Sunday, November 4, 2012

What Is "Usog" in the Philippines? "Kontra Usog" Amulet Contents Revealed

Kontra usog amulet from Pulilan, Bulacan, Philippines

In some parts of the Philippines, there’s this practice of putting saliva on the abdomen of a baby by someone who’s given the child impromptu notice, whether in greeting or contact. Visitors who’ve given attention to a baby may be asked by the parent or guardian to do this and state, "pwera usog." The act is supposed to counter the effects of usog which is similar to the concept of the ”evil eye” in Western culture. It’s said that anyone (although there are those who are more inclined to it), can unknowingly place a hex on a baby (or adult) causing it to feel ill.

A baby who’s under the influence of “usog” termed colloquially as nausog or nabati may start to vomit or show signs of fever. To remove the effects of usog, the person responsible must be called to smear saliva on the baby’s belly with a finger. If the person is not available, the alternative is to look for someone who can naturally counter the effects of usog. Such people are rare, but somehow, they instinctively know if a baby is under the influence of usog. If they rub the head of a baby affected by usog, it’s said the effects can be reversed. A person with this inherent healing ability once touched the head of a baby who’s been vomiting, supposedly as a result of usog, and immediately after, the baby repeatedly burped, relieving the discomfort. If there’s no one around who has this ability, the only option is to wait for the symptoms to subside on their own. If the symptoms are severe, the parents simply take the child to a doctor, letting go of any traditional beliefs to the wind.
If you go to one of those big old Catholic churches around the Philippines, you may find vendors in the vicinity selling charms, amulets, and talismans. Some of these are designed to counteract usog. The amulet pictured here is from Pulilan, Bulacan. It consists of red and black plastic beads strung in a garter. The red cloth pouch has a cross stitched on one side. It measures roughly 1 ¼ inch. The pin is what’s used to secure the usog amulet on clothing. A baby wearing this kontra usog amulet is supposed to give protection to the child.

Inside the “counter usog” amulet, there’s a rolled piece of paper secured by transparent tape. Opening this revealed what looked like powdered tree bark. The paper is obviously cut from a grade school textbook. Anybody who’s not familiar with the idea of usog will not understand the logic behind all these and that it’s all simply superstition, but to someone who believes and has faith, it all makes sense. In the end, it’s really all about a person’s faith in God and the counter usog amulet is just a crutch to support someone’s belief. 

The paper used to wrap the amulet's bark powder.
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