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  • Sumpa: Disease Causality in the Philippines

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    What is Sumpa?

    How do Filipinos (traditionally) makes sense of diseases and its causes?

    Warning: Graphic Case Description. Based on a true case but specificity of details have been changed to protect identities.

    KC is 9 years old who lives in the province of Occidental Mindoro. She had been confined in her shack because her parents reported her self-inducing behaviors. KC was said to hit herself on the face or even grab a sharp object to attempt to stab her torso. Her parents resulted in tying her hands and limbs at night and most hours of the day to prevent her from hurting herself. KC had bluish marks on her legs and arms from hours of being tied down. Her parents are very poor and don’t know how to get help.

    When DSWD (Department of Social Welfare Development) was alerted with the case, KC was medically and psychologically examined. It was postulated that KC had low levels of oxygen during birth,  suffers from abnormal motor development and a slew of other diagnoses that explains her behavior.

    When asked why her parents didn’t even take their child to see a specialist, they replied- Me parang ganyan din ang tiyo ko, kala ko sumpa  ” ( my uncle had something similar, I thought, we were just cursed.)

    Go to the Pinoy Love Language podcast episode #15, Disease Causality: Sumpa if you prefer to listen to this content.



    Humans thrive on cause and effect stories. The brain which protects us from future harm wants to recall what caused the former so that you can take a detour just in case. The problem is, the brain can get hyper-focus seeing warning signs everywhere causing you to detour not once but all the time even when the prospect of harm does not exist.

    KC’s family is very poor and information on plausible explanations for her behavior and physical anomalies are not available. Her parents had to create a story that will make their living conditions: tying their child to her bed, allowing her to screaming hours in the night.. seem palatable to their psychological story.

    To think they’re awful parents is too psychologically costly to carry. But finding patterns from history, that is, an uncle who suffered in the same way embraces their story to a more preferred one, giving rationale to their action and in-action altogether.

    Poverty which results to missed information and education has a lot to do with it. We have plenty of work to do as we continue to slowly progress in the motherland.

    Sumpa is an inflicted curse by a supernatural-being, a god, your God. Gaba is curse inflicted by another human being. For the purpose of this article, I will use the more common term of sumpa (curse) to encompass both.

    Sumpa is usually inflicted when one caused other harm, didn’t follow-through with a promise, “made someone angry,” or an act to get justice for an injustice done. 

    In a society like the Philippines were social class disparity is still the norm, those in lower socio-economic order may use sumpa as a tool to balance the playing field- “to get even.”

    The order may not just be in socio-economic status but in function and role. 

    Of course, modernity has paved the way for technology and medicine to interact with the most interacted with,  even in rural parts of the country. Therefore, sumpa is no longer a common language Filipinos use. Educated Filipinos or those in cosmopolitan areas like Manila may easily dismiss such claim to be reserved to the “un-educated.”

    But is it true that Filipinos who have the resource of education and  touched by Western lifestyle are no longer influenced by the concept of sumpa?

    Does sumpa creep into our psyche passed on by belief systems handed to us?

    To listen more about Sumpa/Gaba, check on the Pinoy Love Language Podcast: Disease Causality: Sumpa.

    If you’re interested in learning and exploring about your own family and cultural roots, check out the Masterclass on Pakiramdam: Filipinos On Affection Beyond Words.




    The body, your nervous system holds more memories than what your mind can ever remember.

    In learning how our parents and our ancestors have been exposed to, you may discover that it’s like taking a tour with a map you already have in your hands. 

    When it’s the ONLY map, unaware of what had transpired before you, you simply trek the same path not usually by choice but by reflex.

    When you’re able to point out the landscape and observe from a distance, you’re able to create intentional paths to take you… closer to you.

    May your everyday be an adventure to create paths, discover detours, and a hike that may not be free of treacherous trail but is totally yours.

    Listen to the Pinoy Love Language podcast now.


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