Filipino Burial, Do's and Do Not's
The Death Knocking On Our Door
My father died at the age of 82 a few weeks ago. It was tough days for me, my siblings and my relatives. He was seriously sick and his doctors had given up on him but he was a fighter. He fought for his life with his complicated illness for almost 9 months. It was an up and down with his health. Seeing him was a struggle although he was sometimes in a good mood. Seeing his death coming, he planned his grave and organized his important documents in his attache case. He told me many things about what he would get from some social organisations. What I should do. He was prepared to die but had not prepared me for the coming pain and emptiness that he had left us behind.
I am writing this hub as a tribute to my late father and is my way of coping with what I feel. I am writing this article because I know there are Filipino expats out there who like me, have no idea what it is like to have death in the family. I want to share what I knew and experienced about our unique Filipino burial and funeral tradition. A tradition which has a lot of superstitious beliefs. Religious or not.
The Funeral Parlor
2 Men from St. Peters funeral parlor came to our house with a stretcher. My lifeless father was lying on the bedsheets he had from his bed and covered with it when he was transported to the van. He was prepared in the funeral parlor for the 9 days wake at home. He was returned home that afternoon, in a beautiful casket but had to enter at the back door of our house. I was confused. I didn´t know why. His casket was placed in the decorated living room arranged by St. Peters workers.
The Wake or Vigil
Traditionally, a wake is held in the house of the deceased person which is mostly for 3 days or a week and can last longer when a relative who is living very far or from abroad, is waited to come for the burial ceremony. The casket is lighted well, both sides with funeral wreaths. On the top of the casket which is covered with glass, is a framed photo of the deceased person. Everyone can see the dead and pay tribute to him or her. There is a stand with a guests book and a pot for "Abuloy" or financial donations near the casket. The wood cover of the casket which is open the whole time, is filled with names of the siblings, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the deceased.
During this wake, a nightly prayer or a 9 days novena is started before 8 o´clock in the evening strikes. It is said that the bad evil try to come to the deceased at 8 pm. So, the prayer usually starts at 7.30 in the evening and ends after 8. After the prayer whom is lead by a "Mangunahay" (a Bisayan dialect term of a prayer leader), snacks are distributed to the participants of the prayer and to some who stay awake for the whole night.
Family members, relatives and friends take their turn in not sleeping and be near the casket. The casket should not be left alone. Games like playing cards is one way of getting awake all the time. Outside the house, a tent with tables and chairs are put up. This is where friends, relatives and neighbours vigil for the dead while playing cards, board games and Majong. They play with money and this money will land later in the donation pot near the casket. This money will be spend for snacks or other burial expences.
Dos and Don´ts
It was the first time that I was in a family funeral and living at a young age as a Filipino expat in Germany, made me ignorant to our Filipino funeral traditions and superstitious beliefs. I would not really believe those things but I had to follow. As what my relatives said, "there is no harm in following". Better safe than sorry.
- We were not allowed to take a bath or comb our hair inside the house where the deceased rest in the casket. It was said that combing our hair can cause our death one after the other. There was no logical reason given to me, but hey, I followed and took a bath somewhere else and combed my hair going to the market or so. Just far from the house.
- We were not allowed to sweep the floor. It could cause bad luck. We were allowed to collect the trash though and wiped the floor with wet cloth. That was strange! Not sweeping but wiping.
- We were not allowed to eat food with Moringa leaves. They said that eating this super food could cause death in the family, one after the other. Pulling the Moringa leaves means pulling a person to his grave. Vegetables that climbed like squash are not allowed to be eaten as well.
- Red color clothes were not allowed for the adults but the kids were allowed as the red color would hinder the kids from seeing the ghost of the dead.
- Candles should stay lighted at the altar 24 hours a day until the 40th day since the death of the person. The 40th day was said to be the last day the spirit of the deceased wanders on earth. It is connected to the Roman catholic belief of ascencion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- It was not allowed to bring home food served from the wake. It was said that the dead would not like it and would follow you home.
- It was not allowed to say "Thank You" to the visitors who had given "Abuloy" or financial support, flowers and prayers. It was said that saying thank you would mean that you are happy to have dead in your home.
- It was not allowed to accompany the visitors at the door or the gate of your home when you have wake. Visitors should just go without saying anything.
- The house and the gate was wide open 24 hours a day when there was a wake. It was frightening for me as burglars could go inside the house.
- The deceased should carry a broken rosary in his hands. It was said that a broken rosary could break any curse and could prevent family members to follow the dead.
- The deceased should not wear shoes but can have his/her shoes in the casket near his feet. It was said that the spirit of the dead could still be in the house and not wearing the shoes can hinder me from hearing the footsteps.
- A metal "bolo" or knife was put in the casket beside the deceased to break any curse.
- Abuloy aka financial contributions for the deceased should not be used elsewhere but only for the expenses of the burials and other expenses for the death like paying the leader of the prayer who comes everyday until the 40th day.
- The food that was carried to the cemetery and distributed to the mourners who accompanied to the grave should not bring the remnants of their food in going home. Food that was brought to the cemetery should not be brought back home. We ended up giving food to the passersby at the cemetery as we had made plenty of packed lunch.
- We had to walk over an open fire in the cemetery before going back home after the burial. There was already a basin of water filled with guava leaves. We had to clean our hands in that basin before going up to the house. The cleaning of the hands was to get rid of the negative spirits coming with us from the cemetery.
Which of the Dos and Don'ts you didn't like?
Covering the Mirrors, My Own Fact
I am sure there are still many things that can be added to these Filipino burial and funeral customs and traditions as every ethnic groups or provinces in the Philippines have their own beliefs.
I have read when I did my research here in Germany that ln most provinces, people cover their mirrors with white cloth when there is death in the family. They said that covering the mirrors hinder one to see the face of the deceased when you happen to look at your face in the mirror. I didn´t know that when I was still at home and the casket of my father was still there. Though I was not allowed to take a bath and comb my hair inside the house, I was allowed to wash my face. Every time I washed my face, I looked up at the mirror and I only saw my own face, nobody else. Nobody told me to cover the mirrors in the house and so I was not aware of this belief.
I could still write more about a Filipino funeral but you see, this hub is already too long. So many things to write about this topic though with another title like how the family could cope up with the stress the wake and vigil could bring. No time to mourn, too busy to prepare for wake and the funeral. Well, maybe in my next hub.
The you tube video below can help you understand visually our funeral customs and traditions.
Thanks for reading and God bless you.