12 November 2014

Sagada Cemetery and the Hanging Coffins

28 February 2014. Jokingly, we seemed to have gone to Sagada to sleep. The whole afternoon was all but an inviting atmosphere to lie and cuddle with pillows and blankets. That magnetic force between me and the bed was extra strong. The effortless coolness of the wind from outside and the lingering ominous silence on the four corners of that room was almost successful to spoil any adventure in store for the remainder of that day. The clock’s hands struck four before it dawned on me the real reason why we were there. The logical thing to do then was to gear-up and seal at least an item in our hypothetical itinerary since we don’t have that much time to spare. Clueless on where to begin with, we found ourselves at one of Sagada’s shopping centers for souvenir items where I purchased a comprehensive Sagada map to aid our succeeding plans. In no time, we came across their tourism office to hire for a tour guide for a trip to no less than the infamous Bomit-Og Hanging Coffins. Being the poor travelers that we were, we initiated a haggle to at least minimize the pricey four hundred bucks guide fee. But charm does not always work, apparently. Our friendly bid was harshly turned down by our "highly-esteemed tour guide" who rather virtuously rallied that poor-travelers do not exist. I was about to unleash the kuripot blood in me and defend my take on her controversially bold statement but to no avail. I quickly realized that we’re on the wrong territory to initiate a debate. Defenselessly, we agreed to pay the contracted charge and just proceed with the jaunt. After all, we were privileged to be accompanied by one of SAGGAS’ pioneers (at least according to her). From there, we walked a few meters around those refreshing lawns that seemed to be a better version of UPD’s sunken garden or UPLB’s Freedom Park, gloriously sashed with fine green landscape grass crowned with colossal pine trees around, punctuated with a palpable chill.

Further walk lead us to the Church of Mary The Virgin (an Anglican convent, contrast to the Spanish descent churches around the Philippines), seated at the nearbyCalvary Hill backyard overlooking the sleepy Sagada meadows which is the home for the Kankana-ey tribe. A couple of steps away is their municipal cemetery that somewhat resembles the traditional American graveyard. Peacefully lying there were thousands of their departed loved ones eternally in amity with nature. However, a few foreign-sounding names were also engraved on some of the epitaphs suggesting that people other than the locals are also allowed to spend their forevermore in such a home. Among these are probably the Spanish soldiers who coined the term Sagada for the place. Rumor has it that the term Sagada came from a misheard term while a group of Spanish soldiers walking from Besao met a man on his way to Danum Lake who carries a fishing basket. When asked what the name of the next place was, the man misheard the soldiers and thought that they were asking what he was carrying, the man exclaimed, sagada, from which the rest of settlement of the tribe was called since then. 

Another interesting fact about their burying customs includes their extravagant way of celebrating the All Saints’ Day. The locals gather up there and create bonfires, a ceremony called panag-apoy, instead of lighting traditional candles largely done here in the lowlands. Other than this, the locals have a lot more ways to remember their dead loved ones as they believe that forgetting the dead, is a second death, and a worse one than death itself.

In less than 20 minutes, we arrived at the shouting point of the Echo Valley where we could freely screech at the top our lungs and hear the echo in return and sparingly drank our eyes the blurry sight of the enchanting Hanging Coffins faraway. The forested area down there was a prized sight in itself but seeing the coffins close enough to catch legit photos is a necessity. From the facts we later gathered, the hanging coffins sprung from the belief that bodies buried high up the cliffs will be closer to the heavens. And in doing such, very complicated rituals are usually performed such as passing the corpse from one man to another starting at the point we were standing to the cliff where the coffins will be hanged. In doing so, they wish to be blessed with the departed’s bodily fluids that is perceived to contain the talents and knowledge off the corpse. Upon reaching the cliff, the body is then forced to assume the fetal position (a symbolic way to mimic our body’s position upon conception) before finally placing the carcass inside the coffin and hanged.

Clueless-ly, we were stuck there for around 10 minutes infinitely clicking for multitude shots, only to be disappointed by an unforgivably unscrupulous news: we can’t anymore afford to pursue further down to see the coffins because of the dumb shit reason that it Might Rain – Might Rain – Which Might cause the trails to be extra slippery, which could be difficult and dangerous for us, as if we seek for a pure comfort going all the way up there. Well I dare not question the tour guide’s decision to abort the excursion, out of respect. But my concern was that she could have informed us about such possibility beforehand to lower our expectations and rather reconsider rescheduling the tour. After all, our pockets were not some factory for unlimited source of flowing cash to waste for such fruitless attempt.

And in just like that, we hopelessly lost four hash for nearly nothing right, which felt like I was robbed, unarmed. Thank goodness this was the sole disappointment I have incurred out of the whole Sagada trip. Though the thought of it seemed like poison in the air like the presence of ghost in a feast, looking at the brighter side I could charge the lost cash to a still worthwhile experience.

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