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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

When the City of the Dead Comes Alive

All Saints Day in the Philippines
Ubo Pakes, November 2019

Kalag - Kalag or All Souls Day is a red-letter day for Filipino Catholics in Philippines. During this day, families flock to cemeteries to celebrate and remember their loved ones who passed away. It is maybe the biggest reason for people to travel from the cities to their hometowns to be with their families and some even call it the Kalag-Kalag Fiesta.  At the same time, there is a whole community living and making a living at the cemetery and for them, these are the busiest days of the year.
In the cemeteries families get together, mourn, celebrate, eat, pray, flirt and more. People burn candles or lamps and leave flowers and food for the deceased to partake. It is as if society is standing still on these days and that all life and businesses are concentrated in and around the cemeteries. When people are leaving the cemetery, they usually go through a bonfire of smoke which is believed to prevent the ghosts from following them and their loved one at home and haunt them. 
For more than ten years now, I attend with my family this event and I am very much fascinated by the phenomenon. In the evening when there are thousands of people, lights, candles, fires, flowers and more the cemetery is transformed into an almost mystical place. The city of the dead comes alive while the surrounding business areas are virtually deserted. The world turns upside down. Throngs of the yellow glow of lighted candles, fires and lightbulbs against the setting of flower adorned concrete tombs and a dark blue sky create a special atmosphere that adds to the magic of the event.

Upside down world: An overview of the Careta Cemetery against the skyline of the business park of Cebu City. Usually the lights are on in the high-rise offices and cemetery is dark, Tonight the tables are turned.

The city of the dead; In order to make the most out of the limited space at the cemetery, lately there are multistoried areas where the dead are buried in apartments.

Go through the smoke; A girl maintaining a smoking fire near the exit of the cemetery

The cemetery comes alive at night; The lamps and candles at the apartments where the dead are buried are in stark contrast with the closed businesses in the background

Remembrance; Old woman at one of the graves in Careta Cemetery in Cebu City, lighting a candle and leaving gifts for a loved one

In loving memory. Man mourning at the grave of a loved one, seemingly oblivious to the the bustling activity around him

Recycling: A young girl collects the molten wax from the candles. The wax will be turned again into candles and sold at the cemetery and thus closing the circle.

Maintenance work: for the community living in the cemetery this is the time of the year to earn an extra income by repairing,  cleaning and repainting the monuments

Candlelight: A quiet corner at the cemetery where the flowers and the candle create a nice contrast with the hustle-bustle of the nearby pathway full of people

A food vendor; Food and drinks are a prime ingredient for a family activity like all Saints Day. Even though most families bring food and drinks, there are vendors all over the cemetery

Artist: Ubo Pakes
Resides: Cebu City, Philippines
Twitter: @ubo_pakes

Ubo Pakes is a Dutch national and is an environmental engineer by profession. He moved to the Philippines in 2008 and photography became a way of getting more acquainted with the many different aspects of Philippine culture and the many differences between his home country and the Philippines. Observing the world around him through his camera is a great way to remain curious of the area where he lives.

Living and working in a big metropolitan area like Cebu has directed his focus on the many people who are working and living a big part of their lives on the streets of the City. Creating portraits turned out to be a great way to be in contact with society, learning parts of the language and the customs of the big city and surrounding province. His interests are mainly in documenting the faces and lives of ordinary people in all facets of daily life. 

You can view more of Ubo's work at: The Work of Photographer Ubo Pakes

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