After quite the unexpected long trek to Bomod-ok Falls the day before, my friends and I decided to take a relaxed approach to our last day in Sagada, and just roam around the village before we had to board the bus back to Manila at 3 o’clock. We started off with breakfast fairly early, and soon found ourselves walking to the direction of the church, where the cemetery was, as well as Echo Valley and the hanging coffins beyond.
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada Mountain Province is the main Anglican church in the area, built by American Missionaries in 1904. It was founded by the Reverand John Staunton under Bishop Charles Brent who went to Sagada to spread the Christian faith to the local mountain tribes, officially becoming a parish in 1962. So it comes as no surprise then that Sagada is predominantly of the Anglican faith.
The first Anglican missionaries in the Philippines applies a holistic approach to their mission work. They introduced their converts “the faith once delivered to the Saints” and established institutions to trnform the economic and social life of the people they came to serve.
The wheel used for this centennial marker was brought from the United States to Sagada as part of the sawmill project. It was discarded when the sawmill stopped operating and has been lying on the ground for almost a century. The wheel was then salvaged for the marker to symbolize the ever rolling fith and commitment of the early missionaries to make known Christ’s salvation in the remotest oarts of the Philippine archipelago. It also symbolizes the spiritual and social transformation that has taken place in Sagada and other parts of the Philippines in the past 100 years as a result of Anglican mission work.
Walking further down the trail we came to an outpost where we were required to have a guide show us the way through Sagada cemetery through to the hanging coffins. The fee is a minimal Php 200 split between my three friends and myself, as well as a Belgian couple that decided to join us.
I have to admit, it felt weird, almost blasphemous to be there, walking among the graves of strangers, just passing by. There were a lot of small graves, of children who had died from smallpox and measles, and a big memorial stone to one side for the Sagadans who gave their lives during World War II.
The sun was up high early that morning, and I could feel the heat on my arms and forehead despite the strong breeze (If you’re not sure of what to pack before heading up, here are 10 essentials you may want to consider). We chatted with the Belgian couple we hiked with, Benjamin and Natalie, and they told us how they were from Ghent and had been travelling around Asia for the past three months, their favorite country so far being the Philippines.
Upon reaching Echo Valley, our guide asked us to shout so we could hear our voices echoing back (thus the name, obviously). While our new Belgian friends took to yodeling, our other friends took to shouting out lines form the Titanic movie. “Jack! Are you there Jack? Jack!” “Are you a big fan of the Titanic?” Benjamin asked. “No. It was just the first thing that came to mind.” Glenn, our Baguio-based friend replied. Talk about random.
Our friends from Baguio had to bid us adieu halfway through our tour, as they had to get in line if they wanted to catch the bus back to Baguio. We hiked down a few more meters to where we could get a better view of the Hanging Coffins. I had images in my head of how horrifying it would look to see coffins above ground instead of being six-feet under. Suspended from the limestone cliffs via ropes and strong wires.
The coffins look small. I thought this must be where they buried children, but according to the local guide the Igorot ancestors were buried in a fetal position – with their arms wrapped around their knees before being wrapped in white linen and placed inside the coffins and hoisted up, bringing them closer to heaven. You’ll notice there’s a wooden chair that’s hung up with the coffins, too. Apparently, the relatives of the deceased would arrange the corpse into the fetal position on the chair, and it was this chair that they used to carry the body down to be placed in the coffin before it got hung.
Some folks still choose to be buried here today – the last known coffin hanged here was in 2008, an old lady named Estefania Mayocyoc.