Infants are seen almost universally as symbols of innocence and purity to be protected at all costs from danger and the evils of the world around them. But the legend of the Tiyanak tells a different tale of a race of creatures that wait in the woods disguised as infants and then attack unsuspecting travelers with supernatural speed and drink their blood with disturbing alacrity.
The legend goes that unwary travelers would typically find the Tiyanak if they heard crying in the deep recesses of forests and then approach it. Upon stumbling into a small clearing these travelers would discover an infant child nestled in cloth or beneath leaves surely destined to die without the intervention of the traveler. As the traveler leans down and picks up the child, its cries would suddenly take on a disturbing quality and it would become apparent that in its mouth the creature had hideous fangs. In the deep forest the only people to hear the screams of these travelers would be several miles away. The Tiyanak has been said to kill its victims either by slashing at them with tremendous sharp claws or by biting them. Bodies, according to the legend, are rarely found.
The legend comes from Philippine folklore as a cautionary tale about the deaths of children and generally is connected tangentially by the teller with tips on raising them safely. More on that when we get to how the Tiyanak comes into being in the first place.
The Tiyanak is also often spoken of to visitors in order to warn them against the dangers of the wilderness. It’s said once this creature attacks there is no way to escape its claws. Though it has been blamed for the deaths of many who have been lost to the wilderness in the Philippines where the story is told, the legend is often laughed at by nonbelievers in the region. Still there are plenty of others who profess the dangers to be real to this day and prescribe travelers wear garlic or rosaries, and carry loud pots to bang while walking alone in the woods to ward off the malevolent creatures.
It’s interesting the number of parallels there are between the Tiyanak legend and popular folklore surrounding vampires. Aside from the garlic element, the idea that Tiyanaks may not actually be alive is another disturbing element to the story. When travelers ask how a Tiyanak comes into being they will be told several stories. Some say it’s a child who died while still an infant. Others suggest the creature only becomes a Tiyanak if the mother miscarried the creature. And perhaps the most disturbing interpretation is that only a Tiyanak can create another by carrying it off into the forest while the child sleeps in its crib at night. The practice of putting garlic on cribs is not unheard of as a result.
So if ever you find yourself in the Philippines alone hiking in the woods, and a sound comes rolling over the hills and between the trees it may just be the wind. But be sure to tread softly as you never know what may be peering out from behind that tree in the darkness of night.