Philippine mummies, 2

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Thursday, August 7, 2014

THE funeral wake is one of the sacred rituals of the Kabayan. It is known as “aremag.” The rituals and planning have been handed down by the ancestors based on traditional customs. After the death of a person, the members of the family and their nearest relatives are informed. Preparation and planning are agreed.

Common activities discussed are: duration of the funeral wake, the animals to be butchered, numbers of baskets to be loaded with palay and gabi, number of jars of rice wine, time and place of the burial. The old men of the village are consulted, the sound of the birds and frogs are listened to, cloud formation is observed, what the starts in heaven revealed are interpreted, and the whisper of the wind is given priority.

The funeral wake may last from a minimum of three days but that could be extended into weeks, months or even years depending on the signs of the time. The members of the royalty would even contribute cattle and livestock to the family of their deceased friend.


The cause of death would even be considered… old age, death in war, bitten by a snake, lovers’ quarrel, or stricken by lightning. If the cause of death is war, then that is another story. The ritual on vengeance may prosper and the next incident could be pretty bloody.

The counting of days is always in odd numbers. Those who met their death outside the community are brought home and the burning of wood outside the house starts. That signals the start of the wake. Relatives and friends are part of the tradition. They render free labor for the family of the deceased.

The boys gather firewood. The women pound the rice. The older women gather flowers and vegetables. The rice wine is prepared by the village spiritual leaders with elder stewards assisting him. Carpenters prepare the tomb or “kinapol.” Family friends and relatives are not allowed to clean the house and take a bath until the last day of the wake is over.

Married members of the family may now perform the “cañao” from the third day to the ninth day. This is known as “kapi”, the all-purpose “cañao” to ask for blessings and to give thanks to the deceased and the “kaapuan” (the ancestors). The funeral wake is sacred and it is believed that the spirit of the dead becomes god.

The burial law has also its own ritual. (I enjoyed the story narrated to me by the staff member of Baguio Museum when I was there.) The mummified body is just carried by one man to the cave. Family members, relatives and other participants join the funeral rites to the burial site. The participants are making noise out of non-musical instruments.

Sneezing is not allowed. Unnecessary noise (other than the sound produced by the participants should not be heard) may delay the burial or postpone it. My new friend told me that bundles of reed leaves are also swished along the way to drive away insects or any creeping creatures that could be carriers of the spirits of the living.

The burial site is expected to be clean. An elder is appointed to execute the task. The other mummies that have been there should be respected. The spiritual leader of the tribe gives signal that “cañao” has to be performed again to assuage the spirits of the previous occupants. Violating their custom is tantamount to the curse of the spirits. Sickness is to befall the violator… or even death.

That could be one thing that is significant in our culture. As I see it, it is important to know the Kabayan culture because it is proof that our Filipino ancestors have rich cultural past. I am also encouraging teachers to share what I have shared for our students to understand the disappearing culture of the tribal Filipinos… our special indigenous people.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 07, 2014.


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