Original photo at http://www.flickr.com/photos/spiritchild/42394868/
It is still believed that aswangs (a sort of a vampire, see photo above) circle in abundance in Capiz and its neighboring provinces in Panay Island. Where did the stories come from and do they have a factual basis? Well, the Roxas Memorial Provincial Hospital has conducted a study on this and pointed out to a disease that is believed to be the reason behind the aswang in Capiz.
The disease in focus is dystonia – a neurologic movement disorder characterized by uncontrollable tremors or shaking of the limbs, tongue tremor, excessive salivation, difficulty speaking due to the different muscle contracting at the same time. It is described by people as “parang umiikot na trumpo” (spinning like a top).
Dystonia is a genetic disease and according to theories, Azkenazi Jews migrated 800 generations ago from Europe to Malaysia and eventually landed in the Philippines. They settled and married the natives of the Panay Island. One of the Jews got sick of an unidentified muscle disorder. This disease caused persistent contractions of muscles and continuous repetitive movement to the point of abnormal posture.
In 1964, two similar cases were discovered and was later identified as dystonia. It was also learned that dystonia was endemic among the Azkenazi Jews which they passed on through generations. Males are the only ones affected by the disease while the females are the carriers of the defective genes. (The prevalence of dystonia in the province of Capiz is about 1 case per 4,500 men, which is 60 times that in the general population.)
The dystonic tried to hide their situation from their neighbors by not going out of their houses especially at daytime. Ignorance about the disease led them to feelings of shame and the belief that it was a curse from God. They only felt free to come out at night because people are usually inside their houses at dusk. The poor visibility during the night coupled with the fear of the unknown led people who saw them think that they were malevolent creatures from the dark side. These creatures were called aswang.
Through centuries by word of mouth, the aswang became part of the country’s myths of dark creatures, together with the kapre (dark giant man holding a long cigar who lives on trees), dwende (dwarf), and other lamang lupa (creatures beneath the ground).
Well, inspite of the horror stories, the people of Capiz still manages to laugh it off and holds a yearly “ Aswang Festival”.