Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Guava leaves used in Filipino folk practices and herbal medicine after birth © Paosun Rt / Shutterstock.com

Rites of Motherhood: Filipino Folk Practices and Herbal Medicine

In the Philippines, some areas still practice folk traditions that mark this biological milestone. Many modern Filipinas no longer practice these traditions, as they have been replaced with Western baby showers (Loredo, A., 2019, Tejido, H., 2019, Vargas, T. 2019). However, some mothers still experience them and become part of a tradition that recognizes the pain of childbirth and prepares women for motherhood.

One folk practice concerns the first bath after giving birth. One boils guava leaves in water, and depending on one’s tradition, bathes in it, soaks in it, or have it steamed. Pinausukan, or having the guava leaves steamed, entails boiling the guava leaves in water and using the steam to heal the vaginal wound. The mother sits on a stool with a blanket around her lower body, while the steam from the guava-infused water drifts upwards (Ocampo, E., 2019).

Julie Alfaro Santiago recounts how her yaya, or her childhood nanny, went all the way from Cavite to Manila, to bring her guava leaves and to share this with her. She giggled during the ritual, but also considered it “a grand gesture of care”. She told me, “It felt good to take part in tradition and to experience it firsthand. Ultimately, you feel special and cared for… She did not have to go all out of her way but she did. It was a rite of passage… Now that I think about it, the gesture of supreme kindness and care is heartwarming.”

After I gave birth to my firstborn, I did this, as well. The steam that came from the guava-infused water was warm and fragrant. The wet heat was soothing and helped create a psychological transition towards motherhood. Other women bathe or soak in the guava-infused water, since it helps in hastening recovery (Teodoro, P. 2019, Duque, A. 2019). Women are also told to avoid bathing for three to seven days, however, most women no longer obey this rule today (De Guzman, A., 2019).

According to Esther Uychoco, the most important part of the ritual happens after the bath. The manghihilot from the province comes and gives the traditional hilot . The manghihilot massages the lower back and hips to move the hips and the bahay bata (the womb) closer to its original size and position (2019). Afterwards, women sip malunggay or chicken soup, to ensure that they have enough breast milk for the baby. In Ada Loredo’s experience, it was a supportive welcome to motherhood. Ada’s Bicolona friend came over after she gave birth to her son, to give her soup with malunggay and seafood.

Ada recounts, “She said that was their tradition in their place when a friend has just delivered a baby. It was sweet, very intimate. She was a very close friend… I wasn’t expecting to be a biological mother (medical condition), so I felt insecure even as I looked forward to the coming chapter in my life. The soup gift was reassuring, like everything would be all right.”

New traditions come to the Philippines as well. For Jaye de la Cruz-Bekema, her Dutch parents-in-law did something special for their family.

Jaye explains, “In the Netherlands they eat anise cookies to celebrate a birth. So it was very touching because even though they were far away from us, they gathered together to eat those cookies and filmed themselves doing it. When we got home from the hospital, we also served those cookies to our family… I realized how lucky my son was: to have two cultures heralding his birth. But more importantly, it made me feel supported and loved. That we had a village around us, and a village around my son.”

These folk practices help us remember what mothers go through. It folds childbirth into an experience in harmony with the earth, and the female body is cherished for the miracles it brings. In this manner, the mother is celebrated and valued in Philippine society.

List of References

Bekema-De la Cruz, J. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 07 June 2019.

Duque, A. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 07 June 2019.

Loredo, A. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 07 June 2019.

Ocampo, E. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 07 June 2019.

Santiago, J. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 07 June 2019.

Tejido, H. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 07 June 2019.

Teodoro, P. 2019. Personal Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 09 June 2019.

Uychoco, E. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 08 June 2019.

Vargas, T. 2019. Email. Interview by Marikit Tara Alto Uychoco. 07 June 2019.