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The Hanging Coffins of Sagada, Mountain Province and their Burial and Death Rituals

After exploring Callao Cave of Cagyan, we drove to the other side of north Luzon  to visit Sagada. I admit, Sagada first got me with its breathtaking and visually-arresting scenes. When I first set foot into it, the thing that primarily came into me was the thought that the photos I’ve seen did not capture everything who and what this town actually is, especially its culture. What has truly made me fall in love with Sagada in a heartbeat are their culture, traditions and how the people strive to keep and safeguard it despite the influences that the time brings.
Layad Room of Inandako’s Bed and Breakfast. Book here!
During our visit, we stayed in an AirBnB called Inandako’s Bed and Breakfast. It’s location is more than perfect compared to the other accommodations in the town. It might require a little walk but the view and the peacefulness at the place is definitely worth it. One thing that has truly caught my attention as I stepped out to Inandako’s balcony is the hanging coffins. Four or five hanging coffins can be seen at a distance but these are not the same hanging coffins that the visitors of Sagada would come into. The sight has gotten me more curious than ever about this tradition.
The view at the Balcony of Inandako’s Bed and Breakfast. It is also the best spot to watch the sun rise!
Click here for more photos and an honest review of the place

The hanging coffins are on the lower right of this photo; hang on the limestone formation in focus
Click here for more photos and an honest review of the place
On our second day, we decided to visit the hanging coffins. After a hearty breakfast, we headed to the jump off which is just near to the parking area of Inandako’s. To see the hanging coffins, one must trek for fifteen to twenty minutes passing by the Anglican cemetery, our first stop.


The Anglican Cemetery of Sagada
According to our tour guide, the locals of the town used to be animists until the Anglican missionaries came which brought a slight modification to their practices and traditions such as the burial of the dead. A number of Sagada people has been buried at the Anglican cemetery – just like how Christians do it.
Also, every evening of the first of November, they commemorate the dead through the Panag-Apoy where families would go to the cemetery, set up a small fire near the spot where their loved ones are buried. It is said to be one of the sacred practices in Sagada. Kuya Jeff furthered that they used charcoals or dry woods instead of candles since these are pretty expensive before. It has then became a tradition. 
After walking past the cemetery, it took us more or less ten to fifteen minutes of going and up and down trails and stairs until we finally reached the hanging coffins.

Igorot’s Traditional Burial Practices

The coffins are made of wood. These stay fixed on the limestone walls with the support of two woods beneath it and fastened tightly with ropes and wires
Hanging of the coffins is a traditional burial practice by the Igorots in Sagada – a group of indigenous people residing at northern Luzon. It was said that only full-blooded Igorots who reached eighty years old and up, had been married, had children or grandchildren and died of old age can be buried this way. Those who died in accident, sickness or any other causes couldn’t. 
On the day of an Igorot’s death, he is covered with the special traditional cloth for six days and six nights and is sat on a chair. The very cloth that is used to cover the dead is said to be passed on to the  the family and is believed to bring good luck, too. The dead don’t get to be embalmed. Instead, it gets smoked so the body won’t rot nor smell. As part of the tradition, they would also slaughter and offer twenty one (21) pigs or chickens in one’s death.
On the last day, the dead is carried by its family to the ‘Paytukan‘, the final resting place. Paytukan came from the word ‘paituk’ which means to step up. They literally had to walk and step up to get into the place where the coffins will be hanged. Before it reaches the final resting place, a member would shout at the echo valley that someone has died and is going to be buried. This is the reason why they would not let just anyone shout at the echo valley because it is considered a sacred place for them.

A long time ago, they used to have the dead seated on the chair fixed on the limestone with ropes and wires. They put it high above the ground, too, so it will be spared from being preyed on by the animals or tribal enemies. They would bury the dead into it in a fetal position. They were born into the world that way; thus, they will leave it the same way, too. They firmly believe that the nature will reborn them – the concept of reincarnation. 

It is also quite noticeable that some coffins are longer while some are shorter. This doesn’t mean that some of the dead in there were kids or babies. The dead inside the shorter coffins were just in a fetal position, breaking the cadaver’s bones to get into that position, while those in the longer ones are lying horizontally straight. The longer coffins were the most recent ones. The families wouldn’t want to break the bones of their loved ones. This tradition is not solely practiced in the Philippines. Our tour guide mentioned that there are also hanging coffins in China and Indonesia. They might have influenced our ancestors with the rituals during the primitive times when they have gone to some parts of the Philippines.
Some two years ago, people could still go near the coffins until fences were put in there to protect it from being violated and disrespected in any way by the visitors.

Getting to Hanging Coffins of Sagada

Be reminded that all the tours in Sagada have a regulated system. Tourists or visitors should be guided by the locals when visiting the attractions for their own safety and to learn something to about the place.
1. You need to register at the Tourist Information Center and pay an amount of Php 50.00 per head. Make sure that you’ll keep the receipt as they will be looking for it every time you visit a tourist spot in Sagada.
2. Option A: You may get a tour with preset destinations and fees at the Tourist Information Center.
Option B: You may head straight at the jump off point. Hanging Coffins entrance fee is at Php 10.00 per head and get a tour guide.
3. Pay Php 300.00 to the tour guide. This amount is good for 1 to 10 people for the hanging coffins tour only.
You may also visit the St. Mary’s Church as it is just few meters away from the jump off. Other points of interest such as Sagada Weaving and Sagada Pottery can also be visited on the same day without tour guides.
You’ll actually pass by this spot on your way to the Hanging Coffins

Things to Remember when Visiting the Hanging Coffins

1. Stay hydrated. It might be cold in Sagada but the trek would really make you tired and run out of breath a little especially if you’re not used to it. Bring your reusable water bottles instead of the single-use plastic ones.
2. Always ask if it’s okay to take photos. Just because things are one click of a camera away it doesn’t mean that it’s always okay to take pictures of every thing. 
3. Always follow and stay with your tour guide.
4. Do not just go there for photos. Learn something, too. Sagada and its people have a very interesting culture and tradition. Listen to your tour guides.
5. Refrain from making loud and unnecessary noises. Respect the place and the dead. 
6. Wear appropriate and comfortable clothes and footwear for the trek.

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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