Living with the Dead – The North Cemetery in Manila

posted in: Manila, Philippines | 0

Cemeteries are usually an interesting place to see. In a way they give an insight into the culture of the people and represent the way they deal with their dead. I have been to a few cemeteries in the world but I have never been to a cemetery like the North Cemetery of Manila, the Cemeterio del Norte.

It is the oldest and largest cemetery in Manila founded during the nineteenth century and covering an area of 54 acres. You find traditional graves and  mausoleums but also walls with small square boxes containing the remains of the dead.  So far the few hard facts. What makes this place so different is that an estimated 10.000 poor people have chosen to make the graves and mausoleums their home and to live with the dead lacking any alternative to find a home.

Cemeteries are usually a place of silence and dignity. Not so here. What you find is a lively community with a quiet and peaceful street life, children playing on the graves and tombs and little carts selling food. Water is supplied by the many wells, electricity taken illegally from a cable somewhere.

The people living here have generally been accepted by now, although every now and then the authorities try to resettle them. But they always return. The stories and motivations to come here vary. Some of the families came from the provinces and just could not find any other home, some have inherited the mausoleums from their ancestors, some have simply broken up the graves and occupied them and others have been hired by the owners of the mausoleums to take care of them.

I went there and was accompanied by a Filipina friend. When we arrived we were greeted by some people working in the administration. One of them asked me where I come from. When I answered that I am German, he was shouting HITLER! and he and another guy made the Nazi salute. Then my friend was handed over a blank piece of paper and she had to write a letter to the head of the cemetery explaining who we were and what our intention was. Very funny and strange procedure. Afterwards we were offered a guide taking us around on a tricycle.

The Graves

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The Street Life

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Living in the Graves

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The People and the Children

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The North Cemetery is located on a huge ground where you also find the famous Chinese Cemetery next door.

Click the slide show above the post to see more images.

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