Many Benguet folk still live with dead relatives

Many Benguet folk still live with dead relatives

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Some Ibaloi and Kankana-ey tribe members live with their dead relatives in their homes, a practice that is still observed until now.

Marcel Taynan-Tagel, a resident of Barangay Ambiong here and native of Kabayan which is known for “mummies”, said they bury their loved ones in the backyard because of the absence of a public cemetery.

She said those whose families own “mountains” or vast land areas establish family cemeteries but there are many who have no land away from their residences, therefore have no choice but to bury their dead in the backyard or inside the house in the absence of a backyard.

They also have relatives who opt to be buried within the house as an assurance that the property they will leave behind will not be sold by their children, she added.

“In our culture, transferring the remains of a loved one is not a simple act of moving because there are practices that need to be observed. A cañao (kanyaw) ceremony that requires butchering of several animals must be done,” she said.

This is one reason why for some natives who value their homes or have inherited them from their ancestors, a graveyard serves as an inscription more than the value of a document showing ownership.

She said she has relatives who have prepared their graveyard inside their homes, ready when their time comes.

Lorna Familan Tumilang, who comes from the Kankaka-ey and Kalanguya tribes in Benguet whose family resides in a compound at the capital town with relatives from her maternal side, said they also live with their grandfather whose grave is at one side facing the middle of the entire property that is surrounded by their houses.

“It is the desire of my grandfather because he wants to see us when we are having fun,” she said.

This is despite his grandfather establishing a family cemetery in another property at Barangay Lubas where his great grandparents and other relatives have been entombed.

She said their grandfather who died in January 2020 identified his place, on one side of the open area on the property inherited from his great grandparents.

“It is like he is with us. They see us when we are having fun and together as a family. They are with us when we come together as a family to handle problems. That was what they want, we see them and we feel them always,” she said.

Beside her grandfather’s tomb is an empty and open tomb, where her grandmother will also be buried when her time comes, a wish her grandfather also made before he passed away.

Both Marcel and Lorna who are in their early 40s said they follow traditions of the family although Marcel said they bought a memorial lot at the capital town in case they see the need for it outside traditions.

Marie Rose Fongwan-Kepes, a mix-blood from the Ibaloi, Kankana-ey, and Kalanguya tribes, said the practice of burying their loved ones within the residential compound is a passed-on tradition from their elders that she hopes to pass on to her children.

“We inherited this tradition from our ancestors. The elders inculcated in us that it is best to stay with the dead, their spirits take care of the loved ones they left behind, aside from the fact that cemeteries were inexistent before,” Fongwan-Kepes said.

Her father, former Benguet Congressman Nestor Fongwan who died in December 2019 after winning the congressional race the same year, was buried at the family residence compound in Barangay Puguis, this town.

Fongwan-Kepes said it was her father’s wish to be buried there.

Former Mayor Greg Abalos whose ancestral home is at Kilometer 6 of this town, also has a room where their ancestor is buried.

Adapting to the time

Fongwan-Kepes said that many Benguet people, especially those who grew up in urban areas modify the practices, particularly those that entail so many expenses.

She said that if the one who died is an elder, strict observance of the culture is expected.

Fongwan served for 31 years starting as councilor of this capital town in 1988 and went on to serve as mayor, governor of Benguet, and as a congressman.

“There are rituals like the cañao during the wake, the butchering of numerous pigs daily while the dead is being watched, and the coffin is made of a carved pine tree trunk that put together the traditional way without the use of nails or a glass,” she said.

A horse is also butchered the night before the burial, which will transport the spirit of the dead going to Mount Pulag that is regarded as the final resting place of the dead natives of Benguet.

Expenses do not end after burial because the dream of a family member about the loved one who passed away again requires the conduct of some practices that will need butchering of animals.

There are instances when the dead makes his presence felt to a family member through dreams saying that he feels cold or there is something that is hurting, the body is exhumed, and a ritual is done while there is a cañao and the butchering of more pigs.

She said those who reside in rural areas strictly observe the tradition but others alter due to modernization and change of mindset not to mention financial issues.

She advised that people preserve what they can afford to do and forego with those they cannot and impractical to their situation. (PNA)

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