When Trese debuted in 2021, many viewers were captivated by the strange supernatural life of Alexandra Trese and her family. Populated by ghostly specters, anthropomorphic horses, and floating fireball heads, the show’s enthralling universe is deeply influenced by ancient Philippine folklore.
Most who watch the show may not be familiar with the stories behind the supernatural creatures that Alexandra encounters. Delving deeper into the mythology behind these beings can help fans understand how folklore inspired the characters on the show and created the show’s unique paranormal world.
10 White Lady
One of the first cases Alexandra ever works on in the show is the murder of the White Lady of Balete Drive. Her restless soul is seen laying on the street, cordoned off with crime scene tape and surrounded by a group of nosy onlookers.
The ghost is a reference to an actual street in Quezon City in the Philippines, where a white lady is said to haunt passersby. Like the show, the several stories behind the White Lady are often tragic ones, with her untimely death caused by a violent lover or a drunk driver.
The kapre don’t play a major role in Trese, but do appear in the council meetings. They also send gifts during Alexandra’s baptism, which turn out to be cigars – not exactly fitting for a child.
In Philippine folklore, the kapre are huge hairy giants that sit atop trees, puffing away at their cigars. They are mostly passive but can be vengeful if someone tries to harm them or their home. They like to play tricks on travelers who might find themselves lost in the woods after smelling cigar smoke. Locals often warn travelers to watch out for this scent and reverse their clothing, wearing their shirts inside out if they start to get disoriented in the forest.
The duwende can be the best sidekicks in the comic books or the worst enemies, as viewers see in the show. Amang Paso plays the role of a kind duwende in Trese, helping an actress become famous for a price. While not exactly a duwende, Nuno sa Manhole also makes an appearance as Alexandra’s informant.
Nuno sa Manhole is a play on ‘nuno sa punso,’ or nuno on a mound, which is where these goblin-like creatures are often found. The duwende are more similar to what most know as dwarves. They can be benevolent or malevolent, depending on their mood, ‘budhi’ (conscience), and the person they’re interacting with. Whichever the case, it’s best to be respectful around these creatures.
In Trese, Alexandra infiltrates an aswang gang to fight their leader, Ibwa, for violating the agreement between the physical and supernatural worlds. Another group of aswang is spotted later on, with Dominic, the Prince of the Aswang leading a group of them to battle.
Aswang is an umbrella term that refers to a lot of different creatures in Philippine folklore. It can refer to a witch-like creature, the Manananggal, who can separate her torso from the rest of her body and fly above a community to look for victims. There are also the Tik-tik, who are similar to vampires, except they use their long tongues to suck out babies from pregnant women.
Datu Talagbusao, the main antagonist in Trese, can easily join the ranks of the most powerful supervillains to ever grace the big screen. His bloodlust, fighting abilities, and evil goals make him a terrifying enemy in the series.
Talagbusao is a deity in the tales told in the Bukidnon province, in the southern part of the Philippines. He’s a god of war who demands the blood of pigs, chickens, or other livestock to satiate his bloodthirst. Hopefully, Alexandra has defeated him for good, but fans likely won’t be surprised if he comes back in later seasons to terrify her and her family.
Santelmo is the trusty fireball that Alexandra can summon with her burner phone. He helps her solve crimes and fend off enemies as part of his debt to the Trese family. In the Trese-verse, his origin can be traced back to the Binondo fire, which Santelmo started after he lost the love of his life.
If Santelmo sounds like St. Elmo, that’s because it’s likely based on the same weather phenomenon. What people today know as a natural but rare occurrence of a lightning ball that appears during storms was often thought to be a spirit or deity in the past. Santelmo is feared by locals who live by the sea, as the spirit often lures fishermen to dangerous waters or causes them to feel confused or disoriented.
The Tikbalang are the Trese family’s loyal allies in the series, with Señor Armanaz and Maliksi often helping Alexandra achieve her goals. Maliksi (which means agile in Tagalog) has an affinity for illegal street racing, often endangering others with his arrogance and magic.
The Tikbalang are among the most popular creatures in Philippine folklore. The humanoid horse-headed creatures are not known for being kind. They’re tricksters who impregnate women and mislead travelers. It’s said that to tame the mighty Tikbalang, one must ride it until it’s tired or pluck three hairs from its mane.
Ibu is never actually seen in Trese, but her emissary appears several times to speak with Alexandra. A familiar concept in TV shows based on Greek mythology can be spotted in these scenes, as the emissary ferries the dead to the underworld as Charon does in the River Styx. In the Trese-verse, however, this process is done through the MRT, a local train.
In Philippine mythology, Ibu is the Manobo goddess of death who reins over the spirits in the underworld. The community offers their recently deceased loved ones to the goddess in exchange for safe passage to the afterlife. It will be interesting if Alexandra meets the actual goddess in future seasons, as she could play an important role in the balance of the supernatural and physical worlds.
The tiyanak are arguably the most nightmarish creatures in Trese. The bloodthirsty babies are hard to kill once they’ve selected a target, as shown in a gruesome scene on the show.
The folklore they’re based on is similar to their portrayal in the series, as they are mostly known as bloodthirsty vampiric babies who trick childless couples or grieving mothers into picking them up. Some stories claim that they’re the unwanted children of mothers who leave babies in the woods, while others say they’re unbaptized babies who died before they could be brought to the church. Either way, they’re terrifying monsters that can take the form of an adorable baby, before transforming into a violent creature that will quickly devour its victim.
Anton Trese’s familiars in the show are two Sigbin, Bantay (which means ‘guard’) and Puti (which translates to ‘white’). Bantay and Puti are common dog names in the Philippines. In Trese, these werewolf-like creatures are shapeshifters who can transform from humans to massive dogs, tracking down enemies through their scents.
Their helpful nature in the show is quite different from their origins in folklore, where the Sigbin are said to be horrendous creatures, described as a cross between a hornless goat and a kangaroo. They come out at night in search of human blood, walking backward with their heads between their hind legs.