The Tigmamanukan

The ‘Tigmamanukan’, or what the inhabitants of the Tagalog region in the Philippine islands during the pre-Spanish colonial times called some small animals or creatures endemic to the land (reptiles, birds, small mammals), were believed to possess magical powers that brought a foreboding omen to anyone that encounters it during one’s travels.

Even during the Spanish colonial period and with the introduction of the Roman Catholic faith in the Philippines, the native Filipinos still retained their superstitious belief of the ‘Tigmamanukan’ which at that time became an exclusive term that refers to a mysterious small dark-colored bird that takes refuge in forests and farm lands in the archipelago.

Fray Pedro de San Buenaventura, a Spanish priest of the Franciscan order, wrote in the first published Spanish-Tagalog dictionary in 1613 entitled ‘Vocabulario de la lengua Tagala’ (Vocabulary of the Tagalog Language) describing how a believer of the powers of the ‘Tigmamanukan’ can influence the fate of his travels; Father Buenaventura wrote;

The natives believe that when they encounter a ‘Tigmamanukan’ flying in his voyage path, they should take note of the direction of its flight. If the bird‘s flight direction goes to the right, the traveler would not encounter any danger during his journey. If it flew to the opposite direction (meaning from right to the left) the traveler will never find its way and will be lost forever.

Buenaventura also noted that native Tagalog hunters who accidentally caught this omen bird called the ‘Tigmamanukan’, will release the bird back in the wild after he removes the bird’s beak and chants the following early Tagalog words ‘Kita ay iwawala, kun akoy mey kakawnan, lalabay ka’ (I will set you free, if I travel, sing to the right).

Such is the influence of the ‘Tigmamanukan’ in the psyche of the early Tagalog people, that they even believe that this enigmatic omen bird was also responsible for the creation of Man. In the popular Tagalog folk mythology of how the Man came to earth called ‘Si Malakas at Si Maganda’ (the Strong and the Beautiful), the ‘Tigmamanukan’ was said to have opened the bamboo using its beak which contains the first Man (Malakas) and Woman (Maganda).

Today, the belief in the ‘Tigmamanukan’ superstition has died down in the Philippines but its root word ‘manok (manuk)’ is still widely used today in the Filipino vocabulary. Today, this word means “Chicken”, but in Pre-colonial Philippines (as documented by early explorers in the 17th century) it meant, more generally, any bird, lizard or snake that crossed one’s path as an omen. Such encounters were called salubong.

While the name “tigmamanukan” is no longer used today, some early western explorers say that the specific bird referred to by the name is a fairy bluebird (genus Irena and family Irenidae). One explorer specifically identified the Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella turcosa) while another specifically identified the Philippine Fairy Bluebird (Irena cyanogastra). In any case, most of the sources which describe the tigmamanukan agree that it is distinguished by a “blue and black” color.

About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

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