Burial Traditions of Filipino Catholics

by Katharine Viola
Burial practices in the Philippines often incorporate cultural traditions with Catholic traditions.

Burial practices in the Philippines often incorporate cultural traditions with Catholic traditions.

The Philippines is the only Christian nation in Asia--with 86 percent of the citizens identifying as Roman Catholics. It became Christianized by the Spanish, who conquered the island-chain in the 16th century. As Catholics, Filipinos practice the religion’s ideologies concerning death and conduct their funeral services in accordance to Catholic theology. However, many aspects that appear in Filipino burial practices involve cultural superstitions and traditions specific to regions of the country.

The Wake

Once a death has occurred, it is important that a priest bless the body to ensure the deceased will get into heaven. A Chinese-Filipino custom involves the hiring of professional mourners to expedite the process. For the wake, the body of the deceased is prepared and laid out in the home. Family members do not work or participate in activities during this time. The wake may last anywhere from three to seven days, which allows friends and family to say their last goodbyes. Filipinos do not cremate the bodies of the dead; they must remain intact so they can resurrect.

Funeral Procession and Burial

After the wake, a funeral procession takes place, a Mass is given and a burial follows. A rosary is placed in the hands of the deceased and before the coffin is lowered into the ground, the casket is reopened for one last goodbye. Some Filipinos break the rosary to prevent another death in the family, and small children wear red so that the spirit of the dead will not haunt them.

Remembrance

For one year or more, grieving family members wear black. Men wear black ribbon around their arms, and women dress entirely in black. Often, women who lose a child wear black for the rest of their lives. It is customary for family members to frequently visit the grave, especially on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The grave sites are cleaned, adorned with flowers and candles are lit to assist with prayer. Food is also served during this time.

Cultural Customs

Though the majority of Filipinos are Catholic, often ancient burial traditions are entwined with Christian ones. For example, the Apayaos of the Cordillera Administrative Region bury their dead family members under the kitchen in their home. Another example hails from the Benguet region where the deceased is blindfolded and set in a sitting position next to the main entrance of the house for eight days. The Ilongot bury their dead in a sitting position, often tying the hands and feet together to prevent the spirit from roaming.

About the Author

Katharine Viola lives just north of Philadelphia and has been writing cultural articles and papers since her time at Penn State University. Additionally she has completed a Masters thesis at New York University, where she recieved a degree in visual culture with a concentration on historical fashion.

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