O is for “Oro, Plata, Mata” and Other Superstitions & Omens

O

Filipinos believe in many superstitions and omens.  Whether you’re building a home, are pregnant, celebrating new year’s eve or happen to have a mole somewhere in  your body, there’s a superstition for that.  If you drop a fork or a spoon on the floor, if someone leaves the table before everyone else is done, or if a ring is present around the moon, there’s an omen for that.

Balustrade at the Quema House in Vigan, built in the 1820's
Balustrade at the Quema House in Vigan, built in the 1820’s

One of the superstitions that I grew up with had to with the stairs in one’s house – the direction you turned to get to the stairs and when you get there, the total number of steps built.

As for stairs, they should always turn right, that being the righteous path. This particular belief applies best to the marital bond. An opposite direction signifies infidelity. Note that the vernacular term kaliwete (left-handed) refers to the wanton spouse. Since we are on the subject of stairs, can steps be far behind?

Among the Tagalogs, stair steps are erected with a ritual that calls for alternate counting to three, using the chant “Oro, plata, mata” (Gold, silver, death) for each count. Of course, the counting commences with the lowest rung. The topmost step should never end with “mata,” that being a symbol of bad luck. On the other hand, “oro,” and “plata” represent good luck.

via Building A House? Oro, Plata, Mata — Positively Filipino | Online Magazine for Filipinos in the Diaspora.

Here is a sampling of other superstitions and omens prevalent still prevalent in the Philippines:

  • During the building of a house, an injured worker is a bad omen and to counteract its effects, one must sacrifice a pig or a white chicken and sacrifice its blood to the spirits.
  • Never pay any debt at night.
  • Breastfeeding mothers should drink milk if they want to increase their milk production. (So this is where I got this silly belief!)
  • Don’t sweep the floor at dusk because lizards will fall from the ceiling.
  • A black butterfly entering a house means that there will be an impending death.
  • If someone at the table needs to leave before the meal is finished, everyone must turn their plates clockwise so that he will arrive at his destination unharmed.
  • If a spoon falls to the floor, you will have a female visitor.  If it’s a fork, then you’re going to have a male visitor.  This begs the question though – what happens when you drop a spork?
  • A mole on one’s foot means he/she is an adventurer.
  • A mole above the lip means he/she is lucky in business.

Here’s one that involves a snake in one’s house:

A snake that enters the house brings good luck as long as it doesn’t bite any of the occupants. This is probably based on the practice of Filipinos during the Spanish colonial times to keep pythons in the partition between the roof and the ceiling to reduce the rodent population the house.

via SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS OF FILIPINOS | felixfojas.

As to the practice of keeping snakes in side the house, it really was true, as seen by the Spaniards and the Americans when they occupied Manila in the early 19th century.

books“Most of the living is done in the second story while the first or ground floor the Philippino keeps his store or his stable. Upstairs live the house snakes which are to Manila what the dogs are to Constantinople, the unlicensed scavengers of the city.  They are quite harmless to mankind, although it takes some time for the stranger to become accustomed to the eight or nine feet of reptile, wriggling after the rats, which are the snakes’ legitimate supply and one of the many pests of Manila.  So many and so fierce are these rats that if it were not for the snakes Manila would be overrun by them and would be as uninhabitable as Hamelin.”

– Via With Dewey at Manila: Being the Plain Story of the Glorious Victory of the United States Squadron Over the Spanish Fleet, Sunday Morning, May First, 1898, as Related in the Notes and Correspondence of an Officer on Board the Flagship Olympia (Google eBook)

So there you have it – Oro, plata, mata.  How many steps do your stairs have?

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10 thoughts on “O is for “Oro, Plata, Mata” and Other Superstitions & Omens

  1. I’m scared of snakes but have had pet rats and they’re very cute. I think I would be a quivering mess if I lived in a house with snakes in the roof. Can’t sleep, snakes will swallow me!

    1. This was a game we used to play while waiting for our rides after school, and then in the 80’s, there was a movie with the same title which is one of the best movies in Philippine cinema, which told of the rise and fall of one family from just before the war (oro: gold), when they had to move to the mountains to avoid the Japanese (plata: silver) and then when their fortunes and their fates went downhill from there (mata: death).

      I don’t think anything has rivaled that movie since – which is sad.

  2. Oro, oro, my stairs end in oro! I’m a lucky chap 🙂
    Interesting superstitions, but no weirder than stuff like standing on pavement cracks, black cats, breaking mirrors and so on.

    1. So true! There were so many others especially when one is pregnant that it’s any wonder the poor mother to be could do anything without being warned not to do this or that, or else!

      But I’m so happy still that your stairs end in oro – gold!

  3. ahh superstitions,… growing up , i would spend summers in the province. we had help to maintain the place. a young lad was assigned to take care and hang out with me. such rich imagination that could raise the hair at the back of your neck, from the tales he told me. from flying apparitions of bat like beings and walking ghouls, that pray on pregnant women at night. like everything it was magical when your mind is innocent and free from barriers.

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