In Sagada, the dead are in touch with the living

By Maurice Malanes
Inquirer News Service

COUPLE George and Teresa Baybay of Sagada town, Mt. Province, were worried when their daughter, Nilda, had high fever and eventually got so sick she became thin in 1958. When she was bedridden, Nilda came into a trance and asked why the traditional death attire for her late grandmother, Calingan Bawayan, was not buried with her.

The traditional attire for the late grandmother was not given because one of her sons was a priest and didn't believe in the practice. But Nilda's father, George, believed in the burial rites that his ancestors practiced.

So on the night of November 1, 1958, George lighted a torch and went to the cemetery where the remains of Bawayan were buried. He dug up the old woman's grave and buried the traditional burial clothes she was supposed to have asked for through Nilda.

Then George prayed that in exchange for what the old woman had wished for, Nilda must get well. Nilda, in no time, got well and sprang back to good health.

The story of the Baybay couple, now in their 70s, was one of the cases Dina Piluden-Omengan, a teacher, cited in a recent study about the death and burial rituals of Sagada, her hometown.

Although dominantly influenced by American Anglican missionaries, Sagada folk, until now, still observe some of the burial customs and traditions of their ancestors.

And the remains of some people who die are still entombed in caves, if not fastened at the foot of boulders, now described as "hanging coffins."

But Sagada also maintains a public cemetery, which the Anglican missionaries introduced. On the night of November 1, each of the graves at the cemetery, where the remains of the late American missionary-scholar William Henry Scott were also buried, comes alive, not with candles, but with circles of saleng (pine resin wood) bonfires as local folk pay homage to their dead.

Piluden-Omengan's study described in detail the tradition-prescribed attires for people of all ages and classes who die in Sagada. She also documented the experiences of people, like the Baybay couple, whose families met some various levels of misfortunes, which were believed to be caused by their failure to fulfill some burial tradition.

A man who dies at old age is normally made to wear an Igorot-woven g-string, a vest and a turban or headband. A dead old woman, on the other hand, is made to wear an Igorot-woven wraparound skirt, an upper garment and a headband.

Distinguishing the social classes of the dead are prescribed designs and colors for the rich, the middle class and the poor.

The spirits of dead ancestors, according to a Sagada belief, can easily identify and welcome into their embrace a relative who had just died through the attire his or her corpse is made to wear.

There are also prescribed sacrificial animals -- mostly chickens and pigs -- which, Piluden-Omengan noted, were all meant to help the souls of the dead as they journey into the Great Beyond.


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