Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sagada via Banaue, part 4: Burial Traditions in Sagada and Kiltepan Sunrise

My Last Glimpse of Rice Terraces at Sagada ( taken through a glass window of a running van )
2 and 1/2 days in Sagada was not enough. First day, we explored The Banaue Rice Terraces and then went Hiking to Pongas Falls.  Second day was Spelunking at Sumaguing Cave and visiting one of Sagada's famous traditions, burying their dead. 3rd day was a very short stop for sunrise at Kiltepan Point, before we finally left off for a short detour to Baguio on our way back to Manila. What I will be sharing in this post are some more of the activities we did before we finally left Sagada.
First that I will be sharing in this post is the burial tradition in Sagada. Burying the dead underground was not practiced before Christianity came to Sagada. Instead, the people of Sagada believed in allowing the spirits of their dead to be free, to be close to nature. There were 2 options to bury their dead then: hanging coffins and pile coffins, which are found in Echo Valley, a sacred place for the Sagadans.
Echo Valley
In the midst of these thick trees are some of Sagada's hidden treasures: limestone outcroppings and magnificent caves. Beneath some of these limestone cliffs are the hanging coffins and near the entrance of some caves are the pile coffins.
 Below these limestone cliffs are the hanging coffins
The hanging coffin was not for everyone though. To be buried in hanging coffins was a privilege for persons who had earned their way to be called "old". "Old" in Sagada is not about age, but rather, about contribution to their community. First, the person must be married and have grandchildren. The person must have done a lot of good things to be hung, to be remembered as highly respected people. Only when they have those qualifications can they be classified as "old", and therefore could be buried by way of hanging coffins, which is very symbolic for someone that was being looked up to in remembrance of their contribution to the community.
 Hanging Coffins
Another burying option in Sagada is piling coffins in a burial cave. There are many burial caves in Sagada, but only a few are open to tourists. Probably the most visited burial cave is Lumiang Burial Cave, since it is part of the cave connection, where people enter Lumiang Cave and then, exit Sumaguing Cave.
Lumiang Cave
Wooded Coffins at Lumiang Burial Cave
In the burial caves, coffins are piled on top of one another. Regardless of the burial type, all coffins are made of hollowed out logs held in place by wooden toggle. The coffins are short because the deceased were placed in fetal position.  They believed then that we leave Earth the same way we came to Earth. They sit the deceased on a chair until it would be easier for them to force the dead body into the fetal position. 
Sign to Preserve the Coffins
The pile coffins in burial caves are near the entrance of the cave so that it is accessible to sunlight. Sadly, because they are right by the entrance of the cave, it is easy for visitors to steal some bones and artifacts in the coffins. Though it is hard to imagine how others could do that, but they do happen. :( 
The hanging coffins and burial caves were two of the options then to bury the deceased in Sagada. Those who had earned their way to be called "old" could be hanged high on a cliff, the majority in burial caves. However, there were others who had no choice at all where to be buried. These were the women who died from giving birth. 
A Hidden Place for Burying Women Who Died From Giving Birth
The people of Sagada then believed that women who died in giving birth was because either they were cursed or a result of damnation. As such, they were not buried in the two traditional ways, but were buried separately in what they also thought to be of a "cursed" place, kind of isolating them. 
In the later years, Christianity came to the town of Sagada, which is now predominantly Anglican (Episcopal Church). 
St. Mary Episcopal Church, Sagada
With about 95% of the people in Sagada converted to Christianity, a cemetery was built for burying the dead.
Sagada Cemetery
The tombs in Sagada are facing East, because they carry their old tradition of receiving the early morning sun. Most of the deceased people in Sagada are now buried in cemetery. However, people still have the option to be buried in either of the 2 traditional ways: either hanging coffins or burial caves. The last burial recorded in the hanging coffins was in 2010, and in the burial caves was in 2008.
Next to burying the dead, we also visited Sagada Weaving, Orange Farm and Sagada Museum. 
 Proudly Wearing Sagada Products ( Cross body bag is made of cloth weaved in Sagada- below ), and the beanie is a cotton crochet with Sagada trademark - photo of me by my niece Steff
Sagada Weaving
Before we left Sagada, we stopped at Kiltepan for sunrise.
Couple Waiting for Sunrise at Kiltepan
My Niece Taking Picture of Sunrise
What follows here are sunrise pictures at Kiltepan taken by my niece. When my niece asked me if she could borrow my camera, I happily handed the camera to her. I am glad that she is also interested in photography. She takes really very good pictures, all in manual setting.
 Sunrise @ Kiltepan, photo by my niece
  Fogs @ Kiltepan, photo by my niece
 Sunrise @ Kiltepan, photo by my niece
Leaving Sagada at sunrise gave us many hopes of coming back here again to explore more just as many sunrises do. 

