Background: The informant is a 59 year old woman. She was born in Pampanga, Philippines and moved to Los Angeles when she was 29-years-old. The informant still frequently speaks to her family and occasionally visits her family in the Philippines. The informant grew up as Catholic in the Philippines, converting to evangelical Christianity during her time in Los Angeles. She was exposed to the tradition when living in the Philippines.
Context: The context was that, when hearing that a family friend’s father died, the informant was reminded of her own father’s passing and brought it up.
EM: “When someone died, just like my father, and every places that we go, the vigil happens inside, in house, not like here, that they, they don’t bring the dead in the house”
Me: “You mentioned something about a vigil, what’s a vigil?”
“Vigil. Let’s say in, here [America], when someone died they don’t bring it [the body] home, they take it to the mortuary right?”
Me: “Right, so in the Philippines they take that person into the house?”
“Into the house. And there’s a vigil there, and uh, it depends how long, some three days, some one week, um, and then after that because let’s say if they have family that is not in the Philippines, they wait for their loved ones to come back because they want before they bury them. And then the vigil is every night and a lot of people, they don’t sleep, people don’t sleep, they said that they have to be awake for like 24 hours.
Me: “Does it last more than 24 hours. Like, is it multiple days?”
“Multiple days, no one sleeps there because, you know, um, they have to be awake. That’s watching it, you know?”
Me: “Do people take turns or is, they just stay there the entire time?”
“When the family wants to sleep, someone has to be awake, just there, sitting, kind of like that. I don’t know how you call it”
Me: “But it’s like the vigil like thing that you guy do”
“It’s like, yeah, the vigil, because there are, you call it viewing right? So here there’s like one or two days viewing only on a certain time right?”
“By viewing you mean like when people like to go and see the body, like, in a mortuary, right?”
“Yes, yes, yes, so in the Philippines viewing and vigil is like together so people can come
and view, and then after that stay there and like–
Me: “And like, pray right?”
“Yeah, and pray, there’s food all day all night and to keep the people awake and like that”
Me: “What types are foods would you say are served there. Would it be like caffei–”
“COFFEE!! Caffeine! Lot’s of coffee. Caffeine, biscuits, cookies, and um”
“And uh, how’d you call it? You know the black seeds, pumpkin seeds, that’s so famous? That people can eat all night. Like uh, something, you see, you know, or chips, nuts, like that”
Me: “So, just like fun foods?”
“Yeah, and then after that, offer lunch and dinner, especially dinner or lunch or any food. You know like fiesta kind of like that, oh, like to feed the people that comes in.”
Me: “But, it’s not like a party right it’s still like mourning”
“No and, the people that come gives donation, you know?”
Informant: The excitement about the tradition is clear in how her tone became excited. She clearly felt it was a very important tradition to maintain.
Mine: As discussed by the informant, the traditions right after someone has died is much different in America than in the Philippines. Typically, the person in America is brought to a mortuary and is seen at a wake, and then the funeral. In the Philippines, the death of a family member is both a family and friend gathering. Notably is having to stay awake for 24 hours a day. There are beliefs that if the resting place is not always guarded, then an evil spirit will infiltrate the body of the dead. In this way, the entire community is protecting the dead from the evil spirits. Given the high number of Catholics in the Philippines, it’s surprising they do not follow the same funeral traditions, but it may come down to differences in the folk belief. For example, a difference in the belief of the prevalence of spirits in the human world. In terms of the foods offered, they all provided the sugar in order to stay awake for the entire time. There doesn’t seem to be a deeper meaning, but it still contributes to the entire gathering by ensuring that a vital tradition of staying awake still takes place.