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Filipino tribe brings back dead with clothing ritual

MANILA--Members of the Hanunuo Mangyan tribe in the Philippines do not leave their dead in the grave for long, digging up the remains of loved ones in an unusual revival ritual that itself is slowly dying out.

  The "kutkot" ritual is a tradition of bringing the dead back to life. A Filipino word for "scratch" or "unearth," it entails dressing up the remains of the dead in cloth so that they take on a human form again.

  Many of the nearly 100 indigenous peoples' groups across the archipelago hold rituals for the dead, but very few among the 25,000 Hanunuo Mangyans remaining in the central island of Mindoro still practice kutkot, which has fallen victim to modern influences. For some, kutkot is an obligation that tribal members must perform, in keeping with clan practice or honouring a dead relative's request.

  A year after tribesman Hulyong Antonio was buried, six of his children and other relatives travelled to his grave and unearthed his coffin to perform kutkot. "This man told his children, `Whatever happens to me, you have to do the kutkot ritual, in the same way that you did for your mother,'" Baryos Gawid, Antonio's nephew, said.

  The family members cleaned the skeleton, then wrapped the parts in a large cloth. The ritual involves an elaborate process of draping the cloth around the bones in such a way that it resembles a sort of mannequin, called a "sinakot".

  Only a few Mangyans have mastered this skill. The cloth must be tied taut with a string and bulked in certain areas to create a human shape, much like a mummy, only in this case wrapped after the corpse is exhumed.

  "To this day, we have not forgotten our culture. It has remained alive," said Bapa Amando, one of Antonio's children. To humanise the sinakot, family members dress up the bulked up remains with clothes and jewellery, with each son or daughter making a contribution.

  A year after his death, Hulyong Antonio was welcomed back in his village with the sound of gongs and a traditional dance. The family keeps the remains in a hut for about a year, then transfers them to a cave, where other "sinakot" are housed. As more Hanunuo Mangyans migrate from Mindoro's coastal villages to search for jobs in cities, rituals like kutkot are fading, along with other unique cultural practices.

  "The younger members of the tribe are not interested in performing this ancient ritual of ours. They don't know how to do it," Gawid said.

  The survival of ethnic communities in the Philippines is threatened by industrial developments such as mining, logging and commercial plantations encroaching their ancestral land.

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