TRESE || List of Supernatural Characters in The Trese Verse & Their Possible Origins : What do the Phillipines & Malaya Folklore share in common?

Botong Francisco’s ‘Pag-unlad ng Panggagamot sa Pilipinas’ The Progress of Medicine, on the Babaylan in 1 of 4

Underlined : the supernatural creatures emerging from the TreseVerse & origins

Bolded : do not have a comparison and standalone account

Unbolded Italic: comparable to the Trese Verse & origins

Contents

  • INTRO
  • ASWANG
  • RAKSAKA
  • IBU EMISSARY OF THE GODDESS OF DEATH, MAGWAYEN PHILLIPINES
  • QUEEN OF THE SOUTHERN SEAS OR SETESEYURA BALINESE GODDESS TO IBU
  • LAKAN/BABAYLAN
  • PAWANG TO THE LAKAN/BABAYLAN
  • ABODE OF THE SPIRITS AND SACRED BALETE/ BANYAN TREES
  • TIKBALANG
  • MANNANAGAL
  • PENNANGAL/KRASUE TO THE MANNANAGAL
  • KATAW
  • TIYANAK
  • TOYOL TO THE TIYANAK
  • KAPRE
  • ELEMENTAL WIND
  • THE DEMI GODS OF THE GOD OF WAR
  • ORANG BUNIAN TO THE DEMI GODS
  • ELEMENTAL FIRE
  • DUWENDE
Alexandra Trese is a Lakan/Babaylan, a shaman or spirit medium that communicates and mediates affairs between the spirit and the human world

A story is told that when the Spanish began to understand the power and potency of the babaylan, they so feared the latter’s spiritual prowess that they not only killed many of them but in some instances, fed them to crocodiles to ensure their total annihilation.

— Back From The Crocodile’s Belly: Philippine Babaylan Studies and the Struggle for Indigenous Memory

Malaya and the Phillipines share similarities in language, in their genetic makeup and folklore beliefs. However the geographic isolation makes the culture appear distinct to some. This distinction is apparent in their dominant beliefs system, in the Roman Catholicism/Protestant Christian faith of the Phillipines and the Sunni/Wahhabi/Salafi/Sufi Muslim faith in the Malaya [Refers to Malaysia in this case]. It can be contested that the Phillipines is part of the Malay archipelago, in contrast to dominant opinions in Malaya. Before the arrival of the Spanish in the Phillipines, history was passed down through oral accounts and with the Roman Catholic conquest of the Phillipines, the colonialists encountered the spiritually other and deemed it to be the works of the devil. This pertains to the animistic beliefs and practices of the Fillipinos.

The first in the firing line were the babaylans/ lakans who once held a position of keeping communities together, to being met with suspicion or hunted down, which may pre date the infamous salem witch trials. This led to the defecation of pre colonial sites and the dying out of oral records that if preserved, could add to the richness of the history. The pre colonial era is regarded to be steeped into folklore due to oral accounts imbued with animism, that does not align with materialism.

Also the relegation of academia to those observing the Roman Catholic faith propelled by the conquest [where people who initially use religion to promote peace, can become tainted with mankind’s thirst for power. This is seen in every history book no matter the denomination or identity] implicated that anything that is spiritually other is inferior, non intellectual and not worth examining. This led to the decline in preserving alternative views to the one that is held in academia and historical accounts. Likewise Malaya’s history is steeped in superstition and folklore, making the veracity of the sources questionable of anywhere before the 13th century according to historians. Due to the judgement that nothing is worth examining if it presents itself as spiritually other or if its not consistent with materialistic perspectives, or the predominant abrahamic ideologies of that context, may frame oral sources imbued with animism as doubtful.

The archival records of Malaya are studied by those higher in academia, and are generally thought to be inaccessible to those in public due to the lack of knowledge or mediums shared online. The lack of preserving these cultural mediums may be bought upon by the Abrahamic religious assimilation into the cultural identity of the Malaya and Phillipines, by traders or colonialists.

However with the emergence of animated films that feature deities of potential historical antiquity in the Pan-Asian region, there can be much fruition to gain from these cultural mediums that reinvigorate the past era of animistic and polytheistic beliefs , before the arrival of the Abrahamic religions, into our cultural consciousness. These mediums may help to offer insight into the beliefs of the Phillipines peoples and perhaps the Malaya’s peoples about the spirit world and their practices in the interactions with it, prior to what some people term ‘organised religion’. And these mediums offer a great historical insight into this era. Given the similarity of animistic beliefs, polytheistic beliefs, and language, the Phillipines may be more of an identical twin to the Malaya. This article aims to draw comparisons between the Phillipines and Malaya’s supernatural creatures that emerge from its distinct folklore, through the Netflix adapted series Trese. This may help to put forth the case that the Phillipines is a part of the Malay archipelago, and therefore a part of the Malay race, given that they share similar folklore and animistic beliefs in this context [Up for debate].

