The Cliffside Cemeteries of Sagada, Philippines

hanging coffins
hanging coffins
The hanging coffins of Sagada, Philippines

In the remote Mountain Province of Sagada, Philippines, the natives practice a burial ritual that draws curious visitors and photographers from countries all over the world. For over 2,000 years, the Sagada people have laid their deceased residents to rest in coffins that dangle from the side of Sagada’s steep Echo Valley cliffs as well as inside its many caves.

Believing that the higher the dead are to the skies, the more elevated their spirits would be in the afterlife, the people attach the coffins at remarkably high points on the cliffs, where they are seemingly unreachable.

It is traditional for the Sagada people to carve out their own coffins unless they are too old to complete the task themselves. Once someone passes to the afterlife, their remains are placed inside the roughly hewn coffin and taken to their permanent resting place on the cliffs.

Many of the hanging coffins are over a century old, while others are relatively new. The funeral chairs that served as part of the burial rituals accompany the many rectangular structures that dot the rocky cliffs.

Hanging coffins and a funeral chair
Hanging coffins and a funeral chair – Photo credit: Rick McCharles on Flickr

Most of the coffins are marked with the name of the person inside it, while others display crosses as evidence of the blending of ancient rituals with modern Christianity. Eventually, the coffins deteriorate from exposure to the elements and fall (along with their contents) to the ground below.

The local residents will gladly accompany visitors on a hike to view Sagada’s burial cliffs. As a show of respect, visitors are asked to admire the hanging coffins from a respectful distance and take photos with a zoom lens.

Set against the backdrop of the Philippines’ ethereal landscape, the burial cliffs inspire a sense of peace to mourners, who only need to look up to remember their departed loved ones.