Below is an excerpt of a larger fantasy, “Kiss of the Dragon-Midwife Witch,” an epic tale of interracial and intermagical love between Malina, a Samtoy manggagamod (a pre-colonial Ilocana witch), and Liam, a Celtic/Fae/Arabic witch prince. This fantasy reimagines the powerful witches and dragons of Philippine folklore, now finding themselves refugees in the Celtic kingdom of Canibri.
I wanted to create origin stories for the popular mythological monsters/witches of Philippine folklore—the Ilocano Manggagamod and the Tagalog Mangkukulam and Manananggal. In creating these origin stories for otherwise popularly known wicked beings, I felt there are two sides to every story. On one hand, one could call this an elaborate fairy tale, while on the other, I see these characters as a magical reimagining of our genealogy.
For this post, I’ve teamed up with the 33rd featured Pinay artist, Béa. She is a Bay-Area-based trans Pinay visual artist of dual heritage—Ilocana through her mother, and of Anglo/Celtic descent through her father. I thought Béa’s images were a stunning, if not accurate, portrayal of the characters in this fantasy.
A long-time admirer of Béa’s work and after extensive communications with her, I was struck by her response to the excerpt that I passed along for her review: “I love the expansive world-building you’re doing (my dad’s family is Anglo/Celtic-white, so it’s cool to bring to mind that all cultures have deep shamanic/druidic roots), and I think the concept of a world-wide network of sorcerers that sympathize and are willing to ally and fight for each other is wonderful and real.”
To reiterate, below is only an excerpt that is more backstory to my characters but significant as world-building is necessary when creating an ancient fairy tale world. The unabridged fantasy stands at 13,000 words, but for this post, I am enclosing a teaser of 2,500 words. Enjoy!
For more information about Béa and her stunning visual art, please visit her page in the Featured Artists section.
Excerpt from KISS OF THE DRAGON-MIDWIFE WITCH
Malina had originally come from the coven, Uya-oy, from the land of Samtoy. A millennium had gone by that the origin of the coven’s name was lost except their name meant “to swing” or “hang from.” As a little girl, Malina guessed all the possible explanations how their name came to be. Her first guess was that it must have been due to the flying foxes that swarmed the skies, their vampiric appearance scaring unbeknownst locals as they roosted in the trees, hanging upside down. She then guessed it must be because of the heliconia that flourished in her village, the dangling chains of their lobster-claw flowers pendulating out of the tops of upright stems. Her last guess was because of the dragons who swooshed through a jungle of clouds as if swinging from invisible vines, and Malina would marvel and clap her hands in delight as they raced each other to and fro.
Malina was thirteen when invaders clad in metal armor with pale skin and hairy faces, who smelled of ash and sour sweat, came upon Samtoy like brutal ghosts in human flesh. The Samtoy locals had irreverently coined them the “kili kili ma-maw.” They said they were there to claim the land on behalf of their queen. She had lived in a faraway kingdom across two oceans, which the people of Samtoy never heard of. Samtoy locals had wondered if their queen was just as smelly, hairy, and pale-faced as her men. The kili kili ma-maw swept across the land with their new order that now sought to criminalize and eliminate any manggagamod and dragon.
The Samtoy residents who first spotted their arrival on the beach indicated how they smelled the kili kili ma-maw presence before they actually saw them. Their hair and beards were greasy and severely matted. They had dirty fingernails, which they chewed off into jagged edges with their yellowed teeth or which they allowed to grow long and cracked. There was nothing friendly in their manner of speaking. A manggagamod’s gift of polyglot wasn’t even necessary in translating that these men spoke with vulgarity. They stomped instead of walked as if each footstep demanded surrender and subjugation. They leered at the women of Samtoy, particularly the female manggagamod. They spat on the men as if they were little boys needing discipline and punishment. They were particularly flummoxed and exasperated by manggagamod who neither identified as male or female.
When a kili kili ma-maw tried to kidnap and overpower a female manggagamod, she simply used her telekinetic powers to send him flying across a field as if he were a little ball she kicked, and if she were feeling further inclined, transformed him into swine. He would spend the rest of his days squealing and running for his life. Sadly, a manggagamod’s telekinetic power was no match for a dozen armored men. Once the kili kili ma-maw learned of this weakness, they realized they could bring down an entire coven. With their armored numbers and weaponry, the kili kili ma-maw had ambushed Samtoy’s Witch Queen, Aribái Manggagamod Agbayani. Now, without their Witch Queen, the manggagamod stood defenseless against the kili kili ma-maw who had resorted to their weapons of war. The manggagamod would have to rely on the citizens of Samtoy for protection. Though covens were powerful, they were also a special community and relatively small in number to the greater seven-thousand island archipelago.
The manggagamod had always been valued for their power—healing a sick child; a potion for a woman trying to conceive; a potion for a woman trying to end a pregnancy; an obedience spell; a protection spell; an exorcism; an aphrodisiac.
