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The hanging coffins of Sagada – a unique burial ritual in the Philippines

David Goran

The people of Sagada follow a unique burial ritual in which the dead are buried in coffins which are tied or nailed to the side of cliffs. These “hanging coffins“ can be found in various locations like China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This culture buried their dead on cliffs for centuries because they believed that they will be closer to heaven and that the younger generations will benefit spiritually from this ritual.

The hanging coffins of Sagada. Source
The hanging coffins of Sagada. Source


The bizarre tradition was to put their loved ones closer to heaven. Source
The bizarre tradition was to put their loved ones closer to heaven. Source

In the Lumiang Burial Cave, located on a hilltop called Echo Valley, lay a stack of coffins which enclose some of the oldest Igorot ancestors who have laid their dead. They were dressed in family colors and prints because they wanted the dead to be recognized by their ancestors in the next life.

The Igorot tribe feared to be buried in the ground because water would eventually seep into the soil ant their bodies would rot faster.

One of the hanging coffins of Sagada. Source
Close view of one of the coffins. Source

The coffins were made smaller than the actual size of the human body because they wanted the body to assume a “fetal position” – a preferred technique by ancient Igorots who believed that in that way they will bring peace to the departed’s soul. Igorot tradition only permitted those who died from natural causes to be buried in this way. If someone was ill or died as an infant, it was believed that it could bring only a bad luck to the tribe.

The hanging coffins on the cliff. Source 1 Source 2 Source 3
Many of the locations of the coffins are difficult to reach. Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

It is claimed that this practice is over 2,000 years old. The coffins were carved by the elderly before they die because of their belief that a person should leave the world in the same position that she or he entered it.

Although this is a fascinating burial custom, there are many questions about this ritual that are still unanswered. However, this burial tradition is slowly dying because younger generations have adopted modern ways of life and they are influenced by the Christian beliefs so there are very few who choose to follow this burial tradition today.

David Goran

David Goran is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News