May 16, 2024 | Sarah Ng

22 Photos Of The Hanging Coffins Of Sagada


An Unlikely Tourist Destination

In the Philippines' mountain province, there is a town called Sagada, which has become a tourist site for a truly macabre, yet fascinating, reason: hanging coffins.

Coffins-Msn

They Are Hundreds Of Years Old

These hanging coffins are a funerary practice of the Kankanaey people. The precise age of these coffins is a bit of a mystery as archaeologists haven't properly investigated them. However, they are likely hundreds of years old.

Philippines Sagada Hanging TombsMarcel Hamonic, Shutterstock

The Practice Is Fading Out

Today, the funerary tradition of hanging coffins is rarely used—and is gradually dying out. Instead, Christian burials are far more common. 

hanging coffins on a cliffxavier pou gonzalez, Shutterstock

It Isn't Easy To Hang A Coffin

Practically speaking, the process of hanging a coffin is far more arduous and risky than a Christian burial. Sometimes, even scaffolding has to be built to securely place a coffin, with vines used to maneuver it into place.

standing coffin on a cliffZuzana Gabrielova, Shutterstock

The Seem Precarious

These burial cliffs are certainly a sight to behold. The coffins seem to project precariously out of the rock face and are usually covered by natural overhangs. 

small coffin hanging on a rockxavier pou gonzalez, Shutterstock

It's A Balancing Act

Sometimes wooden beams are fitted into holes in the cliff to help keep the coffins in place, or they sit on rock shelves.

Lumiang Burial Cave, SagadaAlyona Naive Angel, Shutterstock

You Can't See Most Of Them

Many of the places where you can witness these hanging coffins are not accessible to the public as they are too hard to get to. However, one place has become a center for dark tourism.

Traditional hanging coffins at Sagada, PhilippinesChristian Nuebling, Shutterstock

Echo Valley

Unlike other remote coffin hanging sites, the cliff in Echo Valley can be accessed by tourists—and has become a popular attraction in Luzon. But this isn't necessarily a good thing.

image of Three Sisters stonesSaknarong Tayaset, Shutterstock

A Center For Dark Tourism

Due to the sheer number of people, a fence had to be built to protect the site. Obviously, tourists were eager to get close to the hanging coffins. Some would even take out their phones and snap selfies.

tourists visiting hanging coffinsmundosemfim, Shutterstock

The Locals Weren't Happy

What these tourists may not have realized was that their enthusiastic interactions with the coffins were disrespectful to the locals, whose families were buried on the cliffs.

tourists photograph historic hanging coffins suspended from cliffsJohn Raymond Tibay, Shutterstock

They Are Small For A Reason

The coffins themselves are quite small—and for good reason. Instead of the body being laid flat and horizontal, the bodies are curled into a fetal position before being placed in the coffin.

Sarcophagus in a cave near SagadaChristian Nuebling, Shutterstock

It Comes Full Circle

The decision to bury the bodies in the fetal position is rooted in the belief that human should finish their lives in the same way they began their lives. In fact, this is a prevalent traditions amongst many of the Philippines' pre-colonial cultures.

Coffins are spread arround Sagadaxavier pou gonzalez, Shutterstock

They Reflect Social Status

The Kankanaey only use this burial practice of hanging coffins for select people in the community: anyone who was a respected and upstanding leader.

2,000-year-old Hanging Coffins at SagadaManuel Abinuman Jr, Shutterstock

Only Leaders Allowed

To have the honor of being buried in a hanging coffin, one had to have led a sage life, done good deeds, and taken charge of important rituals. Even the location of the coffin is a clue as to what the person's social status was.

taditional funeral custom of local people of Sagadajpsbracero, Shutterstock

Height Is Important

The higher the coffin is placed on the cliff, the higher the person's social status was during their lifetime. 

Hanging coffins in SagadaMatyas Rehak, Shutterstock

They Are Mostly Men

Those who have found their final resting place in a hanging coffin were most likely key figures of the council of male elders—the amam-a.

The Culture Of Hanging CoffinsMarkjay22, Wikimedia Commons

Buried In Caves

Though the Kananaey do use hanging coffins, they are more likely to use a different burial practice: placing the coffins in crevices or limestone caves.

Coffins in cavesxavier pou gonzalez, Shutterstock

Showing Respect

No matter which funerary practice they choose, the Kankaney will make sure to do a particular ritual before the internment. This begs the question: Why do they choose to bury their dead on cliffs or within caves?

Sagada caves there are hanging coffinsJungarcia888, Wikimedia Commons

The Spirits Wander Freely

By laying their loved ones to rest amongst the rocks and cliffs, the Kanakanaey believe that they are allowing the spirits to freely wander the region. They will also be free to provide protection to those still living.

hanging coffins in the mountAdwo, Shutterstock

The Coffins Break Down

The hanging coffins can fall prey to the passage of time. It's not unusual for the coffins and bodies to break down and get lost in the natural environment. But sometimes this can lead to another unsettling practice.

in philipphines the typical hanging cemeterylkpro, Shutterstock

A Long Way Down

Bodies have been known to fall out of their coffins. When this happens, the locals will make sure to bury the remains. But that isn't all. They'll also hold ceremonies, calling on the dead for forgiveness.

dead are buried in coffins tied or nailed to cliffs.rweisswald, Shutterstock

Returning To Nature

Sagada is also known for its limestone. Therefore, sometimes the hanging coffins undergo calcification, getting truly lost in the natural cliffside.

Cliff full of hanging coffinsYusei, Shutterstock


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