Monday, July 4, 2011

Myths and beliefs add quaintness to living

Dr. Abe V. Rotor
Adapted from the Ph.D. dissertation of Sister Mamerta Rocero, SPC, Ethnobotany of the Itawes, University of Santo Tomas Graduate School, Manila.


Do toads (Bufo marinus) cause wart? Toads are popular in make-believe stories for children, and in horror stories, too. What could be the root of such fantasy and fear? Toads are poisonous to compensate for their docile nature. (Note pair of poison glands behind their ears). For this, predators have learned to avoid them. A good advice is: Don't play with toads. This specimen was found at the Center for Ecological Learning and Livelihood (CELL) Silang Cavite


Imagine Lola Basiang relating folklores. Folklores are rich in legends and myths. Or simply tidbits of imagination and beliefs.

Around a campfire, imagine our ancestors exchanging personal knowledge, embellished experiences, and boundless imaginations and superstitious beliefs. They founded the open university - a prototype, sort of.

Gathering indigenous knowledge and folk wisdom enlarges and enhances our history and tradition. Even beliefs and practices, which cannot be explained scientifically, are valuable because they are part of our culture and contribute to quaintness of living.

Here is an open ended list of common myths and beliefs. I would like to invite the reader to add on to the list.

• A conceiving mother should never pick fruits from a tree, otherwise the tree will die.

. Maternal impressions (pinaglihi-an) are the causes of birth defects (and good ones, too).

• A papaya plant in front of the house brings bad luck.

• A pregnant mother who eats twin bananas might give birth to twins.

• A tree surrounded by fireflies at night brings good luck.

• Plant coconuts during moonlight so that it will produce big nuts.

• Hang several bottles on the trellises of upo so that it will bear more fruit.

• Eating from stocks intended for seeds will bring poor harvest.

• Burying a little sugar with the seeds of ampalaya when planting will prevent the fruits from becoming bitter.

. Place the first fruits harvested from a plant in a large container and pretend to carry them as if they were very heavy so that the plant will be heavy with fruits.

• Avoid laughing while planting sweet potato or kamote otherwise the roots will become lip-like.

• One who has an incomplete set of teeth should keep his mouth closed when planting corn, otherwise the plant will bear empty or poorly filled cobs.

. Bathe the cat and it will rain.

' Don't hurt the señora (mother rate), else it will do more harm.

. Cat grooming at the doorway tells of the coming of visitors.

. A person who eats ripe fruits partly eaten by birds becomes talkative.

. Tell your dreams so that they will not happen. What you dream about is the opposite of what will happen.

Here are more superstitious beliefs.

. Dogs howl in the night at spirits and ghosts.

. A black butterfly that enters the house tells that a close relative is going to die.

. A conceiving mother who gets near a fruiting tree causes its fruits to fall prematurely.

. Someone dies if the fire tree is in full bloom.

. Planting stock (stem) of cassava when inverted will produce poisonous tubers.

. Flying kites while rice plants are in bloom causes poor harvest.

. Don't proceed to your destination if a black cat crosses your path.

. Spiny cactus inside the house drives the witch away.

. Talking while preparing gabi (taro)makes it itchy when eaten.

. A conceiving mother will cause fruits to fall prematurely from the tree (like mango).

. Before you sip your wine, spill a little to offer to unseen spirits.

There is a popular belief that garlic cloves hung above the door will protect the house from the manananggal (half-bodied female vampire) who is said to hover around dwellings looking for unwary victims.

Do you believe in usog (naan-annungan Ilk.), that is, when a spirit "touches" a person. The nausog suddenly becomes indisposed, experiences cold sweating and general weakness, often accompanied by stomach cramp. Old folks believe that a spirit might have chanced on the person. This may be the spirit of a dead person, or a spirit of nature guarding the place. But it could also be the work of a living person who has this supernatural power.

The patient finds relief when brushed or rubbed with leaves of malunggay (Moringa), atis (sweetsop), guayabano (soursop), or dayap (sour orange) – or have him or her touched by the mangan-annong. Dried leaves of kamias or kahel are burned. The smoke works like aromatherapy. Or wipe the patient with any clothing belonging to the dead person, often accompanied by incantations to appease the spirit.

There are stories of dwarfs who bring either good luck or misfortune, depending on the world they belong to. Beware of the black ones, welcome those golden in color. Next time you answer the call of nature under a tree, say, tabi-tabi (bari-bari Ilk). And don't forget to spit on the spot before you leave.

At harvest time, “atang” is offered which consists of rice, viand, wine and “palaspas” (palm) so that next year’s harvest will also be bountiful.

Once I brought my class in college biology to a field trip in Los Baños, Laguna. When I told them it's lucky to find a four-leaf clover their enthusiasm perked up. And when I said, "Anyone who can steal a leaf of the makahiya without it drooping will find the person of his or her dream. And my young students swarmed over the field trying their luck. It was fun, really fun. ~

Beliefs and myths worldwide have not been fully and truly explored. In your respective areas, and countries, they still flourish, mainly with the old folks. Why don't you save them before they get lost? Write them into a book, use photograph, case studies, interviews with the resource persons. In short, document them with today's multi-media. Be like the Grimm brothers, Hans Anderson, and Lola Basiang. Add more beliefs and myths to this list and share with our members and viewers.

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