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