In the Philippines, children are reminded to say “tabi tabi po” which means “please be on the side” when passing through grassy areas. They are also reminded to stay away from anthills and termite mounds. These reminders are associated to the belief that unseen beings called nuno sa punso are residing in these places.
The term “nuno sa punso” was derived from the Tagalog words “nuno” and “punso” which means “ancestor” and “anthill”, respectively. Therefore, the term can be literally translated as “ancestor in the anthill”. When stories about the nuno sa punso are translated to English, many writers would refer to them as dwarves. However, it should be noted that the dwarves of Teutonic and Scandinavian Mythology are known for being skilled metalworkers (Dwarf, 2016) and can turn to stone if exposed to sunlight (McCoy, 2016). These characteristics are not present in a nuno sa punso.
The nuno sa punso are generally described as old men with flowing beards. There is a debate regarding their height. Some Filipinos believe that they are very small (a few inches tall) that you may accidentally step on them. While others believe that they stand as tall as a three-year old child. In some stories, they also wear a salakot, a traditional wide-brimmed hat made of rattan or reeds. A female nuno sa punso is hardly-mentioned in folk stories.
A nuno sa punso is known to be protective of his dwelling place and will punish anyone who disrespects it. Swelling of body parts such as feet and genitals is the common punishment for stepping on or peeing on their anthill or termite mound. Suspected victims of the nuno sa punso are advised to seek help from an albularyo, a practitioner of traditional medicine. The albularyo will perform a ritual called pagtatawas to know the root cause of the problem. The ritual is performed by lighting a candle and allowing its melting wax to pour inside a basin filled with water while prayers are being whispered. The figure formed from the melted wax in the basin will be interpreted by the albularyo shortly afterwards. After the cause of the problem has been determined, the albularyo together with the victim will visit the suspected dwelling place of the nuno sa punso to make an apology for the offence committed. Offerings such as animal sacrifice may also be required to soothe the anger of the nuno sa punso.
Dwarf. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/31646
McCoy, D. (2016). Dwarves. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from Norse Mythology for Smart People: http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/dwarves/
- Raven Del Mundo for the nuno sa punso artwork
- Teresa Garcia, Marikit Patalot, and my sister Jessa for suggestions regarding the content
- Johnly Llanto for providing additional information about the article