History and Culture
Closer to Heaven: The Hanging Coffins of Sagada
Choose Philippines | Oct 30, 2015
For thousands of years, the people of the Cordilleras have practiced the tradition of burying their dead in hanging coffins, each suspended to the sides of the limestone cliff in Echo Valley in Sagada through ropes and strong wires. It is believed that hanging the coffins in such an elevated place will bring the physical bodies closer to their ancestral spirits. Elders or those who held high positions in the tribe are placed higher on the cliffs once they're dead.
In their practice, the body of the dead is first bound with rattan and vines and then placed on a wooden chair facing the main door of the house to allow their relatives to pay respects. After a vigil for a number of days, the corpse is secured into a fetal position, the legs pushed up towards the chin. It is tied with rattan and vines and fitted into a coffin measuring only about a meter in length. Some of the coffins are also placed in the dark corners of the Lumiang Burial Cave.
It is also part of their tradition that the hanging coffins are reserved for only those who died of old age. Infants or those who died of illness cannot be placed inside the coffins in fear of bad luck. On the other hand, being subjected to a drop of blood coming from the wrapped corpse is considered good luck.
How to Get There:
From Manila, you have two options: take the western route (via Baguio) or the eastern one (via Banaue and Bontoc). The western route is a bit more convenient, as there are dozens of buses from various bus lines going up to Baguio City every day.
The eastern route gives you fewer options, with only a few buses plying the Manila-Banaue route per day. (An alternative would be to ride a bus to Solano in Nueva Vizcaya, where you can ride the jeepney to Banaue. This has been our route these past years.) Once you get to Banaue, you’ll need to transfer rides to get to Bontoc, where you can hop on a bus to Sagada.
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