Mga Tambay Sa Tabi-Tabi (Creatures of Philippine Folklore)

by Rose Churma

Arranged alphabetically, the members of the INK visually depicted their interpretation of how the creatures of Philippine folklore would look like. A text in Filipino/Tagalog accompanies each illustration with an English translation attached at the bottom of each page.

My favorite creature is the Kapre. I grew up in a household where our Kapre was an heirloom passed on by my maternal grandfather and is named Pedro. Although I never saw Pedro, he was part of my childhood. It was interesting to see an illustration of one and a description – that it has enormous height, looks human, with big eyes, a flat nose, thick lips and large ears. But the one thing that intrigued me was the observation that the Kapre carries an unmistakable goat smell. But since I always perceived the Kapre as smoking a cigar, it’s the tobacco smell that comes to mind.

The other creature featured is the Tikbalang, and like the Kapre, its presence is usually announced by the strong goat smell it emits. A Tikbalang has a horse’s head and neck, but a man’s body, but it has hooves instead of feet. The Tikbalang can cast a dangerous spell but could also be somebody’s loyal servant or friend once it is tamed.

The one creature that I was curious about is the Tiyanak. I’ve always heard that term used to describe nasty people who were short. Apparently, the Tiyanak conceals itself among the tall cogon grass and preys on unsuspecting travelers by crying and assuming the appearance of a baby abandoned in the darkness. Once picked up by unsuspecting victim, it transforms itself into a small, evil beast. They say that the Tiyanaks are spirits of aborted and unborn children who seeking vengeance for the life they were denied.

Because the illustrations and text were done by different artists, each depiction is unique and adheres to the illustrators’ perception of how these creatures look like. A bibliography is included and lists all the secondary sources the artists used to conceptualize this book. But if one grew up in the Philippines, it is likely that one’s childhood was shaped by stories of these creatures.

Growing up, these creatures were used by the grown-ups to keep us terrorized—so we would be more docile and make life less complicated for them. I am sure these artists had the same experience – which is the best primary source of inspiration in illustrating these creatures which will always be part of Philippine folklore.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMAis a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (, promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at

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