Echo Valley is one of the few places in the world where shouting is allowed and apparently enjoyable. It is also the site of the most popular tourist spot in the Mountain Province, the Hanging Coffins of Sagada.
According to people I talked to there, the elderly Igorots carve their own coffins using hollowed logs of pine tree before they die. If they are already too weak or ill, their families are the ones who prepare their coffins instead. For more than 2,000 years, the people of Sagada have been following this unique burial ritual. Cadavers of Igorots who occupy certain status in their tribe were smoked throughout a 5-day pre-burial feast to avoid fast decomposition.
Burial is done at the break of dawn. Then, the body and coffins are transported separately to the burial site. The coffin is brought to the cliff area first, and then the cadaver is transported from through line of people going to the cliffs. The elders encourage many people to participate because they believe that having fluids like blood spilled to the clothes of those who carry the cadaver to the cliff would bring them good fortune or additional skills.
The dead are placed inside their coffins, sometimes breaking their bones in the process of fitting them in. Some coffins are small because the dead are put inside in fetal position, in line with the Igorots’ belief that the dead should get out of this world the same way they got in. Coffins are hung in high-elevated cliffs; others are hung either inside the caves or on the face of the cliffs, near the hanging coffins of their ancestors. Hanging the coffins in high-elevated cliffs is a century-old belief. Some believe that the higher the body is laid – the closer the person is to heaven. Another reason coffins are hung is to protect the bodies from natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. It also keeps the corpses away from wild animals. Some Sagadians also believe that the body of their dead is sacred, so it should not be buried in the ground; it is better to hang them on a cliff or place them in a cave and wait for their reincarnation.
Another burial site of the people of Sagada is Lumiang Cave. The cave protects the coffins from weather elements. Inside the cave, coffins are stacked neatly. There are also a few coffins in the ground with carvings of geckos or lizards on the lids. The carvings are believed to bring good luck. I was told that some tourists steal them and bring them home as souvenirs. That is sad to know.
Hanging coffins and burial caves are part of the Igorot’s indigenous culture and burial tradition. Some people may not agree with the practice, but this is truly unique. It depicts the richness of the Sagadan culture, more than its mystique charm.