Why study (Filipino) popular art?
by Edilberto Alegre
BusinessWorld, 1 May 2002
Some have asked me why I bother with Pinoy pop art such as
our movies, Max Surban, Yoyoy Villame, TV popular program? They are the hoary academicians
of University of Philippines (UP) Diliman (Quezon City, Metro Manila), of course. And a
few are architects in Cebu (Central Visayas) and other academicians there.
"Because they are our heritage too and probably say more
about us than our copies of the seven arts of the West," I'd reply and refuse to go
Their question manifests a haughtiness that should not be
bothered with. They are not part of my small reading public obviously. Pinoy culture
encompass all our products and actions and the distinction high art -- low art, literature
in English -- literature in a Philippine language, music composed by a degree holder --
music composed ouido, say, are categories not made by culture analysts. High art,
literature in English, or music composed by a UP College of Music graduate are also
cultural expressions and are, therefore, legitimate concerns of cultural anthropology too.
They are studied amply by undergraduates, graduate students,
scholars, and practicing art critics. They are also rewarded generously by the National
Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), our official cultural institution. And the
Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) continues to honor the Filipinos who excel in the
seven arts of the West. Those who excel in the indigenous arts and crafts, such as
kulintang music and abaca weaving, receive kudos and monetary award of a lesser degree.
These manifest the hierarchy in the arts. Copying the west still pays.
The situation can change only by showing through force of
logic and adamantine data that there is much to admire in not completely westernized Pinoy
pop art. i.e. indigenized Western cultural borrowings. Examples abound: our movies, OPM,
romance, novels, TV shows
Millions enjoy our pop art. Millions spend viewing, listening
to or reading them. That should be valid enough reason to study Pinoy pop art. In
contrast, the Pinoy version of Western art is enjoyed, viewed, listened to, or read by
only a very minor trickle of our population. But they, the Pinoy copies of Western art,
take a dominant position -- in our textbooks, in our mass media, in the eyes of our own
government. Not because they are Pinoy, but because they are copies of the West.
That says a lot about our educational system, our mass media,
and our government. What is common to these three is this: they are manned, managed, and
operated by the ingliserong Pinoy, the Filipinos who are proficient in the English
language. By the elite, in short.
The communication loop of the Pinoy version of the seven arts
of the West consists of the artist as producer of art works which are "consumed"
by the viewer-listener-reader appreciator. The artist is a product of an educational
system which is biased toward the West. The consumer is also shaped by the same system.
The middle person critic who explains, explicates, expounds and praises the art work
derives his livelihood and reputation from the loop. The loop passes on their preferences
to those outside of it via the schools, the media and the relevant government institutions
which are also owned or managed or operated by the same socio-economic class, the rich
The only way to counter this vicious, oppressive set-up
without bloodshed is to present an alternative view that is acceptable, because it is
logical and is based on field data, and therefore, incontrovertible. The viciousness
derives from its spitefulness to anyone and anything which does not belong to the loop. It
also stems from its erroneous reasoning: any art which is not Western or like the West's
There are those who belong to the loop who go slumming
outside of their vicious circle so they can entertain their kind about having gone
"native", and, oh, how so very iba (different) the natives are! Some get their
paper thesis or dissertation data from the natives and score pogi points for their
promotion and prestige. Of course, after short, sporadic forays into the land of the
natives they return to their lovely homes and lovely offices in which they have been
ensconced. Such are the habits of class, so very difficult to break because they are so
The said loop is oppressive since it bears down on the rest
of our population and keeps the latter subservient by harshness and coercion, though the
means to achieve this can be subtle and, therefore, appear to be neither harsh nor
coercive. That elite has been in power for centuries and knows all the tricks to stay
To study pop art is thus, for me, an act of self-liberation.
Unfortunately, I am an opsi -- math and my road to freedom started only 18 years ago when
I boldly turned my back to the ways of the academe, where I was employed, and took the
first steps to know who we are and what we are like.
I have never looked back.
The only equipment I had were those which I acquired in the
academe -- traditional criticism, neo-criticism; structuralism, a bit of
post-structuralism. Quite very Western apparatus.
