April 25, 2014 
 
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Filipino Building Beliefs
Architect Ernesto R. Zarate
Articles

The experienced Filipino architect is familiar with the common folk beliefs and usually follows them or applies these age-old guidelines in the planning of one's dream house.

Many of these beliefs are based on sound planning practices that do not have to be overly emphasized. Like, for example, orienting the building to take in the healthful effects of the rays of the morning sun by having wide windows facing the rising sun to take in the cleansing rays of sunlight during daybreak as well as to admit the prevailing southeast breezes to cool your house.

It is more advantageous if two faces of the house take in the morning sun. This can be achieved if a corner of the house take in the morning sun. This can be achieved if a corner of the house faces east. In fact, most educated Filipinos are of the belief that the more windows your residence has (or the larger they are), the better the chances of your house absorbing natural and spiritual graces.

In Bontoc, the front door of the house must face against the flow of a nearby river according to ancient folk beliefs. In Romblon, the roof of the house must slope following the direction of the incline of the nearby mountains. In the Cordilleras, it is different. The ridge of the roof is always positioned at right angles to the ridge of the mountain on which the house stands.

Among the Ibalois, a Benguet ethnic group in the Cordilleras, it is customary to give ample space underneath their houses by elevating their floors to accommodate the future tomb of the owner to ensure perpetual guidance over the house the dead leaves behind.

     If one is building a house within a family compound or between two relatives, make sure that the roof is not higher than theirs, otherwise, their lives will never progress or will always be worse. A sibling's house must not be built so close to that of his parents such that rainwater from the eaves of the main house pours onto the roof of the sibling.

Posts

In Southern Tagalog, posts are erected following this procedure: posts are laid with their bottom ends at the footing on the ground and the top ends pointing towards the east. The post nearest the east is the first to be raised. The same procedure is followed for the other posts, one after the other in a clockwise direction as one reads the plan. This same clockwise manner of raising the posts is practiced on the island of Romblon and the belief is that it will make the house windproof.

The Tausugs equate the building of a house to the development of a fetus. They believe that the first to appear in a woman's womb is the navel. Hence, the first post to be erected should be the main post within the interior of the house. In the Cagayan Valley, meanwhile, the first post to be raised is the one positioned nearest to the northeast. But this is done after the footings have been sprinkled with wine. The old folks of Bataan caution against having a solitary post in the middle of a room. It is said to bring misfortune to the family. This belief is also common in Tagalog areas and it is said that posts situated this way augur a "heavily laden" life (mabigat ang kabuhayan). The Yakans do not use crooked wooden posts especially the ones with knotholes in them because they are said to symbolize death. In the older communities of Bayambang, Pangasinan, it is commonly believed that termites (anay) will not enter the house if the bottoms of all wooden posts are first charred. Informed master carpenters, however, suggest that these bottoms not just be charred but tarred as well. Others swear by the potency of rock salt sprinkled generously in all footing excavations as preventive measures against anay infestation.

Old people also cautions against cutting old posts for reuse so as not to lose one's wealth.

Stairs

An orientation towards the east is also required for stairs. Ilocanos position their stairs so that they rise with the morning sun. To them, if it were the other way around, meant turning one's back on fate. But builders in Pandi, Bulacan, just like many typical Filipinos, believe that a stairway facing east is considered bad luck because, they say, anything facing the early sun dries up ahead of all others, and in the same token, wealth taken into the house will dry up much faster.

If there is no way one can make the stairs face east, at least make them face any nearby mountain. If one's lot abuts a river, position the stairs in a way that they are facing upstream. This is so in order that good luck from the house would never be washed away with the river's flow. In the same way, if the proposed house is beside the sea, or if one is building a beach house, plan the stairs in such a way that they run parallel with the shore. If the stairs are perpendicular to the shoreline, luck may flow in but also flow out with the tides.

Also, it is not advised to place a large window in the wall directly facing the stairs so that good fortune will not easily go out that window.

