Philippine Superstition: "Bati" (A Greeting That Can Cause Harm)

A charm, can be seen pinned on babies clothes believe to ward off bati.
A charm, can be seen pinned on babies clothes believe to ward off bati. | Source

One superstition that even today Filipinos still strongly believes into is the "bati," "usog and sometimes also known as "bales." I can't say, or can't find the exact English meaning of it to help with the explanation but the word "bati" literally means greeting. So I can say a bati is a greeting that can give off maladies to the person being greeted without the greeter's intention of causing any form of ailment or harm.

So what does bati or usog mean? I think to better explain "bati" is, think of evil eye instead as bati would be similar to the evil eye and some thinks or believes that the greeting-induced ailment can come from an envious person giving the compliment. Bati, sometimes called usog or bales would afflicts mostly children, but also even adults can suffer from it.

Babies tend to be the most susceptible to bati, usog, or bales. It is hard guessing reasons for why babies cry as this could be hunger, diaper change, feeling sleepy, discomfort or pain. The later is associated with usog or bales specially when the baby cries just after a visitor left though all other possible reasons had been ruled out, such as feeding and changing. This doesn't only occur with visitors coming to the baby's house but can happen everywhere such as on a public when a stranger greeted how cute the baby was. This could also be in other situation such as attending parties with the baby or simply visiting friends or relatives or taking a walk in the park or in the neighborhood.

Not only with strangers, but any of the neighbors, relatives or anyone can afflict the greeting-induce "usog," or "bati." This could be anyone that was said to have a strong personality or is domineering.

Stories with "bati" or "usog"

One story that I was told about with my dad was when my aunt and uncle dropped by to our home. They were in the province and going to pass by our town so they decided to go for a visit. They weren't familiar on where our house exactly is but they knew they have to get off the bus before going up the small bridge. And so they had gotten off the bus and asked neighbors around. My dad was not home that time and was in one of our neighbors home while I and my younger brother was at school. One of our neighbor attended to them, had some chit-chat and called dad for uncle and auntie.

Dad came home in a couple of minutes and was surprised and happy to see uncle and aunt. They stayed a bit longer, chit-chatted and when they decided to head home, auntie was already wasn't feeling well. That feeling of stomach ache and being sweaty. They were about to just go but dad thought that she might had been overpowered (usog or bales.) Dad then asked our neighbor, also his good friend whom they had chit-chatted earlier to counteract the usog (bati or bales.)

And after that, she feels fine after only a short period of time and so uncle and auntie went on to their travel.

As for me, I was trying to recall if I can remember any encounters with "bati," but can hardly remember any (or maybe I had when I was a kid but had forgotten it?) Anyway, what I do remember was that whenever we would have a vacation back in the province where I was born, and elder relatives would come by, I would hear them say "pwera usog," or they would either touch me in the head few times, shoulders, even at the back, kind of like giving a pressure with their hands while saying something in the province's language before they leave for me not to be overpowered (bati/usog.)


Usog, Bati, or Bales Counteract or Cures

*** After a greeting, the greeter would usually say, "pwera usog" or "pwera bati," meaning no malady intended as a counter-utterance after a compliment such as, " You look great today and fit," " I like your skin, it looks healthy and vibrant," " You are so cute/beautiful."

*** If the counter words aren't said and a bati-induced ailment such as a sudden stomach ache or headache occurred afterwards, the affected person could seek the greeter and ask the person for the cure. This would be done with the greeter's finger damp with his/her saliva and making a cross sign on the affected person's forehead or abdomen saying "pwera usog" while making the cross sign. Good if the greeter lives in the neighborhood but if not, and the "bati" was from a stranger from the mall, work, market, or transportation, the help of a folk healer is seek instead. Also, if the greeting was made by a stranger, the person receiving the compliment may say, "Thank you, hope you don't have an usog," in a nice way of course with a smile, this would send the message across and the person will say, "pwera usog/bati."

