23 August 2015

Sentimental Sunday - Cemeteries Around the World

Way back at the end of February 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to my husband's country of birth: the Philippines. For those who don't know it, the Philippines is a group of about 7,000 islands that falls between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean with Taiwan to its north and Malaysia to its south. The 7,000 islands comprise about 116,000 square miles (300,000 square kms) and hold nearly 100 million people. (In comparison, the U.S. has 325 million people in 3.9 million square miles). In many ways, the Philippines are as widely varied as the U.S.; the southern islands have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, while the north holds verdant mountains that seem to come right out of the sea. One of my very favorite pictures from our trip was taken as we dipped our toes in the South China Sea after a day of sightseeing in the city of Vigan:

Jade, Manang Cel, David, Cas and Auntie Delia, South China Sea. From private collection of L C Lorenzana
Of course, while we were there, I was trying to capture my husband's family stories and get as much documentation as possible. I had NO idea what a herculean effort it would be. My husband's maternal side is from the northern, and largest, island: Luzon. It has rugged mountains, but also some of the most fertile farmland. Crops are rotated: rice, onions, corn. That's right; I couldn't get over seeing the dichotomy of fields of corn with palm trees! (yeah, yeah, I know, get to the cemeteries...). Cas's home town of Tagudin is in the province of Ilocos Sur. The house Cas grew up in (he emigrated to the U.S. when he was 10 years old) is in the barangay of Cabulanglang, which is more or less near the center of the town. 

After hitting brick wall after brick wall in trying to get information from Cas's relatives ("So, when's your father's birthday?"..."I don't know."..."You don't know when your parents were born? [incredulously]" ..."No."[As if, 'why the heck would I need to know THAT?!']) I asked Cas's Auntie Delia to take me to the local cemetery. I'd been hearing about it for several days and wanted to get the chance to take pictures so I'd have SOMETHING to go by as I tried to build the maternal side of Cas's family tree. 

As with lots of things in the Philippines, the cemetery is quite lovely as you approach: 

But then the front looks like this:

Well, I'm not sure how to explain my experience. From the moment I walked into the cemetery, I felt a little disoriented and...pulled in every which direction. Here's why:

Yep, this is what much of the cemetery looks like. As I found out from Auntie Delia, the plots are purchased and it's up to the family to 'manage' them. There's no space in between the plots, and as we found out, if you don't know exactly where someone is buried (i.e., you go there all the time to be able to memorize the maze of crypts, crosses, stones, etc.) well, you're pretty much out of luck. That's right, Auntie Delia had no clue where the family plot was located, so I just started snapping pictures:

More than once I got a warning from both Cas and Auntie Delia not to wander too far; I kept reminding myself I was in a place halfway around the World and that kidnappings are not unheard of (honestly, there wasn't a time that I didn't feel completely safe). But how else was I going to be able to document my trip? We got to the center of the cemetery and found it more...accessible:

Anyway, I was able to locate a number of the names in Cas's family, and then realized that there were relatively few that weren't the names I'd heard. Uh oh... 

As it turns out, most of people we were looking for were right on the exterior of the cemetery, along the wall:

Cas's beloved grand aunt Melchora "Charing" Bunoan; she's the one we really wanted to see and pay our respects to (and were so happy to find her in a neat and tidy crypt). As I was to learn, her father, Graciano, was quite the lady's man. Graciano had his first child at the age of 20 and his last at the age of 70. He's a story all his own. 

As for the cemetery, I have a catalog of pictures of empty crypts, broken stones, etc. I also have quite a few well tended spots. Auntie Delia told us that on November 1st, everyone comes out and there's a big, annual clean up. There's a picnic and many people pitch in to help make the cemetery look nice. This was a unique opportunity, and I certainly hope to get the chance to go back and spend a bit more time locating our loved ones.

Where's the most interesting cemetery you've been in?


  1. I enjoy reading about and viewing burial places in other countries. Thank you.

  2. Love to read this and have experienced it. We have gone there to find the grave of Rodel's twin brother Renato, and can not go there, every time a different way.


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