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Funeral practices and burial customs in the Philippines encompass a wide range of personal, cultural, and traditional beliefs and practices which Filipinos observe in relation to death, bereavement, and the proper honoring, interment, and remembrance of the dead. These practises have been vastly shaped by the variety of religions and cultures that entered the Philippines throughout its complex history.
Most if not all present-day Filipinos, like their ancestors, believe in some form of an afterlife and give considerable attention to honouring the dead. Except amongst Filipino Muslims (who are obliged to bury a corpse less than 24 hours after death), a wake is generally held from three days to a week. Wakes in rural areas are usually held in the home, while in urban settings the dead is typically displayed in a funeral home. Apart from spreading the news about someone’s death verbally, obituaries are also published in newspapers. Although the majority of the Filipino people are Christians, they have retained some traditional indigenous beliefs concerning death.
When a person dies in the Philippines, Filipino Catholic people, such as the Tagalogs, generally hold a wake known as lamay or paglalamay, a vigil that typically lasts for five to seven nights, but may last longer if the bereaved are waiting for a relation travelling from afar. During this time, the cleaned and embalmed corpse is placed in a coffin, and displayed at the house of deceased or at a funeral home. The casket is traditionally surrounded by funeral lights, a guest registry book, a contribution box, and flowers. Family members, relatives, and acquaintances participate in the vigil.
Apart from offering condolences, mourners and visitors provide financial donations (called abuloy) to help defray the funeral and burial costs. Food and warm drinks are customarily served by the bereaved during the night vigil, and typical activities conducted outside or near the vigil area include engaging in conversation, singing, guitar playing, and gambling – such as playing card games – to keep mourners awake.
It is normal that concerned visitors ask the bereaved questions that other cultures deem too sensitive, such as how the decedent died, if he or she suffered, or the cost of hospitalisation or treatment. Such personal questions convey valid affection and concern from guests. Other people also customarily offer masses, novenas, and prayers for the benefit of the deceased.
On the funeral day, the coffin is generally loaded into a hearse or borne by family members, relatives, or friends in procession towards the church and later the cemetery. Other mourners follow the hearse during the funeral march. Catholic funerals involve the celebration of the Mass, while Protestant funerals include singing of hymns and recitation of prayers by a minister.
The traditional colour worn at memorial services and interments is black, save for the Chinese-Filipino that customarily don white. If white clothing is worn, it is customary to sport a black mourning pin on the breast. Some funerals have men wear the Barong Tagalog and black trousers while sporting a black armband; the garment is traditionally in shades of white and being formal wear, it is considered appropriate.
After the entombment, the bereaved offer prayers such as the rosary for the dead every evening for nine days, a custom called the pasiyam or pagsisiyam (literally, “to do for nine days”). This novena often concludes with a service followed by formal meal with family and friends. The custom is base on the folk belief that the soul of the departed enters the afterlife on the ninth day. This is followed by a special prayer service or Mass on the fortieth day, evoking the forty days between Christ's Resurrection and Ascension. The bereavement period extends for a period of one year when another service is held on the first death anniversary, called the babang luksâ (lit., "descent from mourning").
Catholic and Aglipayan Filipinos pay respects to the ancestors on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. People gather in graveyards to clean and decorate the family grave as early as All Hallow's Eve, then offer the dead prayers, candles, flowers and sometimes food. More often than not, mourners keep vigil overnight at graves, eating and making merry to pass the time and keep the dead company. A popular children's pastime during such vigils is to gather candle wax from melted candles to either play with or sell to candlemakers.
For eight days, the indigenous people from Benguet blindfold the dead and then sit it on a chair that is placed next to a house’s main entrance. The arms and legs are tied together in the sitting position. A bangil rite is performed by the elders on the eve of the funeral, which is a chanted narration of the biography of the deceased. During interment, the departed is directed towards heaven by hitting bamboo sticks together.
In rural areas of Cavite, trees are used as burial places. The dying person chooses the tree beforehand, thus when he or she becomes terminally ill or is evidently going to die because old age, a hut is built close to the said tree. The deceased's corpse is then entombed vertically inside the hollowed-out tree trunk.
A dead man is prepared by his wife for the wake, known in Ilocano as the bagongon. Typically, only the wife will clothe the corpse, believing that the spirit of the dead man can convey messages through her. Also important is the placement of the coffin, which should be in the centre of the house and aligned with the planks of the floorboards. Lighting a wooden log in front of the house is also customary because the smoke is believed to assist the spirit of the dead towards heaven, and it is also kept alight to repel wicked spirits. The ceremonial attire of female mourners for the vigil is black clothing, while their heads and shoulders are covered in a black veil called a manto.
