In his 1909 work La Religion Antigua de los Filipinos (The Ancient Religion of the Filipinos), Isabelo de los Reyes explained the custom of fencing a house with plants, e.g. duranta, santan, sampaguita, san francisco. Ancient Cagayanons, Ilocanos, and Tagalogs believed that anitos (good spirits) love dwelling on certain plants used as fences. Ancient Tagalogs named that spirit as Lakanbakod or the lord of fence. Aside from those good anitos, our forebears revered the gracious and omnipresent spirits of their ancient warriors (bayani), leaders (datu), and old sages (apu) as nunu (literally ‘ancestor’) who were just around, observing and ready to extend help when Kapampangan/Tagalog katalunan or the Visayan babaylan (ancient priest) asked for their advise and guidance, i.e. in times of war, epidemic or pestilence. So technically our forebears felt secure because of good spirits around. Spaniards only demonized our nunus as “malignos” (Spanish for ‘maligned spirits’) and “encantos” (Spanish for ‘enchanted’), even reducing them as “duendes” (from Spanish folkloric character for ‘goblin’); when the Americans came, we began to imagine our nunus as if those dwarfs of Snow White. And when Magandang Gabi Bayan and Shake, Rattle and Role series colonized our airwaves, our fear of our OWN ancestors worsen.
Trivializing the spirits and the dead is actually un-Filipino to the nth power! Good thing the Ilocanos still practice giving “atang” (‘offering’) for their departed loved ones and ancestors, and the Pangasinans the “dudumen” (‘black rice cake’); and the Bicolanos call undas “Pistang Kalag” (‘feast of the souls’) as if we are celebrating the memory of the dead, while the Kapampangans call it “daun” (‘offer’).