Filipino Death Traditions Continued: The Indigenous People

Even when wildly different, all cultures share a common desire to memorialize their dead. While the reasons might be different, as not all cultures believe in life after death, humanity is united in its ritualization of death. Here in the West, we have a tradition of using urns, including burial urns when we bury our loved one’s ashes and cremation urns for displaying ashes in our homes.

In the Philippines, some tribes bury their dead in hollowed-out trees or place limestone caskets along the side of a cliff. In a previous article, we looked at the Tagalog tribe of the Philippines and their customs surrounding death. Now, we return to the Philippines to look at how many of the indigenous tribes honor their dead. While the Tagalog tribe has been greatly influenced by colonization, their death practices still reflect the pre-Hispanic beliefs held by the tribe. The Philippines are a good example of how varied death traditions can be, even in the same country.

colorful homes on the a Banguet mountainside

The Isneg People

The Isnegs, also known as the Apayao, make their home in the Cordillera Administrative Region. When an Isneg person dies, they are wrapped in a mat and carried away by close male family members. The family places items for use in the afterlife, such as a jar of water in case the deceased gets thirsty and weapons if they need to protect themselves from enemies in the afterlife. The Isnegs either bury their dead under the kitchen or in a family graveyard.

The Benguet People

The indigenous people of Benguet leave the body of someone who has died outside the main door of their home in a chair, blindfolded for eight days. They use ropes to tie the arms and legs together, so the body remains in a seated position. A ritual called bangil is performed by the elders on the evening before the funeral. A bangil is a recitation of the deceased’s life, almost like a biography that is chanted. Friends and family members lead the deceased towards heaven by hitting bamboo sticks together.

The Cavite People

In Cavite, the indigenous people choose a tree that will become their burial place before they die. The tree is hollowed out, and the deceased is laid to rest within the tree. If the person was of high social status, they may be placed in a sarcophagus before being placed within the tree.

The Ifugao People

The Ifugao people have a practice called Bogwa for their dead. After the deceased has been buried, the bones are dug up, cleaned, and rewrapped before being returned to the grave.

The Ilocano People

Filipinos in this region call their funeral and burial traditions pompon, which means burial rites. When a man dies, his wife prepares the body with a special outfit by herself. She does this because they believe the spirit of the dead can give her messages from the afterlife. Then the body is placed in a coffin laid out in the center of the house. She then lights a wood log, called an atong, in front of the house which burns throughout the entire wake. There is also chanting while crying, which shows respect for the deceased and ensures their safe travel to heaven. The immediate family members of the deceased are not allowed to work. This means they can’t cook or carry any heavy objects. The mourners dress in black for the vigil, and the close family members wear a black veil called a manto, to show that they are in deep mourning. To complete the ceremony, all members of the family wash their hair with a ritual shampoo.

The Palaweno People

An ancient burial tradition discovered on the island of Palawan is burying the dead in pottery jars known as burial jars or Manunggul jars. Many of these ancient jars have been found in the Manunggul Cave on the island of Palawan. The jars boast anthropomorphic human figures. These figures represent the soul riding a boat for the dead, headed to the afterlife. These containers date back to 710 BC. The dead are placed in these jars with their hands folded over their chest.

The Kankanaey People

The Kankanaey people of the mountain province Sagada carve their limestone coffins while still living. When they die, the bodies are placed inside the coffin in the fetal position, reflecting a common belief among the ancient Philippines that those who die need to leave the world in the position that they entered the world. These coffins are then stacked on top of each other in limestone caves or tucked into crevices in the wall of the cave. Their location in the cave is reflective of their social standing when alive. Also practiced by the Kankanaey people is the hanging coffin, where the coffins are placed on the side of cliffs, either on a natural rock overhang or on shelves built into the side of the cliff. These positions are saved for important members of the community.

Living Urn Offers Unique Urns

Whether you want a beautiful, unique display urn for your departed loved one’s ashes, a burial urn, or a simple cremation urn, the Living Urn has what you need. If you are scattering your loved one’s ashes, consider one of their water urns, which has a dissolvable bottom to gently release ashes into a body of water that was important to the deceased. They also have living urns, which allow you to grow a tree on top of where the urn is buried. Whatever you need for honoring the memory of your deceased loved one, Living Urn is here to support you on this difficult journey.