THE SUPERNATURAL BELIEFS OF PRE-SPANISH FILIPINOS by Felix Fojas October 13, 2012
The supernatural beliefs of ancient Filipinos can be gleaned from the writings of Spanish conquistadores, historians, and missionaries. At the time of colonization, the population of the Philippines was estimated to be 700,000–based on the census of tributes implemented by Governor Gomez Perez Dasmariñas whose term of office only lasted three years from 15901593. According to Fr. Pedro Chirino, Antonio de Morga and other Spanish writers, the ancient Filipino believed in a supreme being called Bathala, the creator of heaven and earth, and all living things. Under this allpowerful god was a pantheon of lesser gods like the Visayan goddess of harvest and fire Lalahort; the Bagobo god of war Darago, and Apolaki, the Pangasinan god of war. Pre-Spanish Filipinos also worshipped the spirits of their ancestors called anitos. They carved wooden or stone idols to represent their gods and anitos, which they kept in their homes and propitiated with food, animals and other sacrifices to bring about success in war, a bountifuI harvest, or a happy marriage. However, not all anitos were benevolent. Bad anitos existed in the shapes of the spirits of dead tribal enemies. In A Short History of the Philippines, the Filipino historian Nicolas Zafra states: Besides the Supreme God, there were lesser gods or spirits. They were called anitos. There was an anito of the forests and mountains. They prayed to him whenever they went out to those places to hunt or get timber. There was an anito of the planted field who they invoked for good harvest. There was an anito of the seas. They prayed to him for good luck in their fishing expeditions and in their voyages. There was an anito of the house, too. They invoked him when someone was sick or when a child was born. Concerning the religious beliefs of early Filipinos another Filipino historian, Gregorio Zaide, in his book History of the Filipino People, notes: During preSpanish times our people were either Muslims or Pagans. The Muslims were the “Moros” of Mindanao and Sulu, Mindoro, and Manila Bay region. It should be remembered that at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, Manila and Tondo were Islamic kingdoms. Being superstitious, they read omens in the appearance of crows, crocodiles, and birds. Comets they believed to be a harbinger of bad luck like famine, epidemic, or war. Likewise, the howling of a dog or the falling of a tree at night was an omen of death. Sneezing before the start of a journey also foretold death or an accident along the way. To quote Zaide once again:
Many of the superstitious beliefs of our forefathers still remain to the present day. Among them are the following: (1) when a young girl sings before a stove, she will marry an old widower; (2) when a hen cackles at midnight, an unmarried woman is giving birth to a child; (3) when a pregnant woman cuts off her hair, she will give birth to a hairless baby; (4) when a cat wipes its face, a visitor is coming to the house; and (5) when a person dreams that one of his teeth falls out, somebody in the family will die. The pagan priests and priestesses were called katalonas and babaylanas, respectively. They officiated in ritual sacrifices, aside from serving as physicians, soothsayers and prophets. The highest priest, akin to a bishop, was called a sonat. It was he who appointed the priests and priestesses. The sacrificial ritual was performed either inside or outside the house, and usually ended in feasting and merrymaking. Our ancestor subscribed to the concept of life after death. They believed that each individual has an immortal soul that travels to the other world. The souls of good and brave men go to a heaven called Kalualhatian, whereas the souls of evil men are flung into a hell known as Kasamaan. To prepare the dead for his journey to the underworld, his relatives placed food, wine, gold, weapons, and other personal effects and...
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