In this article, when concerning the regions where the deities or supernatural beings emerge, in reference to the Phillipines this concerns the whole of the Phillipines region, whilst in reference to the entities that are termed Malay concerns Malaya ( Now known as Malaysia and Singapore, from the 9th of August 1965), Cambodia, Indonesia and Brunei regions.

ASWANG

They feature at the start of Trese in the scene with the MRT that broke down. They are known to have the ability to shape shift from their true nature to a human body. And can be likened to ghouls or zombies that devour human entrails. And they are known to prowl the night looking for food.

Sayrenka’s impression of Trese’s Aswang leader as seen in Netflix

A way to identify if a person is an Aswang is if you look into their eyes and see that your reflection is upside down. Another way to determine if they are not human is to bend, and look between your legs to see their true form according to the Phillipines folklore, similar to the method of identifying nonhuman entities in Malay folklore.

THE SIMILAR EQUIVALENT TO THE ASWANG IS THE MALAY RAKSAKA/ RAKSASA

Jessica Ong’s impression of the Raksaka

Also called Gergasi in Malay, they are ogres who have diverse skin colours like red or green. They eat humans and are depicted as evil. The origin of the Raksasa comes from Hindu or Buddhist belief of demonic creatures that prey on human flesh.

IBU, EMISSARY OF THE GODDESS OF DEATH IN THE PHILIPPINES SHE MAY BE CALLED MAGWAYEN

In Trese, Ibu is depicted as a vassal for the transportation of souls into the other world. Ibu collects the souls through the MRT (which is a train, reffered to as the Mass Rapid Transit).

In the Phillipines Visayan folklore, Ibu may be the similar to the goddess Magwayen, who is known to use a boat carry souls to the afterlife. The Goddess rules the underworld and the oceans. Although Magwayen does not have an emissary, in the Trese Verse, this comparison would rest on the ‘unseen goddess’ of death in Trese, than Ibu, who is only a representative for the deity.

The Magwayen, Visayan goddess of the sea (Photo: Ryan Agsawa/ @Diwatero on Instagram)

A SIMILAR MALAY EQUIVALENT OF IBU, EMISSARY OF THE GODDESS OF DEATH

Ibu means ‘Mother’ in Malay similar to the Filipino language. Whilst in the Phillipines folklore the Magwayen, or the goddess of the underworld behind Ibu, in Trese, is believed to reign over the oceans.

A similar but not entirely equivalent supernatural being that comes to mind in the Javanese and Sundanese mythology is ‘Nyai Roro Kidul’, who is believed to be the Indonesian Goddess of the Indian Ocean, or The Queen of the Southern Seas.

However in terms of likeness that is where the similar attributes between both Magwayen and Nyai Roro Kidul ends.

The earliest written account of the queen meeting Panembahan Senopati who became the founder of the Mataram Kingdom [late 16 to 18 century] is recorded in ‘ Babad Tanah Jawi’ a 16th century Javanese epic.

Babad Tanah Jawi

Nyi Roro Kidul by Basoeki Abdullah

An entity that is similar to the Trese Verse of the godess behind Ibu, is Setesuyara who is a Balinese Goddess believed to hold dominion over the underworld [alongside her husband], similar to the underworld goddess [Whose face does not grace the screen due to perhaps residing in the underworld].

Interestingly, the belief in the existence of Setesuyura was present before Hinduism and Islam came to the Balinese peninsula reflecting strong animism beliefs in the South East Asian regions (Ardhana, 2018).

LAKAN BABAYLAN AS ALEXANDRA TRESE

Botong Francisco’s ‘Pag-unlad ng Panggagamot sa Pilipinas’ The Progress of Medicine, on the Babaylan in 1 of 4

Lakans/Babaylans are shamans that act as the bridge between the spirit world and the living world, who act as mediators between deities, creatures and humans. They are valued for their ability to repel spirits, create medicine for those plagued with a disease from the spirit world, resolve disputes or uphold conduct between both worlds: human and spirit.

In Trese, Alexandra is known to be from a lineage of shamans or Lakan/ Babaylan. Her role is one of a supernatural detective, and an enforcer of the accords. In the Trese Verse, the accords are a code of conduct or treaty between humans and the spirit entities.

Lakans are generaly thought to use black magic whilst the Babaylan are known as spiritual healers or generally priestesses [because predominantly females held the position of Babaylans].

The Sinag is a blade that contains the soul of Alexandra Trese’s twin sister, and the curved and asymmetric appearance of the blade may be similar to the Phillipines Kalis sword, that were predominant in the pre colonial era of the Phillipines.

