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Friday, August 28, 2020

Tiyanak: The Infant Demons of the Philippines


Legends say that the tiyanak is the spirit of a new-born whose mother died whilst pregnant, therefore causing it to be "born in the ground" — in this we find a clear condemnation of any deliberate termination of pregnancy and the importance of a safe delivery in pre-colonial Philippine society.

Tiyanak, Philippine Mythical Creature
Image: Mysteries Unsolved
The shamans of old, residing in the Philippine Isles, seem to also have had a stand on the affair, as can be seen in one of the myriad of myths they propagated — the tianac. After the Christianisation of the Philippine Isles, the tianac became seen as babies who did not undergo baptism. The roots of the tianac may be found in the Malayan peninsula, where a creature with a similar name, the pontianac or mati-anak, also existed in the folk-lore of the natives.


In Malaya, however, the pontianac was seen as a jin, or genie, and is embodied by the stillborn child’s mother, instead of the other way around. A common charm used to "repel" these creatures was, "O Pontianac the Stillborn, may you be struck dead by the soil from the grave-mound. Thus (we) cut the bamboo joints, the long and the short, to cook therein the liver of the Jin Pontianac. By the Grace of ‘there is no god but God’ (part of the Shahadah, an Islamic creed).

Tiyanak, Philippine Mythical Creature
Image: Batangas History
The description of the tianac differs from one ethnic group to another, though generally it is said to first take the form of an infant, when held, it reverts to its actual self, an old dwarf with a wrinkled face and mustache, flat nose, coin-sized eyes, and a leg shorter than the other, which narrows its mode of movement to just crawling and leaping around. The Mandayas of south-eastern Mindanao and the Bagobos of Davao del Sur believed in a creature with the same characteristics as mentioned above, though with different names, the patianac for the former, and muntianac for the latter.


In Central Luzon, it is framed as a small, brown-colored creature with a large nose, wide mouth, fierce-looking eyes, and sharp voice, which floats on the air instead of walking on the ground. There is also a legend in Mindoro where it is mentioned as having transformedinto a black bird. The European accounts are rather vague in their description of what they call the patianac or pontianac — the Frenchman Jean Mallat wrote, "The pontianac was a bad genie who prevented women in labour from delivering...". Seen in Fr. Martinez de Zuniga’s is the following account, "They have many other superstitions, as that of the patianac, a spirit or ideal being, whose employment or amusement consists in preventing, by certain means peculiar to itself, the delivery of a woman in labor."

Tiyanak, Philippine Mythical Creature
Image: Unreel Ph
On the prevention of such an occurrence as above, Mallat noted, "...even at present, to exorcise it when a woman starts feeling pains, her husband cleans the front door of his house and builds a big fire before it; then, completely naked on the ground floor, he waves a sword in the air, cutting and thrusting to prevent the demon from approaching until his wife has delivered." Also, as the tianac took delight in misleading travellers, the elders of the many villages dotting the Philippines thought of a way to circumvent this — turning one’s clothes inside out. Other possible methods of defending oneself from a tianac are: extremely loud noises (more of a preventative measure), the use of garlic and the rosary, the bestowment of a name to the tianac, and the benefaction of a white candle for use in its journey to the afterlife.


There are also several depictions of tiyanak in Philippine pop culture, the most notable and famous depiction would be the eponymous 1988 classic Tiyanak, directed by Peque Gallaga and from that point on, the Tiyanak has been featured on several anthologies and TV shows in the Philippines. You can watch the video below about a short radio play about the Tiyanak.


SOURCES UTILISED: 

Constantin-Iulian, D. 2010. "Abortion from the Perspective of Eastern Religions: Hinduism and Buddhism," Romanian Journal of Bio-ethics. 

de Plasencia, J. 1589. "Customs of the Tagalogs," in The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898, Vol. 7, translated by Emma H. Blair, James A. Robertson. 

de Zuniga, J.M. 1814 (1803). An Historical View of the Philippine Islands: Exhibiting their Discovery, Population, Language, Government, Manners, Customs, Productions, and Commerce, Vol. 1, tr. John Maver. 

del Rosario, A. "Isang Pag-aaral ng Mga Kuwentong-Bayan ng Oriental Mindoro," University of the Philippines, 1975. 

Eugenio, D. 2013. Philippine Folk Literature: the Legends. Quezon City: University of the Philippines. 

Gardner, Fletcher. 1906. "Philippine (Tagalog) Superstitions," The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 19, no. 74 (1906): pp. 191-204. 

Gaverza, J.K. "The Myths of the Philippines," University of the Philippines, 2014. 

Mallat, J. 2012 (1846). "Les Philippines: Histoire, Geographie, Moeurs, Agriculture, Industrie, Commerce des Colonies Espagnoles dans l’Oceanie," in The Philippines: History, Geography, Customs, Agriculture, Industry, Commerce of the Spanish 

Colonies in Oceania, tr. Pura S. Castrence, Lina S. Castrence. Manila: National Historical Commission of the Philippines. 

Smith, W. 1842. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London.

Submitted by: G.M Baretto, An amateur historian with an interest in East Asian and European histories, and a knack for cartography.

Twitter: twitter.com/Horatio87179500
Visit my Website: https://­historiaphil.wordpres­s.com

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