Pamahiin (Philippine Superstitions)

I haven’t posted in a while. We’re currently on our first family beach holiday with Squishy (yay!).

The other day, we were shopping at one of the arcades.

The salesladies cooed and said hello to Squishy, who had his hair (what little there is of it, hah) in a fountain. It’s getting long especially the fringe, and we’ve been told we can only cut it when he turns one. We have a month to go.

One of the salesladies is especially persistent. The thing is, Squishy now has a look which I’ll call The Gaze. It’s the kind of look that’s hard to ignore – like he’s trying to tell you something. I’ve seen strangers reacting to The Gaze by engaging him and playing/talking to him, or acknowledging him with a small smile, or just looking uncomfortably away. It’s pretty funny to watch.

pamahiin 1

Squishy had given this particular saleslady The Gaze. She immediately swooped in, pressed his hands, murmured “hello” etc, touched his cheeks, even motioned to ask if she could hold Squishy for a bit. We tried walking away but not too far – I was looking for a batik dress and didn’t want to be chased out of the shop before I was ready – but the saleslady doggedly followed.

Our helper urgently whispered to us that we should move on ASAP because the saleslady looked pregnant.

“So what?” I asked, when we were safely out of earshot, a few shops away.

Our helper said the saleslady might be naglilihi, which could potentially be dangerous for Squishy if she decided to make him the object of her lihi.

Now, lihi is a Philippine concept that doesn’t directly translate to English, so I’ll try and do it by way of example. Say you suddenly started craving coconut in the wee morning hours during your pregnancy. You could be naglilihi, which means it’s possible your baby might turn out fair/pale– like white coconut meat.

The belief is that your baby absorbs the properties of whatever you’re craving for.

The way our helper explained it though, is that lihi isn’t limited to strange food cravings – if Squishy, for example, was pinaglihian (or made an object of lihi), he could become thin and weak as his energies are absorbed.

I’m not a believer of Philippine pamahiin (superstitions) but I do find them very interesting. The incident reminded me of other local beliefs which remain popular today, especially in the provinces.

Take, for example, the concept of strangers/visitors greeting little babies with an exclamation of “Pwera usog!” and wetting a thumb with one’s saliva and swiping it on the baby’s forehead.

That your baby has to deal with a stranger’s saliva (!) on his head is already terrifying to new mums mindful of basic hygiene (thankfully these days some people skip the saliva part altogether and just say “pwera usog”). However the concept of “usog” itself – which loosely translates to a curse, or a hex – is even more so.

If a baby is nausog, he/she falls inexplicably sick, and can only be cured by the person who caused the usog, either by said person wiping saliva on the baby or greeting baby again – properly, this time. “Pwera usog” is a bid to keep evil away, and is often accompanied by a bracelet of black and red beads (some people call it a “Corales” bracelet) or a little pouch with herbs, pinned to the baby’s chest.

It’s fascinating to me that the belief in pamahiin lingers on even in a mostly Catholic country like the Philippines.

This combination of superstition and religion was married in an interesting way for us some months back when Squishy received a rosary bracelet, a present made by a friendly Catholic nun.

It was the same color as a Corales bracelet, but with a Catholic cross in the middle.

Now that’s an anting-anting (charm) that packs a solid one-two punch.

pamahiin 2


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