Tag Archives: honoring the dead

The Balete Trees

Intv: “I was hoping I could ask you a little bit about some of your folklore from when you lived in the Philippines.” 

X: “Yeah definitely, have you heard about balete trees?”

Intv: “No I can’t say that I have.”

X: “Oh! Well where I’m from, and I think throughout the Philippines there’s one where, when you enter a place where there may be a spirit or deity or a forest with balete trees you should say ‘tabi tabi po’ (“excuse/pardon me or like move to the side, please”) or else they might hit u with an illness or misfortune”

Intv: “Oh interesting, so are balete trees specifically capable of holding spirits? Or could it be any forest?” 

X: “It can be in any forest, but I believe it has to be a balete tree specifically.” 

Analysis: I think the message of saying “tabi tabi po” can be viewed in two different ways. First as a sign of paying respect to the dead, or as a sign of respect to nature. Perhaps it could be both as it involves a communion of spirits and nature that’s combined to a sort of humble reverence. The Aswang Project, a web service dedicated to preserving Filipino folklore, has this to say in relation to the balete trees. 

“Regardless of physical appearance, trees are quiet noticeably mentioned throughout our own mythology and lore. Some are associated with engkantos and other nature spirits while others play a vital role in the shamanistic/animistic culture of our Babaylan. Perhaps more than just a source of physical materials such as wood, paper and even medicine, trees can also provide impalpable treasures that we must learn to conserve and protect.”

Guzman, Daniel De. “Down the Roots of Mystical and Sacred Trees in Philippine Lore • the Aswang Project.” THE ASWANG PROJECT, 2 Feb. 2022, https://www.aswangproject.com/mystical-sacred-trees-philippines/. 

Polish Funeral Custom — Cannot Dance

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The following piece is a Polish funeral custom that I learned of through my family’s babysitter whose father had recently passed away. The woman is a forty-eight year old Polish native who lives in Chicago now. I had been dancing around and in my attempt to get the Informant to join me, she explained why she was unable to.

Informant: “No, no…Can’t dance, no.”

Collector: “Come on! Why not?”

Informant: “No, no…My father die. I no dance for six months.”

Collector: “You can’t dance for six months because your dad died?”

Informant: “No dance for six months for father and mother. Four months for brother, sister.”

Context

The Informant has understood this Polish funeral custom for as long as she can remember. She remembers not dancing for a while after her grandfather had passed away, and has always understood it to be something she must also partake in. When her father passed, her entire family made the unspoken vow not to dance as a sign of respect to the dead.

Interpretation

While surprised at first, after hearing the Informant’s absolute belief in this funeral custom, I was beginning to also see it as a reasonable practice of mourning. I believe that the reason the Informant and her family undergo such a long process of morning, with such a specific time period, is out of respect for the ones they loved who have passed away. By vowing to not dance for six months, the participants must make a conscious effort everyday to not partake in overly joyful actions, excluding dancing altogether. I believe that commitment to this vow displays a respectful process of mourning, a way of honoring the dead by not moving on quickly after they are gone.