Ded Na Si Lolo (Grandpa Is Dead): Superstitions in Filipino Culture
Ded Na Si Lolo
Ded Na Si Lolo is a Filipino indie film starring four of the finest actors in Philippine cinema, Gina Alajar, Elizabeth Oropesa, Manilyn Reynes, and Roderick Paulate. The film also stars RJ Flores as Bobet, the little grandson who has stuffed his pockets with cotton and ammonia to help with the family’s fainting spells. The movie title is from Bobet’s perspective, thus, ded na si lolo which means grandpa is dead. The comedy film is directed by Soxie Topacio.
The movie is about the death of Lolo Juanito and the many personal issues surrounding his family. The story is simple, the scenes are hilarious, and the theme is relevant. Family issues aside, the movie is a showcase of Filipino superstitious beliefs, and specifically, the superstitions surrounding the dead.
When news of the old man’s death comes to Charing (Manilyn Reynes), one of the three daughters, she bawls and faints. At her father’s house where her sister Mameng (Gina Alajar) also lives, she and her sister also wail and faint. When the older sister Dolores (Elizabeth Oropesa) arrives and is about to faint, she is told that the funeral parlor has not yet delivered the dead body. She has to wait until the dead body is home before she can faint. Fainting seems to be the norm when a member of their family dies. Several scenes in the movie show the characters joking about who faints best.
When the dead body in the casket arrives, this causes the family to start wailing and howling. The funeral staff and the barangay captain have to use their crowd-control skills in order to get the casket up to the house.
Then the superstitions begin.
Filipino Superstitious Beliefs in Ded Na Si Lolo
No family member of the dead can help carry the casket. Once inside, the casket has to be positioned in such a way that the feet of the dead do not point to the door. A rosary is placed around the hands of the dead, but the rosary chain must be broken so that the perceived “death spell” in the family is broken. Mameng forgets to cut off the rosary chain, and she is chided by Charing that she must have forgotten to break the rosary that she has put in their dead mother’s hand, that is why their father followed her to death. Mameng reminds her that it has been seven years since their mother has died.
Dolores puts some money in her father’s hand for luck. According to tradition, during the wake, the family must put money in the hands of the dead and take it back before the burial, so they can enjoy financial success when they keep the money in their wallets or use it for business.
No one is allowed to wear anything red when someone dies. When Junee (Roderick Paulate), a younger brother who is a gay impersonator comes home in a red gown, he is reprimanded by Dolores. When he asks his sisters why wearing red is not allowed, all they can answer is, “That is what ‘they’ say.” I have heard people say that wearing red to a wake or a funeral is an insult to the family because red could mean cheerfulness. It sends a message to the family that the death of their loved one is a reason for rejoicing. On the other hand, Junee sees Bobet covered in a red blanket. He asks why use a red blanket while he can’t wear red clothing. His sisters answer, “They say that red blanket protects the children from being visited by the dead.”
“Who are ‘they’?” he asks. His sisters do not know but insist that it does not hurt to do as ‘they’ say. The funny thing is that when a wake is held in one’s house, not one member of that house is to take a bath or shower within the house. Family members would have to go through the wake without taking a bath or take that bath in a neighbor’s place.
The house is not allowed to be cleaned up, even sweeping the floor is not allowed, no matter how dirty it becomes. Junee questions this belief. It’s been days since they cleaned up and he feels it has become unsanitary for them to keep all the dirt and grime in the house. But his older brother says that it has been a long-held belief by the old folks, so they have to stick to such beliefs.
When some of Junee’s gay friends who have come to console the family are ready to leave, Junee volunteers to walk them out to safety as they might be bullied, but Dolores prohibits him from doing so. It is not good for a family member to walk guests out of the house when there is a wake. And nobody knows why.
Crying is so much a part of the grieving process, but it is not good to shed tears near the casket because “they” say it is bad for tears to fall on the casket. “They” also say that it is not proper for family members to thank those who have given them favors or donations for the dead.
All donations for the dead must be fully spent for the dead. The excess amount must not be used by the living. But usually, there is never any excess because the family has to spend even during the burial, such as renting vehicles and providing snacks for those who attend the interment. Additionally, anyone who meets a funeral procession is lucky and must throw coins in the air to have some financial success.
During the interment, Bobet is carried over the casket to and fro in order to prevent his grandpa from exercising his visitation rights on little kids. Bobet’s protest that he is not a little kid falls on deaf ears. As he watches the burial, he tells his grandpa that it’s alright if he visits him because he is not afraid of him. He bids his “lolo” goodbye.
Food and Gambling Superstitions
The movie has depicted some prevalent practices during a wake, especially a wake held at home. The family has to provide food for the guests every day, and every night, the same family distraught at the death of a loved one must set aside their emotional grief and prepare for something like a feast.
Then there’s the gambling thing. An enterprising businessman approaches the family to set up his gambling tables because according to him, it is legal to put them up when there is a wake for the dead. He mentions that some families schedule the burial for several weeks in order to profit from gambling because the family gets 20% of the nightly returns. He persuades them to do the same and extend the wake to two more weeks.
Mameng mulls over the thought because they need money as they owe the hospital and the funeral parlor a huge amount. The family discusses the issue and concludes that one week is enough for the wake. Dolores volunteers to shoulder the rest of the amount needed.
I wonder how the dead body is released from the hospital and the funeral parlor when the family owes them huge amounts. Hospitals do not release the death certificate when there are unpaid bills, and funeral parlors need the death certificate to complete their services. Anyway, I forget that this is a movie and sometimes movies stray a bit from reality.
The movie is a good watch but only for Filipinos because only Filipinos can fully understand and find the situations funny. Even Filipinos who do not believe in these superstitions can find the movie very amusing as the movie has presented the outlandish beliefs in a light and humorous way.
It might be a bit difficult to stop people from believing in superstitions, but it may be wise to know the source of that belief and to evaluate whether it is practical at this age and time. For all we know, we are perpetuating something that has no real value in the past nor in our present time. If we can’t find a reason why we cannot clean the house or ourselves for a week when people come and go, then it may be time to label that belief as unfounded and reject it.