(It was the second night of Lola’s wake, visitors were coming, coffees and soups were overflowing. The house of my grandma was brightly illuminated with lights. Outside the house, people were gambling in playing cards. It was a common scene in every wake in the province.)
“Don’t ever leave your Lola alone.” Said my great great grand aunt. “Even it’s already nine in the morning don’t sleep yet. Wait for your other cousins to come over.”
I wondered why I should not leave the body of Grandma. I am really sleepy and dozens of coffee did not help to prevent the spreading melatonin in my body (Straight from the office, to school, to the available bus bound to my province and finally to our family compound, I was 30 hours awake!) Glad my second degree cousins came over to take my place. That’s the time I hopped home and steal a sleep.
I woke up early in the evening. Everyone was rushing in our kitchen. All were in move. Clashing plates, cups and spoon and forks create cacophony of sounds. I picked up my towel and took a bath. Search my closet for available clothes, I wear a shirt and went to the kitchen to help.
All were aghast and my old aunts were saying in loud voice, “Why the hell are you wearing red? Your lola will visit you! Don’t you know that wearing red is bad during wake? Quick and change!”
I was astounded, superstitious belief about the dead is still alive. Even in the advent of media and internet, superstitions is still a part of every Filipinos life.
So I changed my clothes into a boring plain white over sized shirt since I got no choice. After eating my dinner, I proceed to the house of my Lola (our house and Grandma’s are just a step away) Smell of melting and burning candle wax and fragrant scents of flowers filled the air. Friends and relatives filled the living room and whispering to each other how good my Lola was when she was still alive. Outside the house long lines of people were gambling and playing bets.
One of the old ladies sympathizing with us said to me “Never turn-off the lights near your Lola’s coffin okay? Even it is on broad daylight.”
I wondered so I asked why.
The old lady said “There are creatures who steal corpse of the dead for their own consumption. If you leave the body of your Grandma unattended, you’ll be surprised that the corpse is gone! Never sweep for you just attract more balbal.”
Sounds creepy right? But you couldn’t argue to the respectable oldies especially opposing their belief.
I had made a lists of superstitious belief during wake I found so absurd.
1. Illuminate the house of the deceased and surround the coffin with lights. The lights scare the balbal. Balbal is the term for a ghoul who steal and eat corpses. When the balbal steals the corpse, it replaces the corpse with a dummy made from banana trunk. The balbal has a power to create an illusion that the dummy is the corpse. No one may see the difference but the dummy has no finger prints.
2. Never leave the body of the deceased alone. Someone should be keeping watch at the corpse. Maybe because of the same reason as number 1.
3. Never sweep the dirt for you may spread the scent of the dead, thus attracting more balbal.
4. Never wear red. The spirit of the dead will visit you.
5. The size of the coffin should be exact at the body of the deceased. (Don’t know why. But they said it’s bad.)
6. Never serve noodles to the visitors. Noodles means “long life”, in lieu of wake serving noodles means “more dead”.
7. Don’t say thank you when someone says “condolence”. (Huh?)
In the countryside where people still tend to believe in mysticism, superstitions and conjuring nature, maybe it is not bad at all to follow some of their belief. Wala namang masama di ba?