Sunday, November 6, 2016

Traditional All Saints Day 'tumba' revived this year in boyhood town

This year's undas, Filipino term for All Saints Day, saw the revival of the traditional tumba in San Narciso, Zambales. On Halloween and All Saints nights, there were four of us who roamed around the old hometown to view and judge thirty tumbas competing in either the floral or horror categories.

There were eight floral entries done in the traditional manner. During our boyhood, there were no plastic flowers yet, and floral wreaths brought to the graveyard of the departed were made from crepe paper of various colors. When dusk fell on All Saints, these were brought home to decorate the neighborhood tumba. If left behind, one could bet that somebody else would take them to lend color to their own tumba.

A traditional tumba, c1955. Photo from the Dr Fely Floresca collection.

Our late uncle Maximo Ramos, who wrote about Philippine myths, legends, folktales and mythological creatures, described customs and practices during undas in our town of his youth in his essay "Holiday in Black."  Here's his recollection of the tumbas, which he called shrines:

"Frail, candle-lit shrines of bamboo and coconut fronds have been erected at a number of street crossings. .. Each shrine is an elaborate affair occupying almost the whole of a street crossing, leaving but a narrow pass or the carabao carts. The facade is an arch of woven bamboo strips and is bright with candles. Behind the arch and underneath a ceiling of black cloth stands a pyramid of three large boxes in different sizes piled on a table. The pyramid is covered with black cloth, and upon the cloth paper cuttings of skulls and crossbones have been pasted. The cuttings resemble the figures that grin out of the labels of bottles containing deadly concoctions. Paper flowers of all but the gayer colors stand on bamboo stalks in green bottles arranged on the steps of the pyramid.

"A small paper coffin rests on top of it all, and over the coffine hovers a paper lantern in the shape of an angel with hands clasped in prayer. Ornamental plants in rusty tin cans crowd about the bamboo poles supporting the ceiling. Benches brought down from the homes nearby are lined with old folks who talk in low tones, over basi and betel nut, of the good deeds of those who have gone on before."

Electricity has yet to come in San Narciso in his boyhood years, and they rode on carabao carts to visit tumbas around the town.

In our time, electric power was turned on at six, and tumbas were no longer candle-lit. There was still the basic bamboo structure, roofed with coconut fronds, but there could just be one box on the table on which was mounted a religious image.

We still rode on carts, but there were also the horse-drawn caretelas and a few jeepneys for the tour of tumbas. What children (even adults) found amusing were the kuyang-kuyang, skeletons made of white-painted cardboard with moveable hands and feet pulled with strings.

This tumba tradition is a cultural heritage handed down from our ancestors who settled in San Narciso in 1837: the Ilocanos who were predominantly from Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

Paoay holds a Tumba Festival every year to keep alive their cultural tradition of honoring the spirits of the dead. The people there place offerings in their tumbas: cigars, betel nut, basi and native delicacies for those who come to join them recite prayers,  In the center is also a platform with a religious image such as a patron saint or the Crucifix surrounded with flowers and candles.

This year's winners in the revival of traditional (floral) tumbas in our town were:

The top prize winner used paper flowers with the barangay patron saint in the center, The creativity showed in the arrangement of various decorative props all around the structure. It featured a kuyang-kuyang.  

The second placer had Our Lady of Fatima surrounded with floral decorations fashioned from recyclable green plastic bottles. It also had a kuyang-kuyang.

The third-placer had a paper boat carrying a cut-out image of a man and woman, which suggested the vice-mayor and woman mayor steering the local government. Was this tumba  an expression of thanks (salamat) for the new leadership of the town?

The horror movies from Hollywood, Japan and Korea have entered into the cultural consciousness of the young of today. They were the ones who built the twenty two horror tumbas, which they populated with zombies whatever the story line they dramatized in three minutes. In our tour, we were telling the production people that next time, they should spook their tumbas with indigenous mythological creatures like the aswang, kapre, tikbalang, etc.  

There were about five of the twenty two horror shacks that stood out in concept and execution. From this short list, we picked these three winners: 

The top prize went to a tableaux of victims of a disaster. The characters (shown here) and one 'hanging' from a tree (above the roof) froze to depict the victims of a disaster.

This winner showed the results of a failed experiment in a modern laboratory, obviously a take-off from the Frankenstein story,

This one had actors dramatizing a nightmare (bangungot) that can cause the death of someone sleeping.

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