However, I had an abiding passion for linguistics, the study
of the laws which govern languages, since 1958 when I first enrolled in M.A. Comparative
Literature in UP. It was my way to our culture. Language was what I had as data and for
this there was no need to go to the field.
PINOY TIME AND POP ART
Using language as the starting point, let us examine our
concept of time and its relation to art, pop or otherwise. How did we divide time? From
the smallest to the biggest: araw or day (which we broke
into, beginning from dawn -- madaling araw
(dawn); umaga (morning); tanghali
(noon); hapon (afternoon); takip-silim
(evening); gabi (night); kahapon
(yesterday); ngayon (now, today); bukas
(tomorrow); buwan (month); taon
(year). There are compound expressions for the day before yesterday (noong
isang araw) and the day after tomorrow (bukas makalawa).
These are time indicators though just like kahapon, ngayon, and bukas.
Time as a quantity are, strictly speaking, indicated by araw, buwan, and taon.
A numeral or counter can specify the number of the days, months or years -- e.g. isang araw, dalawang buwan, tatlong taon (one day, two months,
three years). Or the length of time can be one-half (kalahati,
kalahating buwan); a fortnight or whole -- buo, buong
araw, buong umaga, buong gabi -- meaning the whole day, the whole morning,
the whole night, respectively.
Time as a quantity which can be measured to the tick of a
second or minutes or hours is a Spanish introduction, as the words indicating them
immediately shows: segundo, minuto, oras. Relo came from Spanish reloj. We also call the watch orasan, the suffix -an is a Pinoy
construction. It was the Americans though who introduce wrist watch for that to the
Spaniards is reloj de pulsera. Our term for it is riswats.
Our sense of clock time and the idea that time has to be or
can be measured to the briefest second are borrowed.
The millions of Filipinos who do not punch time cards or do
not have deadlines to meet simply ignore watches, clock time, and measurements of time.
They are more numerous than the Filipinos who are tied to and enslaved by time machines.
Since time is a measurable quantity, in a linear manner an
action has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Transferred to fiction, a narrative image of
life, then the Western plot must have a defined beginning, middle, and end. Rising action,
climax and denouement are logical aspects of time as a quantity or length, which is an
expression of quantity, which moves in a linear manner from time1 to time2 time3 and so
American fiction is specially action-oriented. Action pushes
the story forward. Overt action also depicts the character of the protagonist, of course.
Western fiction is plot-oriented because the protagonist is unraveled in time. The
unraveling requires conflict which leads to rising action, climax, and denouement or
resolution (of the conflict).
This plot as a structure fits aptly for it rose from the
Western concept of time. The problem of adaptation rises when we realize that that is
valid to them, the Espaņol and the 'merkano, but not to us. For we have a different
concept of time. And must therefore have a different approach to or ideas about plot line
and narrative structure.
The epitome of the action -- oriented Western narrative is
the whodunit or detective story. That genre never quite took roots here.
The Rambo series is interesting but our hero is FPJ who's
low-key in comparison. And always has a sidekick. Hindi siya
nag-iisa (he is not alone). Hero that FPJ is, he is never alone. There is
Dencio Padilla who is forever loyal and a lady love.
There is the terrible aloneness of all the Western tragic
heroes -- Oedipus, Macbeth, King Lear, Loman, the American salesman. They experience a
fall. Rambo might be on a different trajectory. But they, as all Western heroes, are
alone. Time is a linear path which they travel or traverse. A beginning, a middle, an end.
Rising action, climax, denouement.
We have no such tragic heroes. No such terrible aloneness.
FPJ, Juan Tamad, Dolphy. Unlike the Western heroes, our main protagonist is always
connected -- to one other, a friend or a lady love; to several others -- parents, sibling,
family. Not tragedy but comedy. Not rising action based on conflict but melodrama. Less
height and less acute on angle but rolling hills and flatlands.
Look at their sentence constructions. An explicitly named
subject and a predicate, an action word, and, if required, a recipient of the action e.g.
"I love you." There's no other way to say this. In our case, "Mahal Kita": verb, pronoun. Where went "I"?
Literally, these two words translate as "Love you" (and that is how we say it,
"I love you"; the very Pinoy English of "Mahal kita").
The relationship comes first, mahal.
