Building A House? Oro, Plata, Mata

Filipino superstitions come into play when choosing or building a house. (Photo by pipoy1141)

As in other areas of their existence, Filipinos nurture certain superstitions when it comes to building their abodes. These house-building beliefs are as amusing as they are intriguing. The origins of these now widely held superstitions can be traced back to the traditions of particular ethnic groups.

Building a house on a dead-end lot must be avoided as much as possible. Either a financial misfortune, or worse, a death in the family will befall its occupants. Applicable to both house owner and tenant, if the former is not residing in it, this superstition is attributed to Pampangos in Central Luzon.

An imperative ritual in building a house, perhaps the Ilocano counterpart of the cornerstone-laying ceremony, is to imbed the foundation posts with loose coins—for good luck.

A house must face east, if it could be helped. Sunshine entering the front door ushers in prosperity. This seems to be the reason why housewives make it a point to open their front doors upon waking up in the morning. Houses facing west are considered jinxed. West is where the sun sets and, therefore, it connotes decline, decay, derailment, etc. If it is any consolation, the jinx is limited to financial misfortunes.

Doors inside houses must not directly parallel other doors that lead outside. Easy exits mean money earned may be quickly dissipated and never saved. There seems to be a remedy for this, which is to make inside doors face walls, if only for the interpretation that walls bar money from going out; a stop-gap measure, so to speak.

As for stairs, they should always turn right, that being the righteous path. This particular belief applies best to the marital bond. An opposite direction signifies infidelity. Note that the vernacular term kaliwete (left-handed) refers to the wanton spouse. Since we are on the subject of stairs, can steps be far behind?

Among the Tagalogs, stair steps are erected with a ritual that calls for alternate counting to three, using the chant “Oro, plata, mata” (Gold, silver, death) for each count. Of course, the counting commences with the lowest rung. The topmost step should never end with “mata,” that being a symbol of bad luck. On the other hand, “oro,” and “plata” represent good luck.

As for stairs, they should always turn right, that being the righteous path.

Ilocanos of the northernmost part of the Philippines tend to cut down aratiles trees growing in front of their houses to prevent their daughters from being illicitly impregnated. It seems, however, that this particular superstition applies only to original homeowners. Tenants or renters are exempt.

Septic tanks whose tops protrude from the ground are asking for an offering in the form of human life. To avert tragedy, septic tanks should never rise beyond ground level; better yet, they should be sunken. 

The mother of all jinxes is a house that had been the scene of a traumatic event, like a robbery or murder. It is the tendency of the owners of such a house to offer it for sale at the earliest opportunity. So beware of bargains. 

Some people fear financial bad luck when termites invade a house. Termites are termites, however. Superstition or not, houses made of wood are most vulnerable to these pests. They can easily devour a house in what can be described as a most expensive meal.

A snake that nestles in a house’s yard is considered suerte (good luck). It is very likely for a person to succeed, his business could go on an upswing, or he could depart for a good employment abroad. The snake, however, should be killed before it becomes a jinx.


Nid Anima, author of many books and articles in the Philippines, is based in San Francisco. This article first appeared in the May 1993 issue of Filipinas magazine.