The Berbalangs is a scary true story about a small island in the Philippines that was said to be inhabited by strange creatures known as The Berbalangs. They are said to be ghouls or cannibals who need to eat human flesh to live. They are able to separate their heads from their bodies and fly through the night, in search of victims. This is supposed to be a true story, based on an account written by E.F. Skertchley in 1896 called “Cagayan Sulu, its Customs, Legends, and Superstitions”.
Cagayan Sulu is a small island, just south of The Philippines. In the late 1800s, it was mostly jungle with just a few small villages. When a British explorer named E.F. Skertchly visited the island, he heard strange tales about a village at the center of the island that none of the locals would go near. They said the village was inhabited by a group of creatures called “Berbalangs” and for years, the people of Cagayan Sulu had lived in fear of them.
The people said the Berbalangs looked like humans, but you could tell them by their eyes. The pupils of their eyes were narrow slits, just like cats’ eyes. The Berbalangs were ghouls who ate human flesh. They needed it to exist and if they didn’t get it, they would die. They would often dig up graves, haul out the corpses and eat their entrails. However, there were not enough graves to satisfy their cravings and sometimes the Berbalangs would have to go in search of live flesh.
They would lie down in the grass, hold their breath and fall into a trance. While their bodies were hidden by the tall grass, their heads would fly off, hunting for victims. When they came to a house, they would attack the people inside and feed on their entrails.
They told Skertchly that you would know the Berbalangs were coming when you heard the distinctive moaning noise they made. When they were far away, the noise was loud, but it grew quieter as they approached. When they were very close, you would hear the sound of their wings and you would see the flashing lights of their eyes which glowed red and looked like fireflies dancing in the dark.
They said that there were only two ways to protect yourself against the Berbalangs. If you had a coconut pearl (a rare stone like an opal that is sometimes found in a coconut), you could use it as a charm and it would keep you safe. The only other way to defend yourself was with lime juice. If you had a kris (a type of knife) and its blade was rubbed with lime juice, you could use it to strike out at the monsters and cut them.
If you saw the lights of their eyes and heard their moaning in front of you, it meant that they were actually behind you, because the Berbalangs did everything by opposites and they were never where they appeared to be. So if you heard the low moaning and saw the lights, you should turn around suddenly and lash out with your knife.
The people of Cagayan Sulu protected their graves by sprinkling lime juice on them to prevent the corpses being eaten. All of the dead on the island were buried under houses and their graves were sprinkled with lime juice every day to keep the Berbalangs away.
After hearing so much about these strange creatures, Skertchly was determined to find out if there was any truth behind the frightening stories. He wanted to go to the village of the Berbalangs, but nobody would agree to be his guide. Eventually, he met a local boy named Matali who volunteered to take him there.
The next morning, Skertchly and Matali set out on a difficult trek through the jungle. It was almost evening when they came within sight of the Berbalang village. Matali suddenly stopped and refused to go any closer.
“That is the place,” he said. “Now you have seen it. Let us go.”
“I haven’t come this far to stop now,” Skertchly replied.
“It is too dangerous,” Matali said. “If you insist, you go alone.”
Matali tried to persuade him not to enter the village, but the explorer was determined.
“Then take this,” Matali said and he smeared his kris with lime juice and handed it to Skertchly.
“If you see any food, don’t eat it,” Matali warned. “Sometimes they leave out food for strangers. It looks like curried fish, but it’s a trick. If you sprinkle the food with lime juice, you will see it’s really human flesh. If you eat it, your soul will be destroyed and you will become like them.”
Skertchly took the knife and some limes and continued on towards the village alone.
When Skertchly entered the village, he was surprised to find it empty. There were two dozen huts and no living things except a few chickens and a goat. He checked several of the huts, but they were deserted. In one of the huts, he found some rice standing in a pot and it was still hot, as if the occupants had just up and left without eating their meal.
He returned to Matali and told him about the deserted village. The boy’s face went pale.
“It means they are out hunting,” Matali said. “We must leave immediately. It’s too dangerous to be here when darkness is near.”
The sun was setting as they began their journey and before they were even halfway home, it grew dark. Not a breath of air was stirring and it seemed unnaturally silent.
They were in the middle of a valley when they suddenly heard a loud moaning noise. It sounded like someone in pain. Matali immediately crouched down in the long grass and pulled Skertchly down as well.
“They’re coming,” he whispered. “We must hide. Hopefully they will pass by without seeing us. It’s our only chance.”
They lay there in the tall grass, and listened as the moaning sound grew fainter and fainter. The Berbalangs were getting closer and closer.
Suddenly, the noise died away to a faint wail and they could hear the sound of wings above them. Dancing red lights passed over head, like fireflies. Skertchly could feel Matali gripping his arm tightly and he felt his skin crawling. Both of them were terrified.
The lights passed on and the noise of the wings ceased. The moaning noise grew louder and louder.
“They have gone,” Matali whispered. “We are safe for the time being.”
They continued through the valley, staying in the shadows and keeping an eye out for the red flickering lights. As they came closer to Matali’s village, they saw an isolated house in the distance and the moaning sound grew faint again.
“They are in that house,” Matali said. “I am sure of it. But do not worry. I know the owner, Hassan. He has a coconut pearl to protect him. We should hurry now. This is our chance to escape.”
They hurried on and managed to make it back to Matali’s village safe and sound.
The next morning, Skertchly woke up doubting what he had seen and heard. He thought perhaps he had been foolish to let Matali’s superstitions and fears scare him.
He decided to visit the isolated house in the daylight and ask Hassan if he had seen anything the night before. However, when Skertchly told the villagers he was going to Hassan’s house, nobody would agree to go with him. He had to go on his own.
When the explorer reached Hassan’s house, he knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He shouted out Hassan’s name a few times but there was still no answer.
He pushed the door and it swung open. Cautiously, he entered the house and looked around. The shades were rolled down amd the place was in shadow. He could make out a desk littered with books and papers and a bed.
Suddenly, Skertchly gasped. Huddled up on the bed was Hassan. He was dead. His hands were tightly clenched, his face was distorted and his eyes were staring in horror.
Skertchly stumbled to the door, then froze. Over the rippling grass, through veils of shimmering heat, came the sound of moans growing steadily fainter and fainter.