Kita is the distinctive "exclusive dual", second
person, plural number, nominative case, in many Philippine languages. It means
"I-and-you (singular) only" and nobody else.
Still on relationship. "Kumain na
ko. Kinain ko yong natira sa mesa." (I've eaten. I ate what was left on the
table.) Kumain refers to who ate. Kinain to what was eaten.
The infix (-um, -in) depends on whether the speaker is
referring to himself as actor or the object of his action. Speaker-self, speaker-object. A
verb for us reveals not so much who and action or who object of the action, but the what
of the action. Relationship, in short.
Too, we are not conflict -- resolution driven. We shun away
from confrontations. Put this relationship -- driven in the same linear time of the West
and what would result is not tragedy but a comic, melodramatic story. In that time line
(t-1, t2, t3) he'd seek not ako, the nominative case, first person, singular "I"
but "I" in it's many relationships: Juan Tamad and the princess. FPJ and Dencio
and a lady love or FPJ and a daughter like Judy Ann Santos, Dolphy and his family who
resides in a "Home Along Da Riles" (home by the railroad tracks) -- ako in kita, tayo,
and kami (tayo includes the
person addressed; kami excludes the person addressed).
We borrowed the movie camera and we came out with Pinoy na
Pinoy movies -- weak on the plot structure, abloom with deep and meaningful relationships
even if there are bakbakan (fight) scenes. Emphasis on the
relationships. With and through the movie camera we have been telling our own story.
So with our TV soap operas. So with our OPM. So with our
It would be folly to demand Western standard on these very
Pinoy pop arts. What we need is a canon of appreciation so we can "upgrade" our
popular art to academic, aesthetic criticism. We direly need theories about ourselves so
we can better appreciate our own art.
Our concept of time and our "I" -persona, of
course, created and continues to create our own form of fiction, movies, TV soap operas.
Our own art, which very unfortunately is dismissed as just merely pop by the inglisero
critics. But in the end they don't matter. What they are there or not our own art will
Instead of rising action -- climax -- denouement we should
graph our di-pagkakaunawaan misunderstanding and our tampuhan, for which there is no
English word. For these are the stuff of our daily lives which are there already embodied
and expressed in our popular art. It is in our popular art where we truly are.
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When institutions are breaking down: The family
by Edilberto Alegre
BusinessWorld Online Edition, 9 May 2002
My consciousness as a child was formed by the physical
presence of my immediate family: my father, my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my
older brother. I was born in November 1938. My father, a medical doctor, joined the
guerillas of Mindoro (Southern Tagalog Region in southern Luzon) as soon as World War II
I was three. As he and his family were hunted by the Japanese
we moved into the jungles of Mindoro and had to keep changing our residence. We were
periodically on the run.
When the war ended I was of school age. We were inside the
jungle for almost four years. We didn't have neighbors. We lived veritably the life of
nomads. Occasionally we'd espy Mangyans, the generic term for the indigenous
ethno-linguistic groups of the island, who were clad skimpily in bahag (loincloths), let
their hair grow as long as it would, chewed betel, and kept their distance from us.
As we emerged out of the thickly forested mountains, I saw a
gravel road and said: "Ang haba ng ilog na ito! (This is a very long river.)" I
had mistaken the stone-and-gravel road for the dried up bottom of a river.
Less than a year after the war ended we returned to my
mother's hometown, Victoria in the province of Tarlac (Central Luzon), and that's where I
stayed until 1953 when I entered the University of the Philippines. The crucial seven
years (1946-1953) of my childhood and early adulthood were spent in Victoria.
My childhood was Edenic. I spent it playing -- gamboling in
the rain and wrestling in the dust and running in the wind. I could run out because I was
secure -- my parents and grandmother and brother would always be there. I did not run out
very far. The rule in Mindoro was we must always be within the easy hailing distance of my
mother and grandmother. In Victoria we could rove a wider space. My older brother was
always with me anyway.
The games children play have their seasons. They hew closely
to the falling of the rain and the fruiting of the trees. We lived at the edge of the
town, a barrio called Santa Lucia, to the west right after the poblacion. My youth there
was defined by the trees in our orchard, the church property, a hectare of land behind the
Catholic church where there were two tamarind trees, and farms only five minutes from our
The Eden of my childhood was suddenly rent by Death's visit.
