Luzon,  Philippines,  Travels

Ganduyan Museum: A Trip Down Sagada’s Memory Lane

If there’s one mistake every tourist visiting Sagada would be making, it is not dropping by Ganduyan Museum before going anywhere else in the town. This was my thought the moment we finished interviewing sir Lester Aben, the son of the late Christina Aben – the curator of this very museum. I’ve been to a lot of museums as a true sucker for origin, culture and history but only a few have I heard of speaking about the past as if it wasn’t distant. Perhaps because Sir Lester was more than just a museum guide – it was his ancestors, his family, the Applai tribe, his home that he was talking about. I thought to myself as we listened to him, I could have appreciated more everything I’ve seen in Sagada if I’ve gone to the museum first. Everything could have made more sense and have been more felt.

What is Ganduyan?

Ganduyan is the traditional name of Sagada. It changed around 1600s when this farmer who was carrying “sag-ad”, a farm tool, came across Spaniards on his way to the fields. The Spaniards asked him as to what was the place called. However, due to miscommunication, the farmer thought they were asking him as to what he was carrying. He then answered, “Sag-ad ah”. From then on, the place was called Sagada. Despite its new name, the Igorots of Sagada would still dearly regard to their home as Ganduyan.

Sir Lester Aben, the museum guide

Ganduyan Museum is a legacy of the late Mrs. Christina Aben. She collected the items and artefacts in 1960 and put it up on display for a museum around 1980’s. The museum is not subsidized by the government that’s why they collect an amount of Php 100.00 to maintain it. Up to date, it is among the most intense collection of the Cordilleran artefacts under the care of the Aben’s.

Our Ganduyan Museum Experience

Ganduyan Museum sits peacefully along Dantay-Sagada Road, in the heart of the busiest area of the town. Upon drop off, we hurried into this hippie-looking house’s short narrow hall with the staircase on its end where we were asked to remove our footwears. The polished wooden steps felt satisfyingly cool on my sole but my attention was diverted from the sensation on my feet to my amusement at the sight of the artefacts. I skipped some steps and scampered to where the group is. I can feel my history buff self squealing.

The Ladies and Gentlemen’s Accessories

After telling us about Ganduyan, sir Lester went on with the pieces of artefacts starting off with the ladies’ accessories. There were ones made of beads that were once used as a form of currency before. There was a traditional money belt with a small basket that is multi-dimensional where they put their valuables especially the fertility beads. There’s also a snake vertebrae and another one made up of dog teeth worn by ladies on their heads to protect them from lightning and to waive off bad spirits. Sir Lester even mentioned that Sagada is exempted from the Animal Cruelty Act because of their culture and traditions. He then proceeded with the other items from other provinces that they acquired through trading.

From the ladies’ accessories, we proceeded to the next glass display cabinet where the gentlemen’s stuff are. There were ones made up of carabao and crocodile teeth! Sir Lester also showed us the rich man’s anklets, necklaces, belt made of shell, hats and bags made of rattan, earrings, pipes, lighters made of wood and wine cups, too.

Home Essentials

One of the remarkable pieces in the museum is a sculpture of a sitting man that they call as “tinagtago”. They usually put this sculpture either inside or outside the house to keep the bad spirits away. In Ifugao, they call it the “Bulun” or the rice god. We also noticed that a lizard figure is usually carved on various artefacts in the museum. According to Sir Lester, the lizard signifies long life and good luck.

Apart from these, there are also wooden and woven plates, spoons, bowls, jars for the rice wine or rice, chopping board which may also serve as a pillow, baskets for food, other kitchenware and a lot more. Most of these artefacts were almost black in color. This is because of the fire that they lit inside the house to keep them warm. Since there are no windows but small opening only, the smoke would often be trapped making the stuff inside the house black.

Travel Essentials and War Weapons and Equipment

Past the home essentials are the travel and war weapons and equipment. This include the G-string or “bahag” – a Cordilleran tribal clothing for male, a male’s sling bags with metal already, raincoats, fish traps, bamboo tumblers, actual head axe, spears and shields. There were also multi-dimensional baskets that they can use to carry their stuff when they leave the town to go hunting or for a war. Sir Lester’s narration with vivid details painted clear mental images in our heads of how these were used most especially the bloodshed fights with the weapons.


