southern portion of Luzon. Here, aswangs are said to be glimpsed on a frequent basis, but never more so than during the Holy Week (the equivalent there of Easter), and attracting a zenith of reports during the three days between Jesus Christ’s death and His resurrection.

Movie poster for 'Aswang' - a smash-hit film released in the Philippines in 2011 (Regal Entertainment)

Of the varied forms adopted by the aswangs, the most formidable is the human version, sometimes confused with a mere witch or hag, but which is known as the manananggal. Being humanoid, it bears more of a resemblance to western vampires than do the other, animal-assuming aswang types, but in addition to being vulnerable to such well known vampire deterrents as garlic, bright sunlight, and salt, the manananggal can also be warded off using such exotica as spices (particularly ginger), vinegar, the sword-like bill of a swordfish, and the tail of a stingray. Again like western vampires, the manananggal can fly, but it doesn’t change into a bat to accomplish this. On the contrary, its modus operandi for becoming airborne is far more grotesque and terrifying than that, as will now be revealed here.

The following scenario is a reconstruction of a typical manananggal incident according to local lore, in which I’ve attempted to incorporate as many of the strange and unexpected facets of this age-old but tenacious Filipino myth as possible:

Ever since she had arrived with her father in Antipolo several years earlier, Rosa had always been shy and retiring. Pleasant and respectful, certainly, but never outward-going or even overly communicative. Her father blamed himself, as fathers always do, believing that because her mother had died giving birth to her, he as a man had been unable to endow her with those innately-feminine social skills that other young women here seemed to possess in such abundance.

Still, as she had now reached the age when certain other aspects of her personality and appearance had begun to attract the attention of the local youths, soon she may no longer be her father’s responsibility anyway. Also, as she was training to be a midwife, it would not be long before she would be self-sufficient financially too. How time had flown, he mused – it seemed only yesterday that she had still been just a girl, tightly holding his hand when they had disembarked from the train that had taken them far from their previous home in a small rural village where nothing much ever happened to the ceaseless bustle and clamour of the big city - Antipolo.

Yet even here, shadows of the past, and ancient irrational fears, still linger. Tonight, Rosa would be going to the home of Maria, a friend, and staying with her overnight until her brother arrived there from overseas, where he would remain until Maria, now seven months pregnant, gave birth to her child. Prior to then, Maria had been living with her sister, but she had moved out that morning to live thereafter in a different area of the city in order to be nearer her new job, which left Maria alone in the house that they had been sharing. But what was so problematic about Maria living alone in their house now? She was a healthy, perfectly capable woman, and it was only for one night after all. The explanation was a single word – and the word was ‘manananggal’.

Even in the 21st Century, the age of ultra-technology and medical advances beyond the wildest dreams of all previous generations, and even in as modern a city as Antipolo, the age-old terror of night demons, and manananggals in particular, still surfaced at certain times, especially at wakes and during the nine months of pregnancy. So much so, in fact, that families did everything possible to ensure that pregnant women were never left alone at night, not even for a single evening, until the baby had been born. And even afterwards, right up until the baby had become a teenager, its parents would always be watchful, and never more so if they happened to live on the city’s outskirts, as Maria did, where the jungles and unploughed meadowlands threatened ever to encroach upon the swathe of civilisation that had been savagely carved out of their wild, verdant territory by humankind.

And so, before evening had chance to fall, Rosa was setting off on foot, walking swiftly through a series of fields that offered the speediest pathway to her friend’s house, and thus avoiding the hideously congested thoroughfares whose traffic belched smoke and noise unceasingly. In contrast, only a single car drove past as she walked along this lonely rural route.

However, every step that she took was being matched by someone – or, rather, something far less welcome, and infinitely more terrifying. True, it looked like a young woman right now, but not for much longer would it do so. The manananggal – for that is indeed what it was - came to a large group of tall trees whose shadows amalgamated and coalesced like a wide black pool, hidden completely from view. Stepping into this pool of shadows, the manananggal took off its human clothes and hid them in some bushes. Then an incredible transformation took place.

Its human face’s complexion blanched to a ghostly pallor, a pair of long sharp fangs grew downwards until they protruded from its half-closed mouth, which lengthened until it resembled the jaws of some malign reptile, and emerging from their tip, flickering evilly, was a slender red fork-tipped tongue, closely resembling that of some vile serpent. But most terrible of all were its eyes. Gone were its round blue human irises, and in their stead was a pair of vertical golden slits, each one containing an even thinner black slit.