My only sibling died suddenly of leukemia. It was so swift. The first symptoms, which were
akin to severe anemia, became apparent in late December 1951. On March 24, 1952 he died.
He was only 15.
That was 50 years ago. After his death my life would never be
the same again. Suddenly, I was a child no more. Something broke inside me and I would
never be whole again. The terms of my life changed. I became an only child at 13. Sadness
never left me. And the disbelief in permanence became, without my consciousness of it, an
article of faith.
Perhaps, since then I have been trying to recover Eden. An
impossibility really. Because once lost, Eden will never be again. Perhaps, too, all these
years I have been looking for a modicum of permanence. That must be why I am in culture
studies. Culture precedes us; we are born into it. And after we die it would still be
there. It is surely more permanent than my childhood in the jungle of Mindoro and those
innocent years in Sta. Lucia in Victoria,Tarlac.
Change is inevitable. I accept that. But the breaking down of
institutions is not. The family of my childhood remained whole. They just died one by one
-- Kuyang, my elder brother, then Mamang, my grandmother, then Itay, my father, and,
finally, Inay, my mother.
Death took them and I am the only one left to remember.
Our parents' generation could boast of families that remained
whole. None of my father's brothers' and sisters' broke up. In my generation remaining
whole became problematic.
I have been a witness and participant in the breaking up of
families. Mine has not been an exemplary life. That is why I keep going back to examine
and re-examine the turns it took, the paths I chose.
THE CHANGING FAMILY
Why has the family as an institution been breaking down?
Mainly, I think, because its context has been changing. Let me just cite recent
statistics. From 1990 to 1995 our population grew by an annual rate of 2.32%; from
1995-2000 by 2.36%. That translates to three babies every minute. For the past five years
our number has been increasing by 1,700,000 every year. We are now 77,000,000.
When I was growing up in Victoria we were not even 20M. My
weekly baon (allowance) was 10 centavos per week. The daily wage was less than 2
Philippine pesos (US$0.040 at PhP49.724=$1). Even the poor ate three times a day. The
poorest of my playmates ate off the land: fish in the river, insects from the field and
the trees, frogs from pools of water and chicken and pigs for special occasions. Their
tables were never wanting for food. I know because I'd sometimes have meals with them in
Last year our Commission on Population (Popcom) reported that
"15.3M Filipinos wake up every morning without food on the table." That number
would be scandalous for any nation. In our case its 20% of our national population. One
out of every five Filipinos do not eat breakfast because they do not have the money to buy
The Popcom estimates the poverty line by making a cash
valuation of the basic food required by the Bureau of Nutrition and Food. Food threshold,
it's termed, i.e. below that requirement one is malnourished. Last year 30,600,000 or 40%
of the Filipinos were below that line. And it's increasing.
What is the situation? There is mounting pressure on the land
and water food resources, which diminish continuously due to that pressure on it. Our
arable land area is not increasing. The methods of harnessing it for food production are
not improving. We have been importing rice for decades. Our waters are polluted. We do not
catch enough fish to feed our people. Fish prices have been increasing relentlessly. The
poor cannot even afford round scad -- galunggong -- which used to be called the poor man's
fish during Cory's term.
Despite Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and
Seismology) and Pag-asa (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services
Administration), the nation was prepared for neither Pinatubo nor El Niņo. As usual the
government improvised as their aftermath kept embarrassing the concerned official
agencies. The bigger and lasting calamity though is our membership with the World Trade
Organization (WTO). Without reading all the provisions involved our government ratified
our membership. We are just beginning to feel that impolitic decision of our government.
Population growth eats into whatever economic gains some
families are able to achieve. Food is the first priority, of course. If this need cannot
be met then health, education, housing suffer. The following generations are tied to
To avert poverty many educated Filipinos seek employment
abroad. Millions of them. For those who are married that means severe loneliness for the
one who leaves and loneliness coupled with severe responsibility for the one left behind.
Flor Contemplacion's was not an extraordinary story. Nor
Delia Maga's. Not the wife-mother portrayed by Vilma Santos in that film where her
daughter was played by Claudine Barreto. Theirs is the ordinary tale of a Filipino
overseas contract worker (OCW).
