Manananggal /ma·na·nang·gál/ n
1 a creature, usually female, who is human by day. At night, she separates into two at the waist, growing batlike wings and fangs. If you see her, don’t be scared, my great-grandmother said. I had just gotten my menses and was afraid a manananggal, lured by the metallic smell, would appear to slurp my menstrual fluid and chew on the clots. She only takes the very sick, the distraught pregnant, bruised newlyweds. Sometimes she feeds, sometimes she frees. Her name is
2 from the Filipino word tanggal, which means remove, separate, detach; she who detaches herself. It is the title of the first Filipino horror movie in 1927, starring a young Mary Walter who also starred in the 1980s horror film, Shake Rattle and Roll, as a grandmother terrorized by the manananggal. I remember seeing that one hot afternoon on VHS as a child, sweaty, filled with fear and awe. I saw it
3 the year my mother first ran away, the year I stopped praying to the Virgin, the year that I first dreamt of the manananggal, with her black teeth and talons, her calm eyes and hair that smelled just like my mother’s, so sweet and so
4 they called me other names, pinned me down, explained me away. They called this rage hysteria, said fugue instead of escape, claimed confusion when I knew, I know that fugue comes from fuga, the Latin word for flight. The first manananggal
5 no one remembers her name. The Spanish clergy dragged her away, pinned her down, tore her dress off. The lower part of her body frozen in violation. Fury ripped her in half and she rose, teeth bare breasts bloody, winged and monstrous and so beautiful
6 her mouth snarling, keening. She sounded like my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, me, when I dreamt of her again tonight. She stroked my hair, said the years of maiden and mother would pass swiftly, daughter. My bahay bata — home, child — would be hidden, safe, away, as I weaved wings of Power. Layered skin. Blood. Vessels. Membranes. Memory. Viscera. Delight.