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What’s an Aswang, Anyway?

The Mythical Filipino Creature from 'Bloodletting' in the Wilds of Pop Culture

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(L-R) Anne Yatco and Myra Cris Ocenar in the Playwrights’ Arena production of Bloodletting at Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho

Boni B. Alvarez brings the mythical aswang of the Philippines to life in Bloodletting (onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre March 29 – April 8, 2018 as part of Block Party). Alvarez has described the aswang as a Filipino witch, but there are many different variations.

  1. The Aswang Phenomenon

    Jordan Clark, a Canadian filmmaker who traveled to the Philippines, grew intrigued by the myths of the aswang and created The Aswang Phenomenom—a multi-part documentary about the creature. Clark takes his viewers on a journey, investigating the history of the aswang and interviewing Filipino people who have encountered it.

  2. Aswang Sightings

    In May 2015, multiple aswang sightings were reported in central Mindanao. In one instance, the creature took the form of a large dog, entered a couple’s home, and proceeded to viciously bite them. Another report claimed that one creature first appeared as a black cat, shifted to a human, and attacked four people. After a 10-year-old girl died from an alleged aswang attack, residents of Davao del Norte planted weapons strategically to protect their town. Was this just a spate of misrepresented animal attacks? Or aswangs?

  3. CTG Podcast: Filipino Family Myths and Monsters

    Hosted by actor, comedian, and writer Alec Mapa, this Center Theatre Group Community Conversation features Bloodletting playwright Boni B. Alvarez, UCLA Associate Professor of Asian American Studies Lucy Burns, and actor Reggie Lee. I grew up hearing about [aswangs] from my Lola [grandmother] and my mom and dad…and all sorts of other vampires and ghosts and werewolves and everything. We were always taught to believe that it was the absolute truth, Mapa explains.

  4. An Aswang on Primetime

    As actor Reggie Lee mentions on our podcast, a 2014 episode of the TV show Grimm, Mommy Dearest features the aswang prominently. Lee’s character, Sgt. Wu, investigates a strange attack on a pregnant friend. This creature profile video (caution: it’s a little bloody) offers one interpretation of the aswang in pop culture.

  5. Filipino Mythology Podcast

    In this short podcast, RadioActive youth reporter Maria Caoagdan interviews University of Washington Professor Vicente L. Rafael, who specializes in Philippine history, on the country’s mythological belief and its impact on culture and everyday life.

  6. Sundance Sacrifice

    The American film Aswang had its World premiere at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival. Aswang (retitled The Unearthing for US distribution) is about a young, unwed pregnant woman who agrees to play a wealthy man’s wife. Unbeknownst to the woman, her mother-in-law plots to sacrifice her unborn child to an aswang. With its low budget and emphasis on gore over horror, Aswang opened to lackluster reviews but exposed American viewers to an alluring part of Filipino culture.

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