Beware of Nuno Sa Punso

“Tabi-tabi po!”

If you ever happen to be in the rural areas of the Philippines, you’d probably hear this expression a lot, especially from older people, when passing simple, innocuous objects such as termite nests and even when sweeping the backyard.

And the reason for it is to simply avoid drawing the ire of the mythical so-called “nuno sa punso” (literally old man in an anthill).

According to Filipino folklore, the “nuno sa punso” refers to spirits of old persons who live under the ground. The “nuno” (Tagalog term for old man) is oft-described to be an old man with a long beard, although it is often differentiated from the similar-looking duwende or dwarf. 

They are believed to live underneath large rocks, trees, riverbanks, caves, or the termite nests which are often associated with them.

Why “tabi-tabi po?” Simple enough, according to folklore: the nunos are vengeful spirits. Just disturb them, even unintentionally, and they can cause anything from swollen body parts or excessive hair growth to stomach aches, vomiting of blood, or urinating black liquid.

In the olden days before modern medicine arrived in the Philippines (and even for some time thereafter), most Filipinos believe that any abnormality in the body may be caused by an angry nuno. 

The “victim” is brought to the albularyo, who performs a ritual called “pagtatawas.” 

A piece of a candle is melted and the molten wax poured onto a disc or spoon. The molten wax is in turn poured into water. 

The image formed on the water will then be interpreted by the albularyo (herb doctor). 

The image aids in determining the cause of the patient's illness and where the curse actually happened, and how to cure the illness.

The victim's family may then be asked to provide an offering to the nuno such as fruits or other food, drinks, or a material object. 

If the victim is still not healed after the offering, it may be necessary to personally ask the nuno's forgiveness, which is believed to be a wise measure, in order to prevent the permanent possession of the victim by an evil spirit, which could later cause the victim to become insane.

To avoid the wrath of the spirits, children are reminded not to play outside between noon and three o'clock in the afternoon. 

They are also asked by their parents to come home before six o'clock in the evening. Strict taboos are also enforced on making unnecessary noise near places believed to be inhabited by the nunos, and people passing by such areas should give a fair notice beforehand – “Tabi-tabi po!”

 

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