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At the Calamba cemetery during the day

Day time at the Calamba Cemetery and people are already streaming in that it can become chaotic and lively. Here, visitors offer prayers, candles and flowers to their departed.

Day time at the Calamba Cemetery and people are already streaming in that it can become chaotic and lively. Here, visitors offer prayers, candles and flowers to their departed.

All Soul’s Day, undas in Filipino and kalag-kalag in Cebuano is at hand and what better way to be in the mood than a four-part series about cemeteries and the age old practice of Filipinos to honor their dead. Part 1 Part 2 Part3 Part 4.

While some are making last minute travel back to their home province (or probably vacationing at the beach), the first day of November sees cemeteries across the country already abuzz with visitors. In Cebu City, the Calamba Cemetery is one of the biggest in the province and also an opportunity to soak in this time honored tradition.

At the entrance, ambulant vendors are already calling out customers to buy their wares of overpriced candles, flowers, bottles of mineral water or, if you have your own car, bugging you to take their parking space before another will get it. These can be convenient, however for some especially those who haven’t been to the flower markets.

Candles and bouquets greet the cemetery visitor at the entrance. These are sold by enterprising vendors that make it convenient for the people who doesn't have time to go to the flower market.

Candles and bouquets greet the cemetery visitor at the entrance. These are sold by enterprising vendors that make it convenient for the people who doesn't have time to go to the flower market.

"Palina Boys" of Calamba Cemetery collects P1 for every pass.

"Palina Boys" of Calamba Cemetery collects P1 for every pass.

More vendors, this time stalls, line at the sides of the colonial era entrance arch with its creepy skull and crossbones medallion relief overhead. People are now streaming in in big numbers, and as the day progress, it can be a very humid and chaotic beeline at both directions. Once inside, you get to glimpse the Spanish colonial period cemetery chapel built in 1863 with its stylized relief of a crowned skeleton holding a staff and an hourglass.

As you pass the narrow path straight, your eyes start to sting as smoke intentionally lit by boys fill the air. These are done by what I call the palina boys, enterprising youths who collect a peso for each individual who pass above these. In Cebuano cemetery tradition, passing over smoke as one goes out of the cemetery ensures that the spirits would not follow you to your homes where they might bring sickness or even death to a loved one. In 2006, cemetery administrators banned this practice inside.

A man does some finishing touches to spruce up a niche in preparation for visitors who will be visiting the grave.

A man does some finishing touches to spruce up a niche in preparation for visitors who will be visiting the grave.

As one wanders around the cemetery, one can’t help but notice last minute retouches done on the tombs and niches. Men on ladders are busy sprucing up the upper levels, putting on a fresh coat of paint or installing a temporary electric bulb connection for the night. Below, families or individuals are silently mumbling their prayers, lighting candles and offering flowers and at the same time, admonishing teenage boys against stealing still lighted candles left by the visitor that they will gather for its wax.

Food offerings for the dead: fruits, rice, viand and a bottle of water are carefully placed infront of a niche.

Food offerings for the dead: fruits, rice, viand and a bottle of water are carefully placed infront of a niche.

One find that amazed me was this family who offered food and water to their departed. It’s already rare for this kind of thing to be seen and here it is, at one part of the cemetery. This is a traditional practice of honoring the dead and are more common in the rural areas. One requirement for this is that the food should be cooked unsalted. In some instances, a ritual offering of betel nut and areca with lime, duhat rolled leaves and strips of tobacco are put on a platter for the spirit to “taste”.

At a designated spot, people gather to light candles, offer flowers and prayers for dead family and friends instead of lighting and giving each and everyone. A more economical solution.

At a designated spot, people gather to light candles, offer flowers and prayers for dead family and friends instead of lighting and giving each and everyone. A more economical solution.

Check the slideshow at Pinoycentric.com

At one central part in Calamba Cemetry is a huge cross where visitors can offer their prayers, flowers and candles. Really, it’s more economical and convenient for them than to visit the maze of niches, tombs and plots that, over time, they have forgotten where their dead friends or distant kin have been entombed.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications.

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces.

I’m open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

11 Comments

  1. gibb
    November 1, 2008 @ 19:22

    I remember grandma’s palina ceremony. She’d gather some dried leaves and some bits of melted candles. She would then light the small pile of leaves and ask us to gather around it before heading back home.

    Sometimes in lieu of that ceremony we would just rub our bodies a few lemonsito leaves. I guess it serves the same purpose of warding off bad spirits.

    Of course I don’t practice it anymore.

  2. kouji
    November 2, 2008 @ 15:47

    fascinating post and images. i live in manila, but visiting cemeteries hasn’t really been a tradition for my family.

  3. Death in Stone: Relieves of old cemeteries in Cebu | langyaw
    November 2, 2008 @ 20:30

    […] cemeteries were built in the 19th century and those that are featured here are found in Cebu City (Calamba) and in the southern towns of Oslob and Boljoon which were under the Augustinian Order. In the […]

  4. dong ho
    November 5, 2008 @ 11:13

    i like those flowers inside used cans. it shows the value of being practical specially in a thrid world country like ours.

    “At one central part in Calamba Cemetry is a huge cross where visitors can offer their prayers, flowers and candles.”>>> we call this Krus Mayor. not sure if you have a term for that there. we usually light candles there for the souls on other places which we wont be able to visit.

  5. estan
    November 5, 2008 @ 11:45

    gibb, that’s something new for me, that is, using calamansi leaves. significance?

    dong, thanx for that term. here we call it “krus nga dako,” meaning “big cross.”

  6. Gibb
    November 7, 2008 @ 1:20

    estan, i really don’t know the power of calamansi to ward off bad spirits.

    I also recall that a neigbor of ours gathered a few branches of a citrusy shrub. For her sister who was pregnant that time. She said it wards off the aswang.

    It bore reddish to maroon fruits the size of marbles and had small leaves and thorns.

  7. Cebu flower market for undas/kalag-kalag | langyaw
    November 9, 2008 @ 12:56

    […] series about cemeteries and the age old practice of Filipinos to honor their dead. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part […]

  8. Luminous night at the Talisay City Cemetery | langyaw
    November 17, 2008 @ 18:37

    […] series about cemeteries and the age old practice of Filipinos to honor their dead. Part 1 Part 2 Part3 Part […]

  9. estan
    November 27, 2008 @ 12:01

    gibbs, beliefs are always interesting

  10. Lydia
    January 25, 2009 @ 0:01

    Hi Estan,
    Just surfed in. Why Calamba? That’s my hometown.
    By the way, are you going to Jakarta? Tell me. I will link you with a good friend there.
    Lyd

  11. A day in Calamba cemetery during kalag kalag | Langyaw Travel Photography
    October 31, 2011 @ 17:21

    […] images in langyaw.com. Share […]

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