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Health in Myth: A Survey of Health Themes in Filipino Supernatural and

Superstition through the Functionalist Lens


A Research Paper


Submitted to
Mrs. Suzanna Roldan
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements
for the Course
Sociology and Anthropology 112:
Health, Culture, and Ecology

Benedicto P. Aguilar

September 2013

Sentence Outline
a. Scope of the Study
b. Definition of Terms
Review of Related Literature


Catalogue of Mythical Creatures


Matanda sa Punso
List of Treatments and Diagnostic Methods


Works Cited



Health in Myth: A Survey of Health Themes in the Filipino Supernatural and Superstition
through the Functionalist Lens
Thesis Statement:
Philippine culture is rich in supernatural lore. This research paper studies the immediate and
inferred ethnomedical information from secondary and primary sources, and correlates them with
known biomedical and social phenomena. This correlation will aid in understanding how
participants of the Philippine culture categorize their experience, to facilitate communication
with the traditionally-oriented Philippine population.1



A. There are numerous catalogues of Philippine folklore, of various focuses and
scopes; however it remains that little-to-no research has been done correlating
folklore and biomedical knowledge.
B. This study conducts a secondary analysis2 of collections of (medical)
folklore3; specifically, ethnomedical information from supernatural creatures,
non-etiological legends, practices, and folktales. Furthermore, unstructured
interviews were conducted of two individuals with unique experiences
regarding Philippine endemic ethnomedicine. Aggregating this information
triangulates the thesis statement and covers three levels of data as described
by Cecil Helman4:
a. Collected practices attest to what people say they do;
b. Albularyo interactions exhibit what people actually do;
c. And catalogues of supernatural creatures, non-etiological legends,
and folktales imply what people really think or believe.
C. The conclusions of the aggregated data are only suggested correlations, as the
researchers are not medical doctors; however the striking resemblance of
certain circumstances vis--vis biomedical explanations cannot be denied.
Furthermore because of the limited capabilities of the researchers, the scope of
the research is broad and relatively exhaustive, but is only satisfactory in
A. Catalogued Ethnomedical Folklore
B. Albularyo Practices

In definitions of Lingustics and Ethnomedicine. Ann McElroy and Patricia Townsend, Medical Anthropology in
Ecological Perspective, 5th Ed., (Westview Press, 2008).
James Henslin, Down to Earth Sociology, (Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University, 1995).
Ce il Hel a , Ne Resea h Methods i Medi al A th opology , i Culture, Health, and Illness, (London: Hodder
Education, 2007).


A chart has been created to contract, condense, and compile the various
sociological themes and possible biomedical and natural phenomena related with
the supernatural lore surveyed.


Research Abstract
This research paper studies twofold: 1) it compiles Philippine folklore and 2)
using the functionalist lens examines the compiled information for ethnomedical
data. Data was gathered from 1) various written works on Philippine folklore that
have been collected and translated by different experts, and 2) interviews with
two key informants that have had direct dealings with Philippine supernatural
folklore. The study produces a chart compiling the various biomedical and social
phenomena that are possibly related with the folklore compiled.


Human beings are susceptible to various dangers, including: disease, malaise, or other
threats from nature. That human beings are macroorganisms 5 only increases the number of
possible infectious agents. Furthermore, that human beings are the most populous
macroorganisms on earth means that disasters are bound to affect part of the population. Finally,
humans being creatures living in the natural environment means that interaction with other living
organisms that may jeopardize human health and endanger safety is unavoidable.
Over the course of history, however, the creation of the human artifice 6 served and
continues to serve as a barrier from natures threats, as buildings replace caves and trees for
shelter, agriculture replaces foraging and hunting for food, and the systematic development of
medicine protects increasingly against infectious agents.
Although in modern times operational definition and rationalization of natural
phenomena is far more favored, in the early society things whose exact workings could not be
easily explained due perhaps to a lack of previously established knowledge were regularly
attributed to supernatural causes. And although the pervading belief of modern society is
unquestionably in the empirical explanations of science the supernatural versions of explaining
phenomena continue to exist in the diagnoses of albularyos, in folk legends, and lore, as seen in
interviews with two individuals with key dealings with Philippine ethnomedical practices.
The examination of legends for their function is an established discipline. In excerpts
from Linda Deghs Folk Narrative,
Additional statements emphasize certain attributes of the legend: it is didactic (Theodor
Benfrey), it is the archive of the prehistory of a people (Reinhold Kohler), it is a dramatized
C eatu es isi le to the aked eye. Ma oo ga is , Ra do House Di tio a y
Human artifice; that is, the modified natural world, or the artificial world constructed by humans as fruit of their
o k. Ha ah A e dt, La o , Wo k, a d A tio , in The Human Condition, (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1958)

superstition (Karl Wehrmann), it belongs to the naive uncritical learning of the folk in relating an
extraordinary experience or event believed to be true (Friedrich Ranke)
One must agree with Leopold Schmidt who feels the legend has only content. The
Reason for telling a legend is To educate people, to inform them about an important fact, to arm
them against danger within their own cultural environment.
The legend explains an extraordinary phenomenon or a memorable event, it
communicates traditional learning and knowledge to the young and uninitiated, it advises people
how to act in critical situations and warns them against doing the wrong thing. This educational
essence is dramatized by an example that is the narrative content of the legend. The story does not
have to be recited in full from the beginning to the end, for its components are traditionally known
in the given community; hence the fragmentary and unfinished form of the legend narrative.7

