The eternal whisper of Maria Labo

By Herman M. Lagon

IN WESTERN Visayas lies a tale that has rippled through generations. The story of Maria Labo, intertwined with the equally chilling legend of Teniente Gimo, forms a tapestry of folklore that has shaped not only the childhood fears but also the cultural identity of many Ilonggos. As a gullible kid in the 1980s, I recall how the mere mention of Maria Labo’s name would hasten my steps home before dusk, sharing a common fear with my peers of falling prey to this fabled aswang.

Much like predecessor Teniente Gimo’s, Maria Labo’s legend served as an invisible fence keeping us within the safe confines of our homes as night approached. These stories, often recounted by elders, were more than mere tools for discipline; they were oral heirlooms passed down with a mix of reverence and terror. But what makes Maria Labo’s tale particularly haunting is the fear it evokes and the layers of meaning beneath it.

Legends like Maria Labo are not just idle tales in a society deeply rooted in oral traditions. They are a form of historical and cultural preservation, carrying insights into the societal fears, values, and beliefs of the time. Maria Labo’s story is a confluence of several themes–the fear of the unknown, human nature’s complexities, and the human psyche’s dark corners. It is a tale that transcends time, evolving with each retelling yet retaining its core essence.

The legend speaks of Maria Labo, a loving wife and mother from Capiz, who, in pursuit of a better life for her family, became an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). However, her story takes a dark turn upon her return home. It is said that she transformed into an aswang, a mythical, malevolent creature in Philippine folklore. The most harrowing aspect of her tale involves her cooking and eating her own children, a deed discovered by her horrified husband. This act of unimaginable horror not only positions her as a terrifying figure in local folklore but also touches upon deep-seated fears about the breakdown of familial bonds and the potential for evil within the human heart.

The tale of Maria Labo has transcended its origins as a local myth and has evolved into various forms, including modern retellings and media adaptations. Rumors and supposed sightings of Maria Labo have added layers to her legend, with some claiming to have seen her in different parts of the Philippines, thus keeping the myth alive and evolving. These accounts often describe her as bearing a large, grotesque scar on her face–a remnant of her husband’s attack upon discovering her gruesome act. This physical disfigurement not only marks her as a fearsome entity but also as a symbol of profound tragedy and loss.

The narrative of Maria Labo also mirrors societal changes and challenges. Her story, understandably, is often linked to the plight of OFWs, particularly women. The hardships they face and the psychological and physical toll of their experiences are subtly echoed in Maria’s tragic transformation. In a way, the legend serves as a commentary on the sacrifices and unseen struggles of countless Filipinos who leave their homes for a better life.

Furthermore, the tale of Maria Labo, like many urban legends, acts as a social adhesive, a shared cultural experience that unites a community. In a rapidly modernizing world, where individualism often supersedes collective identity, these stories remind us of our shared heritage. These narratives serve as the intertwining threads that strengthen and unify the fabric of Ilonggo society, cultivating a profound sense of belonging and a shared communal identity.

Yet, as with all legends, there is a risk of distortion and loss over time. The transition from oral tradition to digital narration brings both opportunities and challenges. The essence of Maria Labo’s story, its cultural significance, and its historical context must be preserved even as the medium of its transmission evolves. This requires a careful and respectful approach to retelling, ensuring the story’s integrity and relevance are maintained.

In preserving these tales, we must also recognize their potential to adapt and resonate with contemporary audiences. The story of Maria Labo can be a starting point for discussions on broader themes such as mental health, societal pressures, and the complexity of human emotions. It is about keeping the story alive, not just as a relic of the past, but as a living, evolving narrative that continues to have relevance and impact.

The legend of Maria Labo, much like its counterpart Teniente Gimo, is a rich cultural artifact, a window into our past, and a mirror reflecting our present. As we navigate the complexities of modern life, these stories remind us of our roots, shared humanity, and the enduring power of storytelling. They are not just tales to scare children; they are part of our cultural DNA, shaping our identity and understanding of the world.

Preserving urban legends like Maria Labo is not just about keeping a story alive. It is about honoring our heritage, understanding our past, and using these tales to reflect and connect. As we continue to narrate these stories, we must do so with respect, understanding, and a sense of responsibility towards the cultural legacy they represent. For these stories lies not just fear and entertainment but wisdom, identity, and a bridge to our collective past.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.