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Mountain Province Philippines Travel

Reliving the Panag-apoy, The Festival of Lights in Sagada

I followed a man carrying a bundle of wood the locals call Saleng, a part of a pine trunk which easily ignites when lit. There were already a parade of people making their way to the local cemetery on the afternoon of All Saint’s Day in Sagada. When we reached the cemetery ground, the smoke-filled air and the grounds that looks like they were burning greeted us. It was one of the unique traditions in the mountain province I have first seen 7 years ago. They call the practice Panag-apoy which means to “light a fire”.

The Children in Sagada observing their Panag-apoy tradition
The Children in Sagada observing their Panag-apoy tradition

I followed a man carrying a bundle of wood the locals call Saleng, a part of a pine trunk which easily ignites when lit. There were already a parade of people making their way to the local cemetery on the afternoon of All Saint’s Day in Sagada. When we reached the cemetery ground, the smoke-filled air and the grounds that looks like they were burning greeted us. It was one of the unique traditions in the mountain province I have first seen 7 years ago. They call the practice Panag-apoy which means to “light a fire”.

A kid burning saleng
A kid burning saleng

Panag-Apoy for the Souls

This unique tradition started in the early 1900s when the first Anglican priest, Rev. John Staunton, officiated the first Christian funeral in Sagada. Since they have no candles at that time since, torches where used which is also symbolic to what they traditionally used to light their funerals at their burial caves.

What interest me in their practice is the melding of beliefs between Igorot Culture and Anglican Christianity. Igorots are still bounded by their beliefs in the afterlife that they believe the souls of their departed loved ones still cries when not visited. Hence they light up these fires to guide and warm their souls.

Even their Church of Saint Mary the Virgin shows a unique looking altar where nature seems to be the theme melding with the images of Christianity. It also where a mass is held in the afternoon where a growing list of all departed residents of Sagada are read by the priest before the Panag-apoy starts late in the afternoon.

A few graves leading to echo valley has more solemn Panag-apoy away from the crowded cemetery
A few graves leading to echo valley has more solemn Panag-apoy away from the crowded cemetery

Seven Years After

It took seven years for me to witness this unique tradition again and its a good time to see what has changed. While the tradition has remained the same, the popularity of Sagada has grown with a lot more tourist coming in. No doubt there were more photographers and observers now that the locals can’t help complain at times that what was once a solemn tradition has become somewhat a spectacle complete with a TV Crew filming their segment. I have the same sentiments but its an inevitable situation for a destination that is growing more and more popular like Sagada.

A local burning saleng
A local burning saleng
A kid with a lit-up saleng
A kid with a lit-up saleng
Some locals now prefer to use candles
Some locals now prefer to use candles too
The cemetery lights up as night falls
The cemetery lights up as night falls and local kids enjoying the Panag-apoy
The Sagada Cemetery, a quiet site the night before the Panag-apoy
The Sagada Cemetery, a quiet site the night before the Panag-apoy
The cemetery on its usual nights
The cemetery on its usual nights