Most Western countries consider it bad luck to walk under a ladder. Actually, this can be taken more as a safety precaution than a superstition. Locally, one should not make a passageway any area under the stairs. Tagalogs never use the space beneath the stairs as a sleeping quarters. The underside of wooden stairs of Ilonggo houses are usually completed covered not because of peeping Toms but because the Old folks say so. For business establishments, especially the small ones, the cashier or the place where money is kept should not be located under the staircase. In homes, neither should rice be kept there because it translates to treading on the grace of God whenever one goes up or down the stairs.

When planning a structure with two or more storeys, the stairway should not be positioned at the center of the structure so as not to divide the building into two equal parts.

It is believed that the dried umbilical cord of a son or daughter of the house owner inserted in the staircase will strongly bind the stringer with its supporting girder.

Oro, Plata, Mata

There are guidelines, too, governing the number of steps in one's stairs. Starting with the first landing, count the steps using the words oro (gold), plata (silver), and mata (death). The perfect last step should be oro. Ending up plata is not too bad either but, understandably, do not ever end up with mata. This ruling is strictly observed especially if it involves the first steps going into the house. If your home has a slight elevation, choose four steps but never three.

This building belief is not limited to stairs alone. It also applies to walkways that are made of individual flagstones or the popular circular or square slabs of pebbled concrete or even an entire concrete walkway or ramp that is divided into sections by lines drawn onto the pavement itself, especially if they lead to the main entrance of the house.

The Yakans of Mindanao, however, believe in odd numbering of steps. They also require an odd number of bedrooms. Chinese Filipinos, on the other hand, count their steps by fours.        

Doors

It is advised that doors should not face each other. The people in the north associates this with the easy passage of a coffin through two doors that directly face each other.  Most regions in the country also avoid positioning the main gate of the lot opposite the main entrance of the house itself. In Sta. Maria and San Miguel, Bulacan, however, wide doors facing each other are considered lucky, especially if they lead to the terrace or garden. One's door also should not directly face one's neighbor's to avoid future conflicts with the said households and to avoid wrestling with each other for the possession of the luck that passes in front of both your houses. 

Living Rooms

Sunken rooms, like basements are looked at as pockets of caves where evil spirits can hide. It is balanced off only when an exit lower than the said room is provided. Some Ilocanos do not want basements altogether because of the belief that only coffins should be found under the ground. Old folks of Sta. Maria, Bulacan advise that the floors of the living and dining rooms must be of the same level. They say the imaginary "ball of fortune" must be able to freely roll across both floors. Overly ornate living and dining room ceilings, especially those with cornices, moldings, and other superficial decorations are avoided as it tends to make the ceiling look like a coffin. Even the "mansard" or flat type of roof invented at the turn of the century are avoided as it reminds people of a coffin.

Beds and Bedrooms

It is advised that one must plan the doors of one's bedrooms in such a way that when it is opened, one would face neither the foot nor head of the bed. There should always be ample space between the door and the bed itself. Position the bed such that the headboard does not rest against a window opening. Neither should you put any bed under a cross beam, regardless of whether the beam is of wood or concrete, and position the bed so that the occupant will not be lying perpendicular to the beam. Overly strict homeowners do not have exposed beams at all even if these are veneered with different materials.

For houses with second floors, it should be observed that no drainage pipe runs inside or under the floor where the bed is located. Drainage pipes contain unclean fluids associated with bad energies which may affect the good spirits of the people sleeping over these pipes.   

Do not place bedrooms in the basement portion of the house. It is always preferred (luck-wise) that the bedroom floor is higher than the living room. Non-sleeping rooms like library, den, foyer, storage, etc. can be at a lower level than that of the living room.

Bright Dining Rooms

As anyone who knows Filipino cuisine, Pampangos love to cook (and eat), so most of their dining rooms are situated in the sunniest and brightest locations of the house. Ilocanos, on the other hand, prefer subdued lighting because they consider eating a solemn occasion.  

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Reference/s:
Excerpted from the book Oro, Plata, Mata: Filipino Building Beliefs published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. For inquiries on the book, contact NCCA Public Affairs at 527-2192 local 614 or email address cyberspace@ncca.gov.ph. Available also at all National Bookstores.
About the Author:
Ernesto R. Zarate has been in his profession for the past forty years. It was during his service as the National Director of the Philippine Institute of Architects (PIA) that he was able to gather these beliefs involved in Filipino architecture.
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