From the Henry Otley-Beyer Ethnographic Collection1, we are able to obtain colorful insights about Philippine culture early during the American colonial era. One paper from the collection, which is available online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections, enumerates a fascinating array of superstitious beliefs among the people of Batangas, in particular those who lived in the town of Taal around 1925.
The paper, entitled “Folklore and Beliefs from Taal2,” was written by one Celestina Mandanas, presumably from Taal. While the paper also includes short folkloric stories told in Batangas at the time, in this paper we shall devote ourselves exclusively to the superstitious beliefs that the author enumerated.
The beliefs are cited verbatim from the source document, edited for grammar and form here and there as well as annotated where necessary.
○ If a person rests his hands on his head, when he dies, he will feel that the earth above him is heavy.
[The underlying belief here is that the dead are able to feel. This may sound amusing to contemporary readers, but this was an era when the Americans were still building schools around the country and the literacy rate was nowhere near what it is in the present day.]
○ When one plants corn when one is hungry, the corn will be poor.
○ One must not look up when one plants banana because it will be very tall when it grows.
[The admonition was likely with harvesting the banana fruits in mind.]
○ To cry early in the morning is a sign that one will get good news later in the day.
○ The beam of the moonlight on somebody who is playing or sleeping would make that person sick or crazy. [There are many cultures around the world that believe in a correlation between a full moon and bouts of lunacy, albeit there is no scientific evidence to support this notion3.]
○ To allow a child to sleep late in the afternoon will make the child cry at night.
[This might not even be a “superstitious” belief at all. While young children generally need more hours of sleep than older ones, but naps too close to bedtime do indeed make it harder for them to fall asleep at night4.]
○ When one cuts his or her finger during a full moon, the will bleed more. This is also true when the accident happens during the high tide.
○ When a dog howls pitiably in the night, it is believed that some evil spirits are with that animal.
[The more contemporary belief is that when a dog howls at night, a member of the family has died.]
○ When chickens get up early and come down late from their roosts, it is believed that the year to come will be a year of plenty; but if they get up late and come down early, it will be a year of famine.
○ If the coffin of a dead person is too wide and long, it is believed that somebody will follow and die soon.
[This is just one of many quirky beliefs not just Batangueños but other Filipino ethnicities have, even in the present day, regarding death.]
○ When a dead person is not stiff, somebody else will die soon.
[The stiffness of muscles that happens to the dead, which is called rigor mortis, can set in as early as four hours after death. Its onset is also dependent on the deceased person’s age, gender and physical condition5.]
○ When a dog scratches the ground outside a house, somebody living in the house will die soon.
○ A person who throws money out the window will become poor.
Notes and references:1 The Henry Otley-Beyer Ethnographic Collection is a collection of Anthropology papers submitted by students during the American colonial era in the Philippines and are available online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2 “Folklore and Beliefs of Taal,” by Celestina Mandanas, part of the Henry Otley-Beyer Ethnographic Collection, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
3 “Lunacy and the Full Moon,” by Hal Arkowitz, published 2009, online at the Scientific American.
4 “Naps,” published 2016, online at Kids-Health.
5 “Rigor Mortis,” Wikipedia.