But if, somehow, anyone had been watching all of this, not even that latter dramatic change of form would have prepared them for the horrifying climax to this unholy metamorphosis. Without any prior warning, a dark horizontal ring spontaneously encircled the creature’s still-human waist. Then, a mere instant later, incredibly, the top half of the manananggal’s body - everything from its waist upwards - abruptly separated from its lower half. And as it did so, a pair of splits appeared in the skin concealing its shoulder blades, and out of these splits unfurled a pair of very large, dark, bat-like wings, whose flapping leathery pinions carried it aloft into the air, leaving behind the creature’s lower body half and legs, standing there as lifeless as the bottom portion of a tailor’s dummy in a shop window, but completely hidden from sight amid the shadows of the trees.

Artistic reconstruction of a manananggal (Tim Morris)

It is always imperative for a manananggal to locate a secure hiding place for its lower half, because if anyone finds it while the manananggal is away, they can kill this vampire merely by sprinkling salt or smearing sand, garlic, or ash upon the lower half’s open edge, or by burning it entirely. For when the manananggal returns, if it cannot rejoin its two halves to become whole again it dies.

By now, the sky was growing dark, and the grotesque half-manananggal flew swiftly on to the home of Maria. But would it find her still alone – had it arrived in time? It soon had its answer – in the form of a series of strange cries, sounding just like ‘tik-tik’, which were being given voice to by a small owl-like bird sitting on the roof. At a casual glance, it could have been mistaken for a real owl, but a closer look would have revealed that its fine feathers were actually hairs, not plumes, and its eyes glowed an infernal red. This was the manananggal’s hellish familiar or lookout, the tiktik, named after its cries - which confirmed to the manananggal that the house’s occupant was still alone.

The manananggal’s tongue thrashed like a veritable serpent, and two golden drops of venom drooled from its jaws. Now, just one more transformation was needed. Its human half-body became amorphous as it hovered just outside the house, remoulding itself into a new form, one that included a fairly long, repulsively-wrinkled body, and two slender hind legs with three toes on each foot, together with the large wings that remained unchanged from its previous incarnation. Its elongate head possessed a pair of huge glowing ovoid eyes, a red slit-like mouth, and, most bizarre of all, an extremely lengthy, slender proboscis that emerged from its large black nose, and undulated sinuously in front of its malevolent face.

Artistic representations of the manananggal's proboscis-nosed form (Ben Male)

As expected, the doors and windows were all tightly closed, and a roaring fire in the hearth prevented any possibility of entering down the chimney. But like all vampires, the manananggal was not bereft of ways in which to enter a seemingly impenetrable, unbreachable building. The roof was thatched, and it did not take the manananggal long to burrow through a weak patch of thatching until it had forced its way into the top storey of the house. Silently it flitted downstairs, its acute sense of smell confirming that Maria was there, and not in any of the bedrooms as it had initially anticipated. Sure enough, there she was, sitting in a large chair close to the fire, where, no doubt lulled by its comforting warmth, she had fallen asleep – and so had never seen that the bottle of special protective plant oil standing on a shelf close by was bubbling and frothing, warning of the manananggal’s presence.

The manananggal was now on the floor, and was stealthily walking towards her on its two legs, its large wings folded up and held over its back. Its serpentine proboscis flickered and twitched incessantly. Already it could smell and even taste in the air the scent of its prey – Maria’s unborn baby!

After just a few moments, the manananggal was squatting directly in front of Maria, on the floor at her feet. On account of her size and the very advanced stage of her pregnancy, Maria was wearing only a large maternity dress with no uncomfortable underwear to grip tightly. Slowly, the manananggal’s long proboscis rose upwards, cautiously, ensuring that it did not wake Maria as it gradually moved up between her calves and thighs, steadily approaching her vagina, which would in turn lead directly to her baby inside her womb. And once the proboscis reached the baby, it would apply its suckered tip to the helpless foetus and drain it not only of blood but also of its very life force until it died, murdered within its own mother’s body by a foul creature of nightmare. Had the foetus been smaller, just a few weeks old, the manananggal would have sucked it out entirely and consumed it.

