The changing era of remembering the dead in the Philippines

The cross at the San Vicente Church ruins in Pangasinan

Many years passed, the solemnity of remembrance of the dead is never disturbed by the nuances of what we see today in many cemeteries across the country. There is an apparent change of the entire Filipino’s take on the events to be remembered for those who have long gone and passed on. Instead of remembering, we celebrate. To some, celebration of life of the loved departed will be most appropriate but others have also used it as an occasion to celebrate reunions of sort, right at the heart where grief and sorrow was felt many years passed. As I have seen it, many have made the occasion to change the way we remember the dead and replace it with a borrowed culture so distorted.

Yesterday, as I was visiting the graves of my parents, in the solemnity of the moments I wanted to remember them and offer my humble prayers, I was distracted and disturbed by the scenes and people I saw. There were people dressing up to spice up the Halloween theme of the day and some, rather enterprising men of the church, offers prayer for the long-departed, of course, for a fee. Prayer express is what I seemed to denote it though varying to some degrees on two accounts: depending on the amount you give them after the prayers were said and depending on the know-the-departed-and-the-living which made the prayers extra lengthy and special.

These scenes I saw were perhaps product of cultural hegemony of the West when remembrances were punctuated with children dressing up and asking for trick or treat, not in homes as they were in many western countries, but in public cemeteries, on the account of making their children looked grossly disproportionate to the mild manner people account for themselves in making sure they cleaned the graves and light candles and pray. As I observed, many were trying to fit in into the western culture while omitting or maybe slightly distorting the way we see remembrances of the dead in the past.

Some families too made the preparations more ostentatious when trays and trays of food were brought to the cemetery to be feasted on. The ambiance of many of our cemeteries has evolved into fiestas of sort, where lechon are carted into mausoleums and family estate while the others, have-nots made no attempts at food binges though still, cleaned and lighted candles offering prayers. This vista is what I am confronting myself with and pondered that even in death, men are never equal in remembrance and status as well as riches usually gets on the way in their remembrances errrr, celebrations.

So to which one subscribes? Remembrance or celebrations? Remembrance is a word which needs to be understood in the right context in the Philippines when one talks about the long lost departed as we usually made use of celebrations. By that, I question. Do you celebrate death by believing you are celebrating life? As has been happening, we celebrate with good food and music and laughter on the very sacred grounds where we buried our loved ones. No wrong, perhaps but celebrating life while they were gone? That is what made this wrong. We distort the celebrations of life to mean we celebrate joyously in the passing away of our beloved. I have seen many offering prayers in silent reflections, who were disturbed by loud music, dizzying array of food on graves, balloons being sold to children and children running as if it is Christmas. We would have at least, respectfully remembers our long lost departed with a simple commemoration of their lives, remembering how they have made our lives bearable when they were still alive and how they inspired us. It is less costly on every family to commemorate than celebration and needlessly, we celebrate life when they are alive, we commemorate their lives when they are gone. Simply, as sadly as we distort our own culture of remembering the dead, it appears we celebrate not the lives of our dearly departed but those of us who dine and wine, sing and dance, chatter and banter inappropriately, on the sacred grounds we bury our dead.

Categories: Inspirations, Travels | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The changing era of remembering the dead in the Philippines

  1. True, and it makes me sick. Call me conventional or old-fashioned (i’m really old, so no offense there) but sacred grounds like cemeteries and memorial shrines are not party venues. 😦

    • I think it is how evolving society nowadays and we see them eating away our own culture, if we have one so to speak. I find it odd where the haves eat sumptuous and sometimes, catered food while the have-nots don’t yet we still clean the grave, light a candle and said a prayer.

      The wisdom always dictates that we respect our loved ones long gone with more prayers and less fanfare. what we see now is less prayers and more fanfare, so sickening and maddening 😦

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