One of the best ways in discovering history and culture of a place is by walking around its streets and checking the landmarks. This applies in visiting Sagada, Mountain Province. Before doing the spelunking, our group started the Sagada walking tour by visiting the attractions near the town proper such as the Sagada Bell and Episcopal Church, Calvary Hills and Echo Valley.
The main attraction pulling tourists to visit Sagada is the Hanging Coffins. On the way to Echo Valley, you will be passing by the Sagada Bell and the St. Mary Episcopal Church. The Sagada Bell, as per the guide, was a symbol of history because in the past the church of Sagada requested a bell from the church in Vigan. It was granted but transferring the bell was a problem. Men from Sagada and Besao tried bringing it from Vigan but didn’t make it. A group of men from Agawa persevered to bring the bell in the village of Malliten in the Kinali territory. When the carriers rested, the men of Sagada hasted the bell to bring it to its destination. This led to the separation of the Agawa Tribe from Sagada which resulted to Agawa joining Besao to form what is now known as Besao Territory.
Larger percentage of Filipinos is catholic; however, Sagada is the only Philippine municipality that is predominantly protestant with almost 95% baptized into the Episcopal Church. This is where the Episcopal Church of St. Mary plays its vital role as the venue of worship of Sagadians. The church was founded in 1904 by the Rev. John Staunton under Bishop Charles Brent.
Few meters from the church is the start of the trail to Echo Valley, passing through the Sagada cemetery which is known as the Calvary Hill. The guide shared to us a practice which is being observed in the Calvary Hill during the dusk of November 1. This practice is being done before lighting up a candle for the graves. This tradition is called “Panag-apoy” a local term for “creating a fire,” where a pine wood locally called as “saeng” lit up with fire in the graves.
From Calvary Hills, you need to pass on a narrow trail with cliffs on the side going to the view deck of the hanging coffins. If you’re adventurous enough like me, you can take the muddy and slippery trail going down for a closer look at the coffins.
As per the tour guide, the coffins were only suspended using vines in the past. But the coffins are now being supported by iron bars which were drilled on the rocks. Coffins are of different sizes because some are on fetal position. The last coffin was added on the year 2010. To label it, name of the dead which they’ve known for was marked on the coffins. When asked what is the reason why the Sagadians follow this tradition of burying their loved ones, the answer I got is that they (the locals) believe that the higher their graves from the ground, the closer they are to their gods.
Before heading to Sumaging Cave for the spelunking, we passed by another hanging coffins famously known as the Sugong Coffins that can be viewed from the road. Aside from hanging coffins, Sagada has also numerous burial caves one can be seen in the entrance of Lumiang Cave and the other one can be viewed from the road going to Sumaging.
Last attraction we have witnessed on our bare eyes before entering Sumaging Cave was the Kapay-aw Rice Terraces. We were fortunate enough to witness the rice terraces on its full bloom having color variations. Visiting these sites enabled me to learn some from the very rich culture and history of Sagada and intensified my interest to learn and study more about their culture.