Thus we delve into this inferred and direct ethnomedical information, to examine how
Filipinos understand health. The study will use the Functionalist Perspective to examine these
instituted superstitions, since the study will be attempting to draw correlations between
established biomedical, sociological, and/or natural phenomena with Filipino superstition.
The discussion will be partitioned according to source of the myth. The three sources are:
creature catalogues, legends (superstitions), and interviews.

Scope of the Study

The study will draw its information from written works cataloguing the various
supernatural creatures and phenomena of the Philippines as stand-alones and as part of folk tales
and legends. It will also study the collected health practices present in literature. Finally
interviews from various individuals with unique dealings with facets of Filipino superstitious
phenomena that relate to health will be discussed.

Linda Degh, ed. Richard M. Dorson, Folk Narrative, in Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1972), 53-83.

Definition of Terms
Functionalist Perspective
Largely advanced by Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Robert
Merton, an aggregate definition is provided by Mooney, Knox, and Schacht in Understanding
Social Problems:
society is a system of interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a
state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole. For example, each of the social institutions
contributes important functions for society: Family provides a context for reproducing, nurturing,
and socializing children; education offers a way to transmit a societys skills, knowledge, and
culture to its youth and religion provides moral guidance and an outlet for worship of a higher

Simply put, everything in society has a function, or purpose, that serves the society in
some way. Under this perspective, supernatural beliefs, lore, and legends are instituted by society
for a specific purpose.
Ethnomedical Information
McElroy and Townsend describe the discipline of ethnomedical research as
the attempt to discover the insiders knowledge in various systems of healing.
Researchers in this subfield are likely to concentrate on traditional healers such as shamans and
bonesetters, but studies of contemporary alternative therapies, medical pluralism, and
ethnopharmacology reflect the breadth of this approach.9

We assert in our research paper that there are two kinds of ethnomedical information:
immediate and implied ethnomedical information.
Immediate ethnomedical information

Information about health explicitly for health, obtained directly from a source; i.e.
health practices, remedies, etc.

Implied ethnomedical information


Linda Mooney, David Knox, Caroline Schacht, Understanding Social Problems, (Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2013),
Ann McElroy and Patricia Townsend, Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective, 5 Ed., (Westview Press,

Information about health inferred from sources that do not pertain to health, but
have data that can be viewed in light of health. E.g. how a manananggal causes

With regards to implied ethnomedical information, care has been taken that the
information obtained is relevant, plausible, and specific.

Relevant: obscure cause-and-effect of a hardly-known mythical creature is not

studied in this research.

Plausible: analyses in this paper is grounded firmly in the functionalist

perspective to avoid overreading.

Specific: many supernatural creatures kill people. Only the creatures that inflict
observable phenomena that may be correlated with biomedical information are
included in this research.

Secondary Analysis
Per James Henslin,
Secondary analysis analyzes data already collected by others. For example, if you were
to examine the basic data gathered by the intervieweres who did the national crime survey... you
would be doing secondary analysis [Data] gathered may contain a wealth of information not
pertinent to the purposes of those who did the original study. It simply lies there, waiting to be

For example: the Onglo, a Bicolano monster, contributes nothing in terms of

ethnomedicine, on the first level of Helmans data. However looking closely we find that the
Onglo, a small hairy creature that causes virulent itching via its hairs, does in fact have medical
Simply put, legends, folklore, and mythical creature catalogues are examined under the
functionalist lens, and the ethnomedical value is extracted.

James Henslin, Down to Earth Sociology, (Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University, 1995).