It was then that the kili kili ma-maw began their campaign to paint the manggagamod as instruments of evil among their own people. Despite their attempts to conquer Samtoy, they couldn’t crush its resilient citizens. They decided to use a different tactic, and that was to turn its people against their most valuable resource—the manggagamod.
In order to win the favor of Samtoy’s people, the kili kili ma-maw first had to make themselves presentable, which meant brushing their teeth; bathing; washing, combing, and clipping unkempt hair; shaving their beards; wearing fresh clothes; trimming and cleaning their fingernails. It was no secret that the people of Samtoy valued cleanliness. No individual who was dirty and smelly could ever be trusted.
With their fresh new look, the kili kili ma-maw eventually gained the favorable attention of Samtoy’s citizens whom they convinced that the manggagamod were nothing but malevolent, man-eating, and blood-sucking nocturnal creatures disguised as beautiful and gentle citizens during the day. The kili kili ma-maw had placed special emphasis on the female manggagamod. They were enraged that they couldn’t take them as wives and so the kili kili ma-maw became intent on destroying anything they couldn’t control.
The manggagamod felt that the kili kili ma-maw’s ghastly depiction of them was nothing but an obvious projection of their own insecurity and self-loathing. This depiction, however, eventually poisoned Samtoy minds until all manggagamod bore the blame. They were sentenced to being flogged or drowned. They had been angels of a special kind. Healers really. All of the unique and multitudinous names ascribed to each manggagamod’s expertise—shaman, healer, angel—were suddenly stripped from them. Now they were simply reduced to “witch,” as if the very word were the origin of everything ugly and evil in this world.
And as such, everything ugly and evil became the ill fate of a particular mangkukulam in the land of Kumintáng. While Samtoy had been in the far north of the seven-thousand island archipelago, Kumintáng had been near its heart.
The witches in Canibri always spoke sadly but with compassion over what had happened in Kumintáng. The incident was never a reflection of their mangkukulam sisters or themselves as a whole, but it was no secret what the most desperate of their witch sisters had done.
Like the manggagamod in Samtoy, the mangkukulam in Kumintáng had thrived and lived happily for millennia until the invaders arrived. The Kumintáng locals in their language had irreverently coined the invaders the “kili kili mumu.” In defiance of the new order, a small coven of mangkukulam had led a resistance, thereby intensifying the kili kili mumu’s targeted abuse against them.
One such mangkukulam, named Ligaya, had been their leader. In Tagalog, her name meant “joy.” Her husband had been killed earlier in a skirmish against the kili kili mumu. As a result, she had taken up the helm to lead the resistance. She had also been pregnant. While her pregnancy had made her magically unstoppable, her great mangkukulam powers had suddenly waned after childbirth. She would need a year to regain all her strength and magic back. She and her coven believed that she had been hidden deep enough in the jungle. At her coven’s insistence, two mangkukulam sisters were assigned to stay with Ligaya.
It had not even been a month when the kili kili mumu ambushed a vulnerable Ligaya in the middle of the night. Employing a skilled tracker, the kili kili mumu’s dozen armored men overpowered and killed the two mangkukulam sisters, and kidnapped Ligaya and her infant daughter.
Day after day, Ligaya had suffered unspeakable atrocities. She had become a physical resource to her captors’ depraved appetites. They wanted to make her pay for organizing a resistance against them. It did not matter that she had an infant daughter. They knew she was defenseless. She could not telepathically call out to her coven and tell them where she was being held captive. Days turned into weeks into months. Her coven believed she had perished, as they could no longer sense her.
The kili kili mumu ultimately pushed Ligaya into an inescapable corner. She had been without energy and milk to feed her daughter. Ligaya would’ve rather suffered alone than watch her child being starved. She knew death was near for both of them. She could only imagine the depravity that the kili kili mumu would do to her precious baby. She would make a decision that only made sense to her. It had calmly put her at ease in knowing her child would be safe, but more importantly, her child would always be a part of her. Ligaya ate her child.
Just as a desperate feline would’ve eaten her own kittens when in extreme distress against the threat of predators, Ligaya had one goal in mind, and that was to save her daughter from further harm at the hands of the kili kili mumu. She suddenly transformed into an exceptional beast and broke free from her captors, but not before slaughtering them with an inexorable rage only felt by the most forsaken of mothers. Those who were able to escape lived to tell what they had seen, though they conveniently failed to mention the torture they had inflicted on Ligaya that ultimately drove her to the madness she had become.
Ligaya could never be a mother again and so it became a vicious cycle of her wanting to be a mother by sniffing out the unborn and small children, but knowing full well she could never be a mother. Her rage, sadness, and despair ultimately filled her with an insatiable hunger for innocent human flesh. The manananggal was thus born.
