There is a Tagalog word that has no direct translation in English: Gigil, an overwhelming feeling you get (like a gritting of teeth, a tensing of muscles) in the presence of something cute. Gigil is also what you feel when you have a really strong urge to pinch a cute baby’s chubby little cheeks.
I am sorry to say that gigil may not be what you will feel as you down this list. As I dug through the bowels of the internet doing research for the Tiyanak (as covered in EPISODE 3: EAT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME), I found a surprisingly large number of monstrous baby-like creatures from all over the world.
Jack-Jack Parr from Disney's The Incredibles (2004). Super cute. Super scary.
What follows is some of the most well-known (and some relatively obscure) baby monsters across Asia, Europe and Latin America:
1. Tiyanak (Philippines)
Also known in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as Pontianak
From the iconic 80's horror flick: Tiyanak (1988, Regal Films)
Near and dear to our hearts is the tiyanak: a horrific, vampiric creature nearly as ubiquitous as the manananggal. Believed to be created from spirit of children who died at childbirth or died before being baptized (likely a Hispanic colonial and Catholic modification), this creature takes the form of a newborn baby and cry out at night in search for its next victim. When unwary travellers chance upon the sound of the baby crying, they either lose their way… or lose their lives. The tiyanak attacks and sucks out their blood.
There are a few ways you can ward yourself against them. Turn your clothes inside out to find your way back if you’re led astray. Keep garlic and rosaries nearby to repel them. It is also said that lighting a white candle for them (as you do for the dead) and speaking their names gives them comfort and peace and allows them to move on to the afterlife.
From new Netflix series Trese (2021)
You might have recently seen an unholy new incarnation of the tiyanak in the Netflix animated series Trese, now featuring: (a) Spider-like limbs jutting out of its back, (b) Full 360-rotational head—not sure we needed that—and (c) The super useful and extra scary ability to climb walls and ceilings. Thank you, I definitely needed new nightmare material!
2. Chaneque (Mexico)
The Aztecs all the way over in ancient Mexico had a surprisingly similar being in the chaneque. Believed to be a guardian and nature spirit, these beings were both respected and feared. They would guard their natural domains and steal the souls of trespassers and bury them under ground. A certain ritual had to be undertaken, or else the victim would eventually succumb and die. As in the case of the tiyanak, one easy way to prevent this was to wear your clothes inside out as you cross their territory.
3. Toyol or Tuyul (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Southern Thailand)
Also known in Cambodia as Cohen Kroh
In Malay culture, if someone was seen receive a sudden influx of wealth, or rose from rags to riches out of the blue, they may be suspected of keeping or harboring a toyol. These fascinating creatures took the form of undead infants and were typically invoked by a dukun or bomoh (Malay shamans and spiritual healers) as helpers or familiars by means of dark magic. They were kept in glass jars filled with corpse oil and summoned when needed by their masters to do their bidding. A regular person could purchase them off a shaman and train them to do their bidding, which typically involved robbing their neighbors of gold or precious items.
A toyol was similar to a child in that it had to be kept fed and entertained: it was fond of toys and sweet milk, but it also sometimes fed by—gore warning?—sucking blood off their master’s big toe. Yum?
4. Myling (Finland, Norway)
It turns out scary baby lore was not exclusive to cultures below the equator. Scandinavian countries like Finland and Norway mention a creature called the myling (also known as utburd in Norwegian and ihtiriekko, liekkiö or sikiö in Finnish).
The word "utburd" means "that which is taken outside" and refers to the practice of abandoning unwanted children (e.g., children born out of wedlock or to parents who lacked the means to care for them) in the woods or in other remote places where death is almost certain to befall them. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myling]
Such a sad fate turns them bitter and vengeful, and it is said the souls of these abandoned children are forced to roam the earth, searching for wanderers or travelers who could be persuaded to bring them to holy ground to be buried properly. They don’t make it easy though: the closer they get to the graveyard, the heavier and heavier they get. Should their victim not make it in time, they suffer a terrible fate.
There are many more monstrous babies from folklore around the world--from Japan, to Thailand, to Ireland and even Slavic cultures--which we'd be happy to cover in a Part 2. I do have to stop for now because I try to limit my nightmare fodder to only a certain amount per day.
We list through a few more of these creatures and go especially in-depth with the Tiyanak and the Toyol in our 3rd episode, so if you are keen to delve deeper, give it a listen. Do you know of any other monstrous baby-like creatures we might have missed? Or do you have any stories or experiences related to the tiyanak? Let us know in the comments below, or leave us a voice note at Anchor.FM!
Written by Ice Lacsamana, co-host of The Gods Must Be Crazy Podcast.