A close encounter with coffins at the Lumiang Burial Cave in Sagada

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By KC Santos

SAGADA, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE –  Sagada is famous for its hanging coffins, owing to traditional belief that the dead are better buried above ground since this allows their souls to freely wander near loved ones.

But for starters, a visit to the Lumiang Burial Cave allows you to peruse coffins at an arm’s length.

To get to Lumiang, you need to walk about half an hour from the twon square. As we trooped downhill to our destination, our guide Mang Lodong directed our attention to gigantic human-shaped stone formations on each side of the road.

It somehow welcomed me to what seems to be a gloomier side of Sagada. We didn’t have to get to the Lumiang Cave to see the hanging coffins.

Halfway through our hike, we passed by towering rock formations  where you can see the hanging coffins, almost unnoticeable if not for tourists we saw taking photos.

To reach the cave’s mouth, we had to walk down some 500 meters, a railing aiding us down the slippery slope.

The entry point for the cave connection was pitch-black. Mang Lodong said the entrance is deceptively deep. It felt weird being in a burial cave but between that and a risky stunt, I felt the former was a lot safer.

I wasn’t fully comfortable with the thought of being around the dead and the eerie feeling inside the cave didn’t help. Good thing Mang Lodong started his semi-lecture about the burial cave.

The Lumiang Cave houses at least 200 coffins that have been there for 500 years. Mang Lodong said family members or friends of the dead would pass and take turns in transporting the coffin to the cave. They believe that when the one that carries the coffin is stained with the dead’s blood, he gains good fortune and blessings in life.

It was noticeable that the coffins were a little small for a full-grown adult. Mang Lodong explained that the dead should be forced to a fetal position in order to fit in the coffin. He added such is the way the dead “took form” which means it is only right that he “rests” in the same position.

While most of the coffins are piled one after another, there are also coffins tucked in the highest upper corners of the cave wall. It is unthinkable how the families were able to get the coffin all the way up there but Mang Lodong said, these families’ effort signifies their love for the deceased.

According to Mang Lodong, when Sagadians reach old age, they take the initiative to make their own coffins. When they die, their family members tuck the coffin in the highest part of the cave first; the body then follows as the family members lay it in its final resting place.

This is also done to keep the bodies away from stray dogs and wild animals who hunt in the cave. Some of the coffins which have carvings of a gecko (the reptile Sagadians revere for guarding their harvests) are those which Mang Lodong described as highly-respected leaders.

In modern times, Sagadians have adapted the virtue of burying and visiting the tombs of the dead in a cemetery. However, those who have loved ones buried in the burial cave of Lumiang do not visit the cave. Instead, they perform rituals at home.

We trooped back up only to discover that on the opposite side of the road was another burial cave. Mang Lodong said this area is the burial place of women who died out of pregnancy or infants who died of illness.

All in all, the trip to the Lumiang Cave was worth it. Sure it wasn’t half as fun as the adrenaline rush I would’ve felt with the cave connection activity but at least I had another reason to visit Sagada again.

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