Windows are closed before the casket exits the house, while care is exercised to prevent the casket from touching any part of the house. This is to prevent the deceased's spirit from loitering and bringing misfortune to the household; to some Filipinos, a casket hitting any object during a funeral means that another person will die soon. After the burial service, family members wash their hair with a shampoo called gugu to remove the influence of the deceased's spirit. Rice cakes and basi are offered to attendees after each prayer session. On the ninth night, the family holds a feast after praying the novena, and does so again after offering prayers on the first death anniversary.
The Ilongot is buried in a sitting position, and if a woman, has her hands tied to her feet, to prevent her "ghost" from roaming.
One of the ancient customs for burying the dead in the Philippines is through the use of burial jars known as Manunggul jars. These ancient potteries were found in the Manunggul Cave on the island of Palawan. A characteristic of the jars for the dead is the presence of anthropomorphic human figures on the pot covers. These figures embody souls riding a boat for the dead while seafaring towards their sanctuary in the afterlife. These containers have been dated from 710 BC to 890 BC. There are also figures of boating people steering paddles, wearing headbands, jaw-bands, and persons with hands folded across the chest area. The latter is a method of arranging the remains of the dead.
Other similar anthropomorphic jars were also found at Pinol (also spelled as Piñol), Maitum, in the Saranggani Province of the island of Mindanao. These funeral jars dates back from the Metal Age.
In addition to these jars, the 1965 archaeological excavations done by Robert Fox at Langen Island in El Nido, Palawan found out that a cave known as Leta-leta Cave was a burial site that dates to the Late Neolithic Period.
In Sagada, Mountain Province, the ancient funeral norm of hanging coffins from mountain cliffs is still practiced by some minority groups. The purpose of suspending the casket from the mountain rocks is to bring the deceased closer to heaven.
Funeral traditions of the Cebuano people also include nine-day recitation of the rosary, litanies, novenas, and Latin prayers after the burial, additionally chanting the Pahulayng Dayon or “Eternal Rest” (also known as "Gozos for the Dead"). Cebuanos also have superstitious beliefs related to funerals that include: placing funeral alms or limos into a container, refraining from sweeping the floor of the deceased's home (wastes are collected by hand instead of being swept by brooms; other Filipinos also have this superstition), no bathing and no combing of hair on the part of relatives (other Filipinos too believe in this), placing worn mourning pins into the coffin during interment, preventing tears from dropping onto the glass plate of the casket (in order for the departed soul to travel in peace), placing a chick on top of the coffin of an individual who died due to a transgression (to hasten justice for the dead victim), wearing black or white clothes during the interment (except for a child who is dressed with a red-colored garment, as a deterrent from seeing the ghost of the dead relative), urging relatives to pass through under the casket before it is loaded onto the funeral vehicle (to assist the surviving relatives in moving on with their life), marching the dead towards the church and the cemetery (known as the hatod, or “carrying the departed to his destination” on foot), consuming food only at the cemetery after the interment, and passing through smoke while still within the cemetery or by the gates of the cemetery (to untangle the spirits of the dead from the bodies of the living).
Customs in Davao City include cutting rosaries that are placed within the hands of the departed (to prevent a series of deaths), placing a chick on the coffin during wakes, preventing teardrops from reaching coffins (in case of brutal deaths), breaking plates before removing the coffin from any edifice, making children walk under a hoisted coffin before loading the latter onto the hearse, and burning dried leaves or paper and applying the smoke to mourners' feet before leaving the burial ground.
Superstitious beliefs surrounding death entail the sudden appearance of certain animals, particularly those black in colour. Examples are: the appearance of a lingering black butterfly around an individual is an omen that a person's next of kin has died; a sick person heading toward hospital who sees a black-hued cat will not survive their condition; seeing an owl near the home of a sick individual signifies the infirm's imminent death.
Other beliefs pertaining to death are related to dreams, dining etiquette, odours, unusual shapes of certain objects, children, and odd numbers. Examples of these types are: not allowing family members to leave the home until used utensils have been cleansed (it is believed a family member may pass away if this habit is not followed), consuming sour fruit in the evenings (to avoid early parental demise), avoiding taking photographs of three persons together (to avoid the early death of the individual placed in the middle), sudden scent of a burning candle – without a lit candle anywhere – hints that a relative just died, losing a tooth during a dream is an omen that a relative will soon die, a headless shadow of an individual forewarns that that person will pass away soon, preventing all family members from viewing the face of a dead person at funerals (to prevent the ghost of the departed from visiting the family resulting in the death of every family member), and lifting children related to the deceased over caskets before the entombment (to hinder the ghost of the dead relative from visiting the children).
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