Tuesday, April 17, 2007


RECUERDO DE PATAY. A bereaved Kapampangan family gather one last time for a moment with their departed, a little girl named Josefina, who became God’s own angel on 27 July 1926.
In a few days’ time, we shall again be observing All Saints’ Day, or Todos Los Santos on November 1, and All Souls Day on November 2. These long-revered Christian traditions, commemorated to the hilt by Kapampangans, were actually pagan in origins. A Roman temple—the Pantheon—dedicated by Emperor Augustus to all the gods was rededicated in the 7th century by Pope Boniface IV to Mary and all the saints, hence the Feast of All Saints (the Pantheon has come to mean a Filipino and Kapampangan term for graveyard—pantiun) .

In our culture, these two feasts have somehow been merged as one, with the observance of the Faithful Departed starting after the stroke of noon on November 1. When cemeteries began being built outside of the town, transportation inconveniences led people to divide their pious duties: November 1 was devoted to grave visits while Nov. 2 was reserved for church rites.

Death came early for Filipinos in the 19th century, where the average life expectancy was about 35 years. Smallpox, cholera, TB—treatable diseases today—cut short many a Filipino’s life back then. Mortality rate was very high, moreso for babies and children. Looking at this sad picture of a little Kapampangan girl in her simple wooden casket surrounded by a grieving family, one would think hers was a cheap funeral. But dying was expensive even for the poor who had to shell out P30 pesos for burial services at the turn of the 20th century. Consider that a seamstress then earned P5 a month while a day laborer had a daily wage of 80 centavos.

Post-mortem practices included having a painting done of the dead at his deathbead. Famed Kapampangan painter Simon Flores y de la Rosa for instance, was commissioned to paint a “recuerdo de patay” portrait of a dead child dressed in a baptismal gown and peacefully lying on a couch in 1902. When photography came into fashion, souvenir snapshots such as the one shown here, were taken of the whole family with the dear departed which were then sent out as postcards to friends and relatives.

Funeraria ads in the early 20th century provide us with interesting accounts of our elaborate funeral practices prevalent at that time. For instance, a parlor owned by Mr. Feliciano Quiogue at Calle Salazar, Trozo No. 2 offered luxurious services complete with a hearse pulled by 4 horses, a metallic coffin and 4 attendants and 2 carriages for mourners, all for P85. On the other hand, Funeraria Filipina in Binondo charged only P5 for a crystal carriage pulled by a pair of Australian steed. A wooden coffin of mahogany went for a more affordable P30, the same cost as embalming. Engraved lapidas of Italian marble were available at assorted prices to suit one’s need and station in life.

In our Spanish colonial days, friars also charged “for dying consolation of religion according to the robes worn and the length of prayers offered”. A stroke of the church bell announcing the death cost from 20 centavos to P2. There were extra burial charges as when a friar was asked to accompany the dear departed to the grave. John Bancroft, a Philippine visitor, noted and wrote: “If death and funeral fees are not forthcoming, there can be no bells rung, no services held, and the body may not be permitted to rest in holy land”.

Of course, times have considerably changed and and so have memorial rituals too. These days, it is rare to find a priest who would be willing to walk and accompany the dead to their final resting places. The ritualistic “posas” or regular pauses of the funeral procession for moments of prayer accompanied by singing and music is no longer being done. And so is the wearing of black crepes on sleeves to denote death in the family, now replaced by small black plastic squares pinned on breast pockets. One thing that shows no sign of waning are our “daun” festivities at the sementeryu, marked by profuse graveyard decoration, candlelit vigils for our dead’s “kaladua”, feasting and drinking revelry for some, proof that religiosity in death is alive and well among Kapampangans.
(26 October 2002)

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