Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Building a Philippine Bestiary: The Pugot

The Pugot as depicted by sculptor Ian Balba, and shown on
the website
of that excellent Filipino Urban fantasy/horror
comics series Trese, whose website is here.
Pugot means beheaded or headless, and when you have creature named pugot, you can imagine what we're looking at here.

Now while there are certainly parallels to the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame, there several things to consider when looking at it from the Philippine point of view:

There's a local tradition of monsters that can separate body aparts and reattach them. The manananggal -- the female monster who separates her upper half from her lower half and then flies around on bat wings -- is the most prominent. But it does suggest that some variants of the pugot (at least in a gaming setting, since I'm no expert on the subject) can sever and reattach the head at will.

There's a local tradition of monsters that look normal by day and become monstrous by night. Related to the prior statement, but subtly different, it applies not only to the manananggal but also to the shapeshifting aswang. There are stories of townspeople who know which fellow residents are these creatures but choose not to act unless they or their own have been threatened. Therefore, in a game setting, these creatures can be normal looking by day with a few warning signs that may distinguish them or hint at their monstrous nature: a slightly paler head than the body, a stiffness of the neck, partially frozen facial features that would be attributed to strokes or illness if they didn't recover fully the next day...

There are some lovely descriptions and behaviors of the monster that deviate from the Headless Horseman's portrayal. Some descriptions have a tongue of fire where the head should be. Despite its rumored ability to shapeshift (or give the illusion of a different appearance) it tends to appear as a large, black, headless humanoid. The black description may also be attributed to its fondness for dark and deserted places like groves or houses. It can move swiftly, capable of capturing snakes and insects found in trees and feeds on them by stuffing them down its headless stump.

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