Monday, May 16, 2016


BABY LOVE. A Kapampangan baby from Sta. Rita wears a coral bracelet to ward off afflictions of unnatural causes, like "asug". Corals were believed to be imbued with divine powers.

Since the dawn of time, man has been warding off earthly perils— the elements, disease, and threats from fellow human beings—arming himself with tools, weapons and all sorts of ammunitions. But when the danger is unexplained and unusual, he seeks assistance from other worlds—the supernatural. Thus, in our recorded history, we transformed through rituals and incantations-- metals, wood, stone, cloth, barks and herbs into weapons against evil.

Urban legends recount how revolucionarios went to the battlefields protected by oracions (prayers) written on their undershirts. In recent memory, the fantastic escapes of the 50s Cavite gangster Nardong Putik (Leonardo Manecio) were attributed to the power of his anting-anting that he inherited from Santiago Ronquillo (alias Tiagong Akyat). The government threw everything it had into capturing him, but to no avail.

 Closer to home, Jose Maria Henson (1820/d.1867) of Angeles was said to possess a magic sword that can render a person immobile just by pointing the sword or throwing the sword at him.

But what about helpless babies brought out into this world? How can he protect himself from the “evil eye” of a stranger which can hex a baby’s health? “Asug” ("usug" in Tagalog) is a term for such an affliction characterized by fever, convulsion, stomach ache and colic. This unintentionally inflicted folk illness is also widely known in Caribbean countries and Mexico as “mal de ojo” It is the belief that the child’s distress can be eased by asking the stranger to rub his saliva on the baby's tummy, shoulder or forehead and other body parts before leaving the house, while muttering “pwera asug…pwera asug” several times.

In the 19th century, newborn babies were protected from maladies by having them wear coral bracelets. Corals were believed to possess divine powers. A Greek legend has it that that when Perseus beheaded Medusa, he laid the Gorgon’s bloodied head on a bed of seaweeds, turning them into corals.

 In the Middle Ages, people kept pieces of corals in their purses, as talismans against witchcraft. Because of their shape, coral branches were also thought to protect the bearer from lightning strikes. For Tibetans and American Indians, the coral was an effective protection against the evil eye, while for Christians, the coral pink color symbolized the blood of Christ.

No wonder, coral jewelry became traditional gifts to both expectant mothers (for its blood-rejuvenating property) and their newborn babies (as protective amulets). Greek mothers hung coral strands on babies’ cradles while Romans strung coral necklaces for their kids. Coral was also used to prevent teething problems, which, in the early 19th century was believed to be responsible for many infant deaths. It was incorporated into teething rings to prevent bleeding gums.

 Silver objects were popular christening gifts in early 18th century Europe, as the precious metal was believed not only to have purifying effects but also repulsed evil of supernatural origin effectively. Silver rattles, bells, whistles and teethers –many made with coral trims--were standard presents to children of wealthy families, a tradition that did not catch on in the Philippines.

Of course, while Catholic sacramentals like medals (St. Benedict, patron against contagious diseases, is a popular choice) have replaced expensive coral and silver charms, there are still a few charms to help safeguard babies’ health and wellness.

Currently available is a “kontra-asug” bracelet that mimics those rarer and more expensive coral jewelry. Made of red plastic and black plastic beads, the bracelet comes with a red cloth sachet with a cross outside, containing seeds and dried plants, which can be pinned on the baby’s shirt. The bracelet serves to prevent “asug” as well sorcery.

So next time you bring baby out, never fear! He is not just powered by his vitamins and minerals to help build his ‘resistensya’, but--according to the old folks--he has sure protection against all sorts of maledictions, thanks to a charm bracelet that even Wonder Woman would want to wear. “Pwera asug!”.


Alviera said...

Nice history about Filipino beliefs and "pwera asug or usus" is an alternative folk medicine. Add information---
Na-bati is believed to be caused by an admiring or complimentary greeting or comment like: "The baby looks so cute." It is believed the compliment carries "bad wind" with it, entering the yet weak and defenseless bodies of infants and young children. An immediate verbal antidote (pang-kontra) is to say: "Puwera usog."

alex r. castro said...

Thanks for your additional info!!

Alfred A. Yuson said...

Hello, Mr. Alex R. Castro. This is Alfred "Krip" Yuson, an author and a regular columnist for the Arts & Culture section of The Philippine Star. I was assigned to write a biography of Bishop Federico O. Escaler, who passed away late last year. In my research, I came across your blogspot, which has passages on Pampanga that I'd like to request permission from you to quote in the book (in the part on the Bishop's Pampanga origins), with full credit, of course. I can't find any information as to how to get in touch directly with you, thus this comment here, which I hope you get to peruse soon. I would appreciate it greatly if you could email me please at Thank you in advance for your positive consideration. :-)