Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Truths about Sagada's Hanging Coffins.

A top draw in Sagada in the Philippines is the Hanging Coffins.
In Dec. 08, my family and I were the fortunate few to have seen the spectacle sight with our own eyes. However, we have to endure first the tiring 7-hour journey up the Cordilleras from Manila.
No much is said about the customs and why they place their deaths in high elevation. But with a bit of luck and probing, we soon got the answer.

Ferocious tribal wars were once a common threat in this part of the Philippines some two centuries ago, and Sagada was no exception.

The entire hilly communities were caught in these bizarre upheavals and nothing was spared including sacred burial sites.
According to the Igorot villagers, coffins and graveyards often fell prey to the Ifugao headhunters from Bontoc, who sought the prized skulls, living or not.

Fearful of the diving backlash from their headless ancestors, quick thinking Igorot tribal leaders in Sagada came out with a brilliant plan to stop the rampage.
The answer, it seemed, lies in making the coffins out of reach of the enemy, and where else but on the slopes of the many karst hills found here.

They have hoped that the physical attributes of the landscapes would served to deter the enthusiasm of the menacing Ifugao.

According to ancient funeral rites, the deceased must be seated in an upright position while villagers worked frantically to erect bamboo scaffolding leading to the elevated burial ground.

The task to take the coffin up on the sharp hillslopes are the job of pall bearers consisting of the villager youths. Theirs is not an effortless one.
Besides, they risk fatal fall and they must also deal with the rotting fluids from the leaking coffin.

Nevertheless, a pall bearer’s job was traditionally held in high esteem. Interestingly, folks in Sagada once considered it a good omen if the pall bearers are showered in the nasty fluids while they carried out their task.

However, when American missionaries took Christianity to Sagada, compromises were made and mixed the native rituals with their new found faiths.

Nowadays, hillslope burials have become a novelty and reserved only for those villagers who have two surviving generations of descendants.

This form of funeral rite is becoming rare and villagers will tell you that the last hanging burial in Sagada was held in June 2008.

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