by Michael Charlestone Briones Chua
“LANGIT, LUPA, IMPIYERNO, IM-IM-IMPIYERNO" was a popular game that we played
as kids. Years ago, I suddenly wondered why we teach this to kids when
it describes violence, “saksak puso, tulo ang dugo!” Imagine.
it describes our Christian Worldview and our belief in the afterlife.
Note that although we have indigenous terms for heaven (langit) and
earth (lupa), we borrowed the European term “inferno.” This means that
before Catholicism, our ancient Filipinos had no concept of a place of
eternal suffering. As it was explained to me by Dr. Zeus Salazar,
“langit” for them is the place of the “bayani,” the rest goes to the
underworld which is not really a bad place.
How to get to
the afterlife? Expert interpretations of archaeological artifacts based
on oral traditions can help explain this.
of our Austronesian ancestors bury their dead in burial jars such as
those found in the Tabon Cave Complex, Palawan in 1964. Archaeologists
classify these jars as primary burial jars, where they place the whole
corpse, to secondary burial jars, smaller ones where they place bones.
of the secondary burial jars found there was the Manunggul Jar, dated
as far back to the Neolithic Period, about 710 B.C. Described by Dr.
Robert Fox as “the work of an artist and master potter,” its design
became part of the reverse side of our soon to be demonetized 1,000.00
bill. The two figures riding a boat reflect the effect of the Ancient
Filipinos’ already sophisticated maritime culture to their worldview as
studied by Dr. Bernadette Abrera: the “kaluluwa,” accompanied by an
“abay” (companion) goes to the afterlife passing by the sea.
many oral traditions, the “kaluluwa” goes back to the world to guide
the living people and return in nature: in trees, mountains, rivers,
rock and soil formations (the aetas call Mt. Pinatubo Apo Namalyari or
the Lord who can make things possible, and the “nuno sa punso”). That’s
why design of the Manunggul Jar shows us not two “kaluluwas” but
three: The dead person, the “abay” and the boat, all of which had
faces. This is the reason why our ancestors had so much respect for the
environment not as dead things but creatures with life and soul, the
home of their ancestors.
Some believe that these jars are so
important people bring them every time they migrate. When they started
settling down, they eventually buried their dead in soil, but as found
in a Batanes gravesite, the marker stones formed a boat shape. In
Cordillera, coffins were boat-shaped. All these make one wonder if the
word “bangkay” has something to do with “bangka.”
All Saints Day, let us remember how we Filipinos treat death with style
then and now. Then, we stay awake all night, “lamay,” because the
aswang might come and eat our loved one, and replace the corpse with a
puno ng saging. So although we grieve, we also sing the virtues of the
dead (Ilocano dung-aw as studied by Dr. Lars Ubaldo), and we gamble
(saklaan fund-raising for those left behind). Wakes become family
reunion as we help each other cope with loss and remember happy memories
our loved one left us, then we laugh. What a happy colorful people we
(Reprinted with permission from Mr. Michael Charlestone Briones Chua)
Chua, Michael, Charlestone Briones. Death and (our) Beginnings. 26 October 2011. https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150376419523622
Reposts are licensed to the respective authors. Otherwise, posts by Jesusa Bernardo are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Philippines.