Through the forests of the Philippines to the churches of Sweden, students retell their cultures frightening folklore

Written by: 
Noah Shoaf & Brooklyn Redd


No matter where you live, there are horror stories from all around the world. It could be the tale of the Philippines Aswang, who preyed on pregnant women, or the frightening advances of African Sangomas. Students shared how these elusive stories affected their culture and way of life.

Zimbabwe: Beware of curses from the “bad” Sangomas

Witch Doctors are something many people have little exposure to, but not Joana Chibota, a freshman biomedical science major from Zimbabwe. She shared about the superstition and story of the Sangoma.

“In a lot of African cultures, we believe our ancestors chose witch doctors and we call them Sangomas. Some witch doctors heal you when you are sick but some of them actually curse others.” She goes on to explain how some of these “bad” witch doctors will poison money. They tell someone to leave money on the ground. Then a person you don’t like will pick up the money and they will get bad luck.

“There has been real stories where people picked up money, and I took it home and the next day their kid got sick and died, then their husband got sick and died. Because of bad witch doctors, someone can lose all their money or their house can burn down.”

Chibota said there are more good doctors who actually heal others than bad ones. “Most doctors are medicinal women and they heal you. My dad grew up around witch doctors because he lived in a farm area there was no real doctors.”

Perhaps the spookiest part of the whole story is Chibota’s own experience with a Sangoma. She said while living in Zimbabwe, “One day I was at school and we were in class. We all hear screaming, like someone is just whaling. Then it keeps quiet for a bit. After, the class period finishes and we go outside and see this girl lying on the floor shaking like she is being possessed, but no one could touch her because if you touch her, than the ancestors may transfer their spirit from her to you. Now she is a witch doctor, and I haven’t seen her at school since.”

Due to similar experiences, Chibota said she has grown up hearing from her parents “don’t pick up money from the ground” and “don’t accept sweets from strangers.” She admitted how she takes caution when she gets a bad vibe from someone, because she doesn’t want to be cursed.

“I have grown up with the stigma of the witch doctors and whether its real or not I don’t know. But I will never associate with a Sangoma. I will never risk it.”

The Philippines: The Aswang, folklore not for the faint of heart

Angela Morales, a freshman majoring in peacebuilding and psychology from the Philippines described Aswang as a monster who is a normal human, usually a she, who at night transforms herself into something like a big dog or half human with wings.”

She went on speaking a little softer and with a different tone, “She goes to the middle of the jungle in a very dark place and eventually cuts off her legs, leaving them in the jungle. Then she flies around and she smells people who are very ill and people who are pregnant. She tries to eat the fetus or take away the life of the dying man.”

Although the story is graphic and compelling, Morales said she approaches the story with caution. “Maybe it's true, but when stories are past down from generation to generation there can be exaggeration. People have creative mindsets.”

The Philippines: A cigar smoking giant

Morales described another myth told in the Philippines about a creature similar to Bigfoot called Kapre. “Kapre is usually in big trees in the forest. It is a big creature like a giant man and he usually has a big cigar and smokes. People can see in the darkness a floating cigarette and smoke.”

According to, Kapre is not necessarily evil. He plays pranks on people. Making travelers lose their way in the mountains or in the woods, but they can get violent if there environment is compromised.

Morales said she heard in some stories how Kapre grabs little children, but she said she doubts its true. “I think it's only a story told by parents to scare the little children to not go and wander during the night.”

Mexico: Stay away from the haunting tale of a murderous mother

The Weeping Woman, or La Llorona, is a very popular tale in Mexico and the Southwest United States. According to, “the tale of La Llorona begins with a woman named Maria, blessed with natural beauty, who is determined to marry only the most handsome man she meets, shunning any man she sees as unable to match her aesthetically.”

The story telling varies from place to place, but in general, the couple gets married and has two children together. Later the husband proves to not be a great husband and this puts Maria in despair, causing her to drown her own children.

The tale escalates from when Maria is refused entry to heaven without her children. People can hear her weeping as she attempts to find her children, and parents warn their own children to not go outside or else they could be kidnapped and drowned by her.

Tyler Cook, a freshman studying marketing from California, lived with the story of La Llorona because his mother is from Mexico. “My mom was scared of La Llorona. It even affected her so much that sometimes she couldn’t sleep because of that fear.” Cook explained how his grandmother used to tell his mother to stay in bed or else Llorona would come and take her at night.

Malaysia: Go to a home in Kuantan, Malaysia with a violent past

In Kuantan, Malaysia, discussed what chilling events took place their. “In the early nineties there was a tragedy in this house, where the whole family committed suicide. This family was actually a happy family; a father and mother and her young children.”

The story turns dark when the husband became close to a successful businesswoman. Throughout the town, news spread and the wife learns of the affair. One day, the wife calls her husband and she said return to their home immediately or prepare to face the consequences.

He thought it to be only a small threat and ignored the warning, but when he returned the next morning, he came to discover his wife hanging at the doorway of their bedroom. His two young children were also hung alongside of his wife. This prompted the husband to also commit suicide. Now the house is haunted with the spirits off the family.

Rachel Pushman, a junior studying graphic design from Malaysia, said she thinks this story is real. “Not everyone talks about these stories but some of the Muslim people and people who love the language in Malaysia, Malay, they read horror stories and most of them are based on true events and stories.”

Sweden: Attend a Christmas church mass filled with evil spirits

Hannah Jansson, a freshman from Sweden majoring in business and accounting, said she never heard of the story of the Christmas Ghost. She shared how although it originated from her country, it does not necessarily mean someone from the country will know the tale. “Apparently we have many ghost stories, but that doesn’t mean they are famous nationwide. I think it's important to remember stories and folklore depends less on where someone is from and more on how someone is raised.” listed 10 tales from Scandinavian Folklore and explained how the tale begins with a woman who was at a Christmas mass. She was supposed to attend the mass with her friend but she did not show up. Then a voice tells her she could be killed on the spot. Looking around in fright, she realized all of the people in the church around her were headless. As she tried to run away, ghostly members of the church grab her by her veil. Luckily she escaped with her life, but the remains of her veil she wore were ripped into tiny pieces, and distributed among the graves outside of the church.

Fiji: The tagimaucia flower

Glenna Nixalene Prakash, a sophmore from Fiji majoring in hospitality and tourism management and biology, told the story of the tagimaucia flower, which means “the crying tears of despair.” She said the flower can only be found in Taveuni, Fiji near a specific lake and can’t grow anywhere else. She said people have tried to grow the flower in other parts of Fiji, but have been unable to.

Regarding the mysterious flower, Glenna shared, “The legend was that there was a princess sent off to marry this ugly old man. So basically her father was forcing her to marry [him], but because she didn’t want to, she ran off into the forest and stopped by a lake and started crying, crying, and crying.” 

She went on to explain how some Fijians believe that when her tears hit a tangle of vines near the lake, her tears bloomed into the red tagimaucia flower, which today is known as Fiji’s national flower.



Date Published: 
Friday, October 19, 2018
Last Edited: 
Friday, October 19, 2018