Just a few more centimetres and its proboscis would be there, and then... But before it could even contemplate that, the still of the night was abruptly broken by a series of very loud ‘tik-tik’ cries directly overhead. It was the manananggal’s familiar – something was wrong, somebody must be approaching the house! The manananggal’s proboscis retracted instantly, but at the same moment Maria awoke, the tiktik’s cries having shaken her out of her deep warmth-induced slumber. Her eyes opened, and the first thing that she saw was a hideous rat-like horror on the ground at her feet. But even as she stared at it, it began to shuffle off on its two legs and a large pair of bat-like wings opened up above its back.

Involuntarily, Maria snapped open her mouth and screamed at the top of her voice, over and over again, shrieking and howling with uncontrollable hysterical terror and horror at what she had seen - what she knew to be a manananggal! Then she saw the table nearby, and the large box on it, which had been left there by her sister that very morning. They had both joked about it at the time, especially about some of its bizarre contents, never believing that these would ever be needed – but they were sorely needed now. For what the box contained was a wide selection of items guaranteed, at least according to traditional Filipino lore, to dispel manananggals. But surely this was all just superstition – wasn’t it? Yet the manananggal was only too real, so perhaps these assorted objects’ power would be too.

Quickly, Maria opened the box and tipped its contents out on the table. They were certainly an extraordinarily diverse, eclectic assemblage. A red pouch full of ginger and coins. The dried penis of a horse. A faded photograph of her grandmother. A bag of salt. A whip fabricated from the somewhat desiccated tail of a stingray. A long silver dagger. Scrabbling among them, she grabbed the bag of salt and hurled its contents over the retreating manananggal, which let forth an ear-splitting screech as its skin began to burn and sizzle where the salt had landed upon it.

Raising its head, its eyes glowing in fury, the manananggal turned around, and then stepped forward towards her, its red mouth open wide in hissing rage. Swiftly, Maria snatched up the horse penis in one hand and her grandmother’s photo in the other, and brandished them towards the approaching vampire. Instantly, it stopped in its tracks, its golden eyes now flashing in panic, because phallic objects and images of elderly women are items that, for reasons long since lost in the mists of bygone ages, induce outright terror in the minds of all manananggals. It opened its wings fully, in an attempt to fly up and away from the frightening objects, but as it did so, Maria began thrashing at it with the stingray-tail whip, hoping that its sharp barbs would pierce the manananggal’s skin - already blistered and raw from the effects of the salt.

Just as she did so, however, a loud beating was heard upon the main door. Rosa! She’d arrived at last! Why had it taken her so long? Maria shouted out, just to make sure that it was indeed Rosa – but it wasn’t. It was her brother, Juan! Maria raced to the door, unbolted it, hauled it open, and dragged a startled Juan inside. Without saying a word, she pointed at the manananggal, flapping overhead, and handed him the silver dagger, because if he could stab this loathsome entity with a weapon fashioned from silver, it would die. But even as Juan grasped the dagger, the manananggal had spotted an escape route. In the rush to get Juan inside, Maria hadn’t closed the door!

In the space of a second, the manananggal had flown through the still-ajar door and out – onwards and away into the night sky, accompanied by the tiktik, and free to attempt further attacks elsewhere. But at least the nightmare for Maria and her unborn child was over (although her brother swiftly placed a circle of protective coins from the red pouch on the floor all around her as she sat back on the chair, just in case). Juan had managed to catch an earlier train, which was why he was here tonight, and not the following morning as expected - but as Rosa had never appeared, that was just as well.

The manananggal flew back to the group of trees where it had concealed its lower half. When it reached them, it transformed back into its human upper half, which then settled upon its lower, and united with it at once, becoming a whole woman again. Afterwards, it swiftly dressed itself in the human clothes that it had originally been wearing but which it had concealed with its lower half earlier that evening. Then back towards the city walked Rosa – for the manananggal and Rosa were, of course, one and the same entity.

But they hadn’t always been. When the original Rosa, the real daughter of her father, was four years old, one hot febrile night a manananggal had surreptitiously found its way into her bedroom while she was asleep, and had silently drained her of her life force until she was dead. Then, once again without making even the faintest of sounds, it had stripped Rosa’s clothes from her small cold body, which it had then devoured entirely, before shape-shifting itself into an exact likeness of her when alive, then dressing itself in her clothes. And no-one, not even Rosa’s own father, had ever suspected that anything was amiss. Or at least, not until, down through the years, an inordinate number of pregnant women in their village and others nearby had suffered miscarriages, given birth to stillborn babies, and in some cases had even experienced what had appeared to be an unexplained total reabsorbing of the foetus while still only a few weeks old.

