Creepy Family Artifacts

Recuerdo de Patay. The name itself is somewhat eerie. After all, anything that relates to patay or ‘the dead’ is indeed creepy: ataul (coffin), funeraria (funeral home), cementerio (cemetery), and among other things. But what I realize that is creepier is when you take a family picture with the deceased during the wake or right before the burial.  For now, it may serve as loving memento, perhaps a sentimental attempt to capture the final moments the family have with their beloved dead. But for the next generation who would come across these photos inside old family drawers, this might freak them out.

An old family photo with the dead, ca. 1920. (Source: Pinoy Kollektor)

An old family photo with the dead, ca. 1920. (Source: Pinoy Kollektor)

Post-mortem photography is widely practiced during the turn of the 20th century in the Philippines. It is the time when photo services became more accessible even to the common folk. In fact, the practice still persists in some places up to this day. When my grandmother died, I remember having family picture beside the coffin. Only now I realize it was kind of funny since it was taken right after everyone was sobbing. One could imagine the look on our faces, including me who was just a wide-eyed 11 year-old kid that time, while holding back our tears for a while to have a good pose with the dead!

Recuedro de patay of a child, ca. 1930. The dead obviously belong to a middle class family. (Source: Pinoy Kollektor)

Recuedro de patay of a child, ca. 1930. The dead obviously belong to a middle class family. (Source: Pinoy Kollektor)

It’s interesting to think that along with the early development of photography comes the awkward practice of standing beside the dead for picture taking. Its origin can be traced back to the West during the Victorian Era, when people resort to photographs as keepsakes for their beloved dead than painting portraits of them which proved to be less accessible, impractical, and expensive. Many of these post-mortem photos are that of dead children whose brief stay prompted the bereaved families to keep remembrance of them. Photographs are the most effective recuerdos de patay.

Recuerdo de Patay, literally “a memory of the dead” has become popular among Filipinos in the 1900’s who could afford to hire photographers to take their last moments with the dead. That of Emilio Jacinto is one of the famous “recuerdo de patay” that so far made into the internet. Kudos to pareng Emil!

Recuerdo de Patay, literally “a memory of the dead” has become popular among Filipinos in the 1900’s who could afford to hire photographers to take their last moments with the dead. That of Emilio Jacinto is one of the famous “recuerdo de patay” that so far made into the internet. Kudos to pareng Emil!

Although I admit recuerdos de patay are really creepy stuff, it provides us an interesting light about the past. History in books oftentimes tells the tale of the famous but not the ordinary ones whose life are just as worthy to look back as theirs. These recuerdos that survive to this day speak about these people. They are actually artifacts of the past whose history are not written in books but is fully described on faded surface. Those who decided to make a keepsake of the dead unintentionally left us today invaluable depiction of our past—random sources that when weaved together form a portrait of family stories, real people, and a familiar collective consciousness. With all these realizations in mind, I hope my mother kept that only recuerdo de patay which I took part in. Never mind if I look as ignorant as the dead itself that time. It is for the sake of preserving family history that I wanted to keep it. And yes, it’s next to my intention to pass creepy family artifacts too to the next generation.

Among the eeriest pinoy recuerdo de patay I found in the internet is this one. I don't find find the dead creepy here but the girl who was asked to sit beside it!

Among the eeriest pinoy recuerdo de patay I found in the internet is this one. I don’t find find the dead creepy here but the girl who was asked to sit beside it! (Source: Pinoy Kollektor)


More about ‘recuerdo de patay’ at http://pinoykollektor.blogspot.com/2013/11/93-recuerdo-de-patay-pinoy-photos-of.html.

10 responses to “Creepy Family Artifacts

    • I haven’t seen The Others yet. What actually is a Book of the Dead, a sort of collection of post-mortem pictures of the family?

      • It’s a collection of photos of the dead, some are lying down, some are even seated. You should see the The Others. it stars Nicole kidman.

  1. Very creepy, indeed. Everyone dressed in their best and posing with the dead. Also, the first time I’ve ever heard or seen such a ritual. Thanks for sharing these. 🙂

    • Try to google it and you’ll find such photos from Victorian era. They look even creepier since they intend the dead to look still alive in some photos!

  2. I read on facebook once that some country in asia digs up their deceased family members, cleans them, changes their clothes and basically hang out with them during this certain day once a year. To them, it was their way of taking care of their loved ones even if they were dead. Interesting!

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