Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Daily Ghost Post – E is for Engkanto

Some Engkantos are found in Balete trees.
This is the biggest one in the Philippines.

E is also for Encanto. It depends how you spell it. Either way, it spells enchantment, but not necessarily the kind one wants.

In the Philippines, Engkantos are elf-like beings who are often thought to be the spirits of dead ancestors. Religious scholar Francisco Demetrio characterizes them as mysterious, dreadful, and fascinating. They live in natural places, like trees or boulders. Sometimes they are considered benevolent, but mostly they are tricky.

In the first place, if Engkantos fall in love with you and you spurn their love, they can be malicious and spiteful. They throw rocks. They turn into balls of fire (even great balls of fire) and chase you – talk about being hot on your tail. Secondly, people who meet these creatures disappear for a period of time, possibly spirited away to the legendary land of Biringan. Finally and most notably, those who meet them often experience the sudden onset of madness or delirium.

That is why the enchantment of the Engkanto is not always so enchanting.

Engkantos are singular in appearance. They are tall with smooth, fair skin, even in the all the wrinkly places. Their facial structure differs from humans in that their noses have high bridges and they have no indentation on their upper lips (new word alert, that indentation is called a plectrum). And boy do they like to party! It is said that Engkantos who live inside trees, like the large Balete tree pictured above, live the high life. Their tree homes feature lavish furnishings, gorgeous food, and lots of other beautiful people. Sounds a bit like a Hollywood party, only more dangerous.

Are Engkantos like Irish fairies? Well, some say they are elementals or nature spirits, which is like Irish fairies. Yet there is a key difference. When people go to fairy realm, time doesn’t pass like it does here. Upon returning to the human world, they are generations older. In contrast, the return from Engkanto contact doesn’t affect the kidnapped person’s life timeline – but it does affect the person’s life.

Encounters with Engkantos can result in madness. In traditional Filipino culture, some of those who experience such madness become shamans. By connecting with the spirit world, people are called into a new role as healer and spiritual mentor.

Many cultures around the world share a similar process for how people become shamans. Francisco Demetrio explains that such calls to service typically involve a disappearance and sudden onset of madness. It is almost as if the future healer must endure death and resurrection in order to do healing work.

And then there is another view. The depiction of Engkantos corresponds to how indigenous people viewed Spaniards when they first arrived in the Phillipines. Think about it – lighter skinned people from another land who fall in love with natives, cause strange things to happen, and wield unusual powers…hmmm.

So. Did Engkanto lore serve as cautionary tales for indigenous Filipinnos about the Spanish? Did such tales preexist European travel? Are the Engkantos indigenous nature spirits that took on some European characteristics over time?

What do you think? Have you heard Engkanto stories? There is a little comment box far below, let’s chat it up!

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Copyright 2015 The Storyrafters. All right reserved.

SOURCES:
Demetrio, Francisco (1969). The Engkanto Belief: An Essay in Interpretation. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1, 77-90.
philippinetales.weebly.com/claimed-encounters/category/engkanto20baa2a57e
Wikipedia – Engkanto

PHOTO CREDIT: By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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8 thoughts on “Daily Ghost Post – E is for Engkanto

  1. How wonderful, so similarities with the Norwegian troll:)

  2. I have never heard of this ghost before. Have I said this before? 😉

    I think it’s a fascinating creature. I particularly like the link to shamanism. It’s interesting.
    Your suggestion that these creatures may be cautionary tales about the Spanish is suggestive, it could be. It could also be that an older belief was affected by new historical events.

  3. They actually do sound interesting. An excellent character for a book, I think.

  4. Very cool! I’m going to ask my Filipino friends about these. I don’t recall hearing these legends. Also, I love learning new words. Plectrum? I’ll have to work that into a conversation at some point this week. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Daily Ghost Post – T is for Types of Ghosts | Storytelling Matters

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