Millions of families must now have only one or a single
parent. Millions! The sociology of our family system has been changing. These are only
OCWs. There are many men too who stay abroad to work. The wife and children are left
behind. That too is single parenthood and has as many problems as the other case -- the
one where the wife and mother is the OCW.
Inside the country there is massive migration too which, as
in the case of the OCWs, is impelled by poverty at home and the promise of a little
alleviation in other places. Cebu in the Visayas and Iligan in Mindanao are only two such
places. Manila must still attract a sizable number. The result has been the increase of
slums and slum dwellers, a post-war phenomenon.
As an example let us look at our neighbors in Victoria, a
married couple. The husband teaches in our local government high school. He receives a
meager salary. The wife, a high school graduate, had no regular job. She became a domestic
helper in Hong Kong. When she left both their daughters were not yet in Grade 1.
Now both daughters are college graduates. One is married and
has one child. Both daughters do not live in Victoria. One works in Manila and the other
in another town in Tarlac. When their mother finally returned her hair had become gray.
Their father continues to teach in our local government high school.
There is an obvious lack of closeness between the daughters
and their mother. They have a new house in another part of our town. It's a lonely place.
A lot of bric-a-brac and family pictures on the walls. And the absence of voices. She
hardly talks of her experiences in HK. While her own children were growing she was taking
care of other children. The years of her absence from her family will never come back. She
appears forlorn and defeated. She left her family to give them security. But what a
It is unabating poverty, too, which drives even the young
female teenagers of our indigenous groups to because domestic helpers in the houses of
middle class Visayans. Tinunda, a Manubu barangay leaders in Aroman, Carmen, North
Cotabato (Northern Mindanao) put it harrowingly:
"The Visayan migrants, Sebuanos and Ilonggos, secured
land titles to land which we have been tilling and living in for generations. We had to
leave for they came with police and army guards.
"There's no employment here. And we have neither skills
nor connections. So, we agree to our lovely young daughters becoming their maids. They
earn a little and that's a big help for us.
"But they are abused, raped, made pregnant. They come
Need we add more to this lament?
An aging Manila Court of First Instance judge and a law
professor in many schools used to admonish his daughters: "When a wife-mother gives
in to lust for another man except her husband, that's the end of her family." This
was some 40 years ago and he was himself not aware that he was sexist.
Of course, when a man abandons his wife and children for
another woman that's the end of his family. The children grow up without a father or with
an absentee father at the most. Our laws and even traditions do not take up, much less
focus, on the welfare of the children. Abandoned children are maimed for life, even if
they grow up with one of their parents. Bitterness marks their adulthood.
Perhaps we should take a more sober and realistic view of
broken marriages. At present we have only one law which allows legal dissolution of a
marriage and it stipulates that there can only be one cause -- psychological incapacity of
one or both parties at the time of their marriage. The psychological aspect is difficult
to prove. A professional psychologist or, better yet, a psychiatrist should certify the
So, when a marriage breaks up either or both spouses simply
have "affairs," because the law makes it difficult to legalize the break-up of
the marriage. The law has not deterred the affairs.
But there is an even more insidious pattern. The spouses of
virtually broken marriages stay together -- for the sake of the children. The marriage is
a charade. The spouses may be civil to each other -- again, for the sake of the children.
There's neither sex nor warmth between the spouses but they have meals together at home,
go out as a family, attend family functions together -- and all these, of course, are for
the sake of the children.
The children do wise up to the situation. Those I know are
psychologically battered in adulthood. How could their parents put up a show for so long?
It's the insincerity which gnaws at their hearts.
Some marriages fail. That's a reality. Yet, besides the
psychological incapacity law mentioned earlier, there is no legal remedy for broken
marriages. It's about time that our laws caught up with social realities. With the
breaking down of families there must be legal amelioration for all concerned -- the
spouses and the children.
