Manunggul jar ‘ship-of-the-dead’ and the journey to afterlife

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | December 29,2020 - 09:00 AM

The journey of the soul to the afterlife was closely associated by early Filipinos to maritime culture as represented by the “ship-of-the-dead” burial container called Manunggul Jar.

I saw the burial jar twice during my visits to two museums, the Palawan Cultural Center in Puerto Princesa, and National Museum in Manila.

The jar dates from 890–710 B.C. and was excavated from a Neolithic burial site in the Manunggul cave of the Tabon Caves at Lipuun Point in Palawan.

During the webinar on maritime history sponsored by the Asian Institute of Maritime Studies (AIMS) last September, my fellow speaker historian Xiao Chua explained how the Manunggul jar shows the interaction between the Filipinos’ maritime culture and their ancestors’ religious beliefs.

The upper part of the Manunggul jar, as well as the cover, is carved with curvilinear scroll designs (reminiscent of waves on the sea) which are painted with hematite.

At the top handle of its cover, there are two human figures in a boat representing the voyage to the afterlife.

The front figure is the deceased man with hands crossed on his chest which was a widespread practice in the Philippines when arranging the corpse.

The rear figure, on the other hand, is holding a steering paddle directing the boat and soul of the man to the afterlife.

Chua pointed out that many Filipino epics narrate how souls go to the next life and pass through the rivers and seas aboard boats.

Early Filipinos believed that a man is composed of a body, a life force called ginhawa, and a kaluluwa (soul) which explains why the design of the cover of the Manunggul Jar featured three faces — the soul, the boatman, and the boat itself.

The kaluluwa, after death, can return to earth to exist in nature and guide their descendants.

Filipino ancestors respected nature as they believe that even things from nature have souls and lives of their own.

Another Filipino artifact that exhibited the country’s maritime history is the Balangay which is one of the most ancient boats in the Philippines that used celestial navigation.

It is a type of lashed-lug boat built by joining planks edge-to-edge using pins, dowels, and fiber lashings. The boats were finely manufactured without any blueprints and were taught to be made from one generation to another.

The Filipino balangay was used largely as trading ships up until the colonial era. It was navigated by the old method used by the ancient mariners—steering by the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns and bird migrations.

The country’s maritime culture is reflected in its status as one of largest supply countries for all seafarers (officers and ratings).

However, despite its glorification due to economic returns, a job of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park.

The maritime profession has always been identified as a high-risk workplace replete with health and safety hazards in relation to the risks of accidents, illnesses and mortality.

The seafarer is often mentally, physically and emotionally stressed, aside from being constantly exposed to a variable environment while working on board vessels that cross ocean boundaries.

The European Maritime Safety Agency reported 745 work-related fatalities among maritime workers and nearly 9,000 persons injured between 2011 and 2020, among other tragic statistics in this sector.

Under the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration standard employment contract, in the case of a seafarer’s work-related death during the term of his contract, the employer shall pay his beneficiaries the Philippine currency equivalent to the amount of US$50,000 and an additional amount of US$7,000 to each child under the age of 21 but not exceeding four children.

The amount usually is higher if the death is covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The POEA contract is designed primarily for the protection and benefit of Filipino seafarers in the pursuit of their employment on board ocean-going vessels.

However, the right over death benefits has also become a long legal battle for some families of deceased Filipino seafarers.

As the employer does not hesitate to harness its immense resources to limit its liability, the claims process has become more litigious, allowing employers to question how the seafarers’ fate and misfortunes are work-related.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)

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