The Kalis from the Phillipines

The Kalis is around 60 cm long. It also resembles that of a Malay Kris/Keris [Blade], which features commonly in Malay Folklore [such as Langkawi’s Tale of Mahsuri, where Mahsuri was unjustly murdered with her family heirloom’s kris by the villagers]. However the Kris is more of a blade than a sword due to its shorter length of 50 cm, and the Kalis has two sharp edges than the Kris.

Malaysian Kris from the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

PAWANG – THE MALAY EQUIVALENT OF THE LAKAN BABAYLAN

In the Malay world, Pawang are people who may practice either black or white magic. Shamans specialising as counsellor and people who prescribe medicine in a traditional way are called ‘dukun’ ( a term used in the Indonesian region) or ‘bomoh’ (commonly referenced in Malaysia). Daud categorises two types of shamans: pawang and dukun/tabib.

Alexandra and her Sinag

In the Malay world, shamanism was a more prominent institution prior to the presence of the Abrahamic religions. Like in Trese, shamans in the South East Asia regions act as mediators or medicine people, because they were regarded as having the spiritual knowledge of diseases and have that spiritual power to influence them. ‘Kitab Perintah Pawang’ (may translate to The Shaman’s Book of Guidance) excerpt in Daud’s discussion of shamanism in the Malay World:

These are the instructions for pawang and tabib and their requirements. In essence, the pawang has the supernatural knowledge of the origins of jinn and devils and he has the capacity to rule over them. Wallahhualam.
The essence of the supernatural knowledge of the tabib is that he has the knowledge of the origins of all diseases and the names and cures for all of them. Wallahhualam (Maxwell Malay MS 106: A1-2).

The excerpt defines djinn and devils as not necessarily satan but who are the residents who embody the spiritual realm within the Malay world.

In Trese, similar to how Alexandra had been given spiritual knowledge and the talents of a shaman through her family lineage, hereditary shamans called ‘bomoh warisan’ exists in the Malay world.

Awang (2006, as cited by Daud) states that there are four roles that a Malay shaman has: a healer, a spiritual medium that can ward off spirits and sorcery, counsellor and a mediator between the spirit realm and the human realm.

ABODE OF THE SPIRITS AND SACRED BALETE/ BANYAN TREES

BANYAN TREE

Banyan trees or Balete as they call it in the Phillipines, have huge trunks with tendrils around the branches like long hair. They are home to a host of nocturnal animals.

In the Trese Verse the Balete tree was a rite of passage for Alexandra to become a Babaylan Lakan, and it is said that time flows differently inside the tree than outside.

In the pre colonial era of the Phillipines influences of indigenous beliefs, animism, Hinduism , Buddhism existed. It can be said that Hindu beliefs of deities that abode by the Banyan tree, has influenced the understanding of the tree to be spiritual, across the south East Asian Region. Superstition exists that if you attempt to hurt a banyan tree you will be hurt in some way because it is the home of the spirits.

TIKBALANG

They possess a hybrid human like body with a head resembling a horse, and legs that span longer than their height when they sit on the ground. Before scaring their victims may shapeshift into the relatives of the victim. In the Trese verse the Tikbalang enjoys races.

Trese Volume 1 Tikbalang King – Written by Budjette Tan and Art by Kajo Baldisimo. Photo: Written by Budjette Tan and Art by Kajo Baldisimo

MANNANANGAL PHILLIPINES

A creature with wings and fangs that likes to devour the babies of pregnant women, and are warded off by using garlic spray. In Trese, the Mannanangal appears in the scene where all the creatures are observing Alexandra’s rite of passage at the Balete (Banyan Tree) Tree into becoming what her family lineage is, a shaman called a Lakan/Babaylan. The Mannanangal in the Trese-verse appears to have a set of horns and bat wings and appear intact in one body. In the Phillipines folklore they are know to have half of their body split where there is only the remaining organs that are intact.

A SIMILAR EQUIVALENT TO THE MANNANANGAL – THE MALAY PENANGGAL

The folklore of the Mannangal is believed to have its origins in the 13th century, Angkorian Khmer culture. Thailand apparently also shares the same myth because of the historical interactions between both civilisations in the past even during the reign of the Khmer civilisation.

Siamese refers to an native, or inhabitants of Thailand.

There was a war between Khmer overlords and the Siamese nobles that led to an arranged marriage between a Khmer princess and a Siamese noblemen [Due to the capture of the princess]. But the princess fell in love with a soldier. The Siamese noblemen found out that the princess had a lover so he sentenced her to burn to death. Before her sentence was carried out she asked help from a Khmer sorceress to prevent her from dying.

