This article will be the first of several to feature papers about Batangas written during the American colonial period which are part of the Henry Otley Beyer Collection available at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
Beyer was an American from the state of Iowa who came to the Philippines in 1905 as a volunteer teacher. He would spend most of his adult life in the country. Although initially a teacher up in the Cordilleras, after obtaining his PhD in Anthropology from Harvard, he would become head of the University of the Philippines’ Anthropology Department1.
The work featured in this article was written by one Amparo Reyes and submitted on 21 November 1924. Reyes was likely one of Beyer’s students and the paper, which she entitled “A General Account of Beliefs in my Town Connected with Natural Phenomena,” was probably a requirement for an Anthropology course.
Readers will please note that Anthropology is a branch of Science that deals with “various aspects of humans within past and present societies2.” While the beliefs Reyes presented may seem exceedingly backward especially to those of the younger generations who know Lipa more as the concrete jungle that it has become, they do offer valuable insights to life and culture in the city less than a century ago.
Reyes’ paper is quoted verbatim, but I provide annotations in brackets [x] where I feel they are necessary.
|Image credit: The Luther Parker Collection, National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.|
“A General Account of Beliefs in my Town Connected with Natural Phenomena” by Amparo Reyes
Beliefs connected with the sun:
- The eclipse of the sun is feared by everybody for it is believed that it foretells the coming of war. [Many cultures the world over have superstitions about solar eclipses. Here are some at the National Geographic web site.]
- The children are taught by their parents to wake up early in the morning for if the rays of the sun strike them they will remain weak and sickly during the day. [Although the opposite is true, since the skin’s exposure to ultraviolet B from sunshine induces the conversion of cholesterol in the skin to Vitamin D3.3]
- During sunset, the sick persons are asked to get up for it is feared that their illness will get worse if they lie down while the sun is setting down.
- When a child is born when the sun rises in the morning, that child is said to be cool in temperament; if he is born at noon when the sun is very hot, he is said to be of hot temperament or hot-tempered; and if he is born at twilight, he is said to be melancholic.
Beliefs connected with the moon:
- The eclipse of the moon is believed to be a sign or a bad omen. There will be great storms, coming of locusts, drought and consequently, failure of crops. [It is worth noting that Batangas was visited by swarms of locusts as well as a drought early in the century soon after the conclusion of the Fil-American War4.]
- The people at home try to have some money in their pockets when there is a new moon so that will not get bankrupt throughout the month.
- Parents try their best to prevent the light of the moon from shining on the face of their children when they are sleeping for they believe that it will cause the children to be seriously ill when they become sick.
- When a baby is born during the period when the moon is getting higher, the parents are glad for it is a sign of good luck to them.
- If a girl wants to have long and thick hair, it is a common belief and practice among the girls to cut their hair during the period when the moon is getting bigger.
Beliefs connected with thunder and lightning:
- When there is thunder, the people do not come near their mirrors and animals such as dogs, cats, pigs, etc. because they are afraid that the thunder will strike them. They cover their mirrors to prevent the thunder from entering their houses. [It is the lightning, of course, that can cause harm, not the thunder. This belief is not unique to Lipeños of yore and not as farfetched as it initially sounds because you do not have to be outdoors to be injured by lightning. However, as an article in the Urban Astronomer says, “So it certainly is possible for lightning to enter your home and strike your mirrors, if you’re spectacularly unlucky5.”]
- The people keep silent if there is thunder and lightning and if there is a baby in the house, they make him cry to save the house from being struck by the thunder. Many of the people get “palaspas” [palm fronds] taken from a coconut tree, and place them near the windows to counteract the effects of thunder.
- If there is no loud thunder during the planting season, it is believed that the harvest will be prosperous and plentiful.
- It is believed that the santol tree [in English, wild mangosteen, cottonfruit or sandor6] has never been and will never be struck by thunder for all the saints’ images are made out of its trunk. [What determines where lightning strikes is not an object on the ground but the location of the thunderstorm above7.]
- When thunder and lightning occur, the whole family kneels down to pray to Santa Barbara who is believed to have the power of saving them from the effects of the thunder and lightning. [As per Christian tradition, Santa Barbara’s name is “invoked against lightning and fire8.]
Beliefs connected with the weather:
- The people, especially the farmers, are glad when it rains on All Saints’ Day, for it is a common belief that there will be plenty of water for the plants, and hence, a plentiful harvest.
- It is believed that when cockroaches fly at night or when a firefly enters the house, it foretells that it will rain the next day. [Not as cockamamie as it may sound because bug experts are now saying that cockroaches become active, including flying, when it is particularly hot and humid. The heat, as everyone knows from high school Science, hastens evaporation of water into the atmosphere9.]
- When the leaves of the squash plant and the leaves of the banana tree are turned upside down, it is believed to be a sign of a storm which is soon coming.
- The appearance of the rainbow reminds the people that there will soon be rain. [Frequently, however, rainbows occur after a rainstorm10.]
- When the croaking of the frogs is heard during a stormy night, it is believed that there will be good weather the following day. [In truth, though, frogs croak after it rains because the conditions are right for mating11.]
- When the sky is not cloudy and there are many stars shining in the sky, it shows that the weather will be fine the next day.
Beliefs connected with the stars:
- If a star is seen shining very near the moon, it is believed to be the best time for a young man to write love letters and court a lady for success will surely be with him.
- When there are many stars shining in the sky at night, the fishermen are happy for they believe that they can catch many fishes the following day; but if there no stars, just the reverse.
- It is a belief that you can predict whom you are a going to marry if you will count nine stars for nine consecutive nights, and at the ninth night, when you sleep, you will surely dream the person whom you are going to marry.
- When a comet appears with its tail thrown downward, the people are very much afraid for they believe it foretells war, famine and pestilence. They hold novenas for nine consecutive nights in honor of Saint Roque, who is said to possess certain powers in preventing any famine or pestilence from coming. [The appearance of comets has traditionally always been thought of as a bad omen and the bearer of bad news, and not just in the Philippines but elsewhere12.]
Notes and references:1 “H. Otley Beyer,” Wikipedia.
2 “Anthropology,” Wikipedia.
3 “Sun exposure to the skin is the human race’s natural, intended, most effective and most neglected source of vitamin D,” online at Sunshinevitamin.org.
4 “Letter of the San Juan Town Committee to the Civil Commission of the United States in the Philippine Islands,” as quoted by Clemenia Lopez in “A Farewell Luncheon in honor of Señorita Clemencia López, October 5, 1903 in the rooms of the Twentieth Century Club,” published 1904.
5 “Can mirrors ‘catch’ lightning?” online at the Urban Astronomer.
6 “Santol,” online at Tagalog Lang.
7 “Lightning Myths: Small metal objects attract lightning,” by Dan Robinson, online at Stormy Highway.
8 “Saint Barbara,” Wikipedia.
9 “Hot and humid weekend could have cockroaches flying, experts say,” online at CNBC News.
10 “Rainbows: How They Form & How to See Them,” by Joe Rao, online at Live Science.
11 “Why Do Frogs Croak after it Rains?” online at Pets.
12 “Humans Have Feared Comets, Other Celestial Phenomena Through The Ages,” by Joel Schwarz, online at NASA.gov.
13 The beliefs contained in this article from “A General Account of Beliefs in my Town Connected with Natural Phenomena,” by Amparo Reyes, online at the H. Otley Beyer Collection at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.