Friday, April 22, 2011

The Hanging Coffins of Sagada: An Ancient Tradition

The Segada people of the Phillipines have been burying their dead in coffins hanging from limestone cliffs high above the ground for more than 2,000 years. Their particular tradition involves the placement of dead relatives into caves after carefully preparing a hollowed out log.
Although no one can say for sure, it is likely this ritual concerns the idea that that the higher the body is placed, the closer to heaven. It also provides a way to protect bodies that could potentially be destroyed by natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
Segada is a remote area, situated some six hours away (12 in rainy season) from the Luzon island town of Banaue, north of Manila. The cliffs are laden with hundreds of coffins, but how they got there seems a phenomenal effort involving either ropes to lower the coffins down the cliff or some sort of timber scaffolding to raise the coffin to such a height.
The coffins were carved by those that would inhabit them for all eternity as part of this bizarre but very poignant ritual.
The corpses are smoked to preserve them throughout the 5-day pre-burial feast and as the bodies are pushed into the coffins, the cracking and even breaking of bones often occurs as the process is completed.
The deceased remain in caves high in the cliffs in company of the coffins of other ancestors. There are as many as hundreds of coffins lined up in some of these caves.
Due to the fact that the area is unregulated, tourists have been stealing bones as grisly souvenirs of their expedition into the remote mountains.
While visiting these incredible caves, it is recommended that you hire a guide, as the roads are complicated and difficult to navigate.

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