The Bal-Bal | The Bone Collector & Ghouls Of Philippine Myth

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October 8, 2021

Bal-Bal The Bone Collector

Philippine Mythology not only fears creatures of the night when venturing outside into the unknown. They also fear the variety of monsters and spirits that target your body after your death. Enter today’s episode topic, the BAL-BAL – a gruesome, and perhaps eldest of the Philippine ghouls who likes to consume corpses.

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Within Philippine Mythology, they not only fear creatures of the night when venturing outside. No, they also fear the variety of monsters and spirits that target your body after your death. Enter, the BAL-BAL – one of the more gruesome, and perhaps oldest of the Philippine ghouls who like corpses.

Stories say the Bal-Bal is a creature who steals corpses to feed on the rotting flesh. Using sharp claws and teeth for tearing through muscle and bone. Once the Bal Bal has fed, it will leave the trunk of a banana tree in the coffin. Creating an illusion of the stolen body.

The Bal-Bal is said to only consume the corpses of humans, preferring to go after fresh ones at that. One way to deter the Bal-Bal is with loud noises, as they seem to not enjoy them. Overall the Bal-Bal is often associated and described as being similar to more Western depictions of Vampires.


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The Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology

In The Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology, Dr. Maximo Ramos credited tales of the Bal-Bal back to the Tagbanua [tahg-BAH-nwah] people.  The Tagbanua are mainly found in the central and northern regions of Palawan [puh·laa·waan], an providence and aerchepeligo within the Philippines. Research has shown that the Tagbanua are possible descendants of the Tabon Man; thus, making them one of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. Roughly dating back to an estimated 40,000 years. The many ceremonial feasts punctuating Tagbanua life are based on a firm belief in a natural interaction between the world of the living the world of the dead.

Dean C. Worcester (Philippine Islands) wrote a vivid description of the balbal which the Tagbanua believe in:

“While a corpse is awaiting burial, the Tagbanua are in dread of a mythical creature called balbal. Which they say comes from the Moro country. It sails through the air like a flying squirrel. In form, it is manlike, with curved nails which it uses to tear up the thatch houses; and a long tongue with which it reaches down to “lick up” the bodies”.

Modern tales of the Bal-Bal say he walks in regular human form until drenched by the light of the full moon; where he will shape-shift into a disfigured bone collector.  Other stories say if you utter his name “Bal-Bal”,  he will seek you out and devour your flesh. The physical attributes of the Bal-Bal have been adopted into many other tales of flesh-eating creatures throughout the Philippines –  such as the Visayan version of the Aswang,  the Amalanhig, and the Busaw. 


OTHER PHILIPPINE CORPSE THIEF BELIEFS

Within Philippino mythology, there are several cultures and variations of ghouls and monsters that share similar traits or stories to the Bal-Bal. This is also a good time to mention something as we progress onwards, particularly with the term Aswang. The many islands and archipelago of the Philippines have bred a wide variety of cultures and peoples. 

Very similar to the Indigenous peoples here in North America, there are separate and varying stories, myths and monsters depending on where you are. Finally, when mentioning the term Aswang, we are not referring to simply one creature. The word Aswang is very much an Umbrella term, referring to a wide array of things similar to Vampires, Witches, Ghouls, and way more. A similar trait shared with all is shapeshifting, in which they often take on human forms during the day.

What we shall be covering are instances in which certain Aswang mentioned, are similar to that of the Bal-Bal. All of these other Creatures, share and bounce around specific traits. It very much depends on where you are hearing it and from whom. It is sort of confusing, so again I’ll do my best with explaining as we move through it all.


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Aswang Like Creatures

The Cuyonon people believe that these ghouls steal corpses from under the noses of those mourning. Once more, by invisibly substituting a banana trunk for it, the latter then becomes indistinguishable from the corpse except that the stalk “has no fingerprints.”

Asuwang Na Lakaw

The Bikol peoples, from southeastern Luzon, have their own form of the Aswang. Known as the asuwang na lakaw, or the ‘walking aswang’. Which does some strange things with sound, either placing their ear to a rice mortar or by standing on their head, in order to listen for the sound of mourners. Bicolano folklore also has an Aswang that could smell if a person is terminally ill, is known as an Anduduno. This creature stalks outside or under the house of a sick victim. Using its very long, snake-like tongue to lick the sick person until they eventually die. Sometimes it waits outside the house of a dying person. Once that person dies and has been buried, it digs up the corpse and begins to consume it.

Aswang Na Lipad

The Aswang Na Lipad from the Eastern Visayas is distinct from other flying Aswangs because, unlike other creatures, it keeps remains in its human form. Furthermore, do not require wings in order to fly. However, the method in which it achieves flight is a bit bizarre. It must first remove all clothing, then apply a green ointment made of herbs and fat to its armpits. Only then can it begin to fly around. The way it flies resembles that of riding a current of water, just sort of gliding along while it searches for a fresh corpse.

