12 November 2017

Beliefs Held by the People in Lian, Batangas in 1924

Women in Batangas early during the American colonial era.  Image credit:  U.S. National Archives; University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.
From the small western Batangas municipality of Lian, we feature some beliefs held by the people during the American colonial era, specifically the year 1924. These beliefs are taken from an Anthropology paper written1 by one Rafael L. Arcega in a document filed under the Henry Otley-Beyer collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.

As with other similar papers filed away under the collection, this document allows us, the modern day readers, to get a glimpse of Batangas during a bygone era, including its beliefs and traditions, many already forgotten in the present day.

Here are the beliefs in Lian in 1924. I provide annotations in brackets [x] where I find them necessary.

Determining how long the rain would last
  • If the rain started early in the morning of a Saturday and continued without allowing the sun to shine through till the evening, then it was believed that it would rain for the rest of the week.
  • If the frogs croaked through the rain whether at night or day, then it would continue to rain for days or even weeks.

Shooting stars and long hair
If, when a shooting star streaked across the night sky, a woman was able to untie her hair and tug at it, this would make her hair grow long. [This is a really peculiar belief that I had not previously encountered in any of the Batangas-themed papers in the Otley-Beyer collection.]

Sun shining through the rain
When it showered or rained even when the sun was shining brightly, farmers believed that this would make the rice ripen and ready for harvest. [The most common belief about this phenomenon, even to the present day and not just among BatangueƱos, is contained in the expression “may kinakasal na tikbalang” (a marriage is being held between two half-human, half-horse folkloric Filipino creature).]

Thunder and lightning
  • When there was a thunderstorm, it was not advisable to have windows open because lightning was believed to go with the wind. [Wind is supposed to have virtually no influence in the discharge of lightning2.]
  • During a thunderstorm, glasses, mirrors and steel blades were covered because these were believed to attract lightning. [This belief is not unique to Lian (See Beliefs Held in Lipa in 1924) and not totally impossible, although one has to be “spectacularly” unlucky to be hit by lightning inside one’s house3.]

Replenishing the moon’s oil
When a moon dimmed, as when a cloud passed over it, it was believed it was believed that it was “refilling her reservoir with oil.” The belief was that “the moon burns this oil to furnish light.” [In other words, the moon was thought of as something of a lamp.]

Beliefs concerning animals
  • When a gambler, on his way to a game, encountered a snake by chance, he took this as a lucky omen that he would win. [This self-same superstition is also documented in a paper about the beliefs in Santo Tomas, Batangas.]
  • When a man encounters a lizard, it means bad luck. [Unfortunately, Arcega did not specify if this was the tiny house lizard that on occasion walks on the floor or the larger lizards such as the bayawak or monitor lizard.]
  • Anyone who heard a dog barking on New Year’s Eve would have bad luck for the whole of the following year. On the other hand, anyone who heard birds, cows or crickets would be lucky the following year.
  • When a cat faced the door and wiped its face with a paw, it was believed that visitors were coming.
  • Dogs howling in the silence of the night foretold “the coming of grave danger or misfortune.”
  • If a dog scratched at the ground with its paws as though digging a grave, it was driven away on the belief that it hoped for the death of its owner and intended to bury him/her there.
  • Horses and cows were believed to have “the power of speech” on Christmas Eve because they were present during the birth of Jesus.
  • When anthills appeared beneath a house, these were believed to bring luck to the owners of the house. [Unless, needless to say, these were termite houses.]
  • When gamugamo (winged ants) appeared in great numbers, they foretold of long days of rain.

Beliefs concerning women
  • A woman fond of telling stories to children would have no chance of ever getting married.
  • A woman who sang while she cooked would marry a widower.
  • If a woman bit the right side of her tongue, her lover spoke well of her; but if she bit the left side, he was speaking ill of her.
  • A woman should not sit by the corner of a table or she would be despised by the parents of her lover. [These beliefs concerning women are among the most fascinating I have encountered by far of the Otley-Beyer documents, not just for novelty but for how on earth they could have originated.]

Beliefs concerning death
  • A black butterfly fluttering around a person meant that one of that person’s relatives is ill. [The more common belief even in the present day is that a relative or a close friend has actually died.]
  • When a bird flew into a house and roamed around it while someone inside was sick, that sick person would die.
  • If the breast of a dead person was still warm, somebody that person expected to arrive before the burial was still to arrive.
  • The death of a woman of marrying age would be followed by the death of an unmarried young man.
  • If the body of a dead person does not stiffen in rigor mortis within a day, another member of the dead person’s family was expected to die. [Rigor mortis usually sets in four hours after death, but this is dependent on ambient temperature4.]
  • Dreaming of a broken tooth was seen as an omen that somebody in the family would soon die. If it was an incisor, a brother or sister would die. If it was a molar, either the father or mother would die.

Beliefs concerning natural phenomena
  • The appearance of a comet was seen as omen for a disaster. [This belief is not unique to Lian or any other town in the country, for that matter. This same belief is held by many cultures around the world5.]
  • A comet touching the earth was seen as an omen for a coming deluge. [Did Arcega mean an asteroid instead of comet, though?]
  • A rainbow appearing when there were signs of rain meant that the rain would not fall.
  • When one was visiting a place for the first time, it was best that he did not point at anything that caught his attention or an evil spirit native to the place might get offended and make him sick.
  • If one fell suddenly ill for no apparent reason, it was believed that he had angered a “nono” (or nuno, an elfin elemental creature of Filipino folklore). To appease the “nono,” members of his family went to the last place he visited and left offerings of food or chicken.
  • Thunder and lightning occurring frequently during the rainy season was seen as a sign that there would be no strong rains coming. [A strange belief as best, as one would expect exactly the opposite.]

Miscellaneous beliefs
  • Noodles were never sold at night or these would become rusty. [The word “rusty” probably refers to a discoloration of the noodle.]
  • A child’s teeth would decay if he or she bit into an eggplant.
  • A child biting a comb would get toothache.
  • If a girl coughed while eating, it meant that her lover just thought of her. [Even in the present day, “nasasamid” or choking on food is thought of as being remembered by somebody, and not just a lover.]
  • Dreaming of a burning house meant that somebody in the family would soon die. [In a similar Anthropology paper on beliefs in Santo Tomas, Batangas, dreaming of a burning house was seen as an omen that somebody in the family had ALREADY died.]
  • A boy or girl who could not tenderize “quibal” (a legume) by boiling was doomed to remain unmarried.

Notes and references:
1Different Beliefs in Lian,” by Rafael L. Arcega, 1924, online at the Henry Otley-Beyer collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2Is lightning's path to the ground affected at all by wind?” by Bert Bickham, online at Quora.
3Can mirrors ‘catch’ lightning?” online at the Urban Astronomer.
4Rigor mortis,” Wikipedia.
5Beliefs and Real Stories about Comets and Asteroids,” by Topato, online at Mysteries24.

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