20 May 2012

Nabatî, a Purely Pinoy Phenomenon?



I know. I am an educated man and I probably should not believe in these things. But whenever I utter a remark on the apparent state of somebody’s physical health – particularly if it seems on the good side – I have to stifle this almost instinctive urge to lick a finger and daub a bit of saliva on the person’s skin. With people I know quite well, I actually do.

Nabatî. I don’t even quite know how to translate the word into English. The root word batî when translated means to greet. Nabatî directly translated means ‘greeted,’ but used as an adjective to describe a condition. The context is also quite different from greeted used as a verb in the past tense; in which case the correct word is binatî.

Contextually, the more correct translation is probably ‘noticed.’ Except that the word noticed does not also capture the essence of what nabatî means. Within the context of Filipino superstition, the action of being noticed creates a condition in the object of attention quite the opposite of that which was noticed, i.e. good health.

“Ang tabâ!” is frequently the trigger of the condition, uttered offhandedly and mostly well-intentioned. Except that one can never quite tell exactly who has the ability to cause the condition.

Directly translated, tabâ means fat. Hence, used as an adjective in matabâ, it describes the condition of a person as being fat. In the traditional Filipino belief system, being fat – albeit erroneously – was supposed to be an indication of health.

Therefore, matabâ ka ngayon (you look fat now) is less derogatory and actually more praise for a person’s seeming state of health.

One just never can tell when and who can trigger the nabatî condition. It is said, however, that there are people who are mainit ang dugô (hot-blooded) or mainit ang bibig (with ‘hot’ mouth). What this means is that there are people who for some reason or the other have the propensity for triggering the condition.

Even with such people, however, there is simply no way to tell if and when the condition will kick in.

Frequently – but not exclusively – among people the condition is observed among children. A cousin, when still a baby and visiting with his parents way back, cried for days on end and intermittently ran slight fevers after one of my Mom’s friends paid us a visit.

The doctors were mystified. Desperate to put an end to the baby’s crying, Mom thought that there would be no harm in asking her friend back in to daub some saliva on the baby’s skin. It was probably not very healthy; but when she gamely came and did so, the baby suddenly stopped crying and slept peacefully for the first time in days.

The condition phenomenally just disappeared! I am sure that there had to be some sort of scientific explanation; except that to this day, I don’t quite know what it is.

Like I said, the condition does not afflict people alone. Go ask owners of poultry and piggery farms, who can be particularly picky about whom they allow into the premises.

We used to own a piggery; and once Mom had this buyer look at the piglets that were almost ready for selling. After the buyer left, one of the piglets suddenly refused to eat in a condition called nananabang or lacking in appetite. The piglet also suddenly became matamlay or sluggish, prompting Mom to call for a veterinarian.

There was, the veterinarian said, ostensibly nothing wrong with the piglet. So Mom looked around for somebody to blame; and the most obvious choice was the buyer who came in the other day. So she politely asked the buyer to return and spit at the ailing piglet. That didn’t work, either.

On the fourth day of the condition, Mom recalled that she herself had been watching the piglets just before the buyer came in and was particularly feeling pleased with how lively and healthy the one ailing had been then. Was it just possible that she herself was the one responsible for the batî?

Natuwâ. This is when a person becomes so pleased or fascinated just looking at another person or an animal. No words need be uttered. Just the very condition of being natuwâ is believed to be sufficient to trigger the batî.

Mom got into the corral, spit onto her palm and started rubbing her saliva onto the piglet’s belly. Immediately, the piglet got up and went straight to the food trough to eat. How do you explain that? For the record, the piglet recovered enough to be sold at a neat profit!

Loosely, sometimes people use the word nabatî to describe conditions of no relation to health whatsoever; but always with the resulting condition being the exact opposite of that which was noticed. For instance, if somebody notices a player doing particularly well in a game; and that very same player suddenly goes on an error spree quite contrary to the performance noticed earlier.

People just laughingly say nabatî.

There will be those who will be more familiar with the word usog or nausog. It means one and the same thing. There is somewhat a similarity to the orasyon or the witch’s spell, the main difference being that with the batî or usog, the condition is neither intended nor even known to the person who caused it.

As I said, in this day and age, I probably should not believe in these things; but I do. I am sure there must be perfectly legitimate explanations; but I do not know what they are. I do not know if the batî is a uniquely Pinoy phenomenon; but believing in it, at least in my generation, is part and parcel of being Pinoy.

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