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November 11, 2016

SAGADA DEATH RITUALS: On Hanging Coffins, Panag-Apoy and Echoes of Old Igorot Traditions

November 11, 2016

SAGADA DEATH RITUALS: On Hanging Coffins, Panag-Apoy and Echoes of Old Igorot Traditions





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Sagada’s mysterious Hanging Coffins at Echo Valley attest to the 2,000-year-old Igorot burial traditions that have fascinated the world. Pinewood coffins suspended with primitive wires and ropes along limestone cliffs act as vessels to heaven. The departed assume a fetal position, as it is believed that souls should leave the earth the same way they entered it. Little written records exist to document this bizarre practice; rather, knowledge is passed down through word of mouth by Applai elders.

Aside from their animist beliefs, the Applai hung coffins on cliffs for pragmatic reasons—high places meant the coffins were protected from wild animals and humans. Similar rituals are found in parts of Indonesia, but historians believe they may have their roots in China. Chinese tribes, such as the Bo and Guyue, also had a practice of burying their dead along cliffs. It is possible the tribes made contact along the way. 

The rise of Christianity has prompted Igorots to opt for western-style cemeteries where they honor the dead on Panag-Apoy, a Sagadian All Saints Day celebrated every November 1st.  

Join us as we explore the incredible funeral culture of the Igorots … 

 

SAGADA TRAVEL GUIDE 2017 Series:

SAGADA Itinerary DIY: The Road to Sagada (2017) @FordPhilippines
• YOGURT HOUSE SAGADA: Best Breakfast Place in Sagada! (2016 Review)
• GAIA Sagada Cafe: That Famed Cafe in "That Thing Called Tadhana" (Review)
• SAGADA CELLAR DOOR: Agadulay's Kitchen Igorot Dinner and Sagada Craft Beer Experience! (A Review)
• LOG CABIN: A Cozy Retreat in Sagada (A 2016 Review)
• LUMIANG TO SUMAGUING CAVE: Conquering Sagada's Cave Connection!
• SAGADA DEATH RITUALS: On Hanging Coffins, Panag-Apoy and Echoes of Old Igorot Traditions
SAGADA'S MARLBORO: Basking in a Sea of Clouds at Kamanbaneng Sunrise Peak! (Photo Essay)
SAGADA ORANGE PICKING Guide at Rock Farm Inn (Photo Essay)
BIYAHEROES: The Best Online Bus Booking Platform in Manila! Try it!


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Our trek to the Hanging Coffins took place near Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church, an Anglican Church designed by the Americans.

 

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The original church was bombed down but rebuilt by the by the Japanese and Americans after WWII as a peace pact. We were surprised to see how sturdy the church was, considering the latest calamities to hit the north—i.e. Typhoon Karen & Lawin.

 

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On your way to the coffins, you will come across the public cemetery. Pre-colonial times called for burials at the mouth of caves, like Lumiang, or along cliffs. As Christianity merged with local ideologies, people adopted Christian names and traditions.

 

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Panag-Apoy, taken from the Kakanaey language, means to “light a fire." On this day, families of the departed light bonfires made with Saeng (old pinewood) instead of candles.

 

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About 98% of Sagadians are Christian now. Panag-Apoy typically kicks off with an afternoon mass and a blessing of the graves by a priest.

 

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If you want to experience Panag-Apoy for yourself, the lighting begins around 5pm and ends around 6pm. It can get very dark by nightfall; should you want to see the Hanging Coffins first, try arriving at 3pm to make time for the 30 minute trek.

 

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Echo Valley is a sacred ground for the Applai tribe. It’s recommended you get a guide here to fully appreciate its significance.

 

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The acoustics at Echo Valley are, well, echoey. According to tradition, shouting is only permitted during a fresh burial—this is to inform the community of the dead. We encountered a few tourists shouting haphazardly to test the echo; our slightly disgruntled guide just gave them a low-key side eye for committing a cultural faux pas.

 

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From the “shouting point”, you can catch a glimpse of the coffins in the distance.

 

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The hike to the coffins is relatively easy but made slightly dangerous due to the wet soil and slippery rocks. Hanging Coffins can be seen in other parts of Sagada, but Echo Valley has the most number of coffins onsite.

 

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Bodies of the buried here are blood relatives, but a funeral is always a community matter. Tradition required a sacrifice of at least 21 pigs, dogs, or chickens in the course of the 5-day pre-burial ceremony. Notice the chairs hanging alongside the coffins? At the pre-burial ceremony, families would prop the newly deceased on chairs after smoking them to prevent early decomposition. The Applai only consider you dead when you're in your coffin.

 

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On the body's way to the cliffs, it is passed one by one to each member of the community. After being wrapped in a ceremonial cloth, it is then placed inside a small coffin in the fetal position. Over the years, Christian influence has lead to the evolution of a longer coffin.

