Bontoc Death

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A mother weeps a day for a dead child or her husband, but death is said not to bring tears from any man. Death causes no long or loud lamentation, no tearing of the hair or cutting the body; it effects no somber colors to deaden the emotions; no earth or ashes for the body—all widespread mourning customs among primitive peoples. The degree of mourning is determined by the age of the deceased person. Old people who have lived full lives have happy wakes, whereas young people are mourned. For a grandparent’s wake, there are three different kinds of songs, one of which has a happy tune. The guests engage in a chanted address to the dead, recalling his/her life, or indirectly criticizing or praising the offspring’s behavior toward their deceased parent. When a child or mature man or woman dies the women assemble and sing and wail a melancholy dirge, and they ask the departed why he went so early. But for the aged there are neither tears nor wailings—there is only grim philosophy. “You were old,” they say, “and old people die. You are dead, and now we shall place you in the earth. We too are old, and soon we shall follow you.” When a Bontoc Igorot dies, he/she is not immediately announced as dead, they are considered as just sleeping until such time that they as “mai-fa-ag” or announced dead. The family, with the advice of elders, decides when to announce the person dead. There are different ways in which the Bontoc people do their wakes for their dead but one thing that really stands out is the “sinangachil”, or that which uses a special chair made especially for the dead. The death chair has a high back with a low seat. The back is composed of two crossed poles with sticks tied crisscrossed on it to support the body. No nails a re used in the construction of the chair. Everything is tied to each other with tree bark. After the ceremony to officially declare the person dead, the body is washed and is clothed with the blue burial shrouds and is tied to the “sangachil”. His waist, arms, and head are tied to the chair – with the bark covering the whole mouth. The hands are laid on his lap. The chair, with the body sitting on it, is set up close up before the door of the house and corpse facing out. For days and nights the dead is in full sight of those passing by. Death rites differ according to age and the cause of death. For adults, there are two kinds of wakes: one, the inanitu (caused by the anito), which is either a natural or accidental death; and another, the finosor (caused by a fosor, enemy). The clothes of the deceased determine its social status, the kadangyan wearing a more elaborately designed G-string or blouse-and-skirt. In all cases, the corpse is propped up on the sangachil (death chair) and placed in the house if it is inanitu, or outside if it is finosor. Each adult offspring prepares pinikpikan chicken; it’s gallbladders of pinikpikan chickens are examined for omens; and contributes the pigs to be butchered for the utong or food taken by the spirit on its journey to the afterworld. The immediate family is forbidden to partake of the meat, although it is distributed to the guests for their breakfast and lunch. In a two-day wake, a pig is butchered every two hours starting at around 8 A.M. until the burial, which is done in the afternoon before sunset.

At the wake of a young person, the mourners wear their oldest, frayed clothes. The other women in the ulog of a deceased member wear strings of fitug (black beads) and leave their hair undone. They provide the corpse with a kalaleng (nose flute) or an afillao (bamboo mouth organ) and pork fat in a bamboo container. The latter is to be used as hair oil in the afterworld. The other men in the ato of a deceased member wear their sukrob/suklang unadorned, i.e., without its characteristic feathers and beads. They provide the corpse with tobacco leaves, a shield, and a spear.

No coffins were used in olden times. However, the Bontoc now prepare their coffin,...
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