The lower half of her torso and legs would remain human while her upper half would dislodge at her waist. Huge bat-like wings would sprout from her spine, and she would fly with her intestines draping from the bottom of her severed torso. She would fly to the roof of her victim’s home and look for any openings where she could insert her long, thin, proboscis-like tongue and pierce a pregnant woman’s belly to feed on the unborn.
The manananggal became a fraught symbol of reclamation but also defeat, not just for the mangkukulam in Kumintáng, but all witches in the entire archipelago. If the kili kili mumu painted the mangkukulam as frightening, then there would be no words to describe the terror that the manananggal now embodied.
When she was not a vampiric beast, her intoxicating beauty would lure a kili kili mumu wandering in the jungle, only to bring him back to her hut where she would take him apart, tiny part by tiny part, first plucking his fingernails, then knuckles, then toenails, then toes. She was meticulous and liked to work very little by very little, slowly disemboweling, while pulling him apart by hand and foot, and then limb by limb. She would leave his eyes, ears, and nose for last, hoping he would live long enough to see, hear, and smell his own pain. She would never eat these men as she wouldn’t dare mingle their flesh with her own, but she gained great satisfaction in watching them suffer as she too had once suffered.
It was a devastating fate, and yet the witches of the entire archipelago embraced their manananggal sister with compassion, knowing full well why she resorted to the most egregious of actions. The manananggal would resonate among the most desperate of witches worldwide under the direst of circumstances. In other parts of the world, the manananggal would have sisters she could relate to—Katikatiā, Churail, or Ol’ Hige. Whatever the name, they were beautiful young seductresses or kind old women to unsuspecting men by day, while at night, they were hideous shape-shifters who fed off babies and children.
Now, in the Celtic kingdom of Canibri, the witches of Malina’s current coven had been from the far reaches of wherever witches were being persecuted.
As cohorts of the kili kili ma-maw were slowly taking over various lands, news spread that all bands of witches from all over the world were welcome in Canibri, another island in the far, far north where it was fabled that Druids had ancient blood ties to witch realms around the world. Thousand-year witch histories everywhere had intertwined with shape-shifters, healers, high priestesses, and conduits with the spirit world.
In the Celtic language, Canibri meant “good” or “nice,” which was a fitting name for the ancient kingdom welcoming magical refugees to their shores.
The Witch Queen of Canibri, Aoibheann, had heard the slaughter and cries of her witch sisters and brothers across oceans. Their thousands upon thousands of cries filled her head, from the manggagamod, mangkukulam, gagamoten, inyanga, isangoma, kahuna, makåhna, vaine tautau, sahirah, to nearly every witch of every kingdom. Witch Queen Aoibheann swiftly sent word, offering refuge in Canibri. Her fairy ambassadors would make the long trek throughout all of the lands. Some would receive word and politely decline. They would rather stay and fight. Others, like Samtoy’s Witch Queen, Aribái Manggagamod Agbayani, would stay and fight, only to be vanquished, leaving the ultimate decision to leave Samtoy to her surviving covens.
It was a known history that a longstanding pact between Liam’s great-great-grandfather and the then-reigning Witch Queen, Eabha, had promised that there would be no conflict between Canibri and the witches. Witch Queen Eabha had promised that her witches and dragons would protect the kingdom from invaders. While Liam’s great-great-grandfather had believed himself a skilled negotiator, Eabha had actually agreed to the pact out of great love for Liam’s great-great-grandmother. Now, under the continued pact between Witch Queen Aoibheann and Liam’s mother, Queen Caitriona, all witches and dragons continued to be protected in Canibri.
For Malina, thirteen of the most powerful covens from Samtoy, one-hundred sixty-nine manggagamod total, teleported themselves to Canibri after months-long concerted effort to harness their magic into one amassed energy—one-hundred sixty-nine of them holding hands, dispersed among thirteen circles, and with great concentration, teleported across sea and sky. It was during this great teleportation that Malina and her father teleported from Samtoy to Canibri.
Blessed with the magic of polyglot, witches could speak any language, which made settlement and acclimation to Canibri a little less difficult. The forced departure from one’s homeland, however, was never easy. Sadly, being polyglot also fueled local belief that witches spoke in tongues as if possessed by demons.
During every solstice and thirteenth moon, all covens far and wide in Canibri would gather in a secret part of the forest. There they would celebrate their survival with dance, wild drumbeat, song, shrieks of joy, and reckless abandon. They would drink their own special witches’ brew and smoke their special euphoric herbs. They sighed at the absurdity of the rumors that the invaders had spread about them throughout the lands—ranging from tales that they ate or sucked the blood of the unborn and small children; killed their victims with lightning; cast hexes with personal objects like a locket of hair, fingernails, or article of clothing; or gave poisonous fruit to naïve princesses. As evidenced by the manananggal, they weren’t incapable of committing such heinous magic, but to say all of them practiced dark magic would’ve been the equivalent of reducing all ordinary humans to being killers and cannibals.
Copyright © 2021 by Elsa Valmidiano
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