Living with the dead - PHILIPPINES


The Spirit of Ancestors


Manila, Philippines

Manila is the most densely populated city in the world. Close to a quarter of is 13 million residents are illegal tenants. Manila North Cemetery, which opened in 1904, is one of the oldest and largest in the Philippines. Its elaborate mausoleums and endless stacked tombs are home to an estimated one million of the dead — and a few thousand of the living—mostly the city’s poorest. Yes, hundreds of families have made the cemetery their home! “ It’s safer than being in the streets”, one of  the residents said. As I enter the cemetery I see clothes of various shapes and sizes hanging from the railings of the mausoleums. It’s like a fully functional residential compound. People live in the crypts and mausoleums of wealthy families . Illegal wires tap into the main electrical supply and power the homes whilst water is brought in plastic containers filled from a deep well inside the premises. I am very surprised and it’s somehow surreal  to see people going about their days in a cemetery chatting, playing cards and watching  soap operas on TVs mounted near headstones or ornamental crosses. Kids play happily among the tombs, and at night they sleep on top of them, unconcerned about ghosts. Most of these kids  were born here and like many residents they will probably spend the rest of their life among the dead. Crypts owners are not concerned about these “informal settlers”. In many cases they let them become custodians, cleaning and looking after expensive mausoleums and crypts. Most people here don’t have an income, and they try to sell flowers to victims’ families, make headstones or build coffins to make some money. This is the kind of situation you might find yourself in if  you’re poor, you have no job and you live in one of the world’s most notoriously crowded cities.