In Malaysia, nothing quite sets the office gossip mill running than a female employee — especially someone who just got married recently — who is sighted with a small packet of dried orange peel everywhere she goes. You see, Malaysians have always associated dried orange peel and other sour food stuff with pregnancy in pretty much the same way that Filipinos associate green mangoes with bagoong alamang with early pregnancy.
In the Philippines, this concept is known as lihî in Tagalog (which Malays would pronounce as [li-hik]) and pangalâ in Cebuano (pronounced in Malay as [pa-nga-lak]). In Malaysia, a pregnant woman who goes through the same thing is said to be mengidam. It’s that inexplicable temporary craving that pregnant women get, usually applying to very specific — and sometimes, weird — food items.
The funny thing about lihî is how old folks in the Philippines would warn women to eat certain foods and avoid others. For instance, they’d encourage pregnant women to eat singkamas (water chestnuts) so that the baby would turn out fair and to avoid duhat so that the baby will not end up dark-skinned. (Note how Filipinos, like most Asians, are obsessed about fairness of skin!)
In my pregnancies, I’ve only had food cravings with MyEldest (Slurpee in the first trimester, double cheeseburgers in the last trimester — I know, I know, very unhealthy!) and the twins (pineapples with soy sauce and chili, as well as mee hoon tomyam).
Paglilihi, however, is not only limited to food cravings. It can also mean a temporary obsession with a person (or persons) during the entire duration of the pregnancy or a certain portion thereof. The choice of such person(s) is something which is not necessarily logical and can even be embarrassing in retrospect. You just find yourself drawn to that person…then after the baby’s born, you lose all interest in them.
I have to confess that I actually went through this with all of my pregnancies. I now cringe at some of those ‘choices’ which were not really choices per se because I didn’t really have any choice in the matter in much the same way that some pregnant women would crave for the strangest food combinations like pickles with cheese or pizza with eggplants. So please be gentle and not make fun of me as I share this secret with you here 😛
To start off, when I was pregnant with my MyEldest, it was the time when Ricky Martin re-emerged in the music scene to sing ‘Cup of Life’ for the 1998 World Cup and having been a fan of the Puerto Rican group Menudo (of which he was a part of) in my teenage years, I was pleasantly surprised to see how he changed from a scrawny high-pitched kid to what he was in 1998. (Of course, that was waaaaay before he came out of the closet!) And so ‘pinaglihian ko siya’, as they say in Tagalog. When I got pregnant with OnlyGirl, I got obsessed with Brendan Fraser in the first trimester then switched allegiance to Ronan Keating towards the end. With RoundBoy, I was so enamoured with the Irish group Westlife. Then, finally, with the twins, it was the operatic pop vocal group Il Divo that got my full attention.
Perhaps in relation to such belief, Malays would not allow pregnant women to watch horror films or sci-fi flicks, lest the baby end up looking grotesque. This actually happened to me when I was pregnant with MyEldest. We were watching an episode of Star Trek when suddenly my husband told me to turn away because one of the aliens looked especially ugly. I really found it funny, knowing how my husband normally shuns superstitions and old wives’ tales.
But you know what? Despite my paglilihî with all those artistes, contrary to the myth, my children look nothing like them — MyEldest resembles me the most, while his siblings all take after their father. None of them ended up with aquiline noses or Caucasian looks. So the old wives’ tale about lihî and how it affects the appearance of your child? Myth busted!