The Hanging Coffins of Sagada, Mountain Province is a mystifying spectacle that has attracted a great number of curious minds. This bizarre practice of placing the coffins on the face of a mountain was brought about by their belief that it puts the deceased closer to heaven. Some of the bereaved definitely took great effort and risk to follow this tradition considering how high above the mountains some of these coffins are.
Our tour guide Angel said that he saw stranger practices in his childhood days. He told us that some of their neighbors put their dead loved ones on a chair blindfolded. During the wake, they place the dead bodies near the door. Well, at least the sympathizers won’t have to peek at a coffin anymore. He went on to mention that the bulky coffins that are half the size of a regular adult coffin have their dead in a curled position.
Placement of the Hanging Coffins of Sagada
We also learned from him how the locals were able to climb the mountains and put the coffins. He said that the cliffs used to have thick vines that cover them—granting greater accessibility to the climbers. I wish that I was able to ask him if somehow, some of his fellow Igorots were still able to bring flowers and light up candles for their dead because it would surely be a challenge. Perhaps it may not be a practice during that time at all.
The locals punch beams to the face of the mountains so they can put the coffins there. I just noticed that most of the ones placed very high are on mountain holes. When we reached a tall mountain, he shared a story about two brothers who were left by their parents and have lived a difficult life. They requested their neighbors to have their coffins placed in a particular spot of the mountain which I find to be one of the most dangerous. Perhaps because of the Bayanihan (cooperative endeavor) spirit of the Filipinos, their community worked together to help them get the proper burial that they asked for. It’s unfortunate that they don’t have any relatives who can help them with their request anymore.
Despite being in a Roman Catholic country, almost all of Sagada’s locals are Evangelical Christians under the Episcopal denomination. This is because the Spanish colonizers had great challenges in reaching Sagada’s tribe during their occupation. The locals of Sagada were able to preserve their indigenous culture and pagan religion in that era. Until the American Christian missionaries came and focused on evangelizing in this part of the region during their occupation. This could be another reason why the locals have a high English literacy rate. We can also see that their tradition of hanging their coffins has shifted to burying them instead. The Americans planted many pine trees in the region as well according to Angel.
Side Trip to Bayyo Rice Terraces
If you plan to visit Sagada, we recommend getting a quick side trip to Bayyo Rice Terraces in Bontoc. From Banaue, we were able to give it a quick visit before heading to Sagada. It’s not as grand as the other the rice terraces in Banaue but is still worth a visit. A quick stop here will give you a short break from your long trip. The rice terraces surrounded by three lush green mountains is quite a pleasant view.