The mysterious Hanging Coffins of Sagada, Philippines
In the mists of time, for over 2000 years, the Igorot population has traditionally created wooden coffins and set them overhanging in the rock.
The Igorots are an indigenous tribe living still today in Sagada, Luzon Island, Philippines, and this tradition is still present today.
The Igorots practise unique funerary customs, in which the dead are buried in coffins which are tied or nailed to the side of cliffs.
As tradition requires, everyone builds his own coffin, starting this work when he begins to feel the first signs of weakening and the consequent approach of the Death. Only in the case of extreme impossibility, due for example to illness, the family help in this construction.
When the person dies, he/she is placed in the coffin in a foetal position, due to the belief that a person should exit the world in the same position that he/she entered it.
After being wrapped up in blankets and tied with rattan leaves, the corpse is carried to a cliff in a procession. During the procession, people attempt to grab and carry the corpse, due to the belief that it is good luck to be smeared with the blood of the deceased, since it would allow a person to possess the skills of the deceased.
After reaching the site for the burial, the coffin is placed along the cliff, or sometimes inside a cave. Some of these today have more than a century!
Spiritual motivation is simple: in this way it is believed that the dead are closer to heaven, helping them in the passage to the afterlife.
But it also has a practical function. The deceased is protected by animals that could deface his body, and protects him from the violent floods during the period of the monsoons.
Moreover, during the days when headhunting was a common practice, corpses buried in the ground would have been easy targets, while corpses suspended from cliffs would be safe from the head hunters.
Reaching the coffins is almost impossible, primarily because the dead deserve to stay in peace and certainly are not a tourist attraction, second because it is forbidden to touch them. So the best way is to get a pair of binoculars or a camera with a powerful lens.
Even if this is an interesting and fashinating burial custom, there are many questions about them that remains unanswered.
It is possible that this practice originated in China, as there are tribes in southern China, such as the Bo and Guyue, who bury their dead on the side of cliffs as well. In addition, some of these coffins can be dated back to the Zhou Dynasty (1027-777BC). Therefore, it is possible that contact between the two peoples allowed the diffusion of this burial custom.
In fact, a similar custom was popular also in Indonesia and China, where about 30 caskets are anchored on a limestone rock about 30 meters up the side of a cave in Guizhou province in southwestern. It could date back hundreds of years, and the coffins, inside and out, are littered with pieces of clothes, bones and ceramics.
According to Chinese historical sources, the Bo people believed that coffins that are set in high places were auspicious, and moreover the hardships of earthly life prompted the Bo people to seek an afterlife that was peaceful and quiet, and this was achieved by having their coffins placed on the side of cliffs.