HOME SWEET CEMETERY — James Chance Documents Manila’s Cemetery Denizens

by Samantha Anne Scott

Colorado-based photographer James Chance won the inaugural PoYI/Reynolds Journalism Institute Emerging Vision Incentive award with his project documenting the intriguing cemetery-dwelling culture in Manila’s North Cemetery. These photographs truly speak from themselves, but here’s a snippet describing the project, in Chance’s own words:

“In the center of this bustling city of 11 million people, lies the North Cemetery. The final resting place of several Filipino Presidents, celebrities, and hundreds of thousands of the city’s Catholic dead, the cemetery is also home to a living community of more than 2,000 people.

In a country where around 40 percent of people live below the poverty line, and overpopulation in Manila is reaching desperate proportions, the cemetery provides a unique residence for the hundreds of families that live and work within its walls.

In contrast to cemeteries in the west, the North Cemetery is a busy and vibrant place. The vast and complex network of streets and alleys is tightly lined by tens of thousands of mausoleums and tombs – many of which are inhabited. Yet this is still a fully functioning cemetery, with up to 80 funerals taking place each day. The community here is strong and the stigma attached with inhabiting this location has allowed a unique ‘gated community’ to grow. Indeed, the resting place of the dead is the foundation that the living now depends upon.

This project aims to reflect the resiliency of people who lack stable housing and community infrastructure within Manila and what it takes to live in this unique environment. It is an inspirational example of people making the best out of very little, as well as an alarm bell for human rights activists, as it shows how difficult it is to find stable housing due to extreme poverty and overcrowding in the city.”

Adanita Binaverdez, who has been living in the North Cemetery for six years, gazes out of her mausoleum home as a funeral procession passes.

After facing unemployment outside, Rodolfo "Rody" Villanueva was able to find a job as a caretaker and gardener for the United Spanish American War Veterans' memorial inside the cemetery. Caretakers form the other half of this unique society and are paid a salary to guard and maintain a family's mausoleum or plot in the wealthier areas of the cemetery. Rody has lived here for five years and spends his days maintaining the grounds of this small site.

Most residents have to bathe publicly with a bucket of water drawn from the well.

Jerry and Jenny Juan have made the most out of their family owned plot in the cemetery. They have built a house next to the family's mausoleum and have two successful businesses - one breeding exotic birds and the other renting tricycle taxis to the mourners visiting the cemetery. Jenny's sister who is visiting from the south of Luzon relaxes on the family mausoleum's veranda.

Like any community there are "classes" of people living here who enjoy more or less luxury, depending on their relative wealth. At the bottom of this hierarchy are the squatters who live in one to four story shanties on top of the wall of tombs that form the northern exterior wall. This is the most populated area of the grounds and is home to around 100 families.

Up to 80 funerals are conducted here each day. Residents often earn a few Pesos by carrying coffins to the gravesites.

Residents of the squatter neighborhood peer down from their homes on a funeral below them.

"Tanching" is a local game similar to marbles, but played with coins.

LINKS:

Chance’s Web site

Chance’s Emerging Vision “Living With the Dead” application

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One Comments

  1. Aphra Fiera says:

    Beautiful shots, tragic story.

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