February 19, 2014

Tabi Tabi Po (Dwarfs in the Philippines)

Philippine dwarfs or duwende

Unlike the European dwarfs who wear pointed shoes and bonnet, the Philippine dwarfs (duwende in local language) wear basket hats or helmets made from the shell of dried white squash.They are barefoot with toes far apart, because they have never worn shoes.

The most popular variation of duwende would be the (ni)nuno sa punso or matanda sa punso (grandfather of the termite mound.) They are said to magically enter the underground world through the termite mound, hence the name. This is why termite mounds are feared throughout the country.

Cultural implications of Philippine dwarfs

It is said that it is only safe to walk close by or demolish a termite mound if it is already covered with weeds or dried leaves, because that means that the dwarf has left the mound already. Otherwise, one should be very careful in walking close by the mound as a dwarf may be resting nearby and it can inflict sort of aches to anyone who disturbs it. Additionally, one can say tabi tabi po (please excuse me) or kayo kayo, nuno (away away, grandfather) when passing by as a sign of courtesy to the dwarf.

Since nuno are believed to have poor eyesight, but sharp auditory sense, they tend to seduce girls with pretty names and sweet voices instead. He takes them into his underground realm, makes them grow, and marries them. Hence, the early Filipino preference for plain nicknames such as Nena, Inday, Kule, etc.

Girls preparing supper are also warned to avoid singing lest she will marry an old man. Such groom is not human, but a dwarf. It is not called a dwarf for fear that identifying a certain creature is just bringing them closer.

Other superstitious acts such as not sweeping the floor at night, and not throwing rubbish outside the window are largely due to the belief that dwarfs are prying in the house or the yard at this time, and that the humans should be careful in not accidentally displeasing the said visitor. Additionally, the abundance of aromatic herbs and citrus plants grown around homes are also believed to drive the dwarfs away.

Variations of Philippine dwarfs

The Sagay dwarf, mentioned in Surigao folklore, lives in gold mines just like the European dwarfs, gold being plentiful in the area.

Caranget (lice of the ground) dwarf, popular in Cagayan valley, are believed to be the true owners of the land. A farmer tills the land only as a tenant, and has to pay rent through offerings. This explains the wide practice of leaving offerings before plowing the land and after harvesting the crops.

Another unique Philippine dwarf is the tiyanak. It is the spirit of a child whose mother has died while pregnant, leaving the baby to be born underground.  It has been described as a plump naked newborn baby laying on a banana leaf, who then transforms into a little old man with wrinkled face and skin. There are other variations of tiyanak that associates it with vampires rather than dwarfs. Currently, I don't know which account is more plausible.


I wonder how the marriage tradition started, because the dwarfs seduce girls and marry them. Why would the dwarfs bother on marrying them? Can't they just live in together? They have essentially abducted and seduced the girls anyway.

Do you know of other variations of the Philippine dwarfs? If you do, please let me know! Also, which do you think is better dwarfs or dwarves?


Ramos, M.D. (1990). Philippine Demonological Legends and Their Cultural Bearings, Phoenix Publication, 41-46


  1. I have not seen many in the Philippines, but we have similar ones in Wroclaw, a small city in Poland. They are everywhere in the city center and we often play a game who can find them all :).

    1. Oh my goodness, I searched for Wroclaw, and there it is, Wroclaw's dwarfs! I would like to play that game in Poland in the future. Thanks for dropping by, Agness! and see you around :)


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