When institutions are breaking down there must be a safety
net to assure that those involved are not punished twice, i.e. in this case, many families
break up due to poverty and then are punished again for allowing poverty to break up the
basic social unit. We still do not have a divorce law. Neither do we have one that
outlines and stipulates clearly support for spouse and children. It is our law which is
backward. It is our church which is mired in old paradigms which demand that a marriage
And if a marriage fails there can only be social adjustments
since the legal statutes refuse to admit such a failure. And now is the opportuned time
for charging the laws or, to be more precise, to enact ones fitting and appropriate to the
The causes for the breakdown of families continue to exist.
It's time the law became compassionate to those who had no experience of Eden.
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'Costumbres Chinas de la muerte'
by Bambi L. Harper, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5/14/02
THE LAST instalment of Paz Yuchengco's observations of
Chinese customs deals naturally with death. Preparations for the moment begin long before
(when they begin to grow old) and people prepare the clothes they will wear for their
wake. This is because the Chinese believe it is better to die clothed. The ceremonies
commence on the deathbed. The first thing that is done is to cover all mirrors in the
house with white cloth and the front door with a black cloth. The corpse is then placed in
a casket and brought to the funeral home. The Chinese do not like having the wake in their
homes. When the corpse of a father is in the funeral home, the eldest son goes in search
of a good burial spot if the family has none. A good location in a cemetery is important
for the family due to the belief that if a good spot cannot be found bad luck will befall
the entire family. The son has to take into account the form, dimension and location of
Once the son has found the ideal spot, he and the important
older members of the family decide the date and the hour of the burial. The majority
prefer to bury their dead after many days because the preparations and ceremonies are very
difficult and complicated and need much time.
The entire family dons black immediately, including the men
and the children. (Oddly enough this is only pertinent in the Philippines; in China the
color of mourning is white or grey.)
An interesting aspect of this custom is that a stranger can
immediately recognize the proximity of the relationship of those in mourning to the
deceased. If dressed totally in black, they are blood relatives. If they are in black but
with a red sash, they are either in laws or far relations. If a woman, it may be that she
is a married daughter or a married niece or goddaughter. If a man, he may be a son-in-law,
a nephew or a godson.
Children wearing a red sash are children of daughters.
Married daughters cannot wear black after the funeral because this may bring bad luck to
her in-laws. If they wish to continue in mourning they can wear grey, green, white or
During bereavement female members are not allowed to wear
make-up while the younger members such as children and grandchildren cannot shave nor have
a haircut. They all have to wait 40 or a hundred days. The women cannot go visiting or
beautify themselves for a hundred days or amuse themselves out of the house. Not even
visit their parents before 40 days are up.
On the actual funeral day there is much confusion and
lamentation especially among the women. The widow and her mother-in-law wail in high
voices and their laments are like poetry reciting the life and deeds of the dead man. This
custom is still practiced by women who spent their childhood in China and who have learned
these lamentations. When the hour comes for the funeral the laments cease and all the
family members gather around the coffin to pose for a photographer.
The fortune and prominence of the dead man are demonstrated
in the funeral cortege since this is his final opportunity to do so. The Chinese seldom
send flowers instead they send silk banners with consoling messages or pasted greetings.
These banners are placed en route and form part of the cortege. The number of relatives he
had is also evident in the funeral.
The order followed in the cortege is almost always the same.
The photograph of the dead man on an open car leads the way. Aside from his photo there is
a paper car representing the one he had when alive. Behind the funeral car is an employee
bearing a red flag. (If the dead man is not prominent or poor this is not done.)
It carries characters in gold denoting his name, place of
birth, age and the number of generations that precede him. Immediately behind the flag is
a car occupied by a prominent and respected man who is or has been a government official.
(In the Philippines usually this would be the Chinese ambassador or another high official
of the embassy.) It is a great honor both for the official and the dead man. (The family
of the deceased always has to send many expensive presents to this official after the
funeral including a red envelope containing not less than a thousand pesos).
Cars with flags follow and if there are many these can delay
the cortege. A band of musicians separate the first section from the second that is
composed of the funeral car and the immediate family. The children have to walk to the
cemetery. Neither the distance nor the weather is considered. The women may ride if they
are tired but they have to at least walk half way. Those who walk are composed of the
relatives, friends, good employees and godchildren. If the deceased is prominent in the
community, schools and associations who have been his beneficiaries in the past send many
delegations to join the cortege.
