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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrOne of the most unusual attractions in the Philippines is the Hanging Coffins of Sagada, located in the beautiful hills of the Mountain Province, about 400 kilometers from Metro Manila. Members of the Igorot tribe have practiced the ancient tradition of burying their loved ones in hanging coffins and placing them on highly elevated cliffs to prevent other creatures or people from reaching them. Some tribes in China and Indonesia have also adapted this very old tradition and it has already been around for over 2,000 years.
TraditionThe most common belief behind the practice of hanging coffins is that the bodies of the dead are moved higher in order to bring them closer to their ancestral spirits. The tribe’s unique burial practices also contributes to other factors as well, such as – the elderly didn't want to be buried because water would eventually seep into their corpse and they would rot quickly. Another thing is due to their fear of dogs digging and eating their corpse, they put their coffins high up, out of their reach. Lastly, during the earlier years, savages from Kalingan and eastern Bontoc province where the tribe’s enemies originated. They would hunt for the Igorots’ heads and take them as trophies. The coffins where placed at high elevations to prevent the enemies from reaching their corpses.
When someone from the tribe dies, the deceased are placed on a sangadil (or death chair) and tied with rattan and vines. The body is then covered with a blanket and is placed facing the main door of their house to allow the relatives to pay their respects. The corpse is then smoked to prevent rapid decomposition and to hide its rotting smell. After the vigil for the dead, the body is removed from the chair and placed in a hanging coffin. The legs are pushed up towards the chin in order to secure it in fetal position. It is then wrapped again in a blanket and tied with rattan and vines.
The coffins are either nailed to the sides of the cliffs or tied to it. The corpses are buried in fetal position because of the hollowed-out lumber coffins which are usually only one meter in length. The young men of the tribe then climb up the sides of the cliff to chip holes into it in order to provide support for the hanging coffin.
VisitingThe hanging coffins are safely preserved at a place called ‘Echo Valley’ in Sagada. The path going to the attraction is not paved and the trail is usually muddy and slippery. The burial cliffs in Echo Valley are predominately reserved for the elders of the tribe with families. They strongly believe that they will benefit spiritually from their burial tradition.
When you get to see the hanging coffins on the side of the cliffs, most of them will be marked with family names, but not like how commemorative headstones or plaques are marked. The coffins are marked to help the younger generations identify their ancestor’s coffin. Also, the corpses are allegedly dressed in family colors and patterns to make sure that the spirit of the dead is recognized in the next life.
Aside from the hanging coffins, other Igorot tribe members have also practiced burying their deceased inside the caves of Sagada. There are over 60 known caves in the province and some of these are used primarily for burial. Not only is the province known for its rich tribal culture and morbidly creepy practices, the place also has beautiful waterfalls, lush forests, and sceneries perfect for trekking.
Getting ThereThere are several ways to get to Sagada, Mountain Province; the most common method is taking a bus ride to Sagada directly from Metro Manila. From any parts of Manila, tourists can take a taxi ride to either Pasay Bus Terminal or Cubao Bus Terminal. Upon arriving, Victory Liner buses bound for Baguio City will be available. Buses leave for Baguio every hour and the travel time is approximately 8 hours. The rate is usually around ₱460 ($10). It is recommended that you take the buses leaving at late night (to avoid heavy traffic and giving you an early head start in exploring Sagada).
Upon arriving at Baguio City, tourists will have to transfer to a bus bound to Sagada at the Dangwa Bus Station. Tickets for the bus can be purchased at the Lizardo Transit Station near Dangwa. The rate is usually ₱220 ($4.84) and the travel time is approximately 7 hours. The roads going to Sagada from Baguio is pretty rough.
- When taking the bus from Baguio to Sagada, the roads will be rough and may cause motion sickness. Make sure to bring medication before you board the bus.
- The accommodation options in Sagada is very limited, unless you want to spend the night there, make sure you head back to Baguio City before late afternoon.
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Author: radiantan. Last updated: Nov 08, 2014