The several unique cultures held in different parts of the Philippines have great contribution toward the perspectives on death that seem to be in the same category, but have different scripts, around the country. I have chosen to read “Cultural scripts for a good death in Japan and the United States: similarities and differences” by Susan Orpett Long (2004) in order to examine different scripts of death rituals in the Philippines.
Within urban communities in the Philippines, the authoritative knowledge for death is typically held by professionals, especially doctors. Most deaths are at or near a hospital and people typically have a funeral at a funeral home. In these urban communities, death rites are handled by funeral operators/professionals and doctors and they are documented through a government system (Philippine Statistics Authority) similar to how we do it in the United States. Death is usually determined by the doctor and the body is prepared for burial by the funeral home. However, within rural communities, authoritative knowledge seems to be held by a combination of midwives and local doctors, which Susan Orpett Long refers to as a meta-script–a mixture of death scripts and not solely a revivalist culture. Death rites and legal duties are still handled by the government and doctors, if available, but death is determined by those surrounding the person most often (family/friends) and a 3-7 day wake will be held at the deceased’s house with their loved ones. There are several different variations of these customs within different cultures which I will discuss later.
As discussed by Susan Orpett Long in her article about a good death (Long 2004), she mentions a revivalist death script. This script is largely based off of natural death and little interference. I believe the Philippines rely most heavily on this script and also that of a religious/spiritual base (as most Filipinos are Christian). Further, Long also mentions that the Asian approach to death is related to acceptance of natural life events. Unlike us Westerners who try to control our “fate” or “nature” by using heavy medications and machines, these Eastern Asia natives embrace the spiritual reality of death and celebrate life.
People might see the Filipino’s way of conducting a wake or funeral as superstitious, but they are just relying heavily on their religious and cultural beliefs and traditions. For example, in some cultures, when the casket leaves the home, it is spun around three times to confuse the spirit and stop him/her from returning. Another is that children are carried over the casket before burial to keep the ghost from haunting the living. (Almendral 2017).
Specifically, one custom that stood out to me is from Cavite, Philippines (which is only 10 miles from the modernized capital and they still hold these ceremonies) is that before someone dies, they will choose which tree they wish to be buried in before. Then when they get really sick, a little shack is built for them close to the tree they picked. When that person dies, they are vertically entombed in the hollowed out tree trunk for the rest of time (Funeralwise, 2013). The body in these cultures is typically prepared by locals and family members.
Long, Susan Orpett. Cultural Scripts for a Good Death in Japan and the United States: Similarities and Differences. 2004, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/Cultural-scripts-for-a-good-death-in-Japan-and-the-US-Long-2004.pdf.
Almendral, Aurora. “In Philippine Drug War, Death Rituals Substitute for Justice.” National Geographic, 2 Feb. 2017, www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/02/philippine-drug-war/.
“Death Rituals of the Philippines.” Funeralwise, 14 Oct. 2013, www.funeralwise.com/digital-dying/the-spectacular-death-rituals-of-the-philippines/.
“Death Certificate.” Philippine Statistics Authority, Producer(s) Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics – Department of Labor and Employment, psa.gov.ph/civilregistration/requesting-civil-registry-document/death-certificate.