The present-day Filipino culture still embraces superstitions that cling to ancient beliefs and practices. Some may be quite amusing, such as serving noodle dishes like pancit during birthday celebrations as it is believed to represent long life, while some sound more serious, like thinking that faith-healers can heal certain ailments.
Where did these superstitions come from?
Most early Filipinos believed in worshiping different gods, creatures, and spirits. They appease them through various practices, sacrifices, and rituals. However, due to the Philippines having a long history of colonization, religious beliefs and traditions have changed from animism to Christianity.
In marrying animism and Christianity, the impact of Filipino superstitions remains to affect everyday life, spanning from fortune, love, and marriage to family, illness, and death.
Filipinos, especially older adults, tend to cope with illness by relying on advice from family and friends, and by faith in God. In fact, experiencing a complete recovery from an illness is often regarded as personally witnessing a miracle—greatly influencing how Filipinos view healthcare. For this, it is vital to debunk the most common superstitions many still believe.
What are the most common Filipino health superstitions?
Get rid of a hiccup by placing a short thread wet with saliva on the forehead.
According to a survey by Smart Parenting, 5 out of 10 parents continue to cure their kid’s hiccups by practicing this superstition or pamahiin. However, there is no scientific evidence that supports this.
Several factors can cause hiccups, including swallowing air and eating or drinking too much or too fast.
Instead of using a thread, you can try the following remedies: bite on a slice of lemon, slowly sip ice-cold water while placing gentle pressure on your nose as you swallow, or hold your breath for a short time. Avoid it altogether by staying away from carbonated drinks, eating slower, and consuming smaller meals.
By showing fondness or affection when meeting a baby for the first time, you may cause the baby to feel uneasy or make the baby cry non-stop which is commonly referred to as “na-usog.”
This belief in usog can cause an infant to feel unwell either by greeting the baby or simply by being overly fond of him or her when meeting the child for the first time.
To avoid passing the negative energy and cure the infant of usog, superstition practice says you must dab your saliva on the baby’s forehead or abdomen. Often, most people would also greet the child by saying “pwera usog” meaning for protection from the hex. Some even make it a point to buy their child a bracelet made from black and red or coral beads to fight usog.
While Filipinos believe in usog, the most logical explanation for babies feeling unwell after meeting strangers is that the infant reacts to a stress trigger of seeing unfamiliar faces or people—resulting in anxiety to the baby.
Hitting the sack right after a shower is believed to cause blindness and insanity.
This superstition suggests that if you go straight to bed with wet hair, you might wake up blind or insane. However, there is no firm correlation between wet hair, loss of eyesight, and insanity, so avoiding sleeping with wet hair is mostly for cosmetic reasons.
Rubbing wet hair against your pillow can cause hair damage or breakage. The friction will also lead to you having to deal with a bad hair day the next morning. If you notice alarming symptoms of vision loss or a mental health issue, it’s best to visit an eye doctor or a trusted outpatient care facility and let a medical professional handle it.
Washing sweaty hands can lead to spasmodic hands or pasma.
It’s a common Filipino advice not to wash your hands right after finishing labor-intensive chores to avoid pasma—the reason for shaky hands, sweaty palms, and numbness or pain in the hands. Often, right after ironing a handful of your clothes, you’ll be discouraged by your mom or grandmother to wet your hands. Similarly, it is believed that taking a bath after a workout can lead to illnesses.
The truth is, hand tremors, sweaty hands, numbness, and pain in the hands are symptoms that are often related to diabetes mellitus, thyroid dysfunction, and nervous system dysfunction. If you regularly experience such symptoms, rule out any underlying conditions by paying a quick visit to a trusted health professional.
Not patting your sweat dry with a towel can cause you to get pneumonia.
Many Filipinos believe this superstition in fear of suffering from this serious lung disease. Although, like most pamahiins, there is no scientific basis for this particular belief. According to MedicineNet, the inflammation of the airspaces in the lungs is often caused by fungi, viruses, and bacteria—not sweat left to dry.
Stepping over a child will stunt his or her growth.
This superstition is common to older generations, but no evidence confirms this specific pamahiin to be true. As we all know, the growth of a child depends on various factors that influence development, including nutrition, genes, sex, hormones, and socioeconomic status.
Frog urine causes warts.
This belief is often used by Filipino parents to stop their kids from going near frogs. The myth is rooted in frogs having bumps on their skin that look like warts. While some may believe this superstition, warts are actually brought about by viruses that cause an overproduction of keratin.
Showering salt over the threshold of the front door of your new house can help you and your family ward off sickness.
Some Filipinos still practice this pamahiin because they believe it’s “better to be safe than sorry.” Unfortunately, spreading salt can’t protect you from getting sick, but having a healthy diet and taking multivitamins to boost immunity will!
The impact of superstitions on health and well-being
Many irrational beliefs from the pre-colonial past still exist and continue to shape the opinions, decisions, values, and actions of Filipinos in modern times. While it may seem harmless at first glance, pamahiins often interfere with how Filipinos cope with illnesses and respond to mental health issues.
Don’t allow superstitions to cloud your judgment. Make your physical health a priority by regularly visiting a medical professional and undergoing health checkups as needed.