A Different Perspective

During the span of my first semester third year, I am very lucky to enlist STS, also known as Science, Technology and Society, as one my classes. I was unable to get it until now and it was because of a raffle conducted during the prerog period. I wanted it not only because it is required for most, if not all, of the students to take it, but also due to its goal of applying science to different aspects of human life particularly in culture and society.

As the semester comes to a close, I can say I enjoyed and learned a lot from this class. Among the topics discussed, one of my favorites is about how science tries to explain some folk illnesses. The talk focused on the local folk illness called bangungut or nightmare.

As for the one who gave the lecture, he is Felipe Jocano, Jr . He is currently an assistant professor under the Department of Anthropology in the University of the Philippines Diliman.

According to him, many kinds of illnesses tend to be considered as folk illnesses or superstition when no explanation can be given by clinical medicine. Examples of which are bangungut, pasma and even possession or sapi. Adding to the fact that it cannot be interpreted in the biomedical model of modern medicine, these syndromes are usually bizarre, at least to someone who hails from outside the cultural setting in which these illnesses are found. These are specific to particular cultures and include both behavioral and biological changes. These are considered as spiritual in nature and, thus, beyond scientific inquiry.

After this he began focusing on the case of nightmare or locally known as bangungut.

Bangungut is a condition where a person who is asleep is suddenly gripped of a sensation of heavy weight on top and is unable to move. It can be fatal if the person is not woken in time. According to him, the survivors have reported another presence in the room, usually a humanoid form sitting on top of their chest.

Aside from the Philippines, bangungut is also known as lai tai in Thailand, pokkuri in Japan, and is widely reported elsewhere in SEA. According to Professor Jocano, it is potentially fatal in males, though women have reported bangungut-like episodes while sleeping.

In the European and American culture, it is known as nightmare. It is simply because it has been depicted as a mare which is a female horse. According to him, In the Euro-American version, the old hag is reported as sitting on the chest of the sleeper, or else choking him.

From the medical point of view, this is now classified as sleep paralysis. As for the cause of the paralysis, many hypotheses have been proposed to explain it. One of it is the Brugada’s Disease.

According to his lecture, Brugada’s disease is a genetically inherited cardiac condition limited to males, in which arrhythmia can be induced by sleeping immediately after a full meal. Sleeping immediately causes a shift in blood chemistry by affecting the sodium level. This, in turn immediately affects the heartbeat. This is widely reported among migrant Filipino males and is possibly due to some factors such as stress brought by life situations.

He ended his talk with a short conclusion. He said that “ not all folk ailments are necessarily relegated to the realm of folk knowledge and therefore beyond the scope of scientific research; many of these ailments may have a physiological basis that is recognized in a particular way in a different culture. “

Personally, I did not like it solely because of the topic but also from the speaker himself. He was, in my own observation, is eager to impart this information among the listeners. His jokes are also a contributing factor though.

For those who have not yet taken STS, I hope you’ll find it enjoyable. The lecturers are very knowledgeable and are good in giving comprehensive lectures. Again, I might be lucky that I got picked only at this point in time.

-Bryan Martinez



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