Friedrich Ranke, a German legend scholar, defines the legend:
The legend is associated with a definite place that happens at a definite time, or in any
case at a time not differently constituted than our own; i.e. in historical time; the tale is idealistic
in its conduct; the realistically kept legend likes to narrate especially unsuccessful attempts to raise
treasure, deliverance, and the like and with a frightful often tragic ending.11

Damiana Eugenio classifies legends into two groups: etiological (explanatory), and nonetiological legends. Etiological legends include stories of the origins of land formations
(mountains, caves, islands), bodies of water, animals (beasts, birds, fishes, insects), plants (trees,
flowers, fruits), and of place names; also of why things are (plant and animal characteristics). 12
Non-etiological legends include heroic legends, religious legends, legends of
supernatural beings, and miscellaneous legends. 13
Folk Tale
Ranke, again:
the tale consists of a great number of motifs, or smallest narrative units, which are
combined artistically and progresses, in the manner of a novel, to an outcome the folktale takes
place almost always in a fairyland that never and nowhere existed and in an ideal fairytale time.14

Ranke also asserts that the folk tale is usually longer than the legend; formal differences
that are indicative of deeper inherent differences in the nature of the two genres. The legend
gives not only a formal artistic report of the truth; it is, for the narrating folk, nothing less than a
report of some real occurrence. Folk tales also demand belief; it also wishes, at least for the
duration of the narration, to draw the listener into its realm, wishes to be experienced as if it
were true, but this truth lies on a plane different from that of the legend: the tale, like a poem,

Friedrich Ranke, ed. John Meier, Sage, in Deutsche Volkskunde, (Berlin and Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1926),
Damiana L. Eugenio. Philippine Folk Literature: The Legends. (Diliman, Quezon City: University of the Philippines
Press, 1996), xxii.
Friedrich Ranke, ed. John Meier, Sage, in Deutsche Volkskunde, (Berlin and Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1926),

demands truth only in the artistic sense. The truth of a tale, therefore, lies on the plane of art; the
truth of legend on the plane of belief or knowledge.15
Jacob Grimm differentiates in different terms:
Looser, less fettered than legend, the fairy-tale lacks that local habitation, which hampers
the legend, but makes it more homelike. The fairy-tale flies, the legend walks, knocks on at your
door; the one can draw freely out of the fullness of poetry, the other has almost the authority of

Refers to knowledge possessed by a specific culture. Possibly not common
knowledge; i.e. this information may only be present within certain repositories such as
elders. However when a member of the culture is asked about the information, that
member readily ascribes ownership of this information by means of their culture.
An example: the angongolod17, a beast of Bicolano lore, is not readily known to
some from Albay. However when the creature was described to a Bicolano respondent its
legend is indeed familiar.
Mythological Creature
A cryptid18; that is, a creature whose legitimacy is not agreed-upon by the general
scientific community. These creatures usually have some striking characteristic, or
supernatural power, or a combination of both. However being part of local legend, these
creatures are believed to exist, to some extent, by the participants of the culture. This


Ibid, 194.
Ed. And translated by Donald Ward, The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm: Vol. II, (Philadelphia: Institute
for the study of Human Issues, 1981).
A cat-like creature that stalks riverbanks. It enjoys eating olod (worms). It can transform someone into a tree by
hugging him. Eden K. Nasayao, Bikol Beliefs and Folkways: A Showcase of Tradition, (Arimbay, Legazpi City:
Hablong Dawani Publishing House, 2010), 110.
C yptozoology , The kepti s Di tio a y, last odified / /
, a essed /9/ ,


paper asserts that some of these creatures may be institutions of society that serve some
function, usually didactic.
From the Western word, herb, this word has come to mean faith healer in Filipino

Review of Related Literature

Isabelo de los Reyes, a prominent Filipino labor union leader and politician in the
American period wrote a book on Filipino folklore, El Folk-Lore Filipino. Originally written in
Spanish and written in the style of a journal, the scope of its topics is wide in breadth, and the
discussion on each topic is given extensive depth with adequate personal insight by the author.
However the folklore described in the collection often do not have anything to do with each
other; the best term to describe it would be a collage. Still, it remains that valuable information,
i.e. immediate and inferred ethnomedical information can be obtained from this book.
Maximo Ramos, a noted author and poet, was particularly interested in Philippine
supernatural creatures. He wrote various collections of folklore regarding the various
supernatural creatures around the Philippines. His work, Creatures of Lower Philippine
Mythology, describes thoroughly a large number of supernatural creatures. Another one of his
books, The Creatures of Midnight is more like a childrens book. However, Maximo Ramos is
successful in distilling the essential facts about the creatures he catalogues. Thus the information
in The Creatures of Midnight is of no less value.
The book Bikol Beliefs and Folkways: A Showcase of Tradition by Eden Nasayao of
Bicol University is a product of excellent ethnographic research. Responses from hundreds of
Bicolanos are catalogued in this volume: cultural information is complete and in-depth. It
includes medical folklore, as well as a catalogue of Bicolano mythological creatures.
Damiana Eugenio wrote a series of compilations of Philippine literature, including
Philippine Folk Literature: An Anthology,and Philippine Folk Literature: The Legends. Both of
these were used heavily as references in this research. In particular the latter describes in detail
various nuances of Philippine supernatural creatures.

