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Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Origins And History Of The Kapre

One of the first documented instances of the kapre being mentioned in a text (with its modern definition) may be seen in The Mythological Dictionary of the Philippines by Ferdinand Blumentritt, in which the word is spelled as cafre, from the Arabic kafir (meaning non-believer in Islam, later used for African slaves transported to Spanish and Portuguese colonies).

Kapre, Philippine Folklore
Image: CDO.Dev
During the 333 years that they ruled it, the Spanish brought much of their culture from Mother Spain to the Philippine Isles — the Catholic faith, their beloved siestas, and much more. Another example of the Castillas’ lasting legacy on these islands are the kapres — the dark-skinned, chain-smoking dwellers of the tree-tops.Apparently the Tagalogs of Tayabas used the term to refer to a man-eating beast, who had an aversion to salt — this is in contrast to later records which describe the kapre as harmless, dark-skinned men who were fond of cigars.

In the Ilocano provinces, it was used by the Spanish for the Pugot, a headless abomination which roamed the woods, and other "barbaric" or "uncivilized" peoples. The latter may provide an insight as to how the image of the kapre, a creature with features akin to that ofan African or an Aeta, came about, as the Spanish thought these peoples to be sub-human, or inferior to them — in fact, a synonym for the word kapre is agta, another term for the Aeta or Negritoes.

Kapre, Philippine Folklore
Image: Pinterest
Kapre,  Philippine Folklore
Image Credits: Lore and Legends

According to numerous anecdotal testimonies and records, the kapre is of large build, having a height of 7 to 9 feet, and a muscular body — it is worth noting that the beast, unlike other creatures in its league apparently wear clothing, namely the bahag, a traditional Filipino loincloth. It is hairy, black, and emits an aura of terror, frightening anyone who saw its pair of red eyes gazing upon it. In spite of these brutish characteristics, the kapre seldom harmed people, only doing so when its tree-dwelling was cut down. It may also, turn hostile when its chosen "love interest" or friend (who had the ability to see it or render void its invisibility to others by sitting on it) found a lover or was harmed.

One occurrence of the former was when the partner of a young woman a kapre had taken an interest to tried cutting down the creature’s tree getting sap on his body in the process. His skin subsequently caught a great many rashes and he suffered aches and other afflictions for several days until a white chicken was sacrificed in the kapre’s honour, after which the man returned to normal. Other antics of the kapre include misdirecting travelers and causing confusion through enchantment (it is said that if one undergoes such a predicament, one can observe the rustling of tree branches, loud laughter, red eyes, etc.). Many folk stories also say that the fireflies so often seen during the night are actually the embers of the kapre’s cigar. Also from these tales come the idea that kapres can grant wishes if one were to acquire a small white stone which it held in its possession.

Although the name of the kapre originated from foreign influences — the Spanish and the Arabs, one has to remember that its identity and the culture which inspired its creation is still uniquely Philippine.


An amateur historian with an interest in Philippine, East Asian, and European histories, and a knack for cartography.

Twitter: @jadesovereign


Blumentritt, F. “Mythological Dictionary of the Philippines,” Archivo del Bibliofilo Filipino, W.E.
Retana, tr. D. Marcaida Jr.

Canja, E., in a conversation with G.M. Barreto, September 4, 2020.
Javier, J.R., Vicerra, P.M. 2013. “Tabi-tabi po: Situating the Narrative of Supernatural in the
Context of the Philippine Community,” Manusya: Journal of Humanities, Vol. 16, no. 2 (Jan. 2013)
Jocano, F.L. 1983. The Hiligaynon: An Ethnography of Family and Community Life in the Western Visayas

Region. Quezon City: University of the Philippines.

Tan, M.L. 2008. Revisiting Usog, Pasma, Kulam. Quezon CIty: University of the Philippines.

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