Situated six hours away of Banaue, the Lumiang Burial Cave houses a total of 200 coffins that have survived 500 years of natural and man-made disasters. Eerie yet fascinating, the old Igorot tradition of burying their loved ones speaks highly of the tribe’s rich culture.
Bizarre, forgotten tradition
The hanging coffins of Sagada are a picture-perfect sight more impressive than any horror fiction. Within the dark corners of the Lumiang Burial Cave lay a stack of coffins which enclose some of the oldest Igorot ancestors. A number of coffins, however, are placed in the highest corners of the cave walls. These coffins are suspended from the limestone cliffs via ropes and strong wires.
Local tourist guides assure visitors that the position of the coffins signify how loved ones cared for the deceased. In other words, the higher the coffin, the more valued the deceased was. The coffins were made by hollowing out logs that are apparently smaller than the actual size of the dead. As a result, the body would assume a “fetal position”–a preferred technique believed by ancient Igorots as a way to bring peace to the departed’s soul.
A step closer to heaven
Sagada hanging coffins are a gem that one can only reach through an exhausting trek. During the Pre-Hispanic era, relatives and loved ones of the deceased would travel the beaten path in order to place the coffin inside the Lumiang Cave. Prior to that, a 5-day pre-burial ritual was required during which the body was preserved using smoke.
The hanging coffins of Sagada may be awkwardly placed but for ancient Igorots, the bizarre tradition was meant to put their loved ones closer to heaven. Sadly, even dangerous heights have failed to stop some tourists from doing bad deeds. Reports said that the bones within the hanging coffins were stolen either as souvenirs or for other purposes God only knows.
Perhaps it’s about time for the local government to employ all efforts to preserve these unusual yet marvelous reminders of our past. Sagada hanging coffins are not just a tourist spot but also vanguards of history that highly deserve protection.
Interesting facts about the Hanging Coffins of Sagada:
1. Igorot tradition only permitted those who died from natural causes to be placed inside the hanging coffins. Those who either died as infants or from illnesses were believed to bring bad luck if enclosed in the coffins.
2. The ancient Igorots hung the coffins first using difficult techniques that are left to our own imagination. Once the coffins were properly suspended, the bodies wrapped in cloth would then be placed inside them.
3. The person who would get a drop of blood while the wrapped body of the deceased was being passed towards the coffin was considered the luckiest. The blood symbolizes good fortune.