Albercio Rotor compiled in his book, Living with Folk Wisdom, various immediate
ethnomedical information from different parts of the Philippines. The grammar in the book is
wanting; however the research does not lack in terms of content

This discussion is in two parts: the study of catalogued ethnomedical folklore (implied
and immediate), and the analysis of interviews conducted with two key informants that have had
experiences with Philippine supernatural folk healing practices.

Catalogue of Ethnomedical Folklore

There are a multitude of written catalogues of Filipino supernatural creatures. Although
not immediately evident, there are relationships between supernatural creatures and health. In
this the supernatural creatures become cultural metaphors for the adverse health effects of actual
natural and biomedical phenomena. 19 This section of the discussion will discuss these
relationships further. The information in this section is obtained from the study of collections of
descriptions of the supernatural creatures, as well as legends and folktales involving them.
The functionalistic analysis is conducted, however, with three premises:

The researchers are undergraduate students. Any correlation between folklore and
ethnomedical or social phenomena are established by comparing two affirmed and
established sources of information.

The correlation between folklore and biomedicine/sociology is established by the

researchers by describing certain similarities between the two subjects. There was
no attempt to quantify research data, and all correlation is based on qualitative


This notion is plausible. Metaphors that use natural phenomena to impart information; e.g. riddles (butong) and
sayings (salawikain) are more heavily used in Philippine literature versus other cultures. Damiana L. Eugenio.
Philippine Folk Literature: An Anthology, 2 Edition, (Diliman, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press,
2007), xxxv-xxxviii.


descriptions and observation; thus it is possible that the correlation may not be
present when evaluated by other individuals.

In relation with the second, the researchers are outsiders of the cultures studied.
That is, the creatures described within the research, by nature, are believed in by
the participants of their culture. By no means is the correlation established by the
researchers an end-all-be-all explanation of the creatures; it only shows the
similarities between two recorded phenomena.

These three established premises were considered when formulating the discussion, and
should be kept in mind.

Classified by Maximo Ramos as elves, Engkanto/Engkantada (Encanto/Encantada) are:
Fair-skinned, handsome, sometimes blond mythological beings who have been seen
singly or in families but seldom as communities. They are usually diminutive but in some
instances are taller than the average Filipino. They live in trees and are resentful of mans
intrusion into their realm. On occasion, they engage in pranks and they often become friendly
enough to give human beings useful presents.20

For expediency, in this paper Engkantos will refer to both the male and female variety.
There are various ethnomedical and social phenomena attributable to Engkantos:

A. Engkanto enchantments can cause madness in mortals; subsequent succumbing to the

enchantment of the Engkanto (usually because the Engkanto falls in love with the
human) will cause the human to disappear from the world of men. 21


Maximo Ramos, The Aswang Syncrasy in Philippine Folklore. (paper presented at the Philippine Folklore Society,
paper no. 3, 1971).
Damiana L. Eugenio. Philippine Folk Literature: The Legends, (Diliman, Quezon City: University of the Philippines
Press, 1996), xxxvii-xxxviii.


In synthesis, that Engkantos are often foreign and western-looking, coupled with
the precaution that falling in love with an Engkanto will induce madness and








ethnocentrism, developed perhaps by participants of a culture to defend the best

interests of their group.23
B. Engkantos are the cause of Albinoism in Bicolano folk belief. 24

This could lead to the social rejection of individuals with albinoism. 25

These are Engkanto as called by inhabitants of the Western Visayas region. 26 They
purportedly live in trees. They offer black rice and yellow roots for food, which if consumed will
keep the person in the tree-kingdom indefinitely. 27
A millipede, common in the Philippines, resembles this description very closely, and can
be considered for correlation.
Generally, in the animal kingdom, black and yellow are warning colors indicating the
creature is poisonous; the phenomena of pigmentation announcing un-palatability is termed
aposematism. 28 Ingestion of this millipede (commonly found crawling on the forest floor) might
lead to adverse effects. It requires no stretch of imagination: a boy, lost and hungry from playing

That is, if you go with an outsider, you go insane. Jonathan Crush and Sujata Ramachandran, Xenophobia,
International Migration, and Human Development, (United Nations Development Programme Research Paper,
Qingwen Dong, Kenneth D. Day, and Christine M. Collaco, Overcoming Ethnocentrism through Developing
Intercultural Communication, Sensitivity, and Multiculturalism, (Stockton, California: University of the Pacific,
2008), 28-38.
Eden K. Nasayao, Bikol Beliefs and Folkways: A Showcase of Tradition, (Arimbay, Legazpi City: Hablong Dawani
Publishing House, 2010), 115
The Pai of o ial Reje tio , A e i a Psy hologi al Asso iatio , last odified Ap il
, a essed
Maximo Ramos, The Creatures of Midnight, (Quezon City: Phoenix Publishing House, 1990).
Luka Kassarov, Is Aposematism A Valid Concept in Predator-Prey Relationships between Birds and Butterflies? A
Different Point of View. (Florida, 2001), 1-15.


too long in the woods, decides to stop under a tree; in his hunger he consumes rolled-up yellowand-black millipedes, and disorientation as side effect of the arthropods toxicity lead to the
warped perception of time.
Thus the story becomes a didactic instrument formulated by traditional Philippine society
to teach children: do not consume black and yellow rice-looking objects. Although the shape
suggested by the myth points towards millipede, the toxicity of the colors black and yellow are
implied and imprinted into the mind.

