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Sagada, Philippines: A Hanging Tribute to the Past

Sagada, Philippines: Rice Terraces
Sagada's beautiful rice terraces.

Ancient cultural practices are as diverse as the 7,000 odd islands of the Philippines. Some of the most unusual rituals are found near the tiny village of Sagada in the North Luzon section of the country.

Hung precariously by rope and wire from limestone cliffs are burial coffins belonging to the Igorots, a proud, fiercely independent tribe which speaks the Kankana-ey dialect. Their burial rituals date back more than a century and continued up until two decades ago. Most coffins are weathered and aged. The latest one still holds the original inscription, clearly visible from the ground below.

The locations of the coffins are a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trek. Guides are available from the local tourist authority, though finding the place on your own is a fascinating experience.

Sagada, Philippines: Hanging Coffins
The hanging cliff-top coffins of Sagada, Philippines.

The underside of Sagada is equally as amazing as what towers above it. A network of limestone caves below the village streets served as burial places for the local Igorots during pre-Christian times. Guides equipped with only an oil lantern lead you through a twisted system of passages while narrating Igorot history. Even if the lantern’s flame burns out, don’t be alarmed: the locals have walked these caves for hundreds of years.

Tribal influences still dominate the culture and can be seen in almost every aspect of Sagada life—a simple, but engaging existence nearly unchanged since early times.

Sagada, Philippines: Igorot Tribe
Igorots preparing for a ritual dance.

Caving Tours

A number of Manila-based tour operators offer trips into the labyrinth cave structure that exists around and under Sagada. Those who want to travel more freely can arrange their own transportation to Baguio, where local buses can be caught to Sagada proper. In Banaue, there are also jeepneys going to Bontoc which leave at 7:30 a.m. The ride takes 2 to 3 hours. In Bontoc, one can catch jeepneys going to Sagada. Tour operators can also be arranged in Baguio. Your cheapest and most reliable option, however, would be to book a tour with the Sagada Environmental Guides Association located at Sagada’s Provincial Tourism Office upon arrival.

Recommended Tour Operators: Philippine Convention & Visitors Corporation, 4th Fl., Suites 10-17, Legaspi Towers, 300 Roxas Blvd., Manila, Philippines, Tel.: 011-632-525-9318 to 32; pcvcnet@mnl.sequel.net, www.dotpcvc.gov.ph.

Swagman Travel, Swagman Baguio Attic Inn, 90 Abanao St. Baguio City, Mountain Province, Philippines; Local tel. & fax: 442 9859.

Sagada Environmental Guides Association, Provincial Tourism Office, Sagada, Mountain Province, Philippines; Sega2619@yahoo.com.

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