Pamahiin in Life and Death

A couple of months ago, a fellow Filipino succumbed to cancer here in New Zealand. After the initial shock of the news (my wife knew her), we immediately went about asking where the wake will be. The service was, to say the least, very different from what we are accustomed to. I did feel that if the family could have it their way, it could have had at least some semblance of a Filipino wake. But we are not in our home country, and we have to adapt. That experience made me realize how distinct we truly are as Filipinos, so rich in culture that even in death we have unique ways in commemorating the person and the event.

When we arrived at the funeral home we learned that the establishment was actually closing soon that night and everyone, including the family of the departed, had to leave. And then the following day (Sunday), the funeral home was going to be open for only 4 about hours. We were in shock to say the least, coming from a country where vigils last all day and night until the day of the burial, with regularly-scheduled prayers.

This also reminded me of the many Pamahiin (superstitions) that we have surrounding the wake of a loved one. These are the ones that I and my wife know about, and for some of them I am not familiar with the reason why it is practiced. Do you recognize any of these?

  • In the house of the deceased family, mirrors should be covered. It is a bad omen if you see the image of the deceased reflected there.
  • Family members should never accompany the guests when they leave.
  • No baths can occur in the house where the wake is taking place.
  • No cleaning in the house can be done where the wake is taking place.
  • When the coffin is taken out of the house for burial, the house must be cleaned immediately.
  • Before the coffin goes out of the house, water must be poured on its path.
  • A rosary is cut and placed on the hand of the deceased so that no other family member dies soon.
  • Before burial, the kids related to the deceased are passed over the coffin, then passed back again. This is so that the deceased will not visit them.
  • No tears should fall on the glass of the coffin.
  • If the deceased was killed, place some chicks on the coffin. This will make the murderer feel guilty and repentant and hopefully turn himself in.

On the other side of the coin, we also have pamahiin for new babies. My wife’s family is from the province of Quezon where these are still very much in practice. It was fascinating to learn about these when we had our baby. Here are some that I am familiar with:

  • The child cannot move house or travel long distances if he’s not yet baptized lest harm befalls the baby due to evil spirits.
  • The umbilical cords of siblings may be tied together and hung by the window so that they will remain close to one another
  • Display the christening gown of the child during the reception after baptism. Place it where guests will see it. The child will become friendly and sociable.
  • Don’t let the child kiss a doll or a younger kid. The child will take some time before it will learn to talk. Or in the case of kissing a younger kid, this “kissee” will even be able to learn to talk much earlier than the “kisser”.
  • When the child is able to eat solid food, let it munch on cooked chicken’s behind so it will be able to master the art of speech faster.
  • Use a book as the baby’s first pillow, so the child will become intelligent.
  • On the child’s first birthday, gather things around him. Whatever he will like to play with will be his life’s passion.
  • Also on their first birthday, ask somebody who you would like their traits to be imitated by your child to be the first one to cut his hair. Usually this bit of hair is also inserted in a book to make the child intelligent.
  • When a child sucks his toes, he’s asking for a sibling.

Do you know of any other pamahiin that you can share?

About Nick Ballesteros

Nick Ballesteros spent his childhood days in Baguio City, worked in Makati, climbed mountains in Laguna and Batangas, and is now searching for hobbits in New Zealand. He shares his thoughts and experiences at, and his love for food at
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