From Bicolano lore, the Onglo is a short humanoid creature covered in hair. It is detected
even from a distance because of its fetid smell. It has clawed feet, and long sharp fingernails.
Some tell of its upper half being humanoid and its lower half being that of a horse. It feeds on
food left out to dry in the sun, like dried fish. Its most famous characteristic is that a single touch
can cause itching all over the body of a human. 29
Caterpillars seem to partially fit this description, and may be the source of part of the
legend. Some caterpillars raise their torsos in an effort to appear larger to predators. This,
coupled with how some caterpillars have false faces to draw predators away from the real head,
may create the half-horse half-humanoid creature of legend. However upon immediate inspection
of the myth a caterpillars size is definitely short of a foot. In fact the largest known caterpillar is
only 6 inches.30 Moreover, caterpillars do have clawed feet, and long sharp fingernails.


Eden K. Nasayao, Bikol Beliefs and Folkways: A Showcase of Tradition, (Arimbay, Legazpi City: Hablong Dawani
Publishing House, 2010), 115.
Citheronia Regalis Moth , a essed 9/9/ ,


But the remaining 6 inches may be attributed to literary hyperbole, similar to the Tall
Tale effect where size is very often exaggerated.31
In this myth the bodily itching and putrid smell will be examined. Caterpillars commonly
possess urticating hairs, which cause extreme itching, skin irritations and damage to eyes and the
respiratory system. These hairs serve as the caterpillars defense during its development stage
before maturing into a butterfly.32
It is interesting to note that physical contact with the caterpillar is not always necessary
for the transmission of *urticating hairs. Even wind in the direction of the person may bring hairs
from the caterpillar to the person.33
The hairiness-to-itchiness of the creature is central to the legend. This could imprint the
association of hair on small creatures being potentially irritating to skin and bodily orifices,
cautioning individuals away from potential irritants.
A catalogued remedy for the itching induced by the Onglo is the usage of long hair to
brush the itchiness away.34 With regards to remedying irritating hair from caterpillars, Albercio
Rotor in his research suggests using melted candle wax on the afflicted area. After hardening the
candle wax encases the caterpillar hair; thus peeling off the wax removes the caterpillar hair as
well. 35

The Tall Tale Effect is the exaggeration of certain details of a story, for entertainment value. What is a Tall
Tale? , WiseGeek. o , last odified
, a essed 9/9/ ,
U ti ati g Cate pilla s , Pu li Health Pest Co t ol, a essed 9/9/ ,
Eden K. Nasayao, Bikol Beliefs and Folkways: A Showcase of Tradition, (Arimbay, Legazpi City: Hablong Dawani
Publishing House, 2010), 115.
Ibid, 74.
Albercio Rotor, Living with Folk Wisdom, (Manila: UST Publishing House, 2008), 84.



Known throughout the Philippines, the Tiyanak (Tianac, Tianak) disguises itself as a
baby by lying on the forest floor and crying. If picked up it transforms into a hideous creature
that bites the person. Notably some assert that the creature will suck the life force out of you, and
you die.36
The Philippine Long-Tailed Macaque may explain some of the legend. Monkeys are
endemic to all parts of the Philippines, although they have gone extinct in most of their natural
habitats due to deforestation. Although likening a monkeys calls to the crying of a baby is a
stretch of the imagination, it is less challenging to imagine a monkey lying on the ground as a
baby. 37
Notably, it is possible for monkeys to be vectors of various diseases. Rabies is a likely
candidate for the disease that sucks the life out of people. This, and the high mortality rate of
untreated rabies, heightens the importance of preaching caution against the Tiyanak. That
monkeys are found in almost all forested areas of the Philippines strengthens the case of the
Tiyanak being a community-created didactic tool to teach children caution for monkeys, since
legends of Tiyanaks are similarly found across the Philippines. 38
Traditional medicine according to the research of Rotor prescribes garlic as an antiseptic,
particularly for dog bites. Ethnomedicine asserts that garlic specifically kills rabies. 39


Maximo Ramos, The Creatures of Midnight, (Quezon City: Phoenix Publishing House, 1990).
Lo g-Tailed Ma a ue , P i ate I fo Net, last odified / /
, a essed 9/9/ ,
Maximo D. Ramos, The Creatures of Midnight, (Quezon City: Phoenix Publishing House, 1990).
Albercio Rotor, Living with Folk Wisdom, (Manila: UST Publishing House, 2008), 94.



