Picture this. A young fair-skinned lady with long hair coming out of her nipa hut carrying an oil lamp and stealthily walking under the full moon. She goes to a nearby woods and stops right beneath a banana tree. Now don’t blink! The lady after spreading on some oil all over her body starts to metamorphose into a demi-human, demi-bat creature. Then up goes the upper-half, hovering on roofs, looking for pregnant women and sickly child as midnight snack.
The viscera-sucker or commonly known as “asuang” are nocturnal beings whom were believed to transform themselves into flying creatures that feast on human internal organs and fetus inside a woman’s womb every time the moon is on its fullest. Usually depicted by Filipino folklore and mythology as a sweet, innocent-looking lady during the daytime that turns into a savage creature at night.
The tale of “asuang” has been deeply embedded in our culture that it has already influenced the’ way Filipinos deal with life. Anybody who doesn’t appreciate the taste and smell of garlic would be teased as an “asuang”, thinking that garlic is an antidote to ward them off.
Tales of viscera-sucker were first told by Spanish friars who came to the Philippines during the 16th century. Filipinos during those times were already living inside organized barangays led by male rajahs and datus. However, empowered women were also taking part in the running of communities as “catalonas” and “babaylanes” or female priests.
Apart from their roles as midwives and herbalists, locals would also oftentimes implore their suggestions for things such as when should they get married, when should they start building their house and other supernatural phenomena since female shamans are persons that transcends the boundary between human and spiritual dimension. These roles proved their presence as vital in running the community.
The friars saw this as a threat and so devised a reversal-scheme. Analysis of the attributes of the viscera-sucker or “asuang” points out to the said reversal of the image of the female shamans. Catalonas who were midwives were reversed from being a life-saver to life-taker as exhibited by the asuang’s propensity to human fetuses and internal organs. This is also graphically represented by the viscera-sucker’s leaving behind of the lower reproductive half while the upper-half engages on destructive acts.
Female priests are known as herbalists that constitute their knowledge of herbal medicines and healing herbal fragrances. The viscera-sucker on the other hand is noted for her obnoxious smell and abhorrence of garlic which is an important part of the Filipino cuisine and noted for its medicinal value. But what’s more disturbing is the inversion of the Filipino value of family solidarity and sociality since viscera-suckers are obliged to cannibalize at least one member of her family as an important initiation right to being a viscera-sucker.
The Spanish friars reared by Western-Mediterranean brand of machismo were ultimately shocked by the freedom these women enjoy in their community. Their involvement in warfare (wherein they are placed in the forefront yelling at their enemies and the first to throw their spears signaling the start of the battle) speaks well of their political freedom.
Predominantly, friars who noted about women leaving their partners whenever he displeases her were viewed as a sexual freedom disparate of their orientation. These empowered women should be subjugated under male dominance—Spanish or Native.
And so they succeeded. The male natives during those times, enjoying their newfound power over their female counterparts decided to cling on to it which paved the way to machismo—Filipino way. After centuries of mind setting that women in general are of lesser worth to the male specie, she developed a sense of submission and self guilt. Viscera-sucker tales may have been slowly ebbing out but the existing double standard still haunts the Filipino women even in this age of information and liberalization. Spanish friars’ stories’ of asuang attacks are now replaced by vicious accounts of wife beatings, molestation, emotional and psychological torture and sexual harassment. Just how the catalonas and babaylanes were lashed and beaten during the Spaniard’s rule in order to subjugate the Filipino women to male supremacy.
Now picture this. A young fiery-eyed young lady marching along asphalt streets, braving the scorching heat of the sun. She carries with her protests against the society’s inequity. She is the catalona and the babaylan reincarnated. The female shaman, after almost four hundred years of slumber is back ready to face a brand new battle. To reclaim the freedom and respect that was taken away from her.