It was in my college years when I heard about an old traditional way of burying the dead which I did not even know I can find in Sagada. At first, I was really hesitant because I could not imagine how am I supposed to enjoy a place full of mystery until I finally embarked myself on a long road trip to Sagada.
Popular attractions like the Sumaguing Cave, Lumiang Cave, Bomod-Ok (Big) Falls, Kiltepan, Ganduyan Museum, Echo Valley, Mt Polis, Mt Ampacao, Pongas Falls, Lake Danum and The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary the Virgin can be found in Sagada. Another attraction to complete your Sagada adventure is the visit of the hanging coffins.
In the old years, old folks carve their own coffins out of hollowed logs before they die. If they are weak, someone else in the family prepares their coffins for them instead. The dead is placed normally inside their coffins and general in all occasions, they have this ritual which involves pushing the bodies into the tight spaces of the coffins and often bones are smashed and broken as the process is completed. I can imagine the process of breaking their bones just to fit them inside the coffin afterwards they are brought to a cave for the burial.
According to our local guide, instead of being placed into the ground, these coffins are placed inside the caves hanging or at the face of the cliff close to the hanging coffins of their ancestors. These coffins are placed up to the cliff to make it sacred and to ensure that the coffins would not be ruined by people who could not understand the old tradition. In the past, people never had an understanding of heaven and hell not until an energetic American Episcopal Church Rev. John Armitage Stanton, Jr. established the first Christian mission in Sagada in early 1900.
In the Sagada region in the Mountain Province of the Island of Luzon, the ancient funeral norm of hanging coffins from mountain cliffs is still being practiced by some groups. The purpose of suspending the casket from the mountain rocks is to bring their dead closer to heaven and also to protect the bodies from natural disasters like earthquakes and floods and also to keep the corpses away from wild animals.
A guide is not that essential if you want to see for most of the burial caves. Most of the caves are close to the city center and at the most is just a 15-30 minute walk away from the main town. These coffins are sacred so I strongly suggest one must pay respect when you get there. Refrain from opening coffins and taking bones for souvenirs.
The trek down to the hanging coffins must be included in your Sagada itinerary. Trekking down is a little bit difficult for newbie hikers but let me tell you that it’s all worth it. After seeing the hanging coffins upclose and knowing the reason why they’re hanging their dead loved ones, you’ll certainly appreciate this old Igorot tradition.
Through the years the locals tried to preserve this old tradition but some of the coffins are well over a century old. Eventually the coffins deteriorate and fall from their uncertain positions. Of course, there is always a steady stream of new arrivals to replace them. Many of the burial locations of the coffins are subtle and difficult to reach but can be recognized the full worth from a far.
These remarkable coffins can be seen from a respectful distance.
Sagada couldn’t get more enchanting without the elements of the old traditional way of burying the dead. When you go to Sagada caves in Philippines there are hanging coffins you will see up for grabs on the cliffs made of limestone.
1. From the town center of Sagada, one must walk towards the “Church of St Mary the Virgin”, an Episcopal Churc
2.Walk towards the modern cemetery of Sagada until you reach the Echo Valley. Find out why it was called Echo Valley.
3. The hanging coffins located across the hill. The hanging coffins can be trekked down you just have to follow the trails going down from the Echo Valley. Take pictures of the hanging coffins and share what you have learned.
***Note that hiring a local guide is optional to visit the hanging coffins. If you do visit the caves however, make sure you get a local guide because some of the caves are hard to find and the path can be difficult to navigate.