Death is something that we fear. To many, death is a source of pain and loss but there are some who grow more excited as death nears. They aren't the tyrants or the mass murderers of the country. What I'm talking about are the guys who feast when someone dies. Literally feast when someone dies. They feast on the dead. They are known by a lot of names like segben, buso, kagkag, balbal and others, but they are still popularly known as aswangs, only these feeds on corpses.
They are said to look like ordinary men and women when they are not invisible, although their nails are curved and they smell rotten bad. When a person is about to pass away, they are said to be near. These type of aswang senses the sweet smell of ripe langka from the dying. The nearer to death, the stronger the sweeter and stronger the smell.
|Image by Senecal|
Fear of these ghouls have formed a lot of customs of the Filipino Culture. Bright lights surround the coffin and a lot of noise and chatter is necessary to scare away these beings. There should always be someone keeping watch, or else the body gets stolen. People have told of stories of bodies being replaced with a dummy made of banana trunk. No one would notice the difference, but the dummy replacement's fingers are smooth and cannot make any finger prints. No one is supposed to sweep the floor during a wake because dust will spread and along with it the smell of the dead, attracting aswangs.
No matter how sinister and menacing they "look," they can only harm the dead and the dying. Their favorite parts of the dead, of course the heart and the liver. I kept wondering what's with the liver, as its an all time aswang favorite. They hang around near the dead or at cemeteries where they will dig fresh graves after burial. Nowadays, life may be more difficult for these beings because of cemented graves and concrete holders.
According to the book of Maximo Ramos, Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology, if one is brave enough and wants to see or confront a ghoul, he must chip off some wood from the coffin while it's being made (coffins are made the day a person dies in old Filipino times), and go to the stump of the tree where the wood of the coffin was cut and leave the chips there. On the night of the last day of the wake, travel back to where the chips were left. On your way there, you will pass by lots of fireflies, intestines of dead people, arms, heads and legs, some shadows and finally the aswang itself. I'm not sure if someone had done it already.
But someone had done this instead: he chipped off wood from his uncle's coffin, tied it in a string and lowered it on a window of the house. (A typical Filipino house in the past has some elevation and underneath the floor is just bare space where several things can be kept like chickens, pets, and some other stuff. It can also be a great hiding place because when it gets dark, its impossible to see what's under the house.) Upon lowering the string with the coffin's wood chip like a bait on a pole, there was a tug and something in that darkness was pulling the string.