10 Facts about Sagada

Getting yourself lost in Sagada is not only a feast for the eyes, it also gives you a taste of the town’s ancient culture and traditions. Like any other communities located deep into the mountains of Cordillera, Ysagadas were able to preserve the beauty and richness of their beliefs. Hence, from the hanging coffins and limestone formations to the vibrant history, Sagada is wonderland for those in search of ancient mysteries. Below are just a few sneak peeks of what to learn and discover about this famed town and its people.

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1. Limestone rock formations and fossilized seashells can be found around Sagada and its caves—a proof that this highland used to be submerged in the ocean billions of years ago.

2. According to legend, Biag, a man from Bika, Abra, founded the village of Sagada. Forced out of their village in Bika by headhunters, Biag’s family resettled in Candon. However, when Spanish conquistadors enforced baptism, Biag’s family chose to move back toward the mountains. While his siblings decided to part ways, Biag pushed further to the east until he came to the village now known as Sagada.

3. Sagada’s old name is Ganduyan. Based on age-old stories, the name Sagada came about when a group of Spanish soldiers coming from Besao met a man near Danum Lake. The soldiers asked the man what the name of the next place was. The man, carrying a bamboo basket for catching fish, thought they were asking about his parcel. Hence, he answered, “Sagada.” From then on, the town was written down on Spanish records as Sagada.

4. With a population of not more than 12,000, Sagada is one of the smaller towns found in Mountain Province. Similar to other communities in the Cordillera, highland crops and ecotourism sustain the town’s economy. The people who live in the area are called Ysagadas, which literally translates to the phrase “from Sagada.” Kankanay, a variation of Kankanaey, is the language widely spoken in the area.

5. The Spaniards had occupied the adjacent lowlands as early as 1572, but it was only after a hundred years that they were able to reach the southwestern territory of Mountain Province, including the town of Sagada. As a result, the community was able to preserve its indigenous culture with little Spanish influence.

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6. In 1902, American missionaries arrived in the Philippines and decided to build their churches in places where Roman Catholic has not yet been established. Soon, Sagada proved to be one of the most viable locations. The community, especially the elders, welcomed and accepted the Protestant Episcopal Church. The missionaries helped build a mission compound, a school and a hospital in the town center. Today, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin stands as a symbol of the town’s vibrant Protestant Episcopal parish. Sagada is the only town in the Philippines that is predominantly protestant, with over 95% of the population baptized under the church.

7. The Lumiang Cave houses a total of 200 coffins that have survived 500 years of natural and man-made disasters. These coffins were carved out from solid pine trunks. Consequently, the body would assume a fetal position. It is believed that this tradition is a way to bring peace to the soul of the departed.

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8. Aside from bringing the remains of their departed loved ones to the deep crevices of caves, Ysagadas are also known for the ancient funeral custom of hanging coffins. It was believed that this bizarre practice was meant to place the departed closer to heaven. Usually, this custom is also reserved for the nobles only. Hence, the higher the coffin, the more valued the deceased was. However, Igorot tradition only permitted those who died from natural causes to be placed inside the hanging coffins. Those who either died as infants or from illnesses were believed to bring bad luck if enclosed in the coffins. Still an existing practice, the latest burial was done in December 2010.

9. The blood of the deceased symbolizes good fortune to Ysagadas. Hence, when the wrapped body of the deceased is being passed towards the coffin, the person who gets a drop of blood is considered the luckiest.

10. During the Martial Law, Sagada became the refuge of artists and political activists. Its caves also served as shelters for Filipino soldiers fighting against Japanese guerillas during World War II.