Beliefs, Disability And Causation

Beliefs, Disability And Causation Of The Filipinos


Traditional Pilipino values have clearly influenced beliefs and practices pertaining to child rearing, medical care, disability, and death and dying. Each of these areas is detailed in the following sections with respect to more traditional views.


Formal studies of Pilipino child-rearing beliefs and practices have shown considerable consistency in their findings (Church, 1986). Moreover, the specific socialization patterns and training for desirable childhood traits and behaviors (particularly during infancy/toddlerhood and early childhood) are highly consistent with other Asian cultural groups. However, Pilipino child-rearing beliefs and practices are reinforced within a traditional family structure and extended family system with characteristic similarities and differences relative to other Asian cultures.


Similar to many other Asian ethnic groups, Filipinos traditionally view the more severe disabilities with considerable stigma. In fact, according to selected Pilipino American professionals working in the field of developmental disabilities, this profound stigma partially explains the paucity of Pilipino literature pertaining to disability issues (Fuentes, 1990; Soldevilla, 1989). Such stigma derives, in part, from traditional attributions linking specific disabilities to various causes.


Many of the traditional beliefs regarding the etiology of disabilities (particularly physical conditions) are consistent with the previously described health beliefs about varying causes of illness. Naturalistic explanations might focus on the mother's failure to follow prescribed dietary practices during pregnancy. For example, excessive intake of sweet foods is believed to contribute to an obese baby. There also are foods that should be excluded from the prenatal diet: squid (because it might get tangled in the woman's body and cause the umbilical cord to wrap around the fetus's neck), crab (because it might cause clubbed fingers and toes), dark foods such as prunes and black coffee (because they might result in a dark skinned baby), and taro root (because it is believed to cause the baby to have eczema or skin problems). It also is believed that all of the pregnant woman's food cravings should be immediately satisfied or the baby could be born prematurely or have a birthmark (Affonso, 1978; PAPEP, 1982). Other traditional practices during pregnancy include avoidance of explicit taboos such as sitting on steps or standing in a doorway (this could cause the baby's head to be blocked during passage through the birth canal), arguing with relatives (may result in complications or miscarriage), and walking over a rope (which could result in a delayed expulsion of the placenta) (Lassiter, 1995).

Religious beliefs also are employed to account for various disabilities. The traditional's deep faith in God and belief in bahala na may reinforce a fatalistic orientation whereby a disability is accepted as God's will. Disability in a child, however, also may represent a divine punishment for sins or moral transgressions against God that were committed by the parents or their ancestors. This spiritual attribution contributes to a shared sense of hiya (shame) that affects the entire family; it may further negatively affect the chances of siblings to find desirable marital partners because of presumed hereditary taint and the strong belief in bad blood (na sa dugo) or a familial disorder (Fuentes, 1990; Rita, 1996). Apart from spiritual attributions, an older child or an adult with a so called hidden disability (e.g., cognitive impairments, emotional disturbance) without ostensible physical origins may be viewed as having a weak will or a frail character (Araneta, 1993).

Disabilities also may be associated with supernatural ailments that are attributed to other spiritual causes. Infants who are chronically irritable and engage in prolonged, inconsolable crying are presumed to be troubled by evil spirits (PAPEP, 1982). Similarly, children with serious emotional disturbances or disabilities such as autism as well as epilepsy are often traditionally described as being possessed, the victims of angry or evil spirits (Church, 1986).