A Day in Sagada: Fishing, Pot Making and Remembering the Departed with Bonfires

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As if the entire village is burning.

I was all alone the last time I went to Sagada. It was the All Souls’ Day break of 2008, a very spontaneous decision to explore Sagada by myself. I left Manila at 10 in the evening of the Halloween and took the 11 hour Cable Tour bus to Bontoc. I reached Sagada before noon and went to Residential Lodge, my home in Sagada.

I am an adopted son of Sagada by the way 🙂 (so as Benj and Jeff of VisitSagada). Tita Mary, owner of Residential Lodge, is my parent up there. She already left to attend a ritual that morning when I arrived. I was supposed to join her in the ritual but I was late.

I went in Sagada to see their "panag-apoy" tradition

While waiting for Tita Mary, I met a group from Manila, also waiting for her. I believe we were on the same bus going to Bontoc. I asked if I could join their group in their activities, and they warmly accepted me. They asked me to go caving in the afternoon but I opted not because I don’t want to be late in the cemetery. I want to witness Sagada’s tradition of lighting bonfires on the grave of their loved ones, which they call “panag-apoy”. It only happens every 1st of November, and this was the very reason I went there.

I hugged Tita Mary when she went back from the ritual. We had a small talk and the usual “kamustahan“. She is still the same Tita Mary I knew, very jolly, animated and motherly. She also told me that Don-a, her youngest daughter who is based in Taguig, was also in town.

Tita Mary lead me to my room in a house a few meters from Residential Lodge, the lodge was fully booked. I told her that I can sleep at the lodge’s couch, but she insisted. So I ended up in a big room on this house.

We went fishing in the mountain.

When I went back to Residential Lodge, Don-a was already there. I joined them in their lunch and had a desert at Yoghurt House. Don-a asked me to accompany her in the pottery, whom she have never seen yet. I haven’t been there too.

Before heading to the pottery, we dropped by to her Lolo’s house and went fishing to her Tito’s fishpond. Yes, we went fishing in the mountain. I was surprised that they have a pond up there, perhaps the only fishpond in the village, with so many big “tilapia”.  We had a great time catching them. Shortly after, we left and headed to the pottery.

Sigrid taught us how to create a jar.

The pottery is home to some of the best potters in the country who artistically and skillfully create distinctly handcrafted stoneware using the traditional way of pot making. It is located atop the village, along the road going to Lake Danum and Besao. Potter Sigrid Bangyay, Don-a’s friend, welcomed us. She gave us a lecture of the processes and basics concepts of pottery and even taught us how to create one. We tried to make our own but it wasn’t easy. In short, we failed. 😀

After the afternoon mass, locals gather to the cemetery to say a prayer for their departed loved ones before lighting their blessed "saeng".

It was almost five in the afternoon when we went back to the village. On our way to the cemetery, we already saw some smokes going up the sky. The afternoon mass already ended and the “panag-apoy” has just begun.

Panag-apoy” or “to light a fire”, is a tradition that has long been practiced in Sagada. It is their way of remembering the departed by creating bonfires on the graves using “saeng” , a flammable wood from old pine tree. The tradition starts with an afternoon mass and the blessing of “saeng”. After the mass, the locals proceed to the nearby cemetery to pray and light the “saeng” , while the priest walks around to bless the graves.

When we reached the cemetery, almost every grave was already lighted with fire and thick fumes from the fires have enveloped the ground, as if the entire village was burning. The burning ground was filled with locals who were there to remember their departed and tourists who were amazed with the sight.

Even the kids practice the tradition.

I went  to the highest ground and witnessed their unique tradition as it happened. The cemetery lighted up, as the sun set and the sky turned black. It was my most memorable first of November.

As if the entire cemetery was burning.

By the way, my new found friends, the group I met up there was the company of Kenneth, Trabz, Mark, Alvin, Shirley, Dondie, Ate Sally, Morens and others. I still have contact to them up to now, and we occasionally travel together. We fondly call ourselves – the Lakwatseros! 🙂



4 thoughts on “A Day in Sagada: Fishing, Pot Making and Remembering the Departed with Bonfires

  1. Hi,

    I wasn’t supposed to leave a comment here,but because i so love to travel, i found it very interesting to read and react on your blog. Well, other than the hanging coffins, i don’t have any idea what else can i find here in sagada, but surely i want to spend some time exploring the place. Can you give me some hint, must’s and suggestions (ie: package tours) I was wondering maybe you know this stuffs and the like. Thanks much! 🙂

    1. Lana, I guess no need to answer this questions, it seems you already read my other post on Must Do things in Sagada 🙂
      Anyway, aside from those in my list, you can go to Kiltepan, Marlboro Country, Mt. Ampacao, Lake Danum, etc, etc. When you go to Sagada, you can see in the Tourism office, all spots the that can be visited 🙂 I hope you enjoy the place 🙂

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