As the sun started to set, thick, dark smoke began to rise towards the sky just above the cemetery. “Panag-apoy must have started“, we thought to ourselves. We then followed the flow of the crowd silently walking to the Anglican cemetery — some carrying the pine twigs on their shoulders.
Sagada people’s culture and traditions are rich making it truly interesting. Among those that fascinated and intrigued me big time is their death and burial practices. This year, we got a chance to witness Panag-apoy, one of the most unique ways of Igorots in remembering the dead.
Panag-apoy is a Kankana-ey (Igorots of Sagada’s language) phrase that means “to light a fire.” It is not a festival, celebration nor an event of some sort but a customary practice of the Igorots in Sagada in remembering their departed loved ones. It is a reflection of the Igorot beliefs and [Christian] Anglican practices’ fusion as regards the commemoration of their kins’ death every first of November.
The practice started in the early 1900s when they did the first Christian funeral. Instead of candles, they burn saeng or pine twigs. It has been a unique tradition not because they choose to light saeng but they didn’t have candles before as it is expensive. Further, the lighting of the twig is not only a way to remember the dead but also is a symbol of warming their souls. Igorots of Sagada believe that these souls cry if not remembered. Hence, the panag-apoy.
What Happens During Panag-Apoy
Before the actual burning of the pine twigs, a mass at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is held and it ends at around 4:00 in the afternoon. After the mass, the people of Sagada would then walk their way to the cemetery for the priest’s blessings of the dead loved ones’ tombs. Then, one by one, they would start lighting these saeng up beside the tomb. While some still use the pine twigs, it is quite noticeable that a lot of them would use candles already.
During this time (1st of November), the Local Tourism Office would also not allow tourists in visiting the Echo Valley and the Hanging Coffins to give the Igorots some solemn time with their departed loved ones. However, the scene of burning fire and the smoke that looks dramatically good in photos sparked the tourists’ interest that some would take photos and videos of as if it’s a spectacular event. The Igorots’ only request during this time is for the tourists to respect the practice and just observe instead of relentlessly taking photos and videos.
What Can We Do as Visitors
Like most of us, we light up candles during this season to remember the dead especially our loved ones – something customary. Despite being ordinary, we still wish for the moment to be solemn and to be respected. According to Mayor Dula of Sagada, Panag-apoy is nothing different from this. With the limelight Sagada is getting as one of the top tourist destinations in Northern Luzon, its people and their traditions started attracting spectators. While the Igorots allow the tourists to witness Panag-apoy, their active presence involving persistently taking of photos and videos vex them.
This then is a reminder for us to observe being a responsible tourists not just in an environmental aspect but also socio-cultural, too.
DISCLAIMER: The LGU gave us permission to cover and write about Panag-apoy.
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 and soon-to-be the next big thing especially in southern Sagada. For inquiries and booking, you may reach them at: