An ode to the ghosts of my childhood

NEW BEGINNINGS - The Philippine Star

I don’t remember getting spooked by Halloween when I was a child. That’s primarily because my childhood was not introduced to Halloween.

I grew up in a barrio that was both languid and poetic. No men in creepy ghouls costume roamed around our small village on days close to Nov. 1 (All Saints’ Day) and Nov. 2 (All Souls’ Day). No kids dressed like fairies or superheroes came knocking from door to door asking for candies or chocolates that they would shoot in their Jack-o’-lanterns. No Frankenstein. No Hunchback. No witch riding the broomstick. No black-cloaked Grim Reaper with a scythe. No trick-or-treat.

It was not a scarefest back then. It was more like a songfest.

In the ‘70s, my childhood, instead of being presented with a borrowed tradition of Halloween, was introduced to a tradition of pangangaluluwa, a choral activity performed by a small group of elderly men and women in ordinary clothes. The name of the activity is derived from the word kaluluwa, which means “soul” in English. In the barrio, it could also mean “spirit.”

When night dropped its cloak, they sang songs of lamentation and celebration come Oct. 31 of every year of my childhood. The singers were akin to carolers except that they sang no Christmas carols. (But by mid-November, they were the same singers who did caroling in the neighborhood. They were also the cantoras in the barrio, the ones who sang during Mass.)

From memory, I could still sing part of the pangangaluluwa song:


Kaluluwa’y dumaratal

Sa tapat ng durungawan

Kampanilya’y tinatantay

Ginigising ang mga buhay.


Kung kami po’y lilimusan

Dali-dalian po lamang

Baka kami’y mapagsarhan

Ng pinto sa kalangitan.

Ang inyo pong ililimos

Huwag isasama ng loob

Ang gaganti sa inyo ay Diyos

Siyanawa, Amen, Hesus.


Kaluluwa kaming tambing

Sa purgatoryo nanggaling

Palimos po!


In those days, the strumming of the guitar man could be heard in the quiescence of the whole barrio. The sweet voices of the singers, called nangangaluluwa, mixed very well with the cool breeze of October. Back then, in Gulod, we would be wearing sweaters or jackets during the start of the “ber” months, which could really give us the brrr and chills. The topography of Gulod was inclined to have a nippy breeze as it was sandwiched by Laguna de Bay, which was clean then, in the east and a vast rice field in the west. The lake is no longer pristine and most of the rice field has now been turned into low-cost housing and a cemetery. 

For the singers, even without realizing it, it was perhaps their gift to the people in the barrio that they kept the tradition of pangangaluluwa alive in those days. And even with the seemingly unceasing barking of dogs that welcomed them on the road, the elderly men and women managed to navigate the whole barrio and the neighboring barangays safely. They scared the dogs with ipil-ipil sticks, which, perhaps, they just pruned from the neighborhood. Back then, ipil-ipil trees (sometimes called Sta. Elena) and tall bamboos came aplenty by the roadside.

My Nanay and Tatay, busy from cooking suman in a vat outside our house, were praying that the nangangaluluwa would stop by the house. (To this day, it is our family tradition to cook suman sa lihia or suman sa buli on Oct. 31, no matter how tedious the process is. The suman at home is cooked for eight hours using firewood.) Our very modest house then was several meters away from the roadside, almost near a rice paddy. For the barrio singers to come and serenade us in our humble home meant walking through an unpaved walkway guarded by unruly grass, lush Sta. Elena trees, cassava plants whose finger-like leaves danced to the cold, humming breeze and native bamboos whose tall and slender poles rustled against each other as they bowed to the wind. 

When the nangangaluluwa dropped by our house at 8 p.m., which in those days was considered already late as most of the people in the barrio slept as soon as after the sunset, we would be awake. I would peep through the window, a kerosene lamp in my hand, and be regaled by the powerful and lilting voices of the elderly. After a few songs, my mother would draw from the pocket of her duster a shiny one-peso coin to give to the lead singer. That was already considered a sum back in the ‘70s. My father would also hand them some suman. Other neighbors had already given the nangangaluluwa gifts in kind like freshly harvested squash, string beans, patola, upo and malagkit. And to the most generous in the barrio, they gave the singers dumalagang manok (live chickens).

Many of those who regaled my childhood with songs during the observance of undas (also undras in my barrio) are no longer around. If they have become ghosts, the beautiful memory they gave me is my ode to them.

There were no pranks or tricks in those days. Only treats from the old souls. The tradition of pangangaluluwa is now dead. It will be a treat to revive it one day.

(E-mail me at [email protected]. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)

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