Of Ilocano origin, the Kaibaan (Kibaan) is described as having inverted feet, long hair,
and invisibility. It is said to inhabit thickets. It falls in love with, serenades, and woos women,
but it is also known to woo men for friendship. Most notably, the Kaibaan is always the cause of
skin disease. Kaibaan when aggravated (spurning its friendship, or bothering it in the thickets)
blows a powder that causes an incurable skin disease. The only remedy is to return to the thicket
from where the person came to ask for forgiveness.40
Medical parlance may term this skin disease as dermatitis, although the nature of the skin
disease inflicted by the Kaibaan is not described in the literature thus any diagnoses is
necessarily rudimentary. However it remains that one of the most common causes of contact
dermatitis is poisonous plants. Thus it stands to sense that passing through a thicket may cause
contact dermatitis since the person passing risks coming into contact with these poisonous
In summary, when someone is inflicted a disease by the Kaibaan, it may be that the
disease is some form of dermatitis caused by skin contact with a poisonous plant. Thus it may
help to return to where the person came into contact with the plant, as knowing what plant
caused the dermatitis may aid in administering a remedy.

Although the concept of dwarves, as duende (dwende) are characterized by Maximo
Ramos42, is not endemic to the Philippines, it is useful to note how Filipinos treat these creatures,


Isabelo de los Reyes, El Folk-Lore Filipino, translated by Salud Dizon and Maria Elinora Imson (Diliman, Quezon
City: University of the Philippines Press, 1994), 46-47.
Rash, Age a d Olde : Topi O e ie , WebMD, last modified 20/7/2010, accessed 21/9/13,


as it is possible that duende are actually humans with dwarfism that are shunned by the
If in fact duende as observed by early Filipino society are actually ostracized individuals
with dwarfism, then this has serious health implications on both the duende and the community
that ostracized the individual.
A human without a nurturing environment or at the very least a society to live in will
develop differently from a normal human, and the effect is almost certainly adverse. In this case,
that there are accounts of duende that socialize directly with humans lend credence to the theory
that duende may be ostracized humans. 43
This theory is admittedly rather far-fetched. But it remains that duende are most often
ugly, old, and male, and most certainly ascribes to the theory of social rejection, as any human
who may incidentally be ugly, male, old, and have dwarfism may experience social rejection. 44

Matanda sa Punso (Nuno sa Punso)

Nuno sa Punso are classified by Maximo Ramos as varieties of Philippine dwarves, or
under duende. Nuno live in punso, or dirt mounds. Described in a legend:
the punso or heap of earth was about three feet high and about six feet across; and it
was oval. It had only a very small opening on one side. The only peculiarity it had was that the
ground around it was always clean, as if someone had really swept the place. 45

Nuno, generally malevolent, are said to be the cause of stiff necks, sore and swollen
limbs, inability to move upon waking, and accidents resulting to injuries. In fact, in some

The Pai of o ial Reje tio , A e i a Psy hologi al Asso iatio , last odified Ap il
, a essed
It is of note that in this legend the nuno is female; similarly her motivations and activities are stereotypically
feminine (cleaning, laundry, etc.), as compared to male nuno that are usually driven by lust.


localities in the Philippines these afflictions are termed, namatanda.46 In this light nuno are of
special importance because they are the variety of duende that cause illness.
Common to all stories of the nuno is that they live in a punso, or mound. Notably, ants
and termites live in mounds. This, and that they cause swelling of the limbs, paints a picture: a
man, upon kicking an anthill, gets bitten by the inhabitants of the anthill (probably ants), and an
allergic reaction occurs resulting in the swelling of the foot.47 This, however, could not be
correlated by the researchers to sleep paralysis, stiff neck, and joint pain.

For the purposes of this research, interviews from two informants with firsthand
experiences with traditional Filipino healers were collected for examination of the health
practices, to classify them thematically and correlate them with biomedical information.
Rubelyn Braga, Female of age undisclosed, works at a photocopy station at the Rizal
library of Ateneo de Manila University. She had experiences with both institutionalized and
traditional forms of medical treatment after her lower abdominal area expanded to 88cm.
Her experience with biomedicine left her wanting, as she was hospitalized for 15 days
without progress in her condition. She decided then to seek treatment elsewhere. Her friends
advised her to go to an albularyo, since she experienced no pain.
She consulted with four separate albularyos, each with their different diagnoses and


Damiana L. Eugenio. Philippine Folk Literature: An Anthology, 2nd Edition, (Diliman, Quezon City: University of the
Philippines Press, 2007), xxxix
Alle gies to I se t ti gs , We MD, a essed /9/ ,


Monalisa Ceba had albularyo grandparents and aunts. She says that the healing gift is
inherited. She describes in detail the various remedies and methods of her grandparents with
whom she had extensive dealings with, before they relocated to the province after their house
here was washed away during Ondoy.

