24 May 2011
My siblings and I were walking along a dark road by the fields in rural Dagupan. There were no street lights, and the way ahead was lit only by the moon and the stars. And then we suddenly saw it: a tree festooned with a thousand lights from fireflies. It was so beautiful, like a huge Christmas tree! We were about to go for a closer look when our sister stopped us and said such trees have treasures hidden somewhere, but a terrible guardian (a bantay) is also there; it’s not worth the visit. And so we gave the tree a wide berth and moved on.
At such a young age we were already being informally educated by our parents and relatives about superstitions. This is part of our rich culture, and in a sense it gives us Filipinos a strong bond with our ancestors and our heritage.
My parents come from a time where such superstitions are inherent in everyday life and they have passed on some of this knowledge to us. We have, for example, avoided sweeping the floor at night because it will drive away the blessings! When we have unmarried visitors who stay for meals, we’d turn our plates when they leave the table or else they would not be able to marry. And when a spoon or fork falls off the table, we'd say that a visitor is coming. Guess which utensil represents a male and a female guest.
In the course of my life, some of these superstitions have become quite second-nature to me. Like when I walk along a dark path, I'd say “tabi-tabi po!” lest I step on a “lamang-lupa” (a dwarf – dwende - perhaps, or a nuno sa punso) and earn its ire! Sometimes I'd say "bari-bari-bari!" as my father, who comes from Dagupan, would advise us (mag bari-bari kayo!). And we'd usually be extra careful on Good Fridays lest we cut or bruise ourselves and it would take a long time to heal.
We toss coins and turn on all the lights in the house at the start of the New Year! We make sure that our rice container is full to ensure we will have food for the rest of the year. We don't cut the noodles when we make pancit so that the birthday celebrant will have long life.
And when my son turned a year old, we cut off a lock of his hair an inserted it in the Bible so he will become a good and god-fearing person. We placed a small book under his pillow so he will love books and become learned.
My youngest sister is a living testament to superstition. She was a thin, sickly little girl. There must be something wrong with her health, but there was definitely nothing out of the ordinary. My Nanay wondered if it's her name; she's not responding well to it. So while thinking of an alternative nickname for her, she saw Ruby Rodriguez in the noontime show Eat Bulaga. Wanting our sister to be as 'healthy' and lively as Ruby, she was given this nickname and our Nanay told us to call her Ruby. From then on she became playful and no longer got sick as often. In that instance, Mother really knows best.
I wonder though if, at this time and age of computers and the internet, superstitions will still be part of Filipino life.
Then I overhear my wife saying to our son that he will have to get his nails cut tomorrow instead because it's already nighttime. Guess I got my answer.
Photo credit: photobiology.info
This post also appears in the Definitely Filipino blog