To the Ilocanos, gasat (fate) detemines their life on earth. Death to them means the fulfillment of destiny, the inevitable. It is because of this Ilocano view of death that they are better able to bear the passing away of their loved ones with courage and fortitude.
The Ilocanos have traditionally believed that most of man's illnesses are caused by spirits. Even accidents have often been attributed to the supernatural, to spirits that could either be the aswang (witch) or the mannamay (sorcerer).
Death is often preceded by omens such as a black butterfly which enters a house at night or during an eclipse. When a person is dying, an old woman is usually called in to pray and attend to him. Sometimes, a coconut shell is placed under the dying man's bed so that everyone in the room may hear the angel and the devil fighting for possession of the man's soul. When a man dies, an atong (burning piece of wood) is placed in front of the gate of his house. This announces a death in the family to spirits and the living alike. The fire is left burning for the duration of the wake.
If relatives are being awaited, the corpse is embalmed for an extended wake. Members of the household are expected to refrain from working for the duration of the wake. Those keeping vigil recount all the good deeds of the deceased before the group. In some towns, the family hires the services of a mandung-aw, who provides the wailing and lamenting during the wake. Family members also do this to express their grief anguish, and pain. The presence of young men and women at the vigil prevents the spirits of the preternatural world from stealing the corpse.
Chores that are tabooed during the wake include cleaning or sweeping the house. It is believed that another member of the bereaved family will follow soon if this belief is not observed. Taking a bath or rubbing the skin with isiso (stone) will cause scabbies. Taking a bath in the house where the dead lies in state is prohibited. Meeting and seeing visitors to the door and accompanying them to the door when leaving are taboo.
With the belief that there is life after death, the clothes and other paraphernalia are buried with the dead. This is also done so that the soul will not come back for his precious possessions. However, if something is forgotten and someone in the neighborhood dies, a relative will place the remaining precious belonging of their deceased to the dead relative.
Likewise, there are also food taboos like eating maninggay (horse-radish) whose leaves easily fall off and sour food or snails called bisukol. Violation of these means death to another member of the bereaved family.
Before the funeral, the dead man's kin perform the mano (kissing of the hand). Each family member pays his last respects by kissing the dead man's hand or by lifting the hand briefly to his forehead. After the mano, the women cover their faces and heads with black veils.
Before the coffin is taken out of the house, a rooster or a hen, depending upon the sex of the decease, is beheaded and thrown out into the yard opposite the stairs. The sacrificial animal precedes the dead in the beyond, ensuring his safe passage and announcing his arrival. After this, the coffin is brought out of the house. The pallbearers are cautioned against having the coffin touch any part of the house lest another death occur in the family. Rice is strewn all over the coffin for good luck. The coffin bearers also guard against tarrying on the stairs, for a relative might be possessed by the dead man's soul. The doors and windows of the house are shut after the coffin is brought out to prevent the soul from disturbing those whom he left behind. These are reopened only after the funeral party returns from the cemetery.
To show extreme grief of the bereaved family, the members wear black clothes and a manto ("lack veil) which is worn by the female members of the family. Solemn music is played during the funeral procession from the house of the dead to the church and then to the cemetery.
After the funeral, members of the family and relatives go through the diram-os; that is, they wash their faces and upper limbs with a basin of basi in which some coins were immersed to ward off the spell of the evil spirit. The following day, immediate relatives have the golgol (hair shampoo) in the river to wash away any. To show extreme grief of the bereaved family, the members wear black clothes and a manto (black veil) which is worn by the female members of the family. Solemn music is played during the funeral procession from the house of the dead to the church and then to the cemetery.
After the funeral, members of the family and relatives go through the diram-os; that is, they wash their faces and upper limbs with a basin of basi in which some coins were immersed to ward off the spell of the evil spirit. The following day, immediate relatives have the golgol (hair shampoo) in the river to wash away any power of the spirit of the dead. This is followed by the offering of niniogan (a kind of rice cake), basi, buyo, and tobacco.
Every night for nine nights, a lualo (prayer) is offered for the dead. On the ninth night, an umras is prepared. On a table are placed 12 plates full of native cakes and delicacies like patupat, linapet; busi, kaskaron, baduyca; and two fried chickens. These should stay the whole night to be distributed the following morning to the leader of the novena prayer and to those who assisted in preparing the umras. On the ninth day is the pamisa (feast). Before the pamisa, the leader of the group offers a spoonful each of the cooked foods on the altar. The pamisa is again held to commemorate the one-month and the one-year death anniversaries. On the first year anniversary of the dead is the waksi marking the termination of the mourning as symbolized by the lifting of the black dress.
Filipinos in the Ilocos regions of the Philippines also have their own funeral and burial traditions, known as the pompon or "burial rites". An example would be how a dead husband is prepared by the wife for the wake, known in Ilocano as the bagongon. Typically, only the wives will cloth the corpse, believing that the spirit of the spouse can convey messages through her. Placement of the coffin is also important, which is to be at the center of the home and must be corresponding to the planks of the floorboards. Lighting a wooden log in front of the house is also customary because the smoke assists the spirit of the dead towards heaven. This log is kept in flames during the wake to repel wicked spirits. The ceremonial attire of the female family members for the vigil is clothing with black coloration. Their heads and shoulder area are shrouded with a black handkerchief known as the manto.
Burial customs of the Ilocano people include closing all windows first before taking the casket out of the home, preventing any part of the coffin to hit any part of the dwelling (to prevent the spirit of the dead from loitering to bring forth dilemmas to the household; to some Filipinos, a coffin hitting any object during a funeral means that another person will soon die), and washing the hairs of family members with a shampoo known as gogo (to remove the influence of the spirit of the departed). Rice cakes and basi to attendees after each prayer offering session. On the ninth night, a feast is held after the praying or novena. They will again recite prayers and a feast after one year.
In spite of the influence of modernization, traditional beliefs still persist among the Ilocanos. These play an important role in keeping family relationship as well as community relationship intact.