Panag-apoy in Sagada

Saturday, September 27, 2014

This is not an evil ritual but an old tradition of remembering the dead in the chilly municipality of Sagada, Mountain Province. It was November last year when my friend Riki and I traveled to Sagada to witness an old ritual called Panag-apoy which means "to light a fire." 
very dramatic shot right? :)
Every November 1st, a mass is held at the Church of Saint Mary The Virgin where locals provide the priest with a list of their departed kin. The priest reads out a long list which normally takes hours. Having realized it would take forever before the mass ends, Riki and I decided to explore outside.
man starting to make fire using saeng
At 4:00 in the afternoon, the mass ended and the residents walked towards the nearby Sagada Cemetery. The priest blessed each grave. At dusk, the locals light their saeng (wood of an old pine tree) to produce small bonfires near the grave of their loved ones. Some locals also used candles. The atmosphere was slowly covered with thick smoke, the place was already crowded and there were a few TV crew filming a documentary.
thick smoke covers the entire cemetery
I asked one of the locals (he looks like a barangay chairman) why the people of Sagada practice this unique ritual. He said Panag-apoy is a combination of Anglican Church rites and Igorot culture. They believe that the soul of their ancestors are still with them so they give them light and warmth. They say when some tombs were not given light or torch, they will hear souls cry. CREEPY! And so was the white blurred figure on the photo above. Is that a ghost?!
creepy scene
I don't remember how long we stayed there. The experience was overwhelming. Sagada is such a feast for the eyes. When our lungs couldn't bear the smoke any longer, we decided to leave the place and eat somewhere. We did not realize though that our clothes were filled with black stains, our noses filled with black discharge and we smelled like hell. We looked like beggars eating in the famous Yoghurt House. Lol.

Panag-apoy in Sagada, Mountain Province from Milet Miranda on Vimeo.

To the locals of Sagada, I am really sorry for being one of the many photographers and observers that 'ruined' this solemn moment. I was just amazed on how this very unique tradition remains for so long. And to my fellow tourists, if you plan to go on November 1st, please respect the ritual. Go to the cemetery, get a better vantage point and keep quiet.

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  1. TBH, I'm creeped out by the photos at first. :P But they're beautiful and I didn't know there's such a tradition. I think it's beautiful, nice and very unique. :)

  2. Yes It was really creepy! I think this ritual is being practiced only in Sagada.

  3. It' creepyyyy!!! But I like the fact that they preserved such tradition, and it makes the place distinct from others.

    Thanks for sharing this! :D

  4. grabe di ba! pero I must say it was an amazing experience. kahit na candles na talaga ginagamit ngayon, people in Sagada still choose to use wood to produce bonfire.