The Aswang Na Lipad will only go after livers as well, taking it before quickly leaving. It never feeds on living men, although cases of dead farm animals with missing livers have been blamed on this creature. Weirdly enough, citrus fruits are able to take away their ability to fly.

Berbalangs

The Berbalangs are from Cagayan, Sulu, and have a human appearance. However, they also resemble the characteristics of vampires and have wings and slanted eyes. They also dig up graves to feast on corpses.

The following account of an encounter with the Berbalangs occurs in Rupert T. Gould’s book Oddities, published in 1928:

“At the center of the island is a small village, the inhabitants of which owe allegiance to neither of the two chiefs. These people are called ‘Berbalangs’, and the Cagayans live in great fear of them. These Berbalangs are a kind of ghouls and feed on human flesh occasionally to survive. You can always identify them because the pupils of their eyes are not round, but just narrow slits like those of a cat. They dig open the graves and eat the entrails of the corpses, but in Cagayan the supply is limited.

So when they feel the craving for a feed of human flesh they go away into the grasslands, and, having carefully hidden, hold their breaths and fall into a trance. Their astral bodies are then liberated….They fly away, and entering a house make their way into the body of one of the occupants and feed on their entrails….. 

The arrival of the Berbalangs may be heard from afar. As they make a moaning noise which is loud from a distance but dies away into a feeble moan as they approach. When they are near you the sound of their wings may be heard; and the flashing lights of their eyes can be seen like dancing fireflies in the dark. Should you be the happy possessor of a cocoa-nut pearl you are safe; but otherwise, the only way to beat them off is to jab at them with a kris. The blade of which has been rubbed with the juice of a lime. If you see the lights and hear the moaning in front of you; wheel fast and make a cut in the opposite direction. Berbalangs always go by contraries and are never where they appear to be.

The cocoa-nut pearl, a stone-like opal sometimes found in the cocoa-nut, is the only really efficacious charm against their attacks; and it is only of value to the finder, as its magic powers cease when it is given away. When the finder dies the pearl loses its luster and becomes dead. The juice of limes sprinkled on a grave will prevent the Berbalangs from entering it. So all the dead are either under or near the houses. With fresh lime juice sprinkled daily the graves.”

Kag-kag

On Romblon, the Kagkag are a race of ghouls that comes out at moonrise and moonset. They listen for the sounds of other ghouls, then follow them to find freshly buried corpses. Once a cadaver has been found, they place it over a large banana leaf and proceed to celebrate their feasting. They cut the body into pieces and share it among all the members of their group. To hide they have the power to take on the form of animals. KAGKAGS are apparently repulsed by seaweed and spices.

Ungo

In Zamboanga, a woman by day, but a flying beast by night is an Ungo.  She flies out of a secret hole in her roof in order to steal corpses.  She cooks it, then gives some to her neighbors.  If they eat the human flesh, they will also become an Ungo.

In southern Albay, the “walking aswang” is to a man-eater or a corpse thief. Particularly fond of devouring newly buried corpses. It is even said to take a corpse home, change it into the carcass of a pig; and feed it to its family.

Buso

The Buso of the Bagobo report congregating in the burial patch and becoming noisy. “If you should go to the graveyard at night, you would hear a great noise. It is the sound of all the buso talking together as they sit around on the ground; with the children playing around them.”

Ebwa

 The Tinguian culture warns of the Ebwa, an “evil spirit“. After the relatives have buried their dead; “all night and the succeeding nine days a fire burns near the grave to keeping away the spirit Ebwa.”

Wir-Wir

Wir-wir, a ghoulish being among the Apayao people, “went everywhere spending his time looking for the dead.” He lived on the dead bodies of people, exhuming these from the graves. Fearful that Wirwir would eat the corpses, the native priests appease the creature.


The Bal-Bal Conclusion

A visitor to the Philippines often expresses surprise at the raucous behavior of Filipinos at vigils. They play parlor games, sing hilarious songs, gamble, and get drunk. This custom is probably a social habit surviving from the days when fierce ghouls were believed to try to steal the corpse and snatch those who were standing vigil over the deceased.


Resources

Collected Tales And Legends From The Philippines, By Joen Rico M. Orde

Wikipedia | Bal-Bal


Credits & Disclaimers

EP 58 – The Bal-Bal | The Bone Collector & Ghouls Of Philippine Myth. Produced by Shane Cummings; Audio Editing & Research by Shane Cummings.
Intro & Outro music “Creepy Regrets” by AnMo.

#CommissionsEarned As an Amazon Associate, we (Realm of Unknown) earn from qualified purchases.


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