List of Treatments and Diagnostic Methods

The affected area is rubbed with oil. This may have the same effect as topical pain-relief
ointments, such as Efficascent Oil, or Vicks Vapor Rub. Once the symptoms are masked, the
malady will appear cured to the patient. 48
Pausok (Suob)
The patient is exposed to smoke from incense, bound palm leaves, or some other
flammable material, usually consisting of biomass. The smoke supposedly banishes the evil
spirits from the patient. A method analogous to this is that of fumigation, wherein a certain
exposed object is subjected to fumes that may have pesticidal properties. In this, it is possible
that the incense used to execute Pausok may have insect- and pest-repellent properties, that may
alleviate some illnesses or irritations caused by said malady vectors.49
Hilot, Filipino for Massage, is the kneading of superficial layers of human flesh,
supposedly to remove kinks in muscles, remove any cold that might have entered the body,


Effi as e t Oil , Effi as e t oil, Last Modified

, A essed /9/ ,
Questions & Answers Regarding Fumigation, State of California Department of Pesticide Regulation, 2005.


and set bones. 50 Of course in traditional Filipino ethnomedical practice, according to Mona the
act of hilot is accompanied by spiritual exercises such as prayer and chanting.
Hilot as Massage does have biomedical bases; an in-depth study done by Weerapong,
Hume, and Kolt explains the various biomechanical effects of massage and its effects on
performance, muscle recovery, and injury prevention.51
Candle wax is made to drip in a basin of water; the patterns formed are interpreted. The
interpretations supposedly tell of the disease. Although this has no direct correlation to
biomedicine, it is one of the Traditional Filipino methods of diagnoses, and is worth noting.
Luya (Luy-a)
A stick of ginger was cut in half; the patterns inside were used to diagnose. When Mona
had fever, she remembers that her grandparents would rub ginger on her forehead, recite a
prayer, and blow on her forehead while holding the ginger against it.
In this instance, ginger acts as a topical antipyretic. Its efficacy may follow the mold of modern
products such as KoolFever, that lend fever relief due to cooling sensation. Koolfever has proven
antipyretic capabilities, although the efficacy of ginger as a topical antipyretic has not been
measured empirically, and evidence for this is only anecdotal. 52


Similar to bonesetters as described by McElroy and Townsend. Ann McElroy and Patricia Townsend, Medical
Anthropology in Ecological Perspective, 5th Ed., (Westview Press, 2008).
Pornratshanee Weerapong, Patricia A. Hume, and Gregory S. Kolt, The Mechanisms of Massage and Effects on
Performance, Muscle Recovery, and Injury Prevention, (New Zealand: Institute of Sport and Recreation Research,
2005), 238-245.
KoolFever, accessed 22/9/13,


A piece of paper was dropped into a basin of water. After removing the piece of paper,
writing was found on the paper, which the albularyo interpreted.53 Again, there is no immediate
ethnomedical information to be gleaned from this, and it would be a stretch to infer any
ethnomedical information either. However, the relationship between the Albularyo and the
patient is highlighted in this example, and in the previous examples with Patawas and Luya: the
albularyo as being more knowledgeable, thus of higher status in this relationship, than the
patient. That the patient often has no idea what the diagnostic tools indicate, similar to how in
biomedicine certain medical terms are often obscure scholarly nomenclatures that need extensive
scientific training to interpret.54


Rubelyn seemed especially impressed by this.

usa Do Goold a d Ma k Lipki , J ., The Doctor-Patient Relationship: Challenges, Opportunities, and
t ategies , i Journal of General Internal Medicine, (Research presented in part at the SGIM Symposium on
Managed Care, Washington DC, 1997), S26-S33.


In closing, the best way to implement the surveyed information is to compile the results.
As a concrete output, the researchers have created a chart including all the aforementioned
ethnomedical phenomena correlated with its biomedical counterparts and/or social implications.
Again, it should be noted that this study is conducted by undergraduates. The diagnoses
and prescriptions that follow should be interpreted only to enhance understanding. The final
verdict on diagnoses and prescription should still fall on the responsibility of a medical doctor.
Ethnomedical Phenomena


Biomedical Counterpart,
Correlated Social
Millipede/Poisonous Creature Poison/venom treatment
Urticating hairs from insects
Brush off using long hair, drip
wax on affected area then peel
wax off when dry
Monkey (may carry rabies)
Allergenic creature, possibly Perhaps, antihistamine
insect bite or poisonous plant;
result is contact dermatitis
Socal Rejection, Dwarfism

Nuno sa Punso

Allergic reaction to insect bite






Diagnostic technique
Relationship (Disparity)




Patawas, Papel,

Perhaps, antihistamine


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Appendix 1: Transcript of interview with Monalisa Ceba.

