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Sagada’s ‘Panag-aapoy’:Balancing tradition and nature

The Cordilleras, with its beautiful mountain ranges, rich  flora and fauna, is abundant of diverse ethnic groups and tribes with culture and traditions unique and different from each other.

A  good example is  a town  located at the western part of Mountain Province. One of the famous destinations  in the region, Sagada  is not only known for  its hanging coffins, falls, great caves  and mountains for  exciting adventures, but  is also  a place to witness distinctive traditions.

Every first of November, bright red and yellow embers glow at the Sagada Cemetery as the locals light up “saleng” or “sa-eng” (fatwood)  as they to join the  nation in  observance of All Saints’ Day. 

This town’s commemoration called “Panag-aapoy”, meaning “to light a fire”, is a unique practice of the community for instead of lighting candles, they use “saeng” to make bonfires near the graves of their dead loved ones  in remembering and honoring them.

This tradition starts with an afternoon mass and the blessing of the “saeng” before the residents proceed to the cemetery. The priest walks around the  cemetery to bless the graves. As the sky gets  dark,  the locals  light their  saeng  and the graves are almost surrounded with small bonfires. The cemetery brightens up as if the entire place is burning.

Although this seems visually enchanting, this tradition should never be mistaken as a public festival or a celebration as the event is a significant customary affair showing how the Igorot families unite and honor the deceased.

The panag-apoy was introduced by  the Anglican Church in the early 20th century. The locals  made use of saeng which they use to light their path as there were no candles before. Until this day, the residents have maintained  the old practice  of using the  saeng

Like any tradition in the province, the “Panag-aapoy” is still bound by the way of living and  influenced by the Igorot’s supreme law called “Inayan”. This term, almost present in all the provinces in the region,  is basically a warning to someone not to do something unethical or evil.

Even though November is cold and windy, surprisingly, there was not one incident of fire recorded because of “Panag-aapoy”. This could be anchored on how the community members of Sagada balance their culture and factors that affect the environment through “inayan”.

During the “Panag-aapoy”, the local government unit of Sagada imposes a time limit during its conduct. The community is also being reminded to make sure that the fires are totally  put off before they leave the cemetery.

One  thing which may seem to affect the environment is  the smoke emitted during the panag-aapoy.  Environmental Specialist II Maureen Menguria from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Mountain Province shared that this event which happens once a year does not significantly contribute to air pollution.

“Sagada still has a lot of trees, it has a dense forest land that helps in filtering the smokes, and has a huge carbon sequestration that helps in cleaning the air, ” she explained.

Menguria, however, emphasized that the community should continue their effective management to make sure that no fire shall spread during the event.

‘Panag-aapoy’ lives  on in  remembering  their  dearly departed loved ones and in keeping their memories  alive.(JDP/CVBT-PIA CAR, Mountain Province)

Photo Courtesy : Pullen Angway and Janus Piluden

About the Author

Valerie Jane Taguba

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Cordillera Administrative Region

Information Officer II

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