Religion, culture and politics in the Philippines

Tremlett, Paul-Francois (2007). Religion, culture and politics in the Philippines. Anpere



This essay addresses two questions with regard to the contemporary Philippines: the question of political violence and the question of status and hierarchy or, as some would have it, class. In recent years I have done field work in and around Manila and in the provinces of Laguna and Quezon about the use of amulets or antíng-antíng in martial rituals for making men's bodies invulnerable, and also on practices concerned with the disposal of the dead. I will suggest that the ritual use of amulets through which Filipino men typically seek to protect themselves from violence signifies a generalised fear of violence. I will also suggest that such rituals of invulnerability transform violence, vulnerability and invulnerability into spiritual problems that can only be overcome through spiritual means. This is to be regarded as a problem: political violence in the Philippines will not be stopped by prayer or by a tattoo or a talisman. Secondly, I will argue that if we want to understand Filipino society with its hierarchies and status and class relationships, we can find ready-made 'maps' of such relations in graveyards. In other words, the geography of death provides an important insight into the ordinarily hidden structuring of society in the Philippines. As such, I will argue that the increasing tendency of middle-class or 'C' class Filipinos to choose cremation at death and for the ashes to be stored not in a graveyard but in a columbarium suggests a desire to escape hierarchy, but also the political impotence of the middleclass in that for this class the problem of hierarchy in the Philippines can only be resolved in death: the issue of inequality simply cannot be confronted in reality.

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