My mothers family came from the province of Antique. They came to Manila in the 60s but
maintain properties and home in the province till today. My grandparents, then eventually my
aunt, mother side, are albulario (folk healer). The family believed this ability to be a gift
passed on to generation to certain family members.
I practically grew up experiencing the healing from them, from simple allergies to some severe
Some of the healing methods they use (that I actually experience) are:
(among all other methods they use)









Alay or offering

They use these methods on different occasions, I am not definite when but always when we get
sick or have high fever that lasts for days. My mother would say when we call them for healing
and they see us and know what we feel, they probably know already which method would be the
best. Sometimes they do more than one.
Hilot (ancient Filipino massage, in so many forms) is what they usually do when we get fever
or influenza without cold. They said, since we were just kids and we move a lot we might have


broken or dislocated any bone part or might have traumatized some muscle. They do Hilot to
repair or for therapy. They would say some diagnoses such as naipit na ugat (some nerve
compression or crushed ligaments), dislocated bone/joints, tensioned or traumatized
muscle, napasukan ng lamig (which normally happens on one persons back), etc. These they
would know by touching the body and pointing to some suspected parts.
When I get headache or stomach ache, severe or not, but with fever, my lola would do Luy-a
(from the province local dialect, Kinaray-a). Its actually luya (Filipino translation for
ginger). Often she would not speak of the diagnosis but after administering this method she
would just say youll be ok soon. How it is done? She cuts a piece of ginger (always from her
pocket, I dont know why!), then she would pray silently in front of the patient, very closely then
she would whisper on the head (almost forehead), then blow. Then draws cross on body parts
using the ginger while continue whispering prayers or maybe saying some rituals (of which I
could hardly hear & understand) for 5-10minutes. She would always go back to the head and
whisper then blow.
Tawas is like X-ray of the western medicine. They perform this when we get sudden sickness,
sudden rash, allergies, inflammation, swelling, etc. that cannot be explained.
With the use of basin, half-filled with water, candle, flame and metal.
She would always start praying or whispering, then heat the metal on the flame, then scratch the
candle (wax) on it so the candle melts and poured into the basin. The candle wax would cool
down and form some figures floating on the water. And from the figures, they would see
something. They read the figures and would know what happened to the sick
person. Sometimes they would say something about dwarves or some unknown and unseen
creatures that caused the sickness. And they would even tell the exact place from where it is.


Sometimes they would mention some women or men at certain place with some special powers
or say nabati or nausog or nabalis (from Wikipedia search results on USOG: Usog or
balis is a topic in psycho-medicine in Filipino Psychology (but considered just as a Filipino
superstition in Western Psychology) where an affliction or psychological disorder is attributed to
a greeting by a stranger, or an evil eye hex. It usually affects an unsuspecting child, usually an
infant or toddler, who has been greeted by a visitor or a stranger. [1] In some limited areas, it is
said that the condition is also caused by the stranger having an evil eye or masamang mata in
Tagalog, lurking around. This may have been influenced by the advent of the Spaniards who
long believed in the mal de ojo superstition.)
Then after the tawas, well be told of the cure. Sometimes, if the sickness is really severe, Lola
would ask us to offer something to the ones who caused the sickness. She would say that is an
act of being sorry for the bad thing done to them and if they forgive, after the offering, those
unseen creatures will remove the sickness like as if nothing happened.
Su-ob is done with rashes and allergies. We use incense (I remember 3 differently colored
small stones), piece of blessed palms (which is tied particularly in some manner) and fire for
burning them. Grandparents would say the smoke coming from it neutralizes the toxins or if
(again) caused by some unseen creatures, evaporates the bad spirits. Of course, this simple
burning of incense also has to go along with some praying and whisperings.
This practice is also given to women who just gave birth or delivered a baby. They say, it helps
remove all sorts of cold (not cold and phlegm) but excess air inside the body.
The sick or the mother would cover the entire body (naked) in a blanket, except the face so she
wont breathe in the smoke. And inside, the incense will be placed under the person
standing. The smoke will be absorbed by the body and goes out in the form of perspiration.

As for my experience, Ive been cured or healed by these methods.

(but of course, due to the influence of education and the western medicine...and in the more
logical way of thinking and understanding things, I can also say that I might have really been
cured by medicine).
However, even up to the present time, we still do and believe in these practices. Even my
cousins abroad, like in the US, when they get sick, they would call my Aunt to perform tawas
for them.
The people, Ive seen to have consulted my grandparents and even my aunt, mostly are the ones
who believed in these practices. There might be cases of those who do not believe but seemed to
have not much choice, one because of money (albulario, as the cheaper alternative for healing)
and another because of unexplained state of sickness of which albularios would have. (but
remember that even albularios would say no to those sickness that they cant really help with and
would encourage the sick to go to the medically educated doctor).


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