Once they reach the gates of the cemetery all the women with
the exception of the widow and the children have to get down from the cars and walk with
the rest to the site. The mother seldom attends the funeral especially if she is old.
At the start of the ceremony each son takes a handful of
earth and places it inside the coffin. After it is closed they kneel and bow before the
guests to thank them for their help and presence. The eldest son takes the photo of his
father and returns home in the company of his mother, the widow. The two-year mourning
period has begun. There are still many things to do and for a week or two the family
cannot rest. Like the novenas of Filipinos, the Chinese have first a period of nine days
when special ceremonies for the dead person are observed. During this time the women have
to prepare a lot of food both for the deceased and his relatives. The banners are
distributed among his female relations for them to make dresses. There are four important
dates during the mourning period. The first is the completion of the 49 days, the next of
the hundred days, completing a year and finally the two years that end the mourning.
Little by little the mourners return to their normal lives. The men, after 49 days, may
shave and have a haircut and wear white shirts even if their trousers must still be black.
The women can wear silk dresses instead of Indian head, use some makeup and visit their
family and friends.
After a hundred days the mourners can now amuse themselves
and attend parties. If they go to weddings or birthday parties they must wear white, blue
or gray. The ceremonies of the four periods depend largely on the religion of the family
of the dead person. These are generally observed in the same manner.
The relatives of the dead have to remember the four important
dates because the widow and her family are expected to bring food and fruits to the
cemetery. If not, ill will on the part of his family may result.
Aside from food, the relatives must offer gold or silver
paper money to the dead. This "money" is burned when the food is offered. The
Chinese believe the dead don't have enough to eat in heaven which is the reason why the
living have to continue sending offerings even after many years.
Upon the interment, a large amount of personal things of the
dead person such as his clothes, shoes, his favorite chair, his mattress and slippers are
burned. Other belongings that cannot be burned such as his house, cars, money, and
suitcases are instead burned in effigy.
An interesting aspect of this custom is that the objects that
entertained him in life such as his pipe, playing cards, mahjongg tiles and his books are
believed to accompany him on his journey by being burned. The ceremony of burning these
objects ends with the mourning period. In ensuing anniversaries only paper money is
When a member of the family of the deceased whether male or
female, wishes to marry, he or she must do so between the 49 and hundredth days of
mourning. Otherwise, he or she will have to wait two years.
A bride who is in mourning has to remove her mourning when
she marries. On the other hand, a bride who marries into a family in mourning cannot wear
bright colours such as red, pink, yellow or burgundy. She however, is not obliged to don
black; she may wear blue, white or green dresses. The customs and ceremonies of her
wedding remain the same even if naturally these are more muted.
The first anniversary of the death is celebrated en grande
(in grand manner). It may take place in his house or in the cemetery if the place is
sufficiently large. All the women wear blue or grey instead of black and the men wear
white. The rest of the ceremonies are the same as the previous ones.
The second anniversary marks the conclusion of the mourning
period. The women and female children wear red and the men don vivid colors. The family of
the deceased tenders a big feast and sends food and sweets to his relatives and friends.
This anniversary has aspects similar to those of a wedding or
a birthday. For example, red is the color of the day: The house of the deceased is
decorated with red curtains, the same as the bedroom of newlyweds. The same lamps used as
those in a wedding are given to each married son or daughter. This signifies that
happiness comes after the period of mourning. Parents and friends are gifted with the same
type of foods and sweets previously given them but with the novelty of a red material to
make a dress. As is the custom, eggs and noodles are omnipresent.
The children of the deceased have to put in their share for
all the expenses in the two years of mourning. On succeeding anniversaries they will take
turns taking care of the expenses. Some siblings use part of their inheritance to honor
their departed relatives. They pay for the pantheon (that sometimes cost a hundred or two
hundred million pesos), the salary of the caretaker, the anniversary celebrations, the
fiestas, gifts, and many other things.
And thus, the Chinese customs herein described are
transmitted from generation to generation. A young person may think that these lack
feeling but are wary of discarding them for many reasons. They have learned enough from
their parents to regard these customs as habits. Contact with their elders, intriguers and
the gossipy, discourage them but they comply with tradition to avoid unpleasantness.
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