There were woven Cordilleran textiles with intricate designs hanging in the museum. Similar to these ones were used as blankets for the dead. The design used also identifies with the social caste. Plain blue ones were used by the poor. Regardless, they believed that they should be properly dressed when they die as they are to meet their ancestors.

Beliefs, Practices and Rituals

Cheating. Since the wine cup was mentioned, he told us about a practice of passing the wine cup from the back. If someone did so, it means that a man is cheating on his wife. They even had a cleansing ritual for the men who cheated but it does not mean that the man is completely stripped off this sin and forgiven. From this we inferred that Igorots are monogamous ever since.

Baptism. The Igorots of Sagada are baptized twice: the traditional Igorot way and the Christian way. Thus, they have two names. They use their Christian names in legal documents while the Igorot name is used as something like a nickname. They could also trace their roots with their Igorot names. The Igorot way of baptism is done the moment the baby’s umbilical cord falls off.

War victory. They would collect the skulls or jaws of their foes from a tribal war and bring it home for display as a symbol of victory.

Death Rituals. One of the most expensive rituals that Igorots have is that of death. When someone in their tribe dies, they have to offer 21 pig heads.

You may also want to read: The Hanging Coffins of Sagada, Mountain Province and their Burial and Death Rituals

Other Artefacts

Apart from the tribal artefacts, the museum also has Chinese ceramicware and metal plates their ancestors acquired from barter, tabletop stove from Camp John Hay, World War helmets, fossilized shells which prove that Sagada was once submerged in the waters.

Christina’s Personal Collection

Mrs. Christina Aben was a cancer survivor. Among her means of recovery and therapy is pottery. Some of her works are displayed in the museum. The design was awe-strikingly delicate. What’s even more fascinating is that, she delicately carved the design in and out of the bowls.

My Ganduyan Museum Tour Takeaway

I was fascinated, giddy, overwhelmed and in awe of what I’ve learned about Sagada from the museum and of course, from Sir Lester. It showed how resourceful their ancestors were; even naturally an artist without the influence of the colonizers. Despite the progress and developments modernization brought, a big part of their culture and traditions is still observed. Their identity as Igorots of Sagada, members of the Applai tribe, stood the test of time and modernization. One of the contributing factors to this is the ordinance that not a business shall operate nor a piece of land shall be sold to anyone from outside the town.

How to go to Sagada

From Manila to Sagada

From Cubao, take a Coda Lines bus to Sagada. The first trip is at 8:00 PM and the last is at 11:30 PM. The land trip would take you around 13 hours and a ticket costs about Php 1,090.00++ per way.

From Banaue to Sagada

Option 1: From Banaue Bus Terminal, look for jeepneys, vans or minivans that travel to Sagada. The trip may take three hours. Take note though that there’s a minimum number of passengers for it to go. Fare may range from Php 250.00 to Php 300.00.

Option 2: From Banaue, take a van going to Bontoc. From Bontoc, take a jeep going to Sagada.

From Baguio to Sagada

Make your way to Dangwa Terminal. From the terminal, take a bus going to Sagada. The trip may take 5 to 6 hours with the fare ranging from Php 220.00 to Php 250.00. The first trip is at around 8:00 AM and the last trip departs at 1:00 PM.

The shell fossil

Sagada Tour with Travel Now Asia

We visited and experienced the best of Sagada with Travel Now Asia. Everything was just smooth from Manila to Sagada. It was all hassle free and fun as well with our tour coordinator, Ms. Ronna and driver, Kuya Marlon. They brought us to the not-so-new BUT soon-to-be the next big thing especially in southern Sagada. For inquiries and booking, you may reach them at:

Phone: 289847213
Facebook page: Travel Now Asia

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Anne Elizabeth Gumiran, also known as Queenie, is a 20-something, full-time public school teacher, a part-time travel blogger and a freediver. She started putting her stories of adventures and misadventures into words and pictures in 2017 and continues to do so as she shares her advocacy, Sustainable Traveling.

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