I will share about itinerary and cost of Sagada trip in my other blog, Breathe In..Breathe Out, hopefully soon. 

If you have some time, you may want to check my earlier posts about Sagada via Banaue below:
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  1. wow, your niece does take gorgeous photos like you too! I love all her shots...I particularly love that solo picture of yours standing with the sagada trademark...who took that photo sis? My heart cried out for the women who died in birth and were branded as cursed...sigh...on a lighter note, I love the idea of my remains being placed in the heart of mother nature...the veterans of WW II cemetery drawing is funny :) love love love all the skies on your Sagada via Banaue trip sis...looking forward to your post in yah! :)

    1. edited my post Zen and added description to the photo, thanks. the picture was taken by my niece, Steff, the same niece who took the sunrise pictures.

  2. Sagada seems to be such a fascinating place. It is also so very beautiful. The echo valley must be a scary place to visit in the night!! Those hanging coffins are so unique, hearing about them for the first time. Wonderful captures both by you and by your niece!
    Have a nice day :)

  3. This is actually the first time I heard about the way people in Sagada are burying their dead and I find it very interesting.

    Thank you for sharing your breathtaking experience in Sagada. You are right Ate Betchai, your niece do take good photos.

    I so enjoyed this post and it feels like I have been to the place too :)

  4. Thanks for posting these Betchai! Your wonderful take on nature never ceases to amaze me. I may have said this already before in my other comments, but let me just tell you again, whenever I visit your blog, I feel like I have been transformed to the place where you actually stood and took the picture. Simply AMAZING!

    Please keep posting your wonderful adventures and the beautiful nature you see along the way. God Bless!

  5. I really love your adventures sis and I love the fact that we also got to see the places that you are exploring, thanks for always sharing it with us.

  6. Buti ka pa Betchai, napuntahan mo na ang hanging coffins of Sagada, Ako 2 articles na ginawa ko about this place yung photos ko galing lang Flickr. LOL BTW nice pghotos nga pala.

  7. You know,Betchai, I would not thought this is in Philippines, it looks like in another country. Indeed, Philippines has a lot of gems that people sometimes take it for granted and mostly they go on the white sand. Well definitely visit this place if I have a chance someday.

  8. sana makapunta na talaga ako dito sa sagada. ;-(

  9. That was really interesting. I would much rather hang than be shoved into a cave.

  10. It feels wonderful to know that these photos are in my motherland, Philippines. ♥

    I wish to visit these places someday! :)

  11. Oh! I want to visit the rice terraces and the hanging coffins! How far is this place from Manila and how do I get here from Manila?

  12. thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures about sagada as well as very informative post about the place. sana we can visit sagada someday...and see its beauty. :)

  13. Amazing would be an understatement right now! One of my dream places to visit talaga ang Sagada at Banaue.. Nagandahan ako sa lahat ng litratong nilagay ninyo.. At pinakagusto ko yung mga preserved coffins, lalo na yung hanging ones.. Panu kaya nila inakyat yun dun?

    Balang araw, mararating ko din yang lugar na yan.. =) Pati pa Ilocos gusto ko ding marating.. =)

  14. Fascinating place, and the hanging coffins took my interest. That's quite something, and all the photos are amazingly beautiful, including of you!

  15. What a way to bury the coffins :-) that is so interesting :-) your niece takes beautiful pictures :-)

  16. beautiful~

    Have a great St.Valentine's Day!

    xoxo, Juliana | PJ’ Happies :) | PJ’ Ecoproject

  17. OMG
    thats such a valuable info...
    hanging coffins are really breath taking

  18. OMG
    thats such a valuable info...
    hanging coffins are really breath taking

  19. I must be a ninny, because I had no idea rice grows like that, lol! The sunset pictures are lovely, and I love learning about the customs and cultures that other peoples on this great planet of ours go about their ways.

  20. I do not know if I can handle visiting these kinds of places, especially the hanging coffins. It seems eerie.