A town secluded in the high mountains of thick pine forest and wild vegetation, Sagada is truly a haven to behold. However, its jaw-dropping sceneries are just some of the wonders the town has to offer. Through resilience, the people of Sagada were able to preserve their age-old culture and traditions—some of which are events and festivals deeply engrained in their beliefs. Yearly, these festivals become reasons for the people of Sagada to converge and showcase their rich culture, and below is a list of these festivities every eager travelers should look forward to.
Etag is a delicacy centric to the lives of Cordillerans, so much so that a festivity is celebrated in its namesake by the people of Sagada. Annually, from January 30 to February 2, the people of Sagada converge to commemorate the uniqueness of their culture as represented by the ancient tradition of Panag-etag.
Aside from showcasing and preserving their culture and traditions, the festivity was also conceived to promote ecotourism and improve the town’s economy. In the first day of the celebrations, a holy mass is held at the Saint Mary’s Church to also observe the feast of the Virgin Mary. A civic parade around town follows and ends at the Dao-angan Grounds. Various activities are lined-up which are expected to entice the widest participation from the constituents and visitors alike.
One of the event’s highlights is an indigenous ritual known as Tukab. During this ritual, elders will open jars of Tapuy and present Etag as offerings to the gods. Spectators can then partake by drinking the rice wine. This is followed by presentations and ground demonstrations of over hundreds of participants who want to showcase what they know of their Cordilleran heritage.
Largely agricultural, Sagada follows an annual calendar that is divided into five periods celebrating growing and cropping seasons—all of which are capped by a feast called Begnas.
Begnas Festival, or the rice ritual, is a sacred thanksgiving tradition that usually happens three to four times a year. It has no definite dates. However, it only happens before planting season, during initial germination and after harvest season, which are usually during March, June and November.
A ceremony that lasts for days, Begnas starts with the playing of the gangsa and prayers from the elders. Each participating dap-ay—young and old men, all clad in traditional clothes—will then march into a river, where they will perform a cleansing ritual. A pig is then brought to a sacred tree, the Patpatayan, to be sacrificed. It will be shared amongst the men who took part in the march. They will hang these pieces of meat on their spears and return to the hosting dap-ay where another round of prayers and pig offering will be done. The women, while not allowed to join the march, wait in line with their offerings. In exchange, they are also given pieces of meat to be brought home.
Every first of November, the public cemetery in Sagada is not littered with candles, instead every tombstone is illuminated with blazing bonfires. Locally known as Panag-apoy, the kankanaey term which means “to light a fire,” this All Saint’s Day tradition signals the gathering of families to remember the departed. However instead of lighting candles, they ignite pinewoods or saeng.
The tradition starts with an afternoon mass at the Saint Mary’s Church. Churchgoers bring sacks of saeng to be blessed by the priest. At dusk, they proceed to the cemetery to light the pinewoods while a priest roams around to also bless the graves. Throughout the solemnity of the night, the fires of Panag-apoy illuminates and warms the dark cemetery.
Orange Picking Season
With the perfect combination of fertile soil and crisp mountain air, Sagada is one of the best locations to build an orange grove—and at Rock Inn and Café, they did just that. Amidst the towering pine trees and ancient limestone formations, the homestay also features a farm that cultivates several orange varieties.
Yearly, from October to early January, guests are welcomed with ripe citrus scent and a chance to partake in the bountiful harvest. For a small price, they can enjoy picking oranges straight from the tree, and bring it home for families and friends to have a taste. For those who want to add this experience to their Sagada adventure, the orchard is just a few minutes away from Rusty Nail Inn and Café. You can also visit Rock Inn and Café’s website if you want to know more about the orange picking season.