Diaries from the field: How my village copes with the loss of a loved one


Losing a loved one is always painful, and my village recognizes this pain. A death in the village takes the whole community to celebrate the life and mourn the departure of one villager. People can skip happy gatherings like weddings but not gatherings for difficult times. Through time, my people developed collective and community processing especially in times of death of a loved one. This practice provides comfort and gentle closure for the family and the community.

But on the other hand, part of this culture is expensive. Once the dead is bathed, clothed in the traditional fabrics or whatever the family chooses, and placed in a coffin, it also signals the butchering of pigs. For a small community like us, one (1) pig is butchered for every meal. A different meal is prepared for the immediate family of the departed and partaken in a separate house. According to the elders, it is not traditionally upright for the immediate family to eat meat brought for the dead.

Depending on the social status of the dead, a vigil can take several days. Usually, in our village, a wake can last at least three (3) to seven days but it can last more for valid considerations. For all these days, people who come for the wake are fed three times a day with rice and pork.
In the olden days, the number of days for a wake can be shorter because of scarcity of resources to buy pigs or carabaos like the rich. This means that the number of days can be extended depending on the number of pigs. It is a belief that all pigs brought to the house of the dead must be butchered and consumed before the burial. It is taboo (pani-o) to leave a pig intended for the dead (wake).

Usually, it is members of the family, relatives and members of the community who provide the pigs for the bereaved family. Sometimes, the number of pigs can reach 15 heads or more. Today’s youth in the village sometime ask questions the economic practicality of pigs during wakes. There are times when people need to borrow money just to buy a pig.

But for people who do this, it is a form of respect for the dead and closure for the surviving families and relatives. An elder once told me that it is a tradition to butcher a pig to honor and celebrate the life of the dead and their ancestors before them. According to him, this practice is open and can be changed but not in their remaining years because it is like turning their back to their ancestors.

My village is also a meat and vegetable consumer. Today, there are attempts to include vegetables with the pork. Still, it has a long way to go. Again, the elder told me that, in the past, when somebody dies in the village, a ngilin (holiday) is called for the whole village. It means that all agricultural activities are stopped and people are obliged to stay in the village and to help in all the preparations for the wake. This means that there are no other sources of food except for pork or carabeef because the farmers do not go to their farms or rice fields.

Sometimes, if we have visitors in the village during a wake, they usually ask why is it that the coffin is outside the house under a makeshift tent also used to shelter the people attending the vigil. An elder explained that in the olden days, the dead is usually placed under the native house on a handag, it is a makeshift chair for the dead made of wood. When coffins started to be introduced, they are still placed under the native house for the people to see, besides the usual native house cannot accommodate the coffin and the crowd.

Night and day, people gather for the vigil. Christian vigil songs are sung, and overflowing coffee is prepared. At some point, people tell stories about the dead person. Some people talk to the dead asking forgiveness or expressing gratitude and or continuing guidance through their lives.

Once the dead is buried, the makeshift tent is immediately disassembled, things are returned or kept and the people go home. The dead can be revisited after 10 to 15 years for cleaning of the bones since we do not observe the Church annual day for the dead. Their bones may be transferred with proper rituals to new burial grounds or sometimes, they are just wrapped in indigenous blankets and kept in the houses of their family. After all, an elder said that maybe someone is dead but not their memories. We live because of their memories and this is another way of honoring our dead. It is our obligation not to forget them.#nordis.net


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