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Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Terrifying Berbalangs of Mapun, Sulu


For centuries, explorers are fascinated with the rich culture and the diverse flora and fauna in the Philippines. Fascinatingly so, explorers were instrumental in putting the Philippines in the maps. Historically, the coming of Spaniards established the early written accounts of Philippine islands. The idealistic and the courteous approach attracted more travelers to document the archipelagic islands in their own time. That said, the island inhabitants managed to impart their customs and mode of living.

Berbalang, Philippine Mythical Creature
Image: Amino
The travelers, upon communing with the inhabitants, soon realized that these people are spiritual and superstitious. Their mythology and folklores are deeply integrated into their culture; A hard lesson Ethelbert Forbes Skertchly learned upon setting foot in Cagayan Sulu or presently – Mapun.


Ethelbert Forbes Skertchly was an anthropologist and British Navy lieutenant that wrote a travel paper titled "Cagayan Sulu, its Customs, Legends, and Superstitions" published by the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1896. The paper started much like any other travel papers, Ethelbert described the topography, the prevailing discipline, the government, and the life and livelihood of the People of Mapun (Jama Mapun). However, the paper took an uncharacteristic detour into eeriness. Skertchly dedicated a section of his paper in an encounter with the voracious Berbalangs of Mapun.

Berbalang, Philippine Mythical Creature

Skertchly first described the location of the Berbalangs. The Berbalangs were located from a small village at the heart of the island. He stated that this island was not contested by the warring tribal chiefs of Cagayan Sulu, Hadji Mahomet, and Hadji Brahim. The reason was the village-folks were creatures that feed off human flesh. Naturally, Skertchly was curious and anxious. He asked these two chiefs to accompany him in his travel. Despite countless rejections, he was able to persuade Matali (the oldest son of chief Mahomet) to come with him, albeit hesitantly.


Before their travel, Skertchly was given with the description of these ghouls, drawing likeness to the vampires of the west. The Berbalangs have cat-like eyes that are luminescing and enormous. Their astral body is liberated in a trance along with their heads and feet for ears upon hunting while their mortal bodies are stashed away from onlookers. These creatures project other-worldly noises and wails that grows faint as they come nearer.

 The Berbalangs can also fly. These creatures are warded off by the rare coconut pearl in which power ceases as soon as the owner dies. These creatures are also vulnerable to lime-juice which when lathered to a knife can kill the attackers. Since the dead are typically buried beneath houses in Mapun custom, the lime-juices are poured in graves.

Berbalang, Philippine Mythical Creature
Image C: Otherside Blog
Upon reaching to the village, Matali decided not to go with Skertchly. Instead, Matali warned him not to take food that may appear as curried fish but are flesh in disguise which would transform him into a Berbalang, if consumed. Skertchly pushed through, upon seeing fresh rice basins in the aligned houses he realized it must be time for the hunt. He rushed back to Matali and recounted what he saw, and they decided to go back. Half-way at sunset, they realized they were followed from noises that grew fainter.


They decided to hide and when the noise died down, the sounds of fluttering wings were heard. They managed to escape however their friend; Hassan in Hadji Mahomet’s village was targeted. Skertchly shouted and forced the door open, his fear was suddenly realized when he saw the body of his friend huddled in bed with a distorted face, clenched fist, and eyes in complete shock. You can watch the whole story below. Berbalangs are indeed one of the most terrifying creatures in Philippine folklore.

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