Entry by Kuh Del Rosario
19 Oct 2017
Prayer Warriors is the name used to reference a group of elderly women self appointed to pray over the recently deceased while their soul is still lingering on earth. To help their soul get to the other side, prayers (in Ilocano) for their salvation and peace is recited every day until the ninth day.
Every barangay or neighborhood is serviced by similar groups of women that do the same thing. They are called by different names and depending on which part of the Philippines, they recite the prayers in their local dialect.
This process and other intricacies of Filipino death ceremonies are things I am still struggling to understand. Growing up in Canada, death is easier to compartmentalize. Mourning generally occurs in solitude or among close family and friends. Especially in Batan, where old world traditions are still practiced, it is quite the opposite. Mourning is a public act and the community is quite invloved in the process of grief.
From my own recent experience, the schedule for the prayers are open for change, according to the availability of family members as well as the members of the Prayer Warriors. Assuming these traditions stemmed from strict practice, it seems they have now evolved to adapt to the effects of modern life. But as long as the intention of the prayers are intact, the rituals still hold their value.
Reciting from a very old booklet, the women spoke in rhythmic chant that was beautiful and haunting. That was the start of the nine day prayers.
I was introduced to the Prayer Warriors during the first day of my father's wake in Batan. The women arrived in pairs and small groups in succession. Slowly, they arranged themeselves to face his coffin while others created a makeshift altar that carried a crucifix, rosary, humble flower arrangement and candle set. Once the group was complete, the prayer began. One woman whom I came to know later as Racquel Concepcion, started while everyone joined in unison. Reciting from a very old booklet, the women spoke in rhythmic chant that was beautiful and haunting. That was the start of the Nine Day prayers.
After the ninth day, we were told another series of prayers need to be performed once a week for nine consecutive weeks. Every Saturday morning at 6:30am, the women would arrive after church and pray over an altar we had made in the sitting area of my father's home (Elmo's House).
The altar consisted of a photo of my father, a crucifix from my father's collection, two long burning candles and fresh flowers. The arrangement of the altar changed weekly as we gained a feeling of ownership over the rituals. Flowers changed weekly too but often, we picked Birds of Paradise from the neighbour's overgrown shrubs. Other weeks, Yellow Dancing Lady orchids would accompany the altar, picked from our own front garden. There were weeks my father's altar had flowers from the Kalibo market, if a trip to town lined up before the Saturday prayer, .
After the prayer, we would serve breakfast for the women, prepared at the crack of dawn
After the prayer, we would serve breakfast for the women prepared at the crack of dawn: Chicken Arrozcaldo, Filipino-style spaghetti, Pancit Guisado, Bam-i, Pancit Canton with pandesal, chicken and rice, Spaghetti Bolognese and Longsilog. Desserts like Leche Flan, cookies, donuts and small cakes would follow breakfast. During the meals, we would rush to mix 3-in-1 coffees or Milo for the caffeine adverse. The first Saturday, we had the event catered by Jona Bolivar, our local caterer from Man-Up. But as the weeks progressed, we tackled it ourselves and even became accustomed to the routine. The frantic rush to prepare the food prior to the Prayer Warriors' arrival, became easier and an anticipated event.
Often we joked, that our new crowd of friends have gotten older since moving to Batan. But in seriousness, the presence of the women and the routine of the prayers provided unexpected comfort. For the first time, we felt connection with the people of the town. We were taking part in a very communal act of prayer and we were able to show our gratitude through food.
Admittedly, I am not religious and prayer in the traditional sense has not been a part of my adult life. But the guidance of the prayer warriors and their presence in our life has played an important role in the process of healing during this sad time.
With deep respect and love, Thank you so much to the lovely women, our elders, our friends:
Magdalena B. Nestor
Rolinda S. David
Norma D. Panado
Emeliana M. Perlas
Efepania M. Perlas
Concepcion S. Del Rosario
Josefa P. Salazar
Lola Purita S. Fulgencio
And special thanks to honorary prayer warriors Tito Salcedo and Tita Nora Sabino who have fed us countless times with such warmth and abundant generosity.
To listen to the prayer in full, please click on the link below: