An Ifugao man mourns the dead during a customary three-day wake.
An Ifugao man mourns the dead during a customary three-day wake.

The Ifugao are an indigenous people on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Ifugao burial rituals are distinguished by a delay of several days between death and interment, during which time the community holds elaborate festivals in honor of the deceased and other spirits. Additionally, the Ifugao observe a practice called "second burial" where the body is exhumed after several years and the bones are cleaned and stored in the family home of the dead.

Spirits and Death

Ifugao burial rituals are centered around appeasing many different deities. In a ceremony prior to burial, participants pour rice wine on the ground in a symbolic offering to the spirits. In an effort to protect the spirit of the deceased in the afterlife, the body is wrapped in torn blankets or clothes to give the appearance of tattered garments and ward off jealous ghosts looking to steal the clothing of the deceased. The family of the deceased might also hang the skull of a sacrificial pig outside their home to ward off evil spirits.

The Wake

Burial is postponed for at least three days after death to allow mourning and celebration in honor of the deceased. During these extended wakes, the body is seated in a chair outside the family's house. A cadre of women keep a vigil in front of the deceased, crying and shaking the body to ensure he is truly dead. The Ifugao believe that the soul and all signs of life may periodically leave the body only to return within a day or two; after three days, they accept that the soul has departed for good.

Celebration

Called a "canao," the burial festival can last for several days and involves elaborate ceremonial feasting throughout the village. Pigs and chickens are sacrificed and roasted in honor of Ifugao ancestors, and energetic ritualized dancing takes place. All feasting and celebration happens with the body of the deceased at the center of the action. When the celebrations are over, the body is born on a litter by family members to be buried nearby.

Second Burial

The Ifugao bury their dead near the home, leaving them underground for one to two years. Once enough time for decomposition has passed and money has been saved for a ceremony, the family exhumes the body and holds a customary "second burial." The bones are cleaned and kept in a special mausoleum or at home. The family cares for their relative's remains, and throughout the year vigorously clean or scrub the bones in an effort to ward off any illnesses or supernatural mischief caused by ghosts.