Monday, October 31, 2011
Terms of interment then and now
We were listening to a woman from the urban poor sector telling a TV reporter that she does not think of having her deceased husband cremated even if this is a less expensive option than doing business with a funeral parlor for her dear departed's coffin, wake and interment. Her reason: cremation is for the rich!
Going to the Great Beyond really does entail considerable expense for those who are left behind. Hence, the pre-need plans for those who can afford to prepare for the inevitable end, and the financial KBL (kasal-binyag-libing, wedding-baptism-burial) assistance of local government executives for both charitable and political reasons. We were neighbors to a block of informal settlers in Cubao in the 1970s, and we witnessed that wakes for the dead could last more than a week to raise funds for interment, although there were rumors that these provided the cloak to run a small-scale neighborhood casino.
During the Spanish regime and into the 1930s, the people of our town buried their dead within 48 hours. Definitely, the art/science of embalming had not reached this coastal town yet. Funeral parlors are recent business ventures there. There were no coffins of various styles and colors with different price tags yet to choose from. Even into the 1950s, when we were an innocent boy, we still saw carpenters make coffins for the dead in our neighborhood using carefully measured and cut pieces of wood from the hardware store. Superstition had it that the coffin must exactly fit the departing body.
Electricity came late to our town. The Ramos Electric Company of our relatives provided power after the second world war, and we remember we had lights only six-to-six, early evening to early morning. We imagine candles and wicked oil lamps lighting up a one-night wakes during the pre-electricity period. These could have been held in the town church because one of the services paid to the church was for "vigilia" (wake or vigil).
Wakes in the cities are now held in the chapels of funeral homes or memorial parks or large churches. Expense for these are included in the pre-need plans. Many sleepless nights for the bereaved also entail funds for food, snacks, coffee, etc. in the entertainment of friends who come to condole, and for novena masses until before the body is taken out for burial.
Wakes in the countryside have taken a new twist. In our town, the funeral parlor services also include a live band event during the last-night vigil, which comes as a package with a brass band for the funeral procession the next day. The live band is to attract more people to hopefully spend a sleepless night with the bereaved family.
For those with lesser means, the live band may be a karaoke or sing-along music system. Filipinos are musical, and it is expected that there would be a queue to the microphone of the town's or barrio's undiscovered singing talents.
Unless the bereaved family is strict about gambling in the premises, there would always be tables for the mahjong or card players.
All these mean that a kitchen cabinet of friendly neighbors and relatives would be around to serve the late night snack of sandwiches and/or arroz caldo, and to keep the supply of hot water for 3-in-1 coffee running.
The funeral procession today has the deceased in a coffin conveyed to his grave in a funeral car. One suspects that there is a funeral cortege ahead if the traffic slows down on Metro Manila streets or on the stretch of MacArthur highway from Pampanga to Zambales. This service of course comes with the pre-need plan.
In our town, the funeral car may be done away with and replaced with a horse-drawn caisson or carriage. It could still be a carroza (float) decorated with flowers ceremonially pulled by the menfolk using a pair of long ropes. The horses are rented from Pampanga thus the dramatic effect of a horse-drawn carriage equates to quite a hefty sum of money.
When our parents died, they were buried with the Aglipayan (Philippine Independent Church) priest attending them. Both were fetched by the priest and brought to the church where a mass was said. Before their remains were brought out of the house, the priest and some elder women sang prayers for them. We remember that in the case of our mother, the funeral procession paused a couple of times and the priest and the women again sang prayers. In the case of our father, who was a widower for around 25 years, the priest and the women just said the prayers. Probably, it was faster that way or they did not know tune of the prayer song.
Thus in recent memory, "cantado con posas" was still in practice.
Then and now, burial services depends on capability to pay.