Pangangaluluwa: How Filipinos remember the departed

By , on October 30, 2013

Photo from Outsourcing Opinions
Photo from Outsourcing Opinions

The Filipinos have made a festivity out of an otherwise mundane albeit solemn task of paying respects to the dead.

While Westerners think of Halloween as a night to dress up in costumes and be whoever you want to be and an excuse to eat as much candy as humanly possible, Filipinos see it as a three-day marathon of familial activities starting October 31. Festivities are usually preceded by non-stop Halloween specials on TV as early as two weeks before Halloween.

Most of the time, people refer to Halloween as “Undas” or “Araw ng mga Patay” (Day of the Dead) or “Araw ng mga Kaluluwa” (All Souls’ Day), but with research, I found out that there’s a much deeper term we don’t use as much anymore.

Undas in Davao. Photo from PH Wow.
Undas in Davao. Photo from PH Wow.

“Pangangaluluwa” or “Gabi ng Pangangaluluwa” is All Hallow’s Eve, so it’s celebration on October 31st. On November 1 and 2, most Filipinos flock to the cemetery to spend the day with their deceased loved ones.

Management and staff of cemeteries start cleaning up at least one week before Pangangaluluwa. Staff usually cut grass and re-paint tombs and facilities in order to accommodate the throngs of families who will spend their day in the cemetery.

In fact, the management of Manila North Cemetery, one of the biggest cemeteries in Metro Manila, have ordered the installation of at least 16 units of CCTV (closed circuit television) and 6 new comfort rooms.

Families also make it a point to clean up their family mausoleum and their loved one’s tomb, which often becomes more of a family reunion instead of a chore.

Malacanang did not declare October 31st as a non-working holiday, but nonetheless, tons of working Pinoys most probably already filed their vacation leave from work in order to have enough time to go back home to their hometowns in the province. The police force is also usually on heightened alert on a few days from Pangangaluluwa, paying special attention to bus terminals, ports, and airports.

By October 31st, the price of supplies for Pangangaluluwa like flowers and candles skyrocket, but Pinoys will still purchase their lot in order to pay their respects to the dead. Adults are usually busy preparing a feast for tomorrow’s visit to the cemetery, making sure that there’s enough nourishment for family members and friends who might happen by their lot. By Gabi ng Pangangaluluwa, families will start making their way to the cemeteries to beat the rush and traffic of November 1.

Panag-Apoy in Sagada's St. Mary Cemetery. Photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Panag-Apoy in Sagada’s St. Mary Cemetery. Photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Up in Northern Luzon, the people of Sagada in Mountain Province commemorate their deceased loved ones with an event called Panag-apoy, a Kankana-ey (local dialect) term that literally means “to light up.” It is a centuries-old tradition of lighting pieces of Pine wood called Saeng by their loved ones’ tomb and a priest goes around the cemetery to bless the tombs. By night, St. Mary’s Cemetery, the biggest Western cemetery in Sagada, looks like as if it’s on fire.

November 1 and 2 are called All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, respectively–although both days are spent remembering the souls of the dead rather than the saints. Cemeteries and highways are teeming with people and vehicles. Police and local authorities are everywhere to ensure public safety and maintain order.

Small businesses also flock cemetery entrances selling all sorts of stuff–from candles to flowers to food to trinkets–and making the most out of the crowd.

Undas in Davao. Photo by Yashikibuta on WordPress.
Undas in Davao. Photo by Yashikibuta on WordPress.

Perhaps foreigners might be wondering why thousands of Filipinos endure such a taxing event, from preparations to driving and transportation to finding the right tomb to rubbing elbows and butts (literally) with strangers clamouring for space. For Filipinos, it’s all done out of love and family. Together we remember the dead and celebrate time with the living.