Yawa ka*: Ghosts of The Forgotten Gods

Sean Marie Prythyll Patnubay
3 min readSep 28, 2021


A question of recovery by Sean Marie Prythyll Patnubay | September 21, 2021

Yah-wu,” another Atenean cursed again. If you cut their tongues open, they’d bleed blue even if they did not pronounce Yawa well.

Photograph by my lovely brother, RichMont

Yawa is one of the many long-forgotten gods of Philippine folklore. And as the withering gods crowded one after another over the corpse of their only and reigning superpower, Yawa, they’d wonder if that mispronounced and often demonized** rendition of the goddess’ name and the Yawa sticker plastered on the Hydroflask would count as worship, as a remembering, as a reverence to their only chance of being saved from oblivion.

Virgilio Almario talks about a corpse to describe the Filipino culture that is both nameless and unrecognizable to many Filipinos in his speech found in the Library of Congress. If you read between the lines, our national artist was also using this icon of a corpse to represent the missing megatexts of our pre-colonial past and literatures. To discuss this, we will be answering six journalistic questions in relation to the corpse: the 5 Ws and 1 H.

[1] This corpse or corpses, if you may, are the cultures and traditions of pre-colonial Philippines which include but are not limited to stories of the infamous Yawa among many others.

[2] One would wager that these corpses are trapped in the pages of yellowing texts that could hardly withstand the test of time, in curtailing museums with policies against wacky poses, in unvisited libraries that seem pretentious enough to only draw in scholars, or in memories and oral tradition of binukots gone by who are/were facing their own extinction. Forgotten, lost, and/or indecipherable — floating or buried or stranded around the 7,640 islands of the Philippines and beyond.

[3] They are the ghosts of the cadavers or corpses of our past trying to break free from the graveyards of our repressed memory. A memory repressed by three devastating storms that brought much havoc that fell cultures longer than you can yawp timber, to wit: Spain (333), America (48), and Japan (3). Divisible by three to represent three island regions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

[4] It was after these storms that we have not fully and properly recovered our lost memories that they began wandering. It continued for many centuries when we could no longer form in our national imaginations and consciousness the true structure of the corpse of our social regeneration. Yawa, as a prime example, is now a demonized version of the once powerful goddess and loving wife of legends.

[5] Now, their souls are still wandering around because they feel unfulfilled. They have unfinished business. They need to haunt us enough to spur us into action to gather, collect, and document their corpses — intangible or otherwise — with a firm national and nationalist orientation when for so long a time, we have been very regionalistic. Divided despite being united.

[6] Much like how Almario read a poem in Filipino to an American audience, it’s high time Ateneans (and other Filipinos) who love saying yawa hear the sounds of the Bisaya languages (and other languages other than Tagalog) along with the translation or the story behind starting with the name itself as “language is the repository of ancient history and culture” and the corpse carrying living perspectives of speakers of the language itself from then and now. We can start with the first thing we learn as a baby: language.

If we do not take measures to safeguard and popularize what we have now, then we’re all doomed. As a human and a nation without memory, we are cursed with inferiority and the lack of pride. Yawa!***

*Yawa ka (You are a demon) — Often used to curse at another if one is peeved
** Yawa is now a derogatory term from Nagmalitung Yawa in the epic of Hinilawod who was seen as a temptress of man.
*** The only acceptable time to shout it like it is unholy

[1] What is this corpse?
[2] Where are they now?
[3] Who are they?
[4] When did they start wandering?
[5] Why are they wandering?
[6] How can we make them go away or at the very least, make their presence coexist with ours?