Eventually, suspicious fingers had begun to point towards the withdrawn, uncommunicative, secretive Rosa. And even though her father had angrily denounced all such accusations, pointing out that they had lived together ever since Rosa’s birth – it was not as if Rosa had been adopted by him and was therefore of unknown origin, or had even been separated from him for any length of time – finally he had decided that they should move far away, which is what had brought them to Antipolo.

But once again, miscarriages and stillborn babies had lately been occurring with increasing frequency in areas of the city close to theirs, and sometimes near to their own home. However, the city was far bigger than their village, and Rosa knew that the number of cases overall was too small to attract unwelcome attention. So she would be safe, and would remain undetected here for a long time, assuaging her bloodlust without fear of discovery.

Back home, Rosa sat in her room, getting ready for dinner with her father downstairs. Her father – she smiled as those words entered her mind. Even at the heights of her bloodlusts, her father was the one human figure that had always remained inviolate, never at risk of being attacked by her, because as a child and even as a teenager she had depended entirely upon him to protect her physically from those who had grown suspicious, and also to dispel rumours that might otherwise have led to formal investigations. Of course, now that she was no longer a teenager, now that she was a grown woman soon to qualify as a midwife – and trembling with something akin to erotic ecstasy at the thought of the unchallenged access that this job would give her to pregnant women! – from now on she would be able to stand up for herself. Her father would no longer be invaluable, or even valuable. On the contrary, he was now entirely disposable.

And as she reflected upon this, her face glimmered with a pale, unearthly glow, as for just the briefest of instants her eyes became golden vertical slits, and a pair of long venom-dripping fangs momentarily materialised. Then, the voice of her father called up to her, to tell her that dinner was now ready. Instantaneously, her face became that of his obedient daughter Rosa again, except for the faintest of smiles that lingered as she stood up. After all, she speculated, tonight would be as good a time as any to bring this charade to an end, and the death of her father would appear to anyone examining his body to have been caused by nothing more dramatic than a massive heart attack. The shock of her father’s sudden, unexpected demise would even very conveniently explain why she hadn’t gone to Maria’s house that evening as promised. She walked out of her bedroom, closed the door, and walked along the landing towards the stairs. Yes, it was time...

Downstairs, her father stood motionless, willing his mind and his heart to accept what must be done. A few minutes earlier, he had received a phone-call from a near-hysterical Maria, who, with her brother Juan’s help, had somehow managed to convey what had happened with the manananggal, and that they fervently hoped all was well with Rosa, as she had never arrived at Maria’s house. When he put the phone down, Rosa’s father was ashen and shaking. He knew very well that Rosa had set out, because a friend driving by in his car had happened to see her walking through the fields not far from Maria’s house. Yet when Rosa had unexpectedly arrived back home only a few hours later, she had gone straight to her room without even speaking, let alone explaining why she hadn’t stayed at Maria’s. He had naturally assumed that she would explain everything at dinner, but the horrific news from Maria had driven all other thoughts from his mind – all other thoughts but one, that is.

So, it had indeed begun again, and closer to home in every sense this time than ever before. After all, Maria was a good friend. How could it be? It cannot be, surely – and yet, it must be. No longer was there any other explanation. No longer could there be any further attempt to brush aside such events as mere coincidences.

He glanced at an open drawer in his writing desk, then looked down at his hand, at what he had taken out of that drawer and was now holding, which gleamed brightly even in the evening’s subdued light. It was a long slender dagger, with a razor-sharp blade. A silver dagger.

He stood in the shadows at the foot of the stairs, and waited. Yes, it was time...

With my very own berbalang! (Dr Karl Shuker)


  1. Really creepy - thank you for that. And good luck with the novel!

  2. Really appreciated this. Being Filipino and all. I read a lot of myths and legends and it's a treat to find something closer to home. Hope I could read more of your works on Aswangs. As well as Kapres and maybe Tikbalangs. ^_^ Have a good one sir.

  3. Your narrative, Sir, is impressive. I was looking online for a tale to share with my class and I'm glad to be redirected to your site. May I ask permission to share this narrative? I will indicate you as the author and your blogsite as a source. Have a good day!

  4. Thanks for all your kind words - glad you all enjoyed my story.

    And yes, Anon 18 Aug, please feel free to share it with your class. I'm happy to say that it has recently been accepted for publication within a forthcoming anthology of horror/cryptozoology short stories, which is excellent news.

  5. Rupert Gould has an essay on the berbalang, but I don't remember if it's in "Oddities" or "Enigmas".