Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Two women in LUTO receiving military commendation for the wartime death of her son.
The younger lady could have been the deceased's widow or sister.

LUTO : the custom for women to wear black for one year, from the death of a significant relative until the first anniversary.  As one saina told me, "I luto i attilong na magågo desde ke måtai, yanggen dos umasagua, måtai uno, siempre un åño para u fan luluto ha'."

Only women wore the luto.  Mothers for their children; wives for their husbands.  Daughters for their parents.  This was de rigueur.  But sisters could wear the luto for their deceased siblings, if they wanted.  In-laws (yetna, kuñåda) could wear black skirts but white blouses.

In the old days, it was meaningless to ask for what occasions the women would wear the luto, because the women wouldn't go anywhere for that year of mourning, except to church.  They did not go to parties or picnics or movies or any functions at all, except church.  "Sakrifisio.  Hokkok ha' i para u falak i gima'yu'us."

When the first of my grandmother's siblings died, the surviving siblings wore black to church for one year.  But some were less strict about not going to social events, while one auntie was more strict about it, as she was more strict about everything!

I knew two elderly sisters in the 1970s and 80s, from the Tuncap family, who went to Mass everyday in black; one in a black mestisa, the other in a black modern dress, sitting next to each other at every Mass, every single day! They followed the custom of some widows who wore black for the rest of their lives!

The luto is not followed anymore.  Women still wear black many times today, but just for the funeral.  One lady told me that her elderly mother, many years ago, told them not to wear the luto when she died because "mangombibida."  That literally means "it invites," meaning wearing the black is asking for another death in the family.  But another lady told me, "Mandagi! Todo ennao ti bai hongge.  Si Yu'us ha' mangongonne'.  Si Yu'us tumungo' i oran i finatai taotao." (She's lying!  I won't believe any of that.  Only God takes people.  God knows the hour of a person's death.)

The custom of the luto is not indigenous.  It is not even necessarily Christian alone.  The wearing of black as a sign of mourning was practiced by different peoples and cultures, in different places at different points in history.  But there were exceptions, such as white, which was the color of mourning for some European royalty many years ago.

The Spaniards brought the custom of the luto to the Marianas, and the word luto is Spanish (from the Latin luctus, for "sorrow, affliction").


Queen Catherine de Medici in Mourning
Lumuluto si Rarainan Catalina

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