Sagada Hanging Coffins is probably one of the unique and bizarre traditions of ancient Igorots in the Philippines that might leave you a question why these ancient people hang dead bodies in the cliff instead of burying it on the ground. Well, I was surprised when our guide started to tell the story behind the hanging coffins in Sagada. I have learned so much about the Igorot’s traditional way of burying a dead body, how do they prepare and place it on the cliff. This traditional way of burying the dead on the hanging coffins has been already over 2000 years old.

Sagada Hanging Coffin

It is a common belief in Igorot that by placing the coffin on the higher place, the spirit of the deceased brought closer to heaven in their afterlife. However, there are more even practical reasons why they hang coffin on the side of the cliff. First, during the headhunting days in Kalinga and Bontoc provinces, Igorots place the dead body on high places to protect them from the enemy since the head of the corpse would take home as a trophy. Secondly, Igorot knew that the body will easily be decomposed if they buried it on the ground. Lastly, it is said that animals would possibly eat the corpses if they were buried in the ground.

Sagada Cemetery

IGOROT’S TRADITIONAL BURIAL

The preparation of the dead body is not as usual as we know it and not all the members of the tribe can earn the privilege after they die. As per our guide, only those who died in natural tradition earn the rights for this kind of burial. Those who either died as an infant or died due to illness are buried elsewhere since they believe it will bring bad luck if they put it to the coffin.

There is a ceremony before Igorot place the body in the coffin. The corpse is then seated on a death chair while being tied with rattan leaves and vines covered with a blanket or a ceremonial cloth. The corpse is then smoked to prevent fast decomposition.

After the pre-burial ceremony, the corpse will be carried by relatives and family member but the community can also participate and grab the responsibility for handling the coffin the best as they can because they do believe that the corpse’s blood that may smear will bring success and good luck. Women and children should stay at the view deck enough to see the burial process below and only men should go through. 

Sagada

Related Article: SAGADA & BANAUE: Ultimate Travel Guide + Tips + Itinerary

When the procession arrives on the burial site, the body will then place on the coffin while in a fetal position with the legs pushed up to the chin because Igorot believes that the deceased should leave the earth as same as the way they entered and to symbolize the start of a new life. One volunteer should shout that the dead has been already placed on its coffin. They will only consider the person is dead when they are inside the coffin. After that, they will immediately run as they believe that spirit might follow them.

You can also find numerous historical burial sites not only on hanging on the limestone at the bottom of the mountain but also inside the caves. More than 100 coffins were stacked and situated in the entrance of Lumiang Cave. As per our guide, the oldest coffin in Lumiang Cave is believed that it has been there for about 500 years. 

Lumiang Burial Cave Sagada
Entrance of lumiang cave – The cave connection jump-off point.

It has been years ago when Igorot practice this kind of tradition. Despite they still preserving their culture, this kind of practice is already dying out since younger generation has already adopted the modern way of burial and local government also prohibited this kind of practice because scientifically proves that the blood came from the corpse will not bring good luck but a lot of diseases.

As per our guide, the burial process also depends on the tribe. Based on my research, the Igorots are grouped into six ethno-linguistic groups, the Bontoc, Ibaloi, Isneg (or Apayao), Kalinga, and the Kankanaey. Some tribe mocks the dead body as they believe it has no purpose anymore.

Sagada Hanging Coffins

Sagada is very rich in history and tradition. The hanging Coffins in Sagada proves that Filipino history and culture is so much more interesting. It would be more really exciting if we could go and explore even deeper about our heritage. The hanging Coffins is just one of the many reasons why Sagada remains on the top of every traveler.

Sagada Travel Guide

8 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT SAGADA HANGING COFFINS

  • It is a common belief in Igorot that by placing the coffin on the higher place, the spirit of the deceased brought closer to heaven in their afterlife.
  • This traditional way of burying the dead on the hanging coffins has been already over 2000 years old.
  • Not all the members of the tribe can earn the privilege after they die. Only those who died in natural deaths earn the rights for this kind of burial. Those who either died as an infant or die due to illness are buried elsewhere.
  • There is a ceremony before Igorot place the body in the coffin.
  • The corpse is then seated on a death chair while being tied with rattan leaves and vines covered with a blanket or a ceremonial cloth. The corpse is then smoked to prevent fast decomposition.
  • After the pre-burial ceremony, the corpse will be carried by relatives but the community can also participate and grab the responsibility for handling the coffin the best as they can because they do believe that the corpse’s blood that may smear will bring success and good luck.
  • They will only consider the person is dead when they are inside the coffin.
  • The body is in the fetal position with the legs pushed up towards the chin because Igorot believes that the deceased should leave the earth as same as the way they entered and to symbolize the start of a new life.

PLACES TO VISIT IN SAGADA

Sagada has many natural wonders which include the Bokong and Bomod-ok Falls. Here is the list of tourists destination in Sagada that you might want to check:

  • Sumaguing and Lumiang Caves
  • Bomod-ok and Bokong Falls
  • Rice terraces 
  • Echo Valley
  • Kiltepan Tower
  • Underground River
  • Lake Danum
  • Hanging Coffins
  • Pongas Falls
  • Mount Ampacao
  • Marlboro Mountain
  • Fortune Express
  • Latang and Matang Caves

CONTACT AND BOOKING

You can contact Sagada Adventure directly at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sagadadventure/

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We hope you enjoy reading this article. If you have questions or you spot something that needs to update, let us know in the comments section below. 

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