Saturday, January 24, 2009

Filipinos and Funeral Traditions

Having sung at a funeral this morning, and spending time with friends from the Filipino community after the Rite of Committal at the cemetery, it made me think of Filipino funeral traditions, some of which we were discussing at the reception.

First of all, for Filipinos, it's a celebration of life. Filipinos are very reverent of the dead, paying homage and tribute to loved ones who have gone before them. In the days following a person's death, the surviving relatives are surrounded by many friends and family to give them love and support. Most Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and so there are many Catholic traditions intertwined. When my cousin and uncle had passed away, we prayed the rosary together for nine days, a Novena of sorts. The 40th day was also important as well - the soul of the deceased will have ascended to heaven.

People are always around, visiting relatives in the house, or spending time at the funeral home, where there is an open-casket viewing. When my maternal grandfather passed away, the casket was in the house, where visitors filed in to pay respects to him and to give love and support to my family. Then there was a procession from the house to the church.

Another thing I noticed as a difference between traditions amongst Filipinos and Americans - people asked how did Miko die, and the information was freely volunteered. (It was a sad story, btw.) This is the Filipino way of expressing care and concern and condolences for those who were left behind.

I started thinking about the Filipino customs as we were at the cemetery. There must be some sort of a NC state law that prohibits people from being present as the casket is lowered to the ground. From Filipino graveside services I've gone to in the past outside of NC, I remember that the casket would be lowered, and everyone would toss a flower in the grave. I can't remember if people also add a scoop of dirt to the grave as well. I do recall a young child being passed over the grave ... was it three times? or was it seven? ... The reasoning behind this: babies and children are made to cross over the coffin of the dead and back again lest the dead departed will come to "haunt" them. At this graveside service, the boutinneres the pallbearers were wearing were placed on the casket, followed by long-stemmed white roses the immediate family members were holding. Then they approached the casket, kissed it, and bade Miko goodbye. We were then asked to leave even though the casket had not been lowered into the ground yet.

Then afterward, everyone went on to a reception at a local hotel. Their original plans were to have it back at the church, but a wedding dashed those plans. Naturally for Filipinos, there was a lot of food. Despite the fact there were far more people present than they expected, there was still a lot of food left over at the end.

Before I go on, I must also mention that Filipinos can be quite superstitious as well. As the reception was ending, we were asked if we'd like to take some food home with us. From what I recall, whatever food was served at wakes, receptions, etc. doesn't go home with you because of the belief that the dead touches all of it. I noticed that not many people took food with them. Several people made the suggestion that the left over food should be taken to Urban Ministries of Durham, where they run a soup kitchen and a shelter for the homeless.

There are a few other superstitions connected with funerals and burials and the like. This list came from Filipinas magazine, and several Filipino bloggers have commented on it or reproduced the list on their blogs. I'm borrowing it from Mel Santos' blog, In Fraternam Meam.
  • Feed the mourners, but don't walk them to the door when they leave.
  • Don't sweep the floor while the body is still lying in state.
  • No tears should fall on the dead or the coffin as it woild make a person's journey to the afterlife difficult.
  • When someone sneezes at the wake, pinch him.
  • During the wake the dead person's relatives musn't take a bath.
  • Food from the wake shouldn't be brought home because it's believed that the dead touches all of it.
  • After a funeral service, guests shouldn't go directly home. This way the spirit of the dead won't follow them to their house.
  • When carrying a coffin out for burial, it should be carried head first as it prevents the soul of the dead from coming back.
  • Before a man comes home from a funeral he should light a cigarette from a fire at the cemetery gate to shake off spirits of the dead.
  • The corpse should be positioned facing the door - the feet should be facing toward the door so it will allow the spirit to depart easily.
  • Family members should wear black or white, colors are prohibited.
  • Weddings, birthdays, and other social activities shouldn't be celebrated for one year.
With Filipinos being very respectful to their dead loved ones, they make it a point to visit their loved ones graves over the course of the year. As I mentioned earlier, the 40th day is an important one. So too are the deceased's birthdays and death day anniversaries. And of course, All Saint's and All Souls' Days are important ones where they'll set up a tent in the cemetery by their loved ones grave and have food and merry making to last the day. A loved one is never forgotten, and prayers are often said for the repose of their souls. I wrote a brief post about how Filipinos celebrate All Saint's Day as part of a Catholic Carnival I hosted that week, and you can read about it here.


onfoottraveler said...

There's a lot of superstitious belief of Filipinos in Funeral Traditions. In funeral those are the warning i have receive from my lola or my mama. This is one of traditions of being a Filipino to believe in superstition.

Willard Reta

Lyn F. said...

I agree, we tend to have a lot of superstitions, and it's not just limited to funerals and the like. Thanks for reading and commenting!