Do Filipinos Worship Their Ancestors?

Precolonial Ancestor Veneration

In Pre-Hispanic Philippines, babaylans talked to ancestor spirits, one of two sorts of anito. Umalagad were ancestral spirits who were the guardian or caretakers of the families.

They are usually ancestor spirits or family guardians. Filipinos believed that souls traveled by boat to a spirit world after death. Ethnic groups think the spirit realm has diverse places. 

Where the souls end up is based on where they died, how old they were, and how they lived. It is said that souls enjoy everyday lives in the underworld with their deceased relatives. 

Some evil souls must repent and clean up before entering a spirit realm. Souls would return from the spirit world.

Spirits can affect the living and vice versa. The Paganito rites can summon beneficial ancestors to help, defend, or advise. Meanwhile, angry spirits can send out apparitions (mantiw) to harm people. 

Ancestor spirits were essential when someone was sick or died. They called the soul to the underworld, directed it, or met it when it arrived.

The Cordillerans call ancestor spirits kalading, the Maguindanao and Maranao tonong, the Sama-Bajau umboh, Tagalogs ninuno, and Bicolanos nono.

Usually, taotao figures depict ancestors’ spirits. The community carved these after a person’s death. Every home has a corner-shelf taotao.

Colonial Influence Over Death

After being Christianized by Spanish missionaries in 1521, the primarily Roman Catholic Filipino people still revere their ancestors, though notably different and highly influenced by the Catholic religion.

Many Filipino Christian houses memorialize ancestors by placing photos on the altar. Images are often embellished with fresh sampaguita garlands and candles. Guides for the dead still include ancestors, especially deceased parents. The spirits of deceased relatives fetch or do a “sundo” to a dying person in the afterlife. 

When a dying person screams out the names of loved ones, they can see their spirits at the foot of their bed.

From October 31 to November 2, Filipino Catholics and Aglipayans honor the deceased during Hallowmas. 

Undás, Todos Los Santos, and occasionally Araw ng mga Patáy allude to All Souls’ Day, which follows. Filipinos maintain and repair family cemeteries on this day. 

Many people spend the day and night at the gravesite playing games, singing, and offering prayers, flowers, candles, and food.

Chinese Filipinos have the most apparent and distinct ancestor veneration rituals, handed over from traditional Chinese religion and often blended with their Catholic beliefs. Many still burn incense at family graves and in front of photographs at home. Their All Souls’ Day Masses include Chinese traditions.

Do Filipinos Worship Their Ancestors?

Our clan held a long tradition of venerating our honored dead. While we don’t worship our dead ancestors, we consider them essential parts of our history and how we go about our daily lives to some extent.

In some Filipino homes, a particular area in the living room or in a prominent wall features the portraits of our dearly departed loved ones. This is a common way of keeping them part of our lives even when they’ve gone.

One of the biggest reasons Filipinos were driven to revolution during colonial times was the exorbitant fees they had to pay for priests to do the basic funeral rites, along with the corruption that stemmed from indulgences that supposedly guaranteed automatic forgiveness.

So you see, Filipinos care deeply about their dead and where they go in the afterlife. 

Let us remember our honored dead and celebrate their lives on this day of the dead. We are a part of the long tapestry of life and death. This day is a reminder of the inevitability of death and to continually value and cherish life with your loved ones.

Happy Day of the Dead, folks!

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