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Panag-apoy in Sagada: A Sacred Tradition of Remembering the Dead

Panag-apoy in Sagada is a traditional Kankanaey practice of lighting bonfires in cemeteries to remember and honor the dead.

Witness the sea of fire at Panag-apoy in Sagada, a unique and beautiful way to remember the dead. Photo: Mark Demayo

In the town of Sagada, located in the Mountain Province of the Philippines and deeply rooted in the heritage of the Igorot people, a time-honored tradition known as Panag-apoy takes place every year on November 1st, All Saints' Day.

This sacred ceremony holds great significance for the Kankana-ey people, who are an integral part of the broader Igorot community, with roots that stretch back through generations.

Panag-apoy is a time to reflect on life and death, and to celebrate the bond between the living and the dead Photo: Zaldy Asama Jr.

The Significance of Panag-apoy

Panag-apoy, a term derived from the Kankana-ey language, simply means "lighting a fire." This age-old practice involves using "fatwood" or "saeng" from pine trees, which is an especially resin-rich and highly flammable type of wood found in abundance in the Cordillera region.

Panag-apoy is a deeply meaningful tradition for the people of Sagada, and it offers a glimpse into the rich culture and heritage of the Kankanaey people. Photo: Mark Demayo

Before these fires are kindled in the cemetery, a priest imparts blessings on the fatwood at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, emphasizing the deep spiritual connections associated with this tradition.

As nightfall descends upon Sagada, the close-knit community gathers at the cemetery to light these bonfires. These fires are thoughtfully positioned near the resting places of their dearly departed. Families and friends unite to offer prayers and engage in moments of reflection. Throughout the night, these bonfires continue to burn, transforming the cemetery into a radiant sea of light. Fatwood's resin-rich nature ensures that these fires burn brightly and symbolically light the way for the departed.

Panag-apoy is typically observed on November 1, All Saints' Day, in the town of Sagada, Mountain Province. Photo: Mark Demayo

The Symbolism of Panag-apoy

Panag-apoy is not merely a visually striking event, and it notably differs from festive celebrations. It serves as a pivotal element in Kankana-ey culture, representing a time for communal gathering and shared reverence for those who have passed. This tradition encourages individuals to deeply reflect on the profound interplay between life and death, establishing a poignant connection between the living and the deceased. Panag-apoy is a solemn yet heartwarming testament to the enduring bonds that transcend life and death within Kankana-ey culture.

Families and friends gather around bonfires in the cemetery to remember and honor loved ones during Panag-apoy Photo: Mark Demayo

Visiting Panag-apoy in Sagada

In recent years, Panag-apoy has garnered international attention as a tourist attraction, drawing visitors from diverse corners of the world. However, it's crucial to understand that Panag-apoy is not a festival or a celebration in Sagada. Instead, it resembles the ordinary act of lighting a candle when visiting the tomb of a relative, with the distinction that the people of Sagada use fatwood, reminiscent of a time when candles were not readily available.

The annual Panag-apoy festival in Sagada, Philippines, is a unique and beautiful tradition of lighting bonfires in cemeteries to remember and honor the dead. Photo: Zaldy Asama Jr.

The panag-apoy is a private event, not arranged by the local government but rather carried out by individuals observing the tradition. There is no set schedule; it is initiated by the people themselves. When planning to attend this sacred event, it is essential to approach it with sensitivity and mindfulness.

Here are some tips for visitors:

  1. Respectful Dress Code: Show respect for local customs by wearing modest clothing. Avoid bright or revealing outfits that could disrupt the solemn atmosphere.

  2. Quiet and Respectful Conduct: While at the cemetery, maintain a respectful and quiet demeanor. This is a time for introspection and prayer. Avoid disrupting the rituals or the peaceful environment.

  3. Photography Etiquette: Respecting the privacy of the local community is paramount. Always ask for permission from the families of the deceased before capturing photographs.

  4. Environmental Respect: Dispose of any waste properly, leaving no trace behind. By maintaining the cleanliness of the area, you contribute to the preservation of Sagada's natural beauty.

  5. Learn About the Tradition: Before attending Panag-apoy, educate yourself about the significance of this tradition and the local customs, particularly those rooted in Kankana-ey culture.

  6. Support Local Businesses: When purchasing souvenirs or dining, consider supporting local vendors and shops. This practice bolsters the economic well-being of the Sagada community while respecting Kankana-ey traditions.

  7. Express Gratitude to the Kankana-ey Community: When interacting with the local community, express your gratitude for their warm hospitality and for granting you the privilege of witnessing their cherished Kankana-ey traditions. This heartfelt gesture fosters a meaningful connection.

Panag-apoy: A sea of fire in Sagada for the dead Photo: Zaldy Asama Jr.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Panag-apoy

  1. What is Panag-apoy, and where does it take place?

Panag-apoy is a traditional ceremony that occurs in Sagada, a town in the Mountain Province of the Philippines. It's celebrated on November 1st, All Saints' Day.

  1. Who are the people behind Panag-apoy?

Panag-apoy holds great significance for the Kankana-ey people, who are part of the broader Igorot community with deep-rooted cultural ties.

  1. What is the significance of using "fatwood" in Panag-apoy?

"Fatwood" or "saeng" from pine trees is used for its resin-rich and highly flammable nature, symbolically lighting the way for the departed.

  1. How is the Panag-apoy ceremony carried out?

A priest blesses the fatwood at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, and then the community gathers at the cemetery to light bonfires near the resting places of the deceased.

  1. Is Panag-apoy a public festival?

No, Panag-apoy is not a public festival or celebration. It is a private event observed by the community and not organized by the local government.

  1. Can tourists attend Panag-apoy in Sagada?

Yes, tourists can attend, but it's essential to approach it with sensitivity. It's not a tourist event, so respectful conduct is expected.

  1. Are there specific guidelines for visitors during Panag-apoy?

Yes, visitors should follow a respectful dress code, maintain quiet and respectful behavior, ask for permission for photography, and support local businesses.

  1. How can I learn more about the Panag-apoy tradition?

Before attending, educate yourself about the significance of the tradition and the local customs, especially those rooted in Kankana-ey culture.

  1. How can I support the local community during Panag-apoy?

Supporting local businesses, expressing gratitude to the community, and respecting their customs and heritage are meaningful ways to contribute.

  1. What is the importance of Panag-apoy for the Kankana-ey people and Sagada's heritage?

Panag-apoy is not just a visually striking event; it's a profound cultural and communal experience that reflects the enduring essence of Kankana-ey culture and Sagada's heritage.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Panag-apoy is not just a visually enchanting event but a profound spiritual and communal experience deeply ingrained in Kankana-ey culture. As responsible visitors, we can ensure the preservation of this beautiful cultural tradition for future generations.

Bonfires burn bright during Panag-apoy in Sagada, a tradition of honoring the dead Photo: Zaldy Asama Jr.

When partaking in Panag-apoy, remember that you are not mere observers but active participants in a tradition that beautifully encapsulates the enduring essence of Kankana-ey culture, Sagada's vibrant heritage, and the bonds that transcend time.

By respecting the customs and heritage of this community, we can contribute to the continued vitality and significance of Panag-apoy in Sagada.

Born Igorot, Die Igorot


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