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.
All Soul’s Day is anticipated on 1 November. While many already visit their dead during the day, it is during the night that this traditional event gets spectacular as the light of a thousand candles and bulbs make cemeteries luminous and dazzling. Add the multitude of people and it becomes a truly memorable event.
As twilight signals the end of day and start of night, my family is all set for the cemetery to spend a few hours there. At the back of the multicab (left), several bouquets intended for the different tombs were already assembled; a rolled mat that will be placed on top of the tomb; several food containers for bam-i, a Cebuano dry noodle dish, empanada, suman (steamed sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves), slices of bread and several bottles of water. Paper plates, disposable spoon, fork and plastic cups as well as a cooler for liters of Coke, complete the set.
Before we leave for the cemetery, a candle is then lighted at the doorstep or at the entrance of the house. Cebuanos believe that during this night, departed family members visit us and these candles light the way for them. As one travels to the cemetery, this is a common sight in many houses.
Its chaotic. People are streaming in and out of a narrow road leading to the cemetery. Several vendors lining the sides add to the congestion as they are hawking their food ranging from steaming and fluffy white and violet bibingka, lechon (roast pig), several viands and puso (“hanging” rice).
There are rows of flowers placed inside cans or glass containers as well as different forms, colors and sizes of candles at one side and at the other, ukay ukay (used clothes), halloween related trinkets, fastfood and Chinese made toys. Its humid and hot and as one navigates through the maze of bodies, one can get wet with perspiration.
As one nears the mouth of the cemetery, the crowd gets denser and its hard to move except for a few small steps. People are shoulder to shoulder and there’s no angry outbursts except for a few calls to stop pushing and shoving.
Once one get’s past the cemetery entrance, a wonderful sight unfolds. Whitewashed tombs and crypts decorated with flowers are aglow with the pale golden light of candles. Hundreds of people are moving around that they all become a blur of streaming lines. Tall bamboo poles rise from the ground with lighted incandescent bulbs dangling midway and its top end electric cables connect from one pole to another.
Raised tombs become temporary tables for food, a round of card games or as seats where jokes are told or songs belted out. However small the space, families crowd and just gossip or talk unmindful of the passersby.
All around is a cacophony of voices, laughter, plucking of guitars and the occasional karaoke. The air reeks of burnt candles and taste the cool and salty breeze from the sea which is just beside the cemetery.
It is a magical, memorable and a luminous night at the Talisay City cemetery.