Area and Peoples

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Sagada, Philippines

Area and Peoples Sagada Reviews

constantquantum constant…
4 reviews
Aug 10, 2007

Where: Cordillera Mountain Range. North Luzon

People: Igorots of Kankanay Ancestry, believe to be founded by Baig, a hero of Igorot culture, who introduced new rites and prayers. The area was originally organized into kinship settlements, with a strong respect for old people, frequent sacrifices to spirtis (Anitos), and some headhunting pracices.

Local Customs

Civil/Political Structures

Dap-ay is a meeting place for men of the village where political and religious decisions are made and young boys are disciplined and taught customs by older men... this was the centre of local government. The building was accompanied by an elevated flatstone platform for meetings and ceremonies.

Burial Practices

When Sagadans die they are bound to a chair(Sangadi)and placed on the porch of a house or another approproate area during the period of the wake, which includes dirges and pig sacrifices. The wake can go on for days depending upon the wealth of the family. The body is then wrapped in a special burial cloth so that it can eaily be recognized by friendly spirits and invited into the spirit world. After being placed in a coffin, it is taken to a burial site in the caves, or on rock ledges. Young men compete for the honour of carrying the body the farthest and for the longest period of time, gaining wisdom and strength from the deceased, and the procession is preceded by toch-bearers who make sure no birds, snakes, rats or chickens cross their path. Any bad omens will mean a change of place, and new resting area must be found. The bodies are placed above ground (in caves or in hanging coffins attached to cliff faces), apparently to make the spirit's journey to the spirit world easier.


Practiced for revenge, and, it would seem, excitement/entertainment/sport, as well as for religious reasons. Men could show off power and skill with the headaxe and shield, and the beheaded man became a protector of the victor's crops, warding off disease and famine.

Brief History

When the Spanish came in the late 1500s, they could not conquer the Igorots because of their isolation and so the area remained independant until 1892, when the garrison stationed in Banaue helped the Spandish gain control, and conversions began. The local area was "pacified" with the help of Bontoc warriors who took 84 Sgadan heads in 1898. Then came the Americans and the Episcopal priest John Staunton. The Mission of St Mary the Virgin was set up. Then the Japanese occupation of the mountains in February, 1942. With the American liberation, the missionaries returned, but now the church mission in Sagada is operated by Filipinos.

Religious Heritage

Traditional religious customs mix with Catholicism

Some Terms

Lumawig: a deity or demigod who descended to earth from the sky world to enlighten the Igorot people

Tinagtago (rice god): represented as a carved wooden figure placed close to pots when cooking for ceremonies (assures abundance). Also used to protect newborn infants and pregnant women as they sleep.

Doli: snake bone necklaces worn in women's hair to increase fertility, as well as for protection from lightning and evil spirits

Anitos: the spirits of dead ancestors believed to cause fortune or misfortune, depending on how they are treated. As a result, they are invited to a meal anytime a special occasion is observed, and whenever a bottle of gin or other alcohol is opened, a small drink is poured for the anitos.

Mensip-ok: a male or female shaman often consulted when people are ill. The Mensip-ok reads omens to determine whether an ancestor is feeling left out of family feasts and rituals, and a sacrifice (usually a chicken) is often made in the spirit's honour if that seems to be the case.

Nature Spirits: inhabit the stones, rivers, and trees, and are generally neutral or helpful, punishing only those who disturb their environment.

The Lizard: a symbol of fertility and longevity. A popular motif on basket and textale weaving.

What to See:

Because of the rich cultural heritage of the area, the traditional burial sites are its main draw, and they are worth the effort of long hikes through the mountain terrain. There are a number of wonderful waterfalls and Echo Valley is a must.

What to buy:

The weaving and textiles. I had a monks bag from Sagada that lasted through 10 years of abuse before finally wearing thin. Nearby you can also find some of the region's famous finely braded silver jewelry.
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