Sunday, September 26, 2010

*215. RECUERDOS DE LA FAMILIA: The Rites of ‘Daun’

SUS DESCONSOLADOS AMIGOS. A crowd of relatives, friends and sympathizers attend the burial rites of a deceased in Candaba, Pampanga. He will once again be remembered on 'daun'. Nov. 1, with visits, floral, prayer and candle offerings from his family. Ca. 1920s.

The annual trek to the campo santo to honor the dead begins days or even weeks before November 1, All Saints’ Day. In reality, it should be observed the following day--All Souls’ Day--but Filipino Catholics have always marked the 1st of November as the day of ‘daun’. ‘Daun’ means an act of dedication or making an offering, and it is on this day that our deceased are remembered with gifts of flowers, prayers and visits from family members. Today, the term ‘undas’ which is of Spanish origin, is heard more often than ‘daun’ to refer to this season, and it is uncanny that ‘daun’ is almost an anagram of ‘undas’.

Who can forget the rites of ‘daun’ that begins almost always at home? Few days before the big day, our househelps would be making trips to the hardware to buy cheap water-soluble paint—Boncrex brand—that easily washes away in the rain. Even cheaper is kalburo (calcium carbide), which, when mixed with water becomes a paint substitute, but with a peculiar noxious smell. Armed with rags, grass cutters, and old palis tambu (recycled into paint brushes), they would troop to the old public cemetery to paint the puntud (tombs) of our family members, conveniently located right by the cemetery welcome arch.

Cemetery tending used to be a legitimate independent business, until private memorial parks took over. Men, women and even children were employed by families to take care of their family plots year-round and the job included weeding, watering plants and keeping the grave markers and statuaries clean. In the late 20s, freelancers could earn 50 centavos to 10 pesos a month per tomb, a decent salary in those times.

Cemeteries of old offer strange, eerie sights that often leave one reflecting on his own mortality. I remember, for example, this old tomb next to ours that was marked with a standing cement statue of what appeared to be a headless woman holding a wreath in her hands. As a youngster, I avoided going near that tomb and it was only when I was older that I learned it had a head—bowed down in an expression of profound grief. From where we sat, the statue appeared to be without a head—a pugut!

Of course, the Cementerio del Norte in Manila had more incredible and magnificent tombs to show. Here, presidents, diplomats, foreigners, heroes and other notable personages rest in massive art deco mausoleums guarded by angels, sylphs, gargoyles and other heavenly figures in cement and marble. But if these beautiful examples of mortuary art cause you to pause, the epigram on the gate of Betis Cemetery will make you ponder on life’s inevitability: “Aku ngeni, ika bukas” (My time to go, your turn tomorrow) so goes the grim reminder to all those who enter here.

Back at home, my mother would also be taking down the old picture frame of my Apu that hanged in our living room. Pictures of the dead were brought as well to the cemetery, to be placed on top of tombs, to visually identify the deceased. In the past, handmade coffins bore the names of the dead, painted on the side. Maybe they were made thus so that there’s no need to put a caption when the recuerdo de patay souvenir picture is taken! The famed coffin makers of Sto. Tomas, Pampanga could very well take a cue from this old quaint practice as part of their ‘customized’ casket design services!

To this day, memorial plaques of marble and granite—or lapidas-- are standard grave markers but the older ones that I see when I go around the semeteryu are more intricately made, some embellished with Spanish epitaphs like “Recuerdo de la Familia”, or with the more familiar D.O.M. (Deo, Optimo Maximo, or "To God, Best and Greatest"), R.I.P. (Rest in Peace) and S.L.N. (Suma Langit Nawa, although at one point, I was told that it meant “Sa Lagnat Namatay”, which gullible me believed for years!). In the 1920s through the 50s, lapidas could be ordered from talleres de escultura in Guagua and Betis or commissioned from Oriol Sculpture Works in Manila.

Then, as now, wreaths and flowers were major part of ‘daun’. For years, every end of October, my aunt from Baguio would send calla lilies by the bunches for our use. We would store these in buckets in the bathroom until they are brought out by my sister and mother on the eve of All Saints. For the next three hours, their dextrous hands would fashion memorial bouquets from these flowers, stuck on cut-up banana trunks with barbecue sticks, then supplemented with palm leaves and asparagus ferns plucked from our garden.

Memorial wreaths of old were more intricate, very similar to Mexican ones. They were created from flowers like amarrillos, zinnias, orchids, santan and chrysanthemums whose petals were often arranged to form words of condolences, as opposed to the use of ribbons today. The circular wreaths were then wrapped in clear cellophane and displayed for sale along the streets. Stands made of rattans were made to hold sprays of real flowers, but I also remember that we used plastic orchids for years as a cost-cutting measure.

Candles were no problems as they were easily available—my uncle ingeniously made candle holders from tin scraps, which he soldered together and which we used for quite awhile. Our Siopongco neighbors however had fancier lighting effects, spotlighting the Lourdes grotto that graced their family plot. To pass the day, I would go around tomb-hopping just like other children, asking for melted candle wax to be collected in a ball. We could use these later to wax our floors. Today, enterprising children collect candle wax for re-sell.

It used to be easy requesting your friendly neighborhood family priests to pray over the tombs of your deceased loved ones. You would often find them roving around the cemetery grounds, ready with their holy water bottles to bless the tombs. Of course, the in thing to do now is to put the names of the deceased in a prayer intention envelope and leave it at the parish office—with your money of course. In Betis, the custom of pa-siyam (nine day novena for the dead) is still practiced, with a twist. Prayer, flower, candle offerings and cemetery visits go on beyond Nov. 1, extending until Nov. 9, a unique tradition that speaks well of the town’s deep religiosity and love for their dearly departed.

That cannot be said of current ‘daun’ practices today, which put emphasis on crass commercialism and inappropriate revelry right inside the campo santo—the supposed holy grounds for the dead to rest. We see that on TV features every year, where people troop to the cemeteries with their food baskets and sound systems, gambling, drinking and eating the hours away to the blare of ear-splitting music.

Naturally, too, the most money is made out of the dead on the day specially set aside for them—All Saints’ Day. Never are candles and flowers so costly, never are jeeps and pedicabs so difficult to hire. Along the roads leading to the cemeteries, aside from the improvised tiendas, you can even find ‘karnabal’ rides and seedy shows, ready to fill the needs of the living on the day reserved to honor the deceased. The message of ‘daun’ may be lost on these people, but the cycle of life is certain to remind them that their time too, will come. “Aku ngeni, ika bukas”.


Gabriel A. Delfino said...

Correction please: DOM is latin for "Deo Optimo Maximo" translated as To God Most Good and Powerful. In Manila's Cementerio del Norte are interesting Lapidas that contain only the first name of the deceased with an exclamation point. Example: Pilar!. The explanation is an expression of grief and loss coupled with anguish, hence the exclamation point.

alex r. castro said...

Thanks, Gabriel. I will make the necessary correction.