Pangasinenses remember the dead through food, prayer and song

The observance of Undas is something very close to every Filipino’s heart. 

More than just being a religious tradition that has lived on for centuries, it is also a clear testament to the Filipinos’ strong family values and sense of kinship as they honor and remember their departed loved ones during this time.

There is no definite rule on how Undas is celebrated in the Philippines, but here are a few things Filipinos usually do to commemorate the deceased during the season.

In Pangasinan, the solemn tradition of observing Undas is not complete without these elements – food, prayer and song.

During Undas, sweet and delicious black rice cakes called “inlubi,” made from cooking “deremen,” are prepared and served to family members and guests during the celebration of the feast for the dead.

Part of this delicacy is placed on houses’ altars as “atang” or offering to dead kin whose spirits are believed to possibly pay a visit on those days.

“Padasal,” a prayer session for the dearly departed, is also traditionally held to thank and honor the departed. 

Hence, the prayers involve frequently reciting the name of the person the prayer is offered for.

Families who are not so well-versed with the details of the tradition hire prayer warriors, usually the elderly, to lead a prayer marathon for their dead family and relatives.

“Cantores” or singers would also gather on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day and go from house to house singing the song “Pantawtawag” (calling), which some house owners give money to them or sweetened rice cakes as a reward for their singing.

Brigida Tuazon of San Jacinto town said the “cantores” will also assume the roles of the souls of the dead and take advantage of the situation to steal small items from house owners, all done in the spirit of fun.

Tuazon said that the practice is called “panagkamarerwa,” which is taken from the Pangasinan word “kamarerwa” or soul.

When the owners find out about the missing items the following day, they let the incident pass, saying what they lost were “akamarerwa” or taken by roaming souls.

“Sad to say, this tradition has been dying and slowly being forgotten,” Tuazon lamented.

Meanwhile, honoring the dead is not solely confined to humans as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center (BFAR-NIFTDC) in Dagupan City has a fish cemetery as a resting place for aquatic animals, particularly rare species.

Built in 1999, the country’s first fish cemetery has different species of dolphin, whale and sea turtle buried there. 

Like the cemeteries for humans, the fish cemetery is being spruced during this period as the place institutionalizes human respect for animals that contribute to the balance of aquatic environment but which are sometimes abused by humans.

Nowadays, modernity and technology have modified the way people observe Undas but the celebration still revolves around the strong belief in life after death and the strong sense of connection to the memories of loved ones long after they have gone.

All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day may be worldwide occasions, but practices like these make Undas uniquely Filipino.