Stories of the Kabalan hail from the province Catanduanes in the Bicol region. They are described as horse-like (with 4 legs like a centaur). Hairy from head to toe, with an human face/human likeness to the face. They are said to live in trees and are angered when their homes are disturbed. There are some legends where humans accidentally kill kabalans by burning down their tree-homes through kaingin farming methods. The creatures are merciless though and will curse the offenders with sickness and bad luck until the end of their days.
Kabalan Illustration by Ysa Peñas
A Kabalan Tale
The tragedies that these creatures bring are unimaginable to some. I still remember the stories that my lola used to tell, stories of vengeance and loss. They follow me in my nightmares.
It all started with my lolo. He decided to kaingin a small piece of land in the mountains, to prepare it for the planting season. I don’t know why he decided to go further up the mountain, away from his usual spot. It was near the waterfall they called “lamesa”, relating to the flat rock on the bottom.
He burned the tree that was there and that was the start of the troubles.
My lola and mother joined him in the payag (nipa hut) afterwards to bring him dinner and to spend the night with him. They still remember the loud hoofbeats. The feeling of dread when the sound circled their small hut still echoes in their memories before they sleep at night.
“Benito, come out. We need to talk to you.” My mother and lola tried to replicate the voice every time they told the story, but they said they could never get it right. “There was too much anger in the voice,“ they said, “more than we can mimic.”
“The moonlight was bright that night.” This was the part of the story where lola describes the creatures. “They were human from head to trunk, but were horses from their trunk to their feet.” I thought back to myths from a different part of the world, where half-human half-horse beings would help humankind. Lola told me that these spirits weren’t helpful at all. They came seeking vengeance.
“You will pay for such arrogance and disrespect.” The leader of the kabalans pointed to my lolo. It told him that my lolo killed its brother when he burned his tree. My lolo begged for his life. He would not have burned the tree had he known there was something living there.
The creatures didn’t care.
Thus began the tragedy. The creatures left that night but their curse lingered. Doctors were never able to tell what exactly was wrong with my lolo. He stopped eating because every time he ate he would vomit and cough up blood. He said it would burn his throat every time he vomited.
My lola had no other choice, she consulted the manggagamot, our local faith healer. The faith healer tried to reason with the creatures. My lola said that night after night the faith healer would try another ritual, but it was all for naught.
The creatures would not be appeased.
After my lolo died, my mom’s elder brother was struck by lightning while he was at the top of the coconut tree outside their house. After three years he died in his sleep.
My mother’s family lost most of their properties and were trapped in poverty until lola died of cancer.
These creatures don’t know the meaning of mercy, they will seek their vengeance until they are repaid in blood.
Beware the kabalans, for they will not listen to your pleas of forgiveness. And be careful around the trees high up in the mountains, you will never know if one makes its home there, not until it’s too late.
Adapted from a Story told by Grace Collantes
Speculative fiction writer. Philippine folklore and heritage researcher.
Author of The Spirits of the Philippine Archipelago.
Currently in the middle of fixing up an encyclopedia of Philippine Mythical creatures.
Latest posts by Karl Gaverza (see all)
- Litao, The Husband of the Sirena | Philippine Myth & Folklore - April 2, 2018
- Kabalan, Philippine Centaurs? - April 1, 2018
- The Vengeful Mantiyanak from Mindanaoan Folklore - March 31, 2018