The Khmer sorceress used black magic to help the princess, by making her inhabit the body of a village girl who looked like her, however when the village people grew wary and found out what was happening, they used white magic to ward the creature away from possessing another girl. The sorceress efforts would have turned her into the creature known as the Mannangal/Pennangal/Krasue.

In the Malay world it is believed that the Pennangalan emerges from the death of a beautiful lady from childbirth, or when a woman desires for beauty through the use of dark magic or an agreement a lady has made with the devil, that involves not eating meat for 40 days, which has been revoked.

Within the South East Asian region the folkloric creature goes by various name and identity iterations. Pennangal (Malay), Mannangal(Phillipines), Krasue (Thailand), Ahp/Ahpasa (Cambodia), Japan (Nukekubi), Bali (Leyak).

KATAW

According to Visayan mythology . There are different types of merfolk : Siren, Merman and Kataw. Kataw’s bodies are characterised by fins and gills. They are custodians of the oceans, and can orchestrate ebbs and flows of the currents, the water pressure, tides and waves.

TIYANAK

In the Trese-verse the Tiyanak feeds on people. In the Phillipines folklore the Tiyanak is created when a mother kills her child out of wedlock or abandons them in the forest. With the introduction of Roman Catholicism it was understood that babies who are not baptised, would become a tiyanak if they died. The tiyanak has the ability to transform into an innocent baby at night, and it said that when people hear babies crying at night in the forest, it is a lure for the tiyanak to catch its prey.

A SIMILAR EQUIVALENT TO THE TIYANAK IS A TOYOL IN THE MALAY WORLD

Toyol is a spirit of a small baby. It is said that villagers in the Malaya’s used to keep them to steal petty things, such as coins. They are believed to be created through black magic using a baby’s or an unborn child’s spirit, that has passed away. They are less likely to commit murder than their counterpart in the Phillipines , the Tiyanak.

KAPRE

They inhabit big and old trees : mango, acacia or banyan (that are referred to Balete in the Phillipines). Some believe that they are kidnappers of beautiful women who venture into the night.

ELEMENTAL FIRE ENTITY ‘ SANTELMO’

Alexandra Trese and Santelmo.

Santelmo is a spirit that may have unfinished business in the TreseVerse and is in debt to Trese’s family for saving his family. Santelmo is a fire elemental in the TreseVerse and can be summoned by dialling the date of the fire.

In the Phillipines Folklore Santelmo is a lost spirit that may have died near bodies of water. The phenomenon is St.Elmo’s fire which naturally occurs in thunderstorms, by preventing lightning from hitting the object that is below it. In other cases it arises in swamps or marshes and also near decaying matter, which has a scientific explanation for it perhaps.

DEMI-GODS THE KAMBAL ‘TWINS’. CRISPIN & BASILIO

Artist impression from instagram joe.joart

They are half human and half deity, their mother was the summoner of the god of death and the father is the summoned. In Trese the twins are reffered to as the twins, ‘kambal’ in phillipines, similar to its malay counterpart called ‘kambar’.

THE SLIGHTLY SIMILAR MALAY EQUIVALENT MAY BE ORANG BUNIAN

Whilst Orang Bunian are invisible and regarded as forest spirits draped in white veils with flutes that they accompany them with to lure young kids, especially orphans into their world, they are considered slightly immortal like the kambal who are half human and half spirit entity.

Although not regarded as a Demi-God, Orang Bunian may be a spirit or half human half spirit, that lives by the forest.

ELEMENTAL WIND ENTITY CALLED THE ILLONGO AWAN AWAN. ‘AMY’ & ‘HANNAH’

In Malay ‘Awan- Awan’ means wind or breeze similar to the Phillipines word. They can manipulate the air, and control the wind or create tornadoes.

DUWENDE

They are believed to inhabit trees, rooms, or the corners of houses and the colour of their appearance can be: red, green, white or black. Once invoked, they are difficult to ward off.

Alexandra Trese is a Lakan/Babaylan, a shaman or spirit medium that communicates and mediates affairs between the spirit and the human world

Trese takes place in Manila, Phillipines.

References

Ardhana, I.K. (2018). FEMALE DEITIES IN BALINESE SOCIETY: LOCAL GENIOUS, INDIAN INFLUENCES, AND THEIR WORSHIP. International Journal of Interreligious and Intercultural Studies . 1(1).

Daud, H. (2020) Oral Traditions in Malaysia. A discussion of shamanism. Wacana. 12(1). p181-200.

Baum Ann, B. (2014). From filth-ghost to Khmer-witch: Phi Krasue’s changing cinematic construction and its symbolism. Horror Studies. Volume 5, Number 2.

Gaverza, J.K.(2014). THE MYTHS OF THE PHILLIPINES. Academia

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