“For people like us that were born poor, there is nothing else that we can do. We are happy here. Maybe this is what God planned for us. Take me, for instance. I’m already old. But for my children, I don’t want them to experience this kind of life as much as possible. I want them to live elsewhere. Not here, anymore. But for me, I am already satisfied here. I’m happy.”
– Carlito “Steve” Cabuso
Manila is the most densely populated city in the world with an average of 43,000 people living per square kilometer. In a country where around 45 percent of people live on less than $2.00 a day, and overpopulation in Manila has reached desperate proportions, the city’s largest Catholic cemetery, the North Cemetery, provides a unique residence for the hundreds of families that live and work within its walls.
In contrast to the choked traffic and noise just outside the cemetery walls, the North Cemetery is quiet and peaceful. Here a community of more than 2,000 people live, work and raise their children, participating in the unique economy that accommodates the numerous Catholic funerals that take place each day. Vocations include the caretaking of mausoleums; in most cases the family will inhabit the mausoleum they maintain, building tombs, carving headstones assisting with burials and performing exhumations—as in many cases tombs are rented for just five years.
The cemetery is a microcosm that purely illustrates how overpopulation affects those at the bottom of the economic spectrum. In this case, unchecked growth and a lack of housing and basic resources have resulted in a community of people who have made themselves less vulnerable by choosing to turn a taboo locale into a home.
In this respect, the North Cemetery is a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of it’s living community members, who have not only adapted, but are in some cases succeeding in this unique and ‘unsuitable’ environment.
This is Living with the Dead.