*** And for the babies, let's say a talisman, believe to repel the effect of bati or usog is made or bought and tied into their clothing until the baby becomes less susceptible to greeting induce ailments cause by "bati." The one I usually see pinned to my younger brother when he was still a baby, to my nephew and nieces and that I probably had worn too was this red seeds with a part black color on one side that can be gathered once the pod opens, then place or wrap inside a red cloth. This would then be pinned or clip into the baby's clothing. (See below photo.)

Photo of the seeds used and is believed to protect babies from the "bati" or "usog."
Photo of the seeds used and is believed to protect babies from the "bati" or "usog." | Source

For those who can add information about "bati," or anyone who had story to share, feel free to share your experienced or from anyone you know by leaving some comment.

I would love to read it and I know other readers too, will appreciate it.

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Comments 13 comments

lowelashubby profile image

lowelashubby 4 years ago from Pasig City, Metro Manila

I recently ran into Bati just a week or so ago. I was outside the Mandaluyong Mega Mall waiting in line with my asawa. I was particularly excited as we had just found out that my asawa is pregnant. As we where in line, I said to her, "Buntis Buntis" and patted her belly.

Later that evening as we got home, she got ill and started vomiting. She told me that it was because of my saying "Buntis buntis" and patting her tummy while we where in line. I was confused, and until I read this article, did not understand.

I just asked my asawa about 10 minutes ago about "Bati" and how to pronounce "Pwera usog" and she told me that Bati was the reason for her illness. I then understood the article better, and promptly licked my finger, and said "Pwera usog" while making a cross on her forehead to which she was happy to receive.

Filipinos have many superstitions, and I learned before even stepping foot in this wonderful country not to make fun of them or ignore them as my Asawa believes in some of them, and to do so is insulting to her.

I was very happy to read this article, and I thank you for posting it!


precy anza profile image

precy anza 4 years ago from San Diego Author

Yes, lowelashubby, that's exactly the "bati." :) And congrats with the baby. And I'm having this thought that with the baby, you would be hearing "pwera bati" a lot from people. And maybe you would be seeing that small, red bag too pretty soon. :) Welcome to Hubpages and thank you for the story with your experience with it! I did enjoyed reading it. :)


precy anza profile image

precy anza 4 years ago from San Diego Author

@ Diyomarpandan: I haven't heard of "buyag," or maybe I had but I wasn't familiar with the Visayan language so I did a little search with the word and "buyag" would be similar to "usog," or yes "bati" where "pwe buyag" is said as counter utterance. :)


lowelashubby profile image

lowelashubby 4 years ago from Pasig City, Metro Manila

Asawa ko is Visayan and she agrees with Precy on usog or bati being the words. She says it is from the Bisayas. Thank you for the welcome Precy, and I like your hubbing. Pwera usog!


precy anza profile image

precy anza 4 years ago from San Diego Author

Wow! Thanks Lowelshubby and to your wife too for confirmation :) I wonder if they don't have any equivalent in Mindanao? (where Diyomar is.)


DON BALDERAS profile image

DON BALDERAS 4 years ago

I remember how hard it was to go about this particular 'bati' you say because for more than three days, I could not understand how it weakened me with fever, blowing, and loose vowel movement. I was already thin, thinner than my thinness, trying to help find something to hold so I could stand and walk towards our rest room, and thinking that anytime, I would already fall down to my weakened legs and failing grips. I went into thinking that I had flu, but the amount of medicine I took did not change the way I felt. I live in a place far from the city where doctors can be consulted, so I requested for a quack doctor or 'herbolaryo' whom we call also as albularyo. Her findings was that I had the so-called 'bati' illness which I could not believe could afflict me. A certain ceremony with 'ikmo' and other elements she used was performed by her during the fourth day of my affliction. Soon after, I felt better and I could not believe it was as fast as it happened. Until now, it still is a big thing for me that when I feel something wrong, I consult her and would easily feel better.

Here in Bicol, we call it also as 'usog,' sometimes 'sibang.'


precy anza profile image

precy anza 4 years ago from San Diego Author

Thanks Diyomar :)

@ Don Baldera: That's pretty scary. Sounds like you had endured a strong "bati." I love listening or reading stories such as these about "bati," "nuno," and such. And since you said you were from Bicol, I'm going to ask my dad about "sibang." :) He'd be surprised how I learned the word. ^-^' He's from Albay btw. Thanks for sharing your story. :)


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

I had a grandmother who was really in to this. Superstitions are part of the culture and sometimes I just don't follow them for the sheer grossness and health risk it may have. Just imagine allowing someone to put their saliva on my baby. Who knows what infectious disease the person has.

However, I do not mind people mentioning pwera usog as it's already ingrained in the culture.

Also, it's interesting to note how our Catholic faith has merged with ancestral traditions.

Foreigners may not understand the custom but this hub is a good start for them.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

precy anza...is this like the power of suggestion? Once you mention something, can it just have an opposite effect, like saying, "I hope it doesn't rain today?" And just because you mention it or think of it, it happens?


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

With reference to talismans or good luck charms, an old eastern European custom was to pin a tiny red ribbon or string to the clothing of an infant to ward off the 'evil eye.'


precy anza profile image

precy anza 4 years ago from San Diego Author

@ jpmc: I agree to that, it is interesting with our faith and the ancestral traditions. Even here in US, I still hear my mom say "tabi-tabi po" when she pours anything on the ground in the afternoon or just before darkness. And with the saliva on babies, I can understand you on that, specially when it was an stranger you hadn't even met before or known. The "pwera usog" would be just fine.

@ Avian: as I think of it, with the opposite of the greeting like ," you look healthy!" and the person will get sick, hmnn... I don't think so. It could be also like ," that was a pretty dress!" or something else. And, sometimes there's even not a greeting being said, there are those people with the "usog" in them that just talking to them could give you the "usog" or "bati." I had heard many times one asking the other or the greeter if "they have the bati or usog?" If the greeter doesn't have the "usog" in him/her, he/she would reply " I don't have an usog/bati." :) Then the one being greeted can rest assured there's no ailment coming her/his way pretty soon after being greeted or talking to that person even without the counter-utterance being said.


precy anza profile image

precy anza 4 years ago from San Diego Author

@drbj: I see there's similarity with the cloth color being used :) but without the seeds or barks of trees with the cloth. Sounds much easier, I'll keep that in mind. Who knows maybe one day I could spot a baby in my home country with just a red ribbon or string. :)


belle 12 months ago

I also experienced being nausog and I had head ache for several days, I did not believe in such before even my mother that's why we did not seek for help or cure, my aunt suggested after a day for me to smell a specific plant.

And then one time we were at the market with my sister, I was so stressed and I have a lot of things in my mind, we were rushing because we have to buy some stuffs that we will give to my mothers friend at a specific time and there wasn't much time because of the traffic...

After buying stuffs, we I went to see my mom's friend and my sister is about to go home, but I forgot to give here something so I went straight to our jeepney line because I know my sister is there, when I saw here she was very pale and she felt stomach ache, she was nauseous and she felt that she needs to use the bathroom at the same time. Also she was sweating cold. So I held her hand and touched her ears.. after she vomitted, we sat for 10 minutes and then she was ok.

So I realized, maybe, nausog ko sya, because my aunt told me that when you were not cured by the person na nakausog sayo, nakakausog ka rin.

I felt really bad because all those she felt that time was what I felt when I was nausog, And I don't have any intention na mausog sya. So at that time I believed in 'usog'.

I'm here because I wan't to know if there is a cure para hindi ako nakakausog. Because I don't want others to feel ill because of me, if I am nakakausog and I still don't want to believe that I can do such thing.

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