MAGANES: Remembering the celebration of All Saints’ Day

October 30, 2019 at 12:22 pm Leave a comment


I was born and I grew up in a rustic rural place in the town of Villasis – a village between Barangay San Blas and Poblacion Zone I. It is where the two cemeteries of the town are located. Our house is just about 50 meters near the cemetery. As I was growing up, I was able to witness the various traditions and superstitious beliefs related to the celebration of All Saints’ Day, the Ilocano way.

vir maganes

The place before was not the same as it is now. Years back, trees and shrubs abound that surrounded the Catholic and municipal cemeteries. The Catholic cemetery was then enclosed with about one and a half meter thick of brick wall. Together with my young “dabarkads” in those days, we used to climb the brick wall and walked above it, leaping on top of some concrete tombs. Concrete tombs were scarce at that time as most dead were buried six feet under the ground. That was maybe due to financial constraints as only the wealthy families had the means to construct the concrete ones.

Five days before November 1, my teenaged friends and I used to contract the services of cleaning and painting the tombs of some affluent families. Since I was adept at lettering, I was assigned to scribble the names, birth dates and dates of the deaths of the departed. It had to be simple then, as most of our clients do not like artsy letterings. We made money out of those contracts and we did it annually until I went to Manila to pursue my college education.

On the day of the celebration, we were the first ones to be at the cemetery. On November 1, celebration started at 3:00 in the afternoon and early morning of November 2. My friends and I collected candle droppings and formed them into balls. We competed on who can make the biggest candle balls. We collected just  candle droppings. Getting lighted candles left by the families was a big no-no. The soul of the departed might get angry and you will be afflicted with sickness. We respected the things placed atop the tombs that we did not even touch them.

There were no music inside the cemeteries except the brass band playing that hopped from one tomb to another, and get paid.  They played dirges which captivated the emotions of the relatives of the departed. Thus, we could hear crying and sobbing. Sometimes, those who were at the height of their emotions fainted.

The priests of the Catholic and Philippine Independent Churches were also seen roaming around the cemeteries together with their acolytes. They have with them burnt incense and ” blessed water”, which they sprinkled on the tombs after they had said their prayers. Of course, the priests were paid too for their spiritual services.

In the evening, we visited houses with lighted candles in our hands. There was no electric power at that time. We were contented with gas-filled “lampara” in our homes. At the foot of the houses, we whispered ” kararwa apo” ( we are souls) and sung “panpantawag kuti-kuti” (calling with movements).

After singing, we were then welcomed into the homes where we were served native cakes, arroz caldo and the native delicacy of the Ilocano- “miki”, home prepared Ilocano noodles that was cooked with chicken meat, pork and sometimes shrimps. We had to temper our appetites because many houses had to be visited by us- the “souls.” Food treats have to be eaten with no left overs in order to appease the souls of the departed. Otherwise, those with left overs will suffer stomach aches.

After the celebration, the candle balls have to be melted and mixed with petrol gas. This was used as our floor wax then making the bamboo-slat floors of our house so shiny. We had to go back to the cemeteries to gather dried flowers with seeds. These were placed on the soil bed and we wait for them to germinate. Once germinated, these were planted in our front yard and we waited for them to bloom. Houses in our neighborhood at that time were full of blooming flowers. Others have to replant them again and and wait for the next All Saints’ Day celebration. Flowers in bloom will be cut and sold to the cemeteries as other source of income.

Fast forward.

Now that we are in the modern times, traditions of the past has waned or are totally lost. Many tombs now are either “washed out” with pebbles or covered with marble and ceramic tiles. Names on the tombs are no longer painted but are decorated with carved marble markers. Contracting services like cleaning and painting are no longer lucrative as they used to be. Family tombs are converted into mausoleums complete with concrete roofing and steel encasement. These are locked and opened only during cleaning and on All Saints’ Day.

Commercialization of the celebration has also creped in. Malls and department stores have made merriment out of it. They have invented the “Trick or Treat” or the Halloween on the eve of October 31. The commercialization of the one of the most considered sacred traditions of the Filipinos have turned the youth of today unmindful of its significance. Things have turned out to be all about money and business survivals.

At the cemetery during the celebration,  music coming from loud speakers reverberate in the air.  There are no more live bands playing dirges. Youngsters’ ears are plugged with earphones attached either to their cellphones or tablets.

Sari-sari stores abound in every corner of the cemeteries even selling beers and other intoxicated drinks.

In Villasis, the brick fence was changed with concrete hollow blocks. Behind the fence is the columbarium where bones of the departed are transferred. The cemeteries are now thickly populated with concrete niches. Except for the century old acacia trees, the cemeteries are bare. The trees and shrubs are no longer there. The were replaced with “talahib” and crawling vines.

At night, there are no longer “roaming souls” hopping from house to house. Homes celebrate the night among their family members unless one is invited to join them. Gone are the days of the “pantawtawag kuti-kuti.”

Whatever it is, the thought of remembering our departed loved ones is there to stay. At least we are still living in a society that gives homage to our love ones. Remembering them will give us the notion that they are still alive- both in our hearts and minds.

(This article is a reprint and edited version of my previous article on this column in October 2017. I reprinted it for its relevance in the celebration of All Saints’ Day.)

(For comments and suggestions, email me at emperorvirgil@yahoo.com or at virgilmaganes42@gmail.com. Visit my blog “The Roving Pen” at http://www.virgilmaganes.wordpress.com. Read the online edition of Northern Watch at http://www.northwatch.wordpress.com.)

Entry filed under: News.

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