In a country like the Philippines which is pre-dominantly Catholic in belief , the conventional funeral practice for the deceased is by being embalmed, having a wake or “lamay” offered with prayers, a mass then a funeral procession before being either buried 6 feet underground or cremated.
But in Sagada, there is an unusual, old tradition of burying the deceased, not 6 feet under but rather by hanging the coffins or leaving it inside caves. This tradition is what makes Sagada’s culture really unique and fascinating.
In going to the site of the Hanging Coffins, we passed by the Sagada Cemetery, the cemetery and the burial site of their deceased in this generation.
The Hanging coffins are located via a short trek of the Echo Valley and on a downhill rocky and sometimes slippery path beside the cliff.
Our guide from SAGGAS said that the bodies are buried high up the cliff so that the souls will be closer to heaven. The ritual starts in the morning wherein they prepare the casket and the scaffolding to secure it on the cliff. In the afternoon, the body wrapped in cloth is carried to its final resting place. The men are the only ones who are near the deceased when the person is placed in the casket, the women stay on the view deck of the Echo Valley to watch the ceremonies
We noticed that there are also chairs hanging beside the coffins. Our guide said that sometimes the deceased is seated on a chair in its wake. The chair is hanged beside the coffin since they no longer want to seat in a chair that the dead sat in.
The last known coffin hanged in this location was in 2008. She was a lady named Estefania Mayocyoc.
There are other hanging coffins located in Sagada which are even harder to reach than the ones found in Echo Valley which made us think how could have they placed the bodies in such location.
LUMIANG BURIAL CAVE
Another fascinating burial site in Sagada can be found in Lumiang Cave. Our guide, Greg took us for a short stop at Lumiang Cave before we proceeded our spelunking at Sumaguing Cave.
It is somewhat to the belief of hanging the coffins high up the heavens, in placing the coffins on the mouth of the cave, the souls can see the light and be easily guided on its way to heaven.
Some of the caskets are noticeably small for a full-grown adult and thought that it was for a child’s body. It was said by our guide that an adult is placed in the casket in its fetal position on the belief that during death, the person returns to its origin at birth.
Some caskets already have crosses as a symbol of the person’s Christian belief.
There are caskets with carved Gecko which symbolizes peace, prosperity and long life.
Although the Hanging Coffins and Lumiang Burial Caves are only seldom being used today by the people of Sagada, it will still remain as part of their rich culture and tradition that many people, not only from the Philippines, keep visiting for years.
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SIDENOTE: I read in the newspaper that there is already a replica of the hanging coffins in Baguio. There are 4 coffins hanged by artist Santos Bacuyya in KM5 Asin RD that can be used for burial in the future.