 

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Other coffins can be found at the entrance of Lumiang Cave—a symbolic return to a mother’s womb. Thanks to the microenvironment of Lumiang, the wood of these 500-year-old coffins has been preserved.

Coffins can't be placed inside the darkness. The Applai believe the dead need light to find their way back home.

 

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Only those who die of natural deaths earn the right to a traditional burial. Children that die at birth, or individuals who pass away due to illness are buried elsewhere.

 

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Our visit to the hanging coffins was spiritual, metaphysical, and highly intriguing. With muddy shoes, wet clothes, and a head full of questions, I left Sagada with a newfangled love of Applai culture.

The death of this practice is near; it’s as palpable as the cold Sagada air and the red soil between my toes. Alas, times have driven people to more modern funeral practices. The most recent coffin to be hung at Echo Valley was in June 2008—there is no knowing if it will be the last.

  

FEES
Environmental Fee: P35 (paid at Sagada Municipal Tourist Information Center)
Guide Fee: P200 for 10 visitors or less

 

SAGADA TRAVEL GUIDE 2017 Series:

SAGADA Itinerary DIY: The Road to Sagada (2017) @FordPhilippines
• YOGURT HOUSE SAGADA: Best Breakfast Place in Sagada! (2016 Review)
• GAIA Sagada Cafe: That Famed Cafe in "That Thing Called Tadhana" (Review)
• SAGADA CELLAR DOOR: Agadulay's Kitchen Igorot Dinner and Sagada Craft Beer Experience! (A Review)
• LOG CABIN: A Cozy Retreat in Sagada (A 2016 Review)
• LUMIANG TO SUMAGUING CAVE: Conquering Sagada's Cave Connection!
• SAGADA DEATH RITUALS: On Hanging Coffins, Panag-Apoy and Echoes of Old Igorot Traditions
SAGADA'S MARLBORO: Basking in a Sea of Clouds at Kamanbaneng Sunrise Peak! (Photo Essay)
SAGADA ORANGE PICKING Guide at Rock Farm Inn (Photo Essay)
BIYAHEROES: The Best Online Bus Booking Platform in Manila! Try it!

 

 

Live an Awesome Life,

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SHEILA of Team Our Awesome Planet

Disclosure: Transportation, lodging, and tours were arranged by BIYAHEROES. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights. 

P.S. Do not touch any of the coffins at Lumiang or Echo Valley. It is considered very bad luck to move a coffin.

 

How to get to Sagada Direct via Bus? @BIYAHEROES (CODA Lines Bus from Cubao—Sagada)

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Go to www.biyaheroes.com and book your preferred bus schedule with reserved seats online! 

ONE-WAY PRICE PER HEAD: P720

CODA LINES DAILY TRIPS
Quezon City to Sagada: 9:00PM
Quezon City to Banaue, Ifugao: 9:00PM

Sagada to Quezon City: 3:00PM
Bontoc to Quezon City: 4:00PM 

Baguio City to Maddela, Quirino: 8:30PM
Baguio City to Kiangan, Ifugao: 9:00PM
Baguio City to Banaue, Ifugao: 9:30PM

Maddela, Quirino to Baguio City: 4:30PM
Kiangan, Ifugao to Baguio City: 6:00PM
Banaue, Ifugao to Baguio City: 6:00PM

 

CODA LINES CORPORATION
HM Transport Inc. Monte de Piedad, corner Maryland street, Cubao, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Quezon City, Philippines
Mobile:
Quezon City: +63 927 559 2197 | +63 929 521 3229
Sagada: +63 929 521 3247 | +63 936 971 9216
Baguio City: +63 935 535 9114 | +63 998 444 8831
Bontoc: +63 977 326 8080 | +63 929 521 3235
Banaue: +63 936 971 9240 | +63 920 651 9672
Kiangan: +63 947 079 7466
Operation Hours:
Daily 9am to 9pm
Email: codalinescorp@gmail.com
Facebook: @CODALinesCorporation
Website: www.codalines.com

 

TOURING SAGADA

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Visit the Tourist Information Center to register and pay the P35 environmental fee. You can also DIY a tour package with a Municipal Guide as well as find the cost of transportation.

SAGADA MUNICIPAL TOURIST INFORMATION CENTER
Poblacion, Sagada, Mountain Province, 2619 Philippines
Operation Hours:
Daily 7:00am to 6:00pm
Email: sagada.mayor@gmail.com
Facebook: @Sagadatourism

 

Tours & Packages you can choose from—including guide fees.   

TOURS

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Map & Important numbers.

MAPS & NUMBERS

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Transportation. 

JEEP AND SHUTTLE SCHEDS

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Tourist Commandments.

COMMANDMENTS

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