Sagada: People and Culture

Two days in Sagada and I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the rich cultures that make up the people of Sagada which is one of the municipalities of Mountain Province nestled in a valley at the upper end of the Malitep tributary of the Chico River some one and a half kilometers above sea level in the Central Cordillera Mountains, enveloped between the main Cordillera Ranges and Ilocos Range.

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Visiting Sagada was like stepping into another country for me as it is totally different from the way of living and the environment which is a far cry to what we have here in Manila. Although I wasn’t able to visit all the places in Sagada and embed deeply with the people and into their culture, the trip did provide as an introduction of the area and excites me to further learn and experience more on my future visit.

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When in Sagada you’ll almost instantly notice that most jeepneys are packed to the roof. Looking to the cramped jeepney looks very dangerous but some locals they find it cool to have a ride on the roof, besides, the roof will probably a better place to sit than inside.

They have the air, and magnificent views. This is a customary or usual practice here, most specially for the farmers to travel their goods as the rooftop provides ample space, and also for people who travel with a lot of luggage.

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The People of Sagada are Malays and speak a language called Kankana-ey. They are generally referred to as Igorots and are known to be sturdy and industrious.

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There are official travel guides that states what travelers must follow, like overt sexual lewd behaviour that are taboo to the Sagada community, be it just simply kissing or petting in public. You are also expected to wear a decent attire in public that is not too revealing and that patterns with their community guidelines.

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The people of Sagada speaks many dialect but they are also versed with English, even the kids on the streets speaks fluent English better than Tagalog, Ilocano and Cebuano. If you are wondering why these local folks speak fluent English, it is because American missionaries from years ago have reached the far corners of this mountain region to teach these natives.

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Even the dogs in Sagada are of different breed and very distinguishable from other regions. They are mostly huge with thick hairs and looks very healthy. It is probably because of the way of living and the food that they are fed are mostly fresh and not just leftovers.

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One of the unique aspects of life in the Sagada is that the Igorot people are essentially a self contained society running all aspects of life from businesses to politics.

The have managed to maintain much of their land excluding outsiders or lowlanders from coming in and setting up shop. This has essentially allowed all development to generate from the people themselves making the place a unique and very much different compared to other municipalities.

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The people of Sagada are mostly Igorots and are Christians who still practice their ancestral beliefs and rituals. Since the coming of missionaries from the Protestant Episcopal Church, the municipality of Sagada has become the only Philippine town that is predominantly Anglican.

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A known landmark at the centre of town is the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, a vibrant Episcopal parish. It is standing proud at the heart of Sagada, a monumental stone church built by American Missionaries during the early 1900’s.

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In Sagada, the spirits of their deceased ancestors make up the most important category of supernatural. Great emphasis is put on death ceremonies to ensure the future welfare of the soul in the house of anitos.

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Full ceremonial rites, which include the initial placement of a corpse in a death chair and coffin burial in ancestral caves or stone lined mausoleums underground, are performed for deceased married persons only. There is a lengthy mourning period, which is slowly terminated by a series of animal sacrifices.

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People consider the old to be the keepers of customs and performers of ritual essentials to the continuance of Sagadan society. Consequently elders assume a greater status when they die, that of anito ancestors, in which they continue to look after the welfare of their descendants and to protest against neglect by sending illness and other disasters.

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One of the best pieces of craftsmanship to find is in Sagada Pottery. Pottery is not so popular industry in Mountain Province, in fact, there are only few Pottery Shops in Sagada.

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A small humble facility that houses pottery. It actually is a one stop roof where you can watch the locals spin and mold the clay into a perfectly shaped pieces and try to mold your own pot, and of course, to buy souvenirs too.

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Sagada Weaving has been weaving quality products such as bags, slippers, souvenirs, and apparel since 1968, making them a pioneer of the industry in the area. Many residents work here and it is said to be one of the largest employers in town.

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They built a souvenir shop along the road that visitors can check out if they are looking for real and traditional made in Sagada items.

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Watching the threads run and merge with others to create a sea of colors and a distinct pattern was astonishing to me as I had never seen anything like this before.

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The attention to detail, careful and precise making of every weave makes it sturdy and beautiful. Sagada Weaving is well known to be one of the original sellers of native woven cloth and for the good quality of the weaved products.

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There are many more cultures, crafts, ornaments and beliefs to learn from the people of Sagada. You have a lot of souvenir items to pick from, check out for shirts, refrigerator magnets, keychains, furnitures, small wood carvings, hand made papers, woven bags, colorful fabrics and all sorts of souvenir items.

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Sagada is a fascinating place where one can enjoy nature, and at the same time learn from the rich culture and heritage of its people. It is a place where different interests meet, where the adventure seekers can go hiking and spelunking, and nature lovers can go sightseeing and appreciate the beauty of God’s gift to mankind.