Arts & Culture

7 Mysterious Pinoy Building Superstitions

Do you still believe in following lucky numbers, padugo, and “oro, plata, mata” while renovating a home? Find out the history behind these mysterious building practices.

Original Article: Ciel Tagaza Photography: Miguel Nacianceno & Ocs Alvarez

Typically, building design and construction are based on standard factors such as type of use, climate, surrounding environment, client needs, and budget. But just like sixth sense, building superstitions come into play when it observing house rules to satisfy supernatural interests, especially in the Filipino culture. Even if you're not superstitious, you may be surprised of the many beliefs unconsciously incorporated in creating your space. Here are some of the common building superstitions that are practiced today—identify fact from myth and know the reasons behind these beliefs.

Oro, Plata, Mata

These words that literally mean "gold, silver, death" are used when defining the number of stair steps. One must have the right number of steps on any staircase such that when counting each step (step one: "Oro," step two: "Plata," step three: "Mata," step four: "Oro," and so on). The belief is that the topmost step should be counted as “gold” or “silver” to attract wealth, but not counted as “death.” It is the most commonly observed building superstition in our country, and many licensed architects take it into consideration when designing a home, and sometimes more landings are added or tweaked so the topmost rung wouldn’t be the “mata” step.

Sacrificial blood

Padugo (animal blood-spilling) is an ancient ritual carried over generations. Animal sacrifice was common in ancient times, when blood symbolized life, as an offering to deities. There were a lot of construction casualties before modern construction methods—not so much because of supernatural causes but because of lack of safety measures. So workers sacrificed animals in the belief that the animal blood would prevent whatever human blood might be spilled in the course of construction.

Coins in foundations

You may have heard of old houses being demolished, only to reveal vintage coins embedded in the remaining foundations. This follows the concept of the "Money Tree" and the principle of reaping what you sow. The building foundations are likened to the trees' roots, so coins are planted within or underneath them so that the structure may bear fruit in the form of huge return of investment in the future.

Lucky (and unlucky) numbers

According to ancient lore, odd numbers are “masculine” while even numbers are “feminine.” In addition, the male integers are fortunate with the exception of the number 13 (that's another article in itself) while the female integers are more or less neutral. This belief in the luck of odd numbers may be accredited to the positive references to these numerals throughout history: one assumes importance; three connotes Trinitarian power; five is magical in nature; seven is considered a perfect number; nine is a triple sacred figure. Numerology experts may be consulted for establishing when to start constructing a house, and some homeowners may avoid the number 13 for addresses or unit numbers (and some developers even avoid the use of 13 in addresses and floor levels entirely). 

Topping out or tree-topping

If there's padugo in groundbreaking, there's tree-topping in building completion. The "topping out" tradition of a completed project involves "tree-placing" at the top of the building. This practice may be traced back to the development of human shelter. Our ancestors constructed early dwellings with wood, and because of their reverence and worship of nature, they would formally address the forest before taking its wood. When the house was complete, they would set the topmost leafy branch of the tree on the roof so that the tree spirit would not be rendered homeless. Contemporary structures are made of cold steel and masonry, yet builders still top their skyscrapers with green and homeowners bring in potted plants into their new house as finishing touches, not so much out of reverence to foliage life forces.

Dwarf mounds

Filipinos are generally fatalistic. Our native folklore abounds with nuno sa punso—dwarves that live in earthen mounds and giant monsters or kapre that dwell in huge old trees. Somehow, our local myths have caught up with our urban living. Some homeowners hire spirit seekers to assess their homes for any mystical presence and give design solutions in order to appease these unseen co-dwellers, which result in retaining the hillocks and building a pond in the garden for those water-loving gnomes and constructing around an old tree instead of uprooting for fear of infuriating its inhabitants.

Feng Shui

Our mixed ancestry has produced a people of various beliefs. But when it comes to property, the Chinese influence is strong mainly because Chinese merchants play a significant role in the local business and property market. This ascendancy has brought feng shui into general practice. Feng shui is not about form and function, it's mostly about flow: the ancient art of arranging your surroundings to attract positive life energy, or chi, so that it flows smoothly. Home and business owners hire experts from the onset of planning.

PHOTOS: Miguel Nacianceno | Pat Martires | Ocs Alvarez

Read the original article